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How to be a Great Training Partner
There are many different ways to train. Some athletes prefer to train alone, while others thrive with the company and motivation of another. Through triathlons and now CrossFit, I have found that I perform better as an athlete when I have another person to work with, and I am very fortunate to have found the perfect match in a friend and training partner.
Training with another person provides more than just camaraderie and friendship, however (although those are two great benefits!). It takes a lot more to create an effective training atmosphere that is beneficial to both partners.
Here are the top ten qualities I have learned to appreciate through training with someone else. They also happen to be ten great reasons to consider finding a partner to train with today!
There is nothing more motivating than knowing that your training partner will be waiting for you—especially if your training session happens early in the morning. It is much harder to press the “snooze” button on your alarm clock if you know someone is waiting for you at the gym. Being committed to your partner is the number one factor in making or breaking your relationship—it’s that important. We all know that life/sickness happens, but when you are committed to your partner, you show up on time, every time, and don’t flake out. Likewise, when you train, rid yourself of any distractions (the phone being a major one) that may get in the way of your training session.
Be a Motivator
A training partner will also provide you the encouragement and positivity you may need if you show up to a session feeling less than 100% (your kid couldn’t find his shoes leaving for school in the morning, the dog ran away, you accidently poured Chinese 5 spice powder instead of cinnamon in your coffee before you dashed out the door, etc.). Just be sure that you are providing your partner with an equal dose of inspiration and optimism, especially on the days that he or she may need a boost, because if you rely on your partner pushing you 100% of the time, you are an energy drain, and will most likely end up training solo before too long :o)
Partners that train together are also comfortable providing verbal encouragement during workout sessions, ensuring maximum potential in each individual.
When you have a training partner, you also have a built in spotter for all your lifts! You never want to be in a place where you are pinned under the bar with no way to bail (sheepishly raising hand here). Not only is it horribly embarrassing if/when someone finds you, but it is also not safe. CFMG athletes have all been disciplined on how to actively spot for their partner in class, but when you are paired with the same person, day after day, and know how they like to be spotted, and when they will need a spot, it makes a difference. I have become a lot more confident attempting lifts that I would not attempt solo, because I know that I have Tami behind me, either tapping my back or lightly touching my elbows (and screaming, “DRIVE!”) to help me get the weight back up. She literally has my back, and I have hers. Checkout this piece on spotting here.
Validate Integrity of Movement
Your training partner also serves as an extra pair of eyes to watch your form. She may be the one to point out why you missed your last lift, so that you can correct your form and attempt the lift again. She will also be honest with you when you did not hit parallel on your squat depth (and you will perform your last set…again…with extra depth to make up for it!) These are things that you will not learn from training alone, and you might not even get from being paired up with someone in class. When I train with Tami, I will call out everything I see, because I know that I demand the same from her. In calling each other out, we have a mutual understanding that we are not being a jerk or trying to one-up the other—we both want to be better at this sport, and that requires perfect form and integrity in all of our movements. Training with each other daily also means that we know each other’s weak spots, and we are ready to provide feedback and cues when we see them.
Lending to the last point, when Tami and I offer movement advice to each other, there are no hard feelings. I am honest with her, and she is honest with me. At some point in training together, your partner will notice you are doing something wrong and will let you know about it. Your partner does not do this to insult you or make you mad. Take the criticism your partner gives you and learn from it!
Once you take that feedback, follow the advice of two-time CrossFit Games Champion Annie Thorisdottir: “I will never criticize or beat myself up for what I can’t do today, I will just try again tomorrow. “
Know How to Push Each Other
After coaching for almost two years, I have learned that there are many different ways to motivate athletes. The great thing about having a training partner is that you know exactly what to say and how to say it to get them to dig deeper and push further than they may want to at that point. That being said, you also know when to back off and try again for another day. It’s an intricate balance between pushing and pulling, but having someone say the things you need to hear sometimes makes all the difference. I personally would take a bodyweight or (surprise!) sprinting/endurance WOD any day over the dreaded 1/1/1/1/1/1 squat day, and I tend to struggle mentally conquering or getting “excited” about heavy strength days. Lucky for me, I picked a training partner who LOVES to lift heavy things, and it’s hard to not have some of her energy rub off on me. Conveniently, Tami is not particularly fond of endurance events, and you can find me gleefully taking her to the pool to swim sprints every Tuesday. We both have a love-to-hate-it (or is it hate-to-love-it?) mentality about these supposed “weaknesses,” so we make sure to give each other the push we need to get the job done and get stronger as an overall balanced athlete. We compliment one another in our strengths and weaknesses, providing support that resonates with the other.
Keep Social Hour to a Minimum
Once you find your training partner, especially if that partner happens to be a close friend, can be difficult to not spend your entire session goofing off or talking about the latest episode of American Horror Story. While both are very worthwhile activities, try to recognize that you set aside an hour and a half of your day to focus on your training goals, and use your warm-up or stretching afterward as your chance to catch-up instead. Sometime our warm-up run goes from a 200 meter run to 800 meters due to these chats, but once we finish our movement prep, it’s back to business for the rest of that hour. You and your partner owe it to each other to be 100% focused on your work, in the time that you have.
Allow No Excuses
Let’s face it, when you have a training partner, who knows you inside and out, they will not allow you to make excuses. You know that little voice inside your head that pops up and says, “well, I didn’t really want to lift that heavy today anyway” or “well, she is stronger/faster/better than me” or “so what if I count that rep?” or “I’m going to take it easy on these sprints today,” or “maybe I’ll just end this session early today”? Your training partner knows all of them, and will not let you get away with giving less than all of your efforts. The only way to get better is to stop letting those excuses pile up in your head and do what you can with what you have at that moment in that day. Once you let an excuse start to become a reality and affect your performance, it’s over. You might as well not try at all. Instead of griping about all your concerns, take that time and work on them. A good training partner keeps your accountability in check.
Celebrate Each Other’s Successes
This may be one of my favorite reasons to have a training partner. I get truly excited when Tami reaches a PR, or blasts through a WOD with the fastest time of the day. In an environment where everyone is super-competitive, and sizing each other up, it is refreshing to have a training partner who doesn’t thrive on your perceived failure or weakness, and who really WANTS you to do better for yourself and knows and believes in you. When your partner experiences a PR, celebrate with her because that gain is just as much a result of her own hard work as it is the training you have accomplished together. Because we trust each other, we tease to each other all the time when one of us “beats” the other—but it is all in good fun, knowing that this push allows us to be better…and just because one day Tami may “beat” me, she knows very well that I may be breathing down her neck another day.
Have Similar Goals
When you start to look around for a training partner, in addition to finding someone whose training schedule coincides with yours, you also want to find someone who is about the same ability level or who wants to work on the same things as you. Take the time to talk to that person about specific goals you would like to meet, and what you are going to do to get there. Keep it measurable and specific, and have a timeline. If you both have similar goals, it makes it much easier to remind each other of the “big” picture and allows you to put together a training plan that works for the both of you. Talking about the plan for the week regularly (versus just showing up to the gym and saying, “what do you want to do today!?”) and taking turns mapping out your workout sessions ensures that you are both equally engaged in training together.
These are just a few of the many ways that I have experienced gains, both mentally and physically, through training with a partner. What are yours? If you don’t have a partner yet, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find a friend to train with today!
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