Beginner, intermediate, advanced, casual or serious—it doesn't matter what your fitness level is when it comes to selecting a training partner. What does matter is having someone at your side, every step of the way who has your best interests at heart. As site director of MensFitness.com and with over 10+ years spent working out and training, I've gone through my fair share of training partners. Some have been incredibly helpful and motivational, and others have measurably slowed my progression. And over the years I’ve realized there are several killer traits you definitely want from the dude who’s truly got your back in the squat rack.
Obviously you go to the gym to work on improving yourself, but when you decide to take on a training partner there’s now another person you need to take into consideration. Odds are you aren't always going to share the same goals or agree on how to workout, but that's totally OK... as long as both parties are aware of these differences and willing to accommodate each other. Throughout my years of training, much of my personal focus has been on staying lean and having great muscular endurance, while my training partners, on the other hand, have often been looking to get bigger and stronger. As a result, I'd be working with slightly lighter weights, higher repetitions and shorter rest periods whereas my partner liked throwing around the heavier weights, training at lower rep ranges and taking longer rest periods. But because we both put each other's immediate needs before our own, regardless of our conflicting workout routines, we were still able to work well together. I was there to spot him and vice versa, I was there to push him past those last painful reps and he was there doing the same for me. There was a mutually beneficial amount of respect for each other’s workout program and no matter how we got there our ultimate goal was the same—to make serious gains in the gym.
2. Pre- and Post-Workout Texter
You might be the most fired up, determined athlete on the planet, but sometimes the excitement just isn't there. Maybe you're stressed at work, you didn't get much sleep, or you just flat-out don't feel like getting up and going. On those days when your usual Superman tendencies fall flat the right training partner can keep you—and your motivation—in the game. I recall instances when my training partner and I had completely different schedules and obligations, but that didn't stop us from encouraging one another. During those busy times we turned to text messaging. As simple as it sounds, you'd be surprised how a few inspiring words like, "make it happen tonight" or "don't forget to get those sets of squats in" can really get you moving. So even when you're not physically training with one another, you're going to want that partner who goes the extra mile to still be there in spirit.
3. In-Tune Spotter
When you’ve got a fully-loaded barbell about to come crashing down on your throat because you couldn’t handle it, the last thing you ever want is a training partner who isn’t there to react. On the other hand, it's just as bad when your partner is either practically lifting the weight for you, or leaving you to struggle every inch of the way. There's a lot more that goes into a good spot than what you see on the surface. First and foremost, your training partner should have a solid grasp on your strength and what your progression has been in terms of weight and lift reps. For example if you just hit a personal record of 225 lbs. for 5 repetitions on the bench press last week, you both can't think you're going to be able to throw another 20 lbs. on that bar this week. My best training partners always knew when it was time to push me into overdrive or pull back the reigns a bit. Your ideal spotter should be in-tune with your abilities almost as much as you are with yourself.
4. An Idea Generator
Sure, you might be on some serious, rigid program to add more size or become the strongest man in the room, but after a while, repeating the exact same routine day-in and day-out gets boring. Plus, it can eventually cause your results to plateau. A good training partner should bring new ideas to the table to help keep things interesting and effective. My training partner and I swap ideas before and during each one of our workouts. One week he might be responsible for developing our upper body workout while I handle the lower body, and then we switch. Whether it’s suggesting new exercises, different finishers, or a variety of combinations, look for someone who can bring some creativity to the training floor and you’ll be golden.
5. Just As (or More) Disciplined Than You
At the end of the day, you and you alone are the only one who can accomplish your goals. You're the one pushing the weight, clocking in the cardio and watching what you eat. But that said, it's great to be working out with someone who's also really trying to push himself to the next level and beyond. I've worked with incredibly motivating partners, and others that have been too dependent and sucked me dry of energy and enthusiasm. If you're hanging around a guy (or girl) who's just working out because it sounded like a good idea or they "kinda" want to get somewhere, you're just setting yourself up for limitations, or worse, failure. Find someone focused and determined who has set themselves some serious fitness goals.