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Michael and Marisa Pender embracing each other on a rock in front of a body of water.
Stories of positive change by Life Time and HOKA

Michael and Marisa Pender’s story began in high school: Two small-town kids who became friends through lighthearted rivalry banter at local track-and-field events. They reconnected after college and their friendship deepened during Michael’s seven-month deployment oversees. “And now here we are,” says Marisa. “Married and expecting our first baby.”

The adventurous couple’s passion for health and fitness is a core value in their marriage, so when they settled in Eagan, Minn., finding a place where they could stay active and fit was a priority. They joined Life Time shortly after and found it to be more than a gym: “Life Time has blended perfectly with our belief that working out is more than just something we do — it’s simply one aspect of our desire to live and love a healthy lifestyle,” says Michael.

We caught up with the couple to learn a little bit more about how they maintain their routines, how staying fit together keeps them connected, and their excitement about becoming parents to a baby boy in September.

Life Time Editorial (LTE): When it comes to exercise, when do you prefer to do your workouts — morning, afternoon, or evening?

Marisa: If you had have asked me this question a couple of years ago, you would not have caught me dead saying I’m a morning person. But Michael has done the impossible and converted me to loving the early morning grind. There’s nothing better than starting your day off with some endorphins and crushing a great workout.

Michael: The military definitely taught me the value of a consistent morning routine and working out is a huge part of that. It really helps kickstart the day and puts you in a better mood. It also helps with better sleep at night.

LTE: Once you’re at Life Time, where do you head first (after the locker room)?

Marisa: Typically, my first stop is hopping on an assault bike or the rowing machine to get my heart rate up, then doing some dynamic warm-up and light foam rolling before starting my workout. After years of competitive athletics, I have learned the hard way to prioritize warm-ups to avoid injuries.

Michael: I always find somewhere to warm up, especially during the long, cold Minnesota winters. This typically this involves light cardio, foam rolling, and stretching — maybe a few minutes in the sauna.

LTE: What’s your preferred cardio machine?

Marisa: With my running background, if I am on a cardio machine, you will usually find me reliving the glory days on a treadmill — though my running looks more like hobby jogging or HIIT-style sprint workouts nowadays.

Michael: My workout itself ends up being a cardio session as I try to “superset” my exercises and take minimal breaks in between sets. However, you will often find me on the treadmill or Stairmaster as a finisher — I have a strong relationship with ice cream. Balance is key!

LTE: What’s your go-to strength equipment?

Marisa: My one-stop shop is definitely the barbell/squat rack. That was the main thing I really missed during quarantine last year!

Michael: Anything that involves a barbell.

The Pender's lifting kettlbells

LTE: What’s your favorite way to work out — together or on your own?

Marisa: I definitely prefer working out together. Michael is my favorite workout partner and one of the main reasons I love lifting. After my time was done in competitive athletics, I was nervous to start lifting weights for fear of “getting big,” but Michael was so patient and encouraging, and it has been absolutely amazing to see how far I have come.

We love to push each other and come up with lifting plans for accountability. We have even thought about trying to get our personal-training certifications together someday for fun.

Michael: I always enjoy working out together because it forces some accountability, and we can come up with new ideas for workouts. However, there are also days when I like to put headphones in and get after it myself.

LTE: You’re switching up your routine for the day — do you head to a group fitness class, the pool, the gym to shoot some hoops, the Pilates studio, etc.?

Marisa: Typically, on an “off” day we head to the gym so I can school Michael in basketball!

Michael: If we are switching things up, I’ll let Marisa beat me in some one-on-one basketball or a three-point contest. In all seriousness, she’s actually really good.

LTE: It’s time to recover — what’s your preferred method (i.e. stretching, foam-rolling, percussive massage device, sauna, hot tub, etc.)?

Marisa: As I mentioned before, I’ve learned the hard way over the years that warming up and recovering are perhaps even more important than the workout itself. Stretching and foam rolling are daily essentials, and outside of COVID times — and now pregnancy! — I love to use the eucalyptus steam room, whirlpool, and sauna to boost recovery.

Michael: After working out, I always try to stretch and foam roll. If I have extra time or if it’s the weekend, I’m definitely taking advantage of the sauna, steam room, and hot tub.

LTE: You head to the Life Cafe for some post-workout fuel — what’s your favorite shake or smoothie?

Marisa: The Vegan PB&B shake is amazing!

Michael: The Ultimate Protein Shake with almond milk, banana, and peanut butter.

The Pender's playing basketball

LTE: As soon-to-be parents, how excited are you to (eventually) introduce your little one to Life Time and kids programming?

Marisa: We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to pass on our passion for health and fitness to our child and to be part of a club that shares those same values. Our goal is to leave a legacy for our children and our children’s children, which starts with small, intentional habits. It has been so fun to start looking at all the activities Life Time offers its Junior Members to get them engaged and excited about living an active lifestyle.

We also love that the kids programming will allow mom and dad to continue sharing quality time with each other and prioritizing our own health and well-being, while knowing that our little man is in great hands. We can’t wait for him to arrive!

Michael: We are thankful that Life Time has a community for our little one to have an environment that prioritizes health and fitness from an early age. I think it will be cool for our child to see how mom and dad prioritize health and fitness, but more importantly, why. The monthly parents’ night out seems like a good time, too.

LTE: How does leading an active, fit lifestyle contribute to your marriage/relationship?

Marisa: Our marriage is rooted in our faith, family, and fitness. We firmly believe that maintaining a healthy balance in all areas — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — is necessary to achieve true health and wellness. To us, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is non-negotiable and helps us to maintain balance in these areas.

Working out together offers us time to connect, destress, and remain grounded in spite of our busy schedules. We truly cherish our time investing in our health and marriage so we can make the most of every moment, set the example for our future kiddo(s), and be around for a long, long time.

Michael: Fitness has always been a huge part of my life, and now it’s a key part of our marriage. It’s been fun challenging each other and creating memories together with something that is benefiting us in a positive way.

Marisa and I are passionate about integrating health into every facet of our lives and making the most of every moment. Whether it is in the gym lifting weights or out climbing mountains, we just genuinely enjoy being active and being together. I truly believe that being intentional about fitness has led me to be a better husband and now father. Fitness really improves your mood, health, mindset, and energy levels, which helps set you up for success in all areas of life. Also, I’m now working hard to reinvent the “dad bod”!

Top photo by Yale Bernadotte, Dempag Photography
Life Time and HOKA

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