Minneapolis and St. Paul are networking towns. The luncheons, cocktail hours and charity events are mainstays of the local business community, but they come with a price. The schmoozing can pack on the pounds and professional relationships become convoluted after one too many martinis.

Some die-hards are addressing this dilemma by mixing networking with working out. The latest fitness trend, dubbed "sweatworking," lets professionals combine their exercise requirements with the business of the day.

"Sweatworking is the new golf," said Tom Manella, vice president of personal training for Life Time Fitness, where gym members often invite clients to a spin class, then head to the café for a nutritional shake and more networking. "It seems like the new way to professionally connect."

There are benefits to entertaining clients at a spin class in lieu of happy hour: Business owners report increased productivity and creativity from their employees. And the health-conscious employees say in the midst of all that sweating, huffing and puffing, they're building deeper, more meaningful relationships with each other.

"It's like an adult field trip," said Kelly Miyamoto, founder of The Firm in Minneapolis, a popular gym for business-oriented workouts. "You're getting people out of the office, engaged in an activity and building relationships. The cellphones and the e-mail all disappear. ... When else do you find that in our culture now?"

Sweatworking has become an integral part of the way business is conducted at some companies. At Coherent Solutions, a software development business headquartered in Minneapolis, at least a dozen of the office's 30 employees gather twice a week for a run during the workday in preparation for the Tough Mudder, a 10- to 12-mile race with obstacle courses.

The company's CEO, Igor Epshteyn, is an exercise guru and stands behind the team's upcoming goal, even footing the bill for everyone to train at The Firm once a week under trainer Snype Myers.

Coherent's recruiter, Trina Thornton, likes the approach so much that she's started conducting portions of interviews outside of the office over walks or jogs around the lake. Whether a potential client agrees to go for a run doesn't make or break the decision process, Thornton said, but "it speaks volumes if they want to."

At other companies, sweatworking carries more weight. In the New York Times recently, Keith Ferrazzi, author of "Never Eat Alone," a guide to networking, said business-related workouts are ideal for closing deals and winning accounts. "In the sales process you want to accelerate personal relationships," Ferrazzi said. "Vulnerability yields intimacy. Intimacy yields trust."

A few months ago, Julie Gilbert Newrai, a busy entrepreneur with her own Minneapolis-based firm passed on working with a potential partner when he backed out of a planned workout.

"It's like truth serum," the Excelsior businesswoman said. "When you're in a tough situation and sweating and exhausted, do they pick it up? Do they have fun? Or do they look at you like they hate you? It gets to the heart of the matter -- how well you're going to work together -- much more than exchanging margaritas."

Sweat harder, work better

Sweatworking is reminiscent of the managing style of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, who preferred to conduct meetings over a walk outdoors instead of sitting at a conference table.

But for those looking to sweat a bit more, spinning is the most popular corporate workout. The exercise takes place on stationary bikes and accommodates all ages and fitness levels. Everyone starts together and ends together, and works at their own pace. Yoga, Pilates and small group training are also popular.

A growing body of research shows that physical activity increases brain activity and creativity, so many companies believe sweatworking is good for their bottom line. Plus, from an economic standpoint it's a more sound decision. The cost of a spin class and a shake is far less than dinner and cocktails.

Active workers make smarter and more productive employees, said Mark Blegen, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at St. Catherine University.

"The benefits of exercise are physical, but more importantly, psychological," Blegen said. "I have yet to find a study that says exercise negatively impacts us in any way. However, the positives are endless."

But how does one get past the weirdness of grunting, panting and sweating in front of colleagues?

"That can be a barrier," Miyamoto said, "But if you get out of your environment and onto a neutral playing field where everyone is in the same boat, engaged in an activity and following the lead of a trainer ... it eliminates the awkward exchange between two co-workers."

One of the obvious factors for feeling awkward while working out with your cubicle mate is seeing them don a pair of short shorts and a revealing sport bra top. When working out in a professional setting, the experts suggest choosing attire that's age-appropriate and tasteful. In other words, save the holey T-shirts for that weekend paint job.

Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715