Four Qualities of Helpful and Inspirational Training Partners

Having a partner makes these regular workouts more fun and challenging , and can also make them a great social experience. But all of this can backfire if you only rely on another person to take a step forward. If you’re friends, you need to pull your own weight too, and here’s how to do it.

Over the years I have worked with many training buddies in a variety of settings: school teams, sports leagues, community running groups, large commercial gyms, and tight-knit, highly competitive “barbell clubs”. I’ve found that the most effective training partners are always able to inspire you to get better and work harder, keep you accountable, and continually make you feel like you can actually do great things. To do this for your workout friend, the first thing you need to do is show up. Regularly.

You make realistic commitments that you can keep

You have to be reliable, period. This means that you are realistic about the commitments and appointments you make with your friend. Tell in advance about your individual goals, how many days you are ready to train and how much time you have. When you are realistic about your plans, you both can understand if your schedules are the same right from the start. Things won’t be perfect, but as long as you both are aware of these differences, you can handle it.

And while it’s the whole point of the tag team when someone is depending on you to show up so he or she can’t get out of training, adulthood can always come with surprises (it always does). Therefore, if you need to cancel a workout, make a clear “salvage agreement” in which you agree in advance about what is a valid reason for canceling or actually being late. Maybe it’s a deadline at work or caring for a sick family member. “I’m really tired and sick ” is not good (unless you’re exercising too much ) for a buddy who relies on you for motivation and support.

If you are not sure how much time to devote, feel free to start with half of the number of hours or days you want to devote, and increase it as needed. Keep in mind that partner workouts tend to take longer than solo workouts, so plan for that.

You inspire your partner with actions , not just encouragement.

This does not mean that you have to shout: “You can do it!” again and again. This is not the only (or even the best) way to motivate your partner . You need to put in a real, honest effort towards your workouts.

When people work together, they tend to work harder and longer than usual. This is called the Kohler effect , where feelings of weakness cause people to strain themselves more when they are with someone who is slightly better. This is why working with someone else can be so effective. However, you don’t have to be much better than your buddy, but you should at least put in your best effort.

Moreover, the behavior is contagious. In a landmark study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics , economist Bruce Sacerdot demonstrated how good and bad habits can infect others. In particular, he observed how poorly performing students can improve their grades by living in a room with high performing students. While this study isn’t entirely fitness-related, other studies (like this in the Journal of Applied Physiology ) have shown that we tend to pick up on our partner’s moods and behaviors that affect our own performance, for better or for worse.

In other words, your work ethic, your attitude, and the effort you put into training and relationships matter more than any verbal cheerleading to inspire and keep your friend motivated as they work out. Dragging your feet and appearing indifferent will negatively affect your partner and your workout. If you need a little help getting ready for your workout , listen to your favorite workout music, or use the 20 second rule , where you just focus on a step that takes you 20 seconds or less to complete and the rest will come. Take it easy.

You know how to “spot” your buddy at the gym

A good partner doesn’t just motivate the other person to challenge themselves; a good training partner helps to achieve this. When I know there is a familiar face covering me at the gym, I am more willing to put on weight than I would otherwise if I was alone, simply because I trusted my workout partner to help me out if I run into with a problem or “find me”.

To be a good observer (and therefore a useful training partner), you need to know what you can and cannot do when you spot someone . Usually, the spot is only useful in a few exercises, such as bench press , squat, and overhead press. It’s important to remember that you are not helping anyone lift weights (unless your friend says so). This means you shouldn’t touch the bar or weight when not needed. At the same time, you should know your partner’s limitations enough to allow him to try to fight it on his own and then attack if really necessary (a sure sign is when your buddy’s lifting form breaks badly).

Watchthis video to learn how to properly recognize someone. Remember, the most important thing is to communicate clearly when you need space.

You develop relationships outside the gym.

A workout in the gym only takes an hour or so, but as we all know, the struggle to maintain that athletic impulse becomes challenging when we’re outside the gym. We could all use someone to lean on when things get tough or celebrate victories so you don’t have to limit your relationship to just the gym. For example, I love being able to freely text and talk to my workout partners about anything and everything about fitness, especially since all my talk about macros and fitness jargon is likely to scare off my non-fitness friends.

I remember texting a friend one day after eating fried chicken and beer and feeling guilty . I really scolded myself about it, but after walking back and forth with him, he helped me understand that everything was not going to burn in the fire as they originally thought they would. The point is, you can still motivate and support the other person, even when you’re not at the gym together. You’d be surprised if you just wrote to someone, “Don’t worry, it’s much worse in your head” or “We are all going through those days. Tell me more about yours. ” can go a long way.

Of course, these are not all qualities that an excellent training partner should have, but they are some important ones. After all, fitness is as much a psychological problem as a physical one. In these cases, what you do or say (and sometimes do n’t do or say) can have subtle and far-reaching consequences for someone’s psyche and motivation. This support can often mean the difference between working out or training and going to the gym every day.


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