Having a good lifting partner can be one of the best tools in your arsenal that will propel your progress in the gym forward. Nothing spurs us on like another human being with which we have to be held accountable to. As the saying goes “Iron sharpens iron,...one man sharpens another." I have seen it firsthand the changes in people's physiques from having a consistent training partner.
I included periodization in this title. Why? Because that's also a useful tool for facilitating gains in the gym, but I'll get to that in a minute.
So what makes a good training partner?
Flexiblity: Every time I read articles on this topic everyone else says, "being on time." I get it, most of us don't have time to spend all day in the gym so we can't be waiting around for someone to show up before we start training. I would say beyond that being flexible is probably the most important trait of a good training partner. Maybe it's because I'm usually the one running late. You can't expect a mutually beneficial relationship to work unless there is some compromise on multiple fronts. Flexibility is paramount!
Reliability: Punctuality is only a small part of this equation, I'm referring to the ability to safely spot you when you are pushing your limits. Spotting, assisting with negatives, and providing forced reps are things that need attention to detail and safety awareness. A good training partner is reliable in this regard.
Honesty: I always like to think that I train with good form. I don't, but it's a nice thought! A good training partner is able to give honest, accurate feedback about what you're doing that may or may not need correction. A mutually beneficial partnership will be founded in honesty.
Desire: You should seek to train with someone else that has a goal and similar drive. They don't have to have the same goal as you but they ought to be driven towards something. You compete in bodybuilding? Great! Does your training partner have to be a competitive bodybuilder also? Not necessarily. Some great partnerships have been between bodybuilders and powerlifters, strongmen or dare I say, men's physique athletes? I have trained with MPD guys and many are just as driven (if not more than the bodybuilders) in the gym! Among the list of legendary partnerships many of us know is John Meadows and Dave Tate. Bodybuilder and powerlifter... I'm pretty sure both have benefited from training with each other because the desire to improve is there.
Culture: This isn't often discussed but it is something vitally important because this is where most of us physique athletes get so worked up. Most of the years I've been training when I have trained with partners or even a group (think 4-5 guys on a leg day), we have a culture of always "dogging" each other. We're always bringing each other back down to earth. Now since I don't always train with them when I did train with them and they'd start "doggin'" me I'd take it personally, or at least until I reminded myself that this is the culture of the group. I'd "dog" them right back and it's no big deal. I've also trained with partners or groups that are constantly giving each other positive affirmation and building each other up. That is a different group culture and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just different! You have to decide which is a better fit for you, if you try to combine those worlds it will most likely not end well.
Periodization: Kinda silly to include this in an article about training partners isn't it? Here's my point: you will most likely put forth more effort when training with a partner than by yourself with your perfectly calculated periodize plan where you have to do 87.5% of your 1RM for 8 sets of 3 on 1 arm band presses. Don't turn down the opportunity to train with someone equally motivated because it doesn't fit with your "perfect" plan. Oftentimes I've set more PR's training with partners than alone, but I've also made the mistake of turning down opportunities to train with partners because it didn't fit my "plan." In the end, effort trumps planning in terms of yielding muscle gain and partners are one of the best ways to help us exert greater effort.
This is by no means a comprehensive list! There are lots of other things to consider when partnering up with someone in the gym. I hope this brings to light some factors you might not have considered. In the end, it's about finding ways to create more effort/intensity and few things do that as well as having a partner in the gym.
Written by Jon Habeshy