The Breakup Body

The “revenge body” – a fitness transformation following a breakup – has long been covered by the tabloids. From Katie Holmes to Britney Spears and Jennifer Aniston to Khloé Kardashian, plenty of stars have reportedly adopted workout regimens designed to inspire regret in their exes. Yet, research suggests that the revenge body phenomenon extends well beyond Hollywood: Celebrities aren’t the only ones getting fit after a failed relationship.

According to psychologists, many of us turn to fitness when our lives are in free fall: Still reeling from an ex’s rejection, we embrace working out as a welcome form of control. Others find that exercise alleviates the negative feelings that arise when a relationship ends; looking great is just an added bonus. What really drives individuals who get toned or buff after a breakup? We asked nearly 1,000 people why they decided to get fit after a split and how they felt once they did.

Our findings shed light on the motives that propel men and women into new fitness routines and their results – including the reactions they eventually get from their exes. If you’ve ever considered a revenge body of your own, you won’t want to miss our findings.

Male and Female Motives

Who Wants It More

The appeal of post-breakup fitness extended to both male and female respondents, but our data suggest women were more likely to embrace getting fit post-split. Moreover, women’s goals differed substantially from those of men: Whereas men were nearly split between gaining muscle and losing weight, the majority of women sought the latter. Our respondents boasted pretty impressive results, losing 25 pounds on average if they intended to lose weight, or adding 11 pounds if their goal was to gain it. Motives of attraction aside, these transformations could have a powerful impact on individuals’ well-being, substantially reducing the risk of chronic illnesses.

Indeed, men and women cited feeling better both emotionally and physically as the top reasons for adopting new workout regimens. Still, a significant portion admitted their exercise stemmed from intentions that were less than pure. More than a third of women said their post-breakup exercise related to their desire to make an ex-feel jealous.Men, meanwhile, were more often focused on finding a romantic replacement: Thirty-six percent said they embarked on a new fitness routine to attract a new partner more quickly.

Separation and Inspiration

It's Over

In exploring our respondents’ exercise motivations, it’s worth noting how their breakups typically transpired. One contrast between men and women concerned which partner initiated the breakup: Female respondents were far more likely to say they had ended the relationship than men. Interestingly, research suggests women are more likely to initiate divorce, but men are equally likely to prompt breakups among unmarried couples. Men also claimed their breakups were a mutual decision far more often: More than a third said this was the case, but just a quarter of women said the same.

Additionally, men and women tended to cite slightly different reasons for their splits: Female respondents, for example, attributed their breakups to communication issues more frequently. Likewise, a larger percentage of women said their breakups occurred due to a partner’s infidelity, perhaps because men are more likely to cheat. Despite these differing experiences, over a quarter of men and women said a lack of physical fitness was detrimental to their love life.

Logic Behind Losses

Breakup Reasons

If breakups occurred for a range of reasons, what prompted the most weight loss among respondents? For women, infidelity seemed to provide the ultimate inspiration: On average, >women lost 32 pounds when their relationship ended because a partner cheated. Of course, some of that weight loss could be cause for concern: Researchers note that people whose partners’ cheat sometimes display unhealthy physiological responses, including a loss of appetite. Conversely, breakups related to money issues correlated with the greatest weight loss among men – 43 pounds on average.

Self-Confidence After the Split

Confidence

Few breakups are painless affairs: Neuroscientists observe that separating from a partner can activate the same regions of the brain as physical injuries. Yet, one of the most devastating blows we endure during breakups may be a loss of confidence. This dynamic was particularly evident among men: Whereas three-quarters of men felt confident during the relationship, just 55 percent felt this way after things ended. Women suffered a smaller decline in self-assurance after breaking up with their partners, but fewer identified as confident during their relationships in the first place.

Of course, one’s confidence is more likely to take a hit if the other person elects to move on: Men and women whose partners had dumped them were more likely to identify as “unconfident” than “confident.” Whoever initiates the breakup, however, it seems exercise can help in moving on. Ninety percent of respondents said working out made them feel better in the wake of a breakup, a powerful testament to the endorphin-releasing properties of exercise. Therefore, it’s no surprise our respondents’ workout regimens increased substantially after breakups. On average, men and women exercised five times weekly after splitting from their partners, compared to just twice a week when they were still a couple.

Revenge Reactions?

Ex's Reaction

If many people get fit to make their exes jealous, what sort of reactions do post-breakup transformations actually inspire? Most respondents reported that their exes were surprised upon seeing their fitness gains, although that response could encompass a wide array of feelings. Another 42 percent reported their former partners were happy for them, a strikingly mature reaction. In some cases, however, exes did seem to exhibit renewed interest. About a quarter of respondents said their former lovers were more eager to spend time together or regretful about breaking up at all.

Whether their transformations received the desired reaction, the majority of men and women said their former partners later expressed a desire to get back together. This willingness to reunite is more common than many imagine: Research indicates that nearly half of couples who split get back together eventually. Additionally, our respondents employed plenty of tactics other than exercise to keep an ex-interested. Among women, 43 percent started a new hobby after a breakup; 47 percent of men did the same. Dating someone else to inspire jealousy was also relatively common, with a third of women and a quarter of men adopting this tactic.

Among respondents whose exes sought to reconnect, women and men reported somewhat different experiences. Women were most likely to say their exes expressed regret about breaking up in the first place. Men, however, were most likely to receive the feedback they had changed for the better. Of course, improved looks played a significant role as well: Nearly 54 percent of women and 53 percent of men said their exes wanted to get back together because they had become more attractive.

Flex for the Ex

Social media can make breakups additionally challenging: The temptation to keep virtual tabs on an ex is ever-present. But for those who seek to keep a former lover engaged, social networks are a convenient tool. Three in 10 women admitted to posting content intended to catch an ex’s eye, and 21 percent of men said the same. Of those who employed this approach, Facebook was the most commonly used platform, although 57 percent used Instagram as well.

Given how often people use social media to lure exes back or simply incite jealousy, it’s no surprise a vigorous debate continues about the merits of “unfriending” exes on those platforms. Some experts suggest social media separation is best if seeing an ex’s updates still summons negative feelings. Alternatively, Facebook allows you to “take a break” from a former significant other, keeping content related to that person away from your feed temporarily.

Fitness for Yourself – And Not Anyone Else

Our data demonstrate the motivational power embedded in breakups: When we say goodbye to a partner, sweeping change often becomes possible. However devastated we feel when a relationship ends, a tough breakup can also ignite reinvention, through exercise or otherwise. Our initial motives may revolve around regaining a lost connection, or extracting some form of revenge from someone we once dated. Eventually, though, our goals can shift to emphasize our own prerogatives: well-being, confidence, and a renewed sense of self-worth.

In fact, the best justifications for post-breakup exercise have little to do with your former partner: Forget the ex, and do it because you deserve it. When we stake our personal value on another person’s attraction, we miss opportunities to feel beautiful on our own terms. After all, you don’t need a breakup to start making healthier choices. With or without a partner, your journey to well-being is yours to define.

Methodology

There were 1,868 respondents from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. However, 874 did not meet the qualifications to participate in this study, leaving 994 able participants. The respondents who were excluded stated they had never been in a relationship or had never attempted to become more physically fit after a breakup. Also, respondents’ answers were closely monitored, and any outliers have been excluded from our data.

From the able respondents, 56 percent were women, and 44 percent were men. To adjust for the imbalance of men and women, we used the U.S. census population statistics to weigh men and women in our study. As a result, the men were weighed at 1.1 and women at 0.9. Our respondents ranged in age from 18 to 76 with a mean of 34 and a standard deviation of 10.2.

Fair Use Statement

You’re welcome to share this content on your own website or social media for noncommercial purposes (such as calling your ex’s attention to your own exercise routine). If you do, please include a link back to this page to let your readers explore our full project