Romance Heroines and Exercise

ICPI’ll admit it’s not easy staying in shape, and at times I seem to be fighting a losing battle. In the middle of the winter, curling up with a good book is much more appealing than going out for a long walk on a sub-zero day. But on most days I do try. In nice weather I go for a lot of walks; in colder or rainy weather I’ll return to the treadmills in the fitness center where I live. I attend yoga classes off-and-on, or do some yoga at home, to work on my balance and flexibility.  And I even have a few free weights to do some strength training. Perhaps it’s my own efforts in this regard, but lately I’ve been longing to read about contemporary romance heroines who squeeze in a bit of exercise into their lives.

I’m specifically interested in contemporary romance heroines, because, let’s face, it, reading that a Regency era heroine has a fitness room or that she regularly hikes up her skirts and jogs just wouldn’t be appropriate. And most paranormal or urban fantasy heroines either seem to regularly stay in shape to survive, or have very specific natural abilities and powers that endow them with extra strength and speed. But what about your average contemporary romance heroine? And by average, I mean a non-athlete heroine who manages to fit in a bit of exercising into her regular routine.

Most of the contemporary heroines I’ve been reading about lately seem to be lucky; they’re svelte and have curves in just the right places without seeming to do anything to stay that way. Now I don’t expect the average romance heroine to have access to an in-home fitness facility like the heroines in Nora Roberts’ Bridal Quartet. Unless they’re unbelievably wealthy, not everyone can afford a home facility as described in this passage from Bed of Roses:

“CNN muttered away on the flat screen while Parker, her phone’s earbud in place, racked up her miles on the elliptical. Emma scowled at the Bowflex as she stripped off her sweatshirt. She turned her back on it and the recumbent bike, on the rack of free weights, the shelf of DVDs with their perky or earnest instructors who might take her through a session of yoga or pilates, torture her with the exercise ball, or intimidate her with tai chi.”

Once in a while I’ll encounter a heroine who runs. Olivia, the heroine of Victoria Dahl’s Bad Boys Do regularly runs for fitness. The scenes don’t take up a lot of time, often only a sentence or two such as this brief passage, “Olivia had run for nearly two hours, and strangely, after that long run, she’d found it much easier to breathe.” While short in nature, this adds dimension to Olivia’s character. She runs to stay in shape, but also to relieve stress.

I encounter a lot of contemporary romance heroines who occasionally wear yoga pants, but few who actually seem to take yoga classes, or do yoga routine at home. Cady, the heroine of Jayne Ann Krentz’s 2001 publication Lost and Found regularly practiced yoga. Through passages such as the following, we learn not only that she practices yoga, but a bit about her personality:

“When she was ready she went slowly through the yoga exercises that she had practiced faithfully since college. It had been suggested by more than one acquaintance that she was a little obsessive about her daily workout. But she was convinced that it was the flowing, stretching movements combined with the deep-breathing techniques that allowed her to control her body’s predisposition toward panic attacks.”

One of my favorite yoga mentions in a contemporary romance is one I sited in a post here about romance heroines and their hobbies, featuring Dru, the heroine of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Blue. In that book once Seth, the hero, learns that Dru takes yoga classes, he begins to fantasize about how that might translate into their sex life.

For me, I guess the desire to see a mention of exercising by heroines is similar to my desire for a mention of the heroine’s hobbies. I don’t want pages devoted to exercise, but even a brief mention or two helps me know more about the heroine, adds substance to her character, beyond her relationship with the hero. I want fully developed heroines, and exercise is just want part of it.

Do I expect every heroine to exercise? Certainly not. But I’d like to see it more frequently. And I’d love to see any recommendations you might have. Can you think of any contemporary romances you’ve read lately in which the heroine has free weights in her home? An exercise bike or elliptical in her home that she uses for more than drying clothes? How about a heroine who regularly goes to a fitness center to work out on the equipment, or to take Zumba or spinning classes? Any great heroines come to mind?

- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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35 Responses to “Romance Heroines and Exercise”

  1. maggie b. says:

    I’ve been seeing a lot of running heroines lately. While I definitely don’t recommend the book, the heroine in The Ties That Bind ran every day. Addy in Tracy Montoya’s “I’ll be watching you” is a yoga instructor. I often see these two forms of exercise mentioned but I haven’t paid attention enough to make note of it. I’ll have to start being more aware.

  2. LinnieGayl says:

    MaggieB, yes, running seems to be the form of exercise I most frequently see in heroines. Of course I periodically encounter the heroine whose work is fitness (yoga instructor, owner of fitness facility, etc.) but I’d love to see more heroines with non-fitness jobs going to the gym or an exercise class.

    And I so wish I could do the yoga pose at the top of this article. Believe me I’m not even close :)

  3. Leigh says:

    It has been a while since I have read Nora Robert’s series books, but I remember that many of her characters ran. Entranced comes to mind with the private detective heroine.

    Like you I notice it when the heroine does exercise, but off the top of my head other books right now.

    • Leigh says:

      Leigh: It has been a while since I have read Nora Robert’s series books, but I remember that many of her characters ran.Entranced comes to mind with the private detective heroine.
      Like you I notice it when the heroine does exercise, but off the top of my head other books right now.

      Should say off the top of my head can’t think of other books right now.

    • Leigh says:

      Leigh: It has been a while since I have read Nora Robert’s series books, but I remember that many of her characters ran.Entranced comes to mind with the private detective heroine.
      Like you I notice it when the heroine does exercise, but off the top of my head other books right now.

  4. farmwifetwo says:

    JAK’s All Night Long she does pilates.

    I need to walk more. I like walking and up to number 2, I walked a lot. Since then I have never felt 100% and admit I don’t walk nearly enough anymore.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      I read All Night Long years ago and didn’t remember the pilates. Thanks! I think I’m do for a reread of it.

  5. Gayathri says:

    I have noticed that a lot of Nora Roberts heroines exercise – In one of the Dream Trilogy (I think Holding the Dream) the hero helps the heroine get on to an exercise rhythm. I really liked that part and I felt it added depth to their relationship.

  6. Janet W says:

    Nora and exercise. Nora and gardening. Nora and re-doing the house — I love all of Nora’s passions! In her last quartet, the Bride series, there was a gym in the house and everyone, to some extend or other, used it.

  7. LeeB. says:

    One of my favorites was Jane Costello’s “Girl on the Run” about a young woman who’s encouraged to join a running club by the handsome coach. Lots of funny scenes ensue.

  8. Blythe says:

    Funny, I immediately thought of the Bride Quartet too, partly because I coveted their fitness center, but also because they all seemed to work out – whether or not they actually liked it. Since yoga is my workout of choice, I’d like to see more practicing heroines.

  9. Amy Rubinate says:

    Love this article, because my athletic heroines have been on my mind as I stumble back onto the track and find my way to becoming “a runner” again.

    I just narrated two books with strong heroines. In the romantic/time travel YA Time Between Us, by Tamara Ireland Stone, the heroine is an accomplished cross-country and track runner. Her training is woven into the story, and her strength and determination as a serious athlete inform her decisions, and give her the fortitude to get through the crises that she encounters.

    In the one I’m narrating now, a wonderful contemporary romance by Wendy Wax, Ten Beach Road, one of the 4 main characters runs to clear her head and think more clearly about her situation.

    And these women have brought me back to the track! I’ve been running three times a week, because they helped me remember the qualities I found so valuable in running. So I say “thanks” to my imaginary friends!

  10. lor says:

    Both of the Blair Mallory books, To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous, by Linda Howard. Blair owns a gym and talks about her exercise routine, including practising gymnastics.

  11. Carrie says:

    It seems almost all the romantic suspense heroines exercise. I know the one in Murder List by Garwood, which I’m reading now, runs every day. In fact, it’s so common to read about the heroine running or going to the gym or yoga that I haven’t really thought about it. Except when I was reading the Bride Quartet, which I gave up on after Roberts spent half of the third book writing about the characters’ workouts in detail. Boring!

  12. FitGirl says:

    I love running and hiking and I definitely look for women who do sports in my rom books. I have read quite a few baseball rom books where the heroine coaches a kids softball team, I think the Kate Angell one I just read had that feature, but like you said they themselves don’t actually seem to do any exercise of their own. I rarely read ones with the female doing sport, and I look out for them. A couple I do remember include The Right Mr Wrong by Cyndi Myers, Rapid Hearts by Rachael Ruddick and Sarah Mayberry’s Below the Belt.
    I want to see women doing different sports, something beyond running, the gym and yoga.

  13. Alissa says:

    Maybe active/exercising heroines (and heroes?) should be one of the new lists? I am tired of books where hero and heroine have amazing bodies, apparently by magic, since we never see them exercise. Reading about active women inspires me.

  14. Lani says:

    I haven’t read any books lately that deal with them trying to work out much, maybe it is as you mentioned about the paranormal romance books which I have been mainly hooked on that they don’t really require any working out. But it would be nice to see more of that specially for those of us really trying to get in shape.

  15. Leslie says:

    I remember with fondness Roxanne from Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly. She would walk for miles to rid herself of stress and sexual frustration.
    It’s a wonderful story.

  16. Amanda says:

    The first three books in Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor series (Simply Irresistible, The Sweetest Thing, and Head Over Heels) feature sisters who do yoga regularly.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      Amanda, I haven’t read the first three but have been meaning to try them. I read At Last and the heroine hikes all over, but really isn’t doing it so much for exercise as a type of quest.

  17. Kaia says:

    I totally agree with the blog, I feel like this makes a much more believable heroine to me as well.

    Ruthie Knox! Both of her books have exercising heroines. “Ride with me” is about a cross country bike ride, I never bike (very occasional spin class) and it made me want to bike across America. Lol. Lots of rich detail on cadence, pacing, etc. and a really good book.

    And “About last night” had a running hero and heroine, I liked how Knox used those scenes to flesh out the characters and their relationship.

    • FitGirl says:

      I have ridden the trans america trail. I was so excited when I read your comment and went and bought the book straight away. I can’t wait to read it!

  18. Paula says:

    “Just one of the guys” from Kristan Higgins features an heroine that exercises a lot. She runs marathons!

    • Maggie AAR says:

      I loved the sequence where she meets the first guy she is with. She hurts him during some kind of exercise class. Very funny.

  19. Lily says:

    Diana in “Discovery of Witches” was a sculler and a yoga practitioner. In fact, the first “date” Matthew took her on was a yoga session with a room full of witches, vampires, and demons!

    • LinnieGayl says:

      Lily, I recently finished listening to this book. I know many thought the yoga session went on to long but I sort of liked it. And I also liked that Diana sculls (I was going to say rows :) ).

      • farmwifetwo says:

        Never thought about it and I just finished it.

        I’m not certain you can listen to it and get as much out of it as reading it. I read too fast and had to make myself read it word for word. NOT complaining, because if I hadn’t I would have missed a lot of the book. I really enjoyed it – I rarely finish a slow read and this one I kept going and going – and have the second here to start. Need to lower the library pile a little bit first.

  20. Jessica says:

    My favorite Nora Roberts exercise scene is the first and second paragraphs of Black Rose. First paragraph describes Roz’s routine, second paragraph is one line and says exactly how she feels about said routine. I laugh every time I read it.

  21. Loving this article and more importantly, Yoga. It sometimes feels Just can’t get enough of it!

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  23. Eva Tramell seems to work out a lot in Sylvia Day’s ‘Bared to You”. Of course, if my work out buddy was a hot billionaire I would probably run on the treadmill and lift weights more often too.