The value of training with (a) partner/s in relation to strength training cannot truly be quantified, but, I am going to try to in this short read. First we must put into context what “training” is and what “working out” is. Then we will get into how and why having a good training partner is almost imperative to training progress.
First off, “training” is having an end game and laying out an organized plan to reach it. This is what competitive athletes do and this can also be applied to people who have a particular goal they want to accomplish. “Training” is coming into the gym every day with a clear and concise objective that is directed towards the goal. Every movement, repetition, and timing are all meant to construct ourselves in one direction and that is forward. “Working out” is generally just moving around to feel good and no solid plan is implemented because particular planning is not required. There is nothing inherently wrong with “working out” because for many people just coming to the gym and moving around actually feels great and they get to do what they want that makes them feel good about themselves (who doesn't want that?). This is a more relaxed and recreational form of exercise that does not take as much discipline and that is okay.
There is a time and a place for “working out” but the reward from “training” can be much more meaningful because more effort was put into it. Now when I mention effort I don't mean just trying really hard in the gym and getting a good sweat in….that is actually really easy to do. The real effort is taking care of yourself outside of the gym. I tell my clients and athletes all the time that you don't get stronger in the gym…you get stronger at home! If anything, you get weaker in the gym because you are intentionally breaking down your body to the extent where you are stimulating an adaptive response which happens when you are resting. It is easy to partake in “unhealthy” habits outside of the gym like eating fun food, drinking with friends, staying up all night watching shows, etc. It is very difficult to say “no thanks” to those things and instead eat lean protein with steamed vegetables, drink water, and go to bed at 9pm every night. Doing that for a week is difficult…imagine doing that for a year. That takes a lot more effort than just sweating in the gym. That is why training is way more meaningful! You set a plan for yourself and you followed it and you are now a different human unit than you were before. That may seem daunting to do by yourself but what if you had at least one person in your corner every step of the way?
This is where a training partner enters the equation. A good training partner is someone who has similar goals as you do and is willing to go on the same journey as you with the same amount of effort. Someone who knows how much your goals mean to you and they understand the impact achieving those goals will have on you. They accept all challenges and obstacles that are associated with training and will have your back while you have theirs.
A big aspect of having a training partner and even being a training partner yourself is the big “A” word: Accountability! We are all human beings and we will have random things pop up, we will face temptations, we will get discouraged, and we will mess up from time to time. That is just life! Someone who is a good training partner will see us struggle in one shape or another and either lend a helping hand or give us a kick in the rear end to get us back on our training because they know how important your goals are and will hold you to your actions. Now this does not mean that they have to be rude, but rather, respectfully blunt. Being a little too nice doesn't really help anybody that you care about in my opinion especially when it's in regard to something that means a lot to us. In that same breath, being too mean does not accomplish much either. In my personal experience the best training partners I have ever had would never sugar coat anything. Whatever it was they would tell me straight up and I trust that their intentions were to not hurt my feelings but rather to make me better. Let me be clear that the accountability piece is only there when it is needed, not every time you step foot into the gym. I will say a good training partner should also be fun to be around because they are going to be someone who you will see on a regular basis. Training can be fun especially when you are seeing/feeling progress and so is your training partner.
The other major part of a training partner is the camaraderie or social aspect. When a group of people are all working on making themselves better and helping others get better you get a very tight niche group of people who really understand each other very well. Now this doesn’t happen after one workout because, like anything meaningful, it takes time. For example, when I was training college athletes (and when I was an athlete myself) I would see first hand first year athletes become very close friends by the end of their college career because they were all training together for up to 4-5 years with the same goals and going through the same struggle. They could all look at each other and say “Yes…they get it!”. Some of my closest friends were my teammates from college because we went through our ups and downs with each of us at each other's side. A training partner is not all business. It can be a great friendship that can help you turn into a better version of yourself while getting that “feel good” feeling of actually helping someone else do the same.
If you want to learn first hand what this experience is like and learn how to be a great training partner yourself, then keep an eye out for the opportunity to sign up for the Merritt Powerbuilding program at Merritt Clubs Canton coming in September this year. Think of it as a healthy alternative to many other recreational activities. Give yourself the chance to really see what you're made of and make great friends along the way!
Keith Oelschlaeger, CSCS, MS is a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Canton.