DISCLAIMER: For this exercise, the conditions are considered for the dynamics of small powerlifting groups using a conjugate system. For training reasons, namely time limitations on Speed Days with short rest intervals, it is assumed group size should not exceed 4 persons. (However the principles could be applied across other groups of various sizes and disciplines).
All of my biggest gains, largest lifts, and most significant progressions have occurred with exceptional training partners. I do not think that is a coincidence. Having another person to hold you accountable and share your journey is a powerful tool that allows you to achieve beyond your best individual efforts.
Having a high-caliber training partner is nice, but they are hard to find. They also expect and demand a great training partner to reciprocate their services.
So as Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want to HAVE a great training partner, BE a great training partner. If you are one, I guarantee you will always find serious people who want to train with you.
Along those lines, here are my thoughts on what it takes to be a good training partner:
1. Be consistent. Be punctual.
This is listed first because it is most important. Pick a time, pick a day and have a schedule. There is nothing simpler and yet more critical then showing up every day you train, EVERY time (barring extraordinary circumstances). Be committed. If nothing else, you hold each other accountable.
Be there on time. If the start time is 6:00 p.m., be ready to touch the bar at 6:00 p.m. EXACTLY. Respect the time you have chosen to work together and waste none of it waiting.
2. Be focused. Have a goal and a competition date.
Tips one and two are requirements to working with me in any capacity whether it be as your coach or training partner. It’s important that you are ready to work and compete. I need to know you take your training seriously. Compete in anything. Commit to competing. Sign up and get a date on the calendar.
Everything changes when you have limited time. Every day is critical when you are 70 days out from competition. Time is running out. You have to make the most of each day.
You have a date, you need to perform optimally — act accordingly. TRAIN OPTIMALLY.
Count backwards from the competition date and build a calendar that sets you up for success. Know what lifts need to be executed on what days. Write down and calculate your percentages of your max lifts. Have a rep-by-rep plan when you enter the gym each day.
Communicate with your teammates to coordinate your actions.
Adapt if you need to, but come with an idea of what you want to accomplish. Be prepared.
All that wander in the gym are lost.
4. Communicate effectively. Set expectations and environmental norms.
Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship. Any one without it is doomed to fail.
You can’t say nothing and think people will optimally perform in the context. If you know what environment you thrive in, be able to communicate that to your training partners and find a solution that works. Make sure it is established as an expectation in the beginning.
5. Be a coach. Provide feedback & be a continuous learner.
At the bare minimum you are another set of eyes and a perspective that the lifter does not have. Even if you don’t know why they failed a lift or got out of the groove, you can describe what you saw.
For example, “I don’t know if it contributed to what happened, but I saw your left knee was tracking inside of your foot.” Here’s another example, “The bar moved in a different path than your previous repetition.” Here’s one more, “The third repetition slowed down.”
You are not being prescriptive here, just observational. I know you saw something.
Consider your experience and relevant knowledge relative to your training partners’ knowledge when providing corrective feedback. If you’re a novice, stick to observational. If you know what is going on, suggest action.
If you don’t know something or wish to correct a problem — research and share your findings. Listen in the gym, read outside of it. Continuously work to improve your knowledge base.
Contribute to the collective knowledge of your group.
6. Be a handler (squire).
Assist in every way possible.
OBJECTIVE: Make it possible for lifter to focus on nothing but the bar and the movement. Remove everything else.
Know preferences, rack heights, box heights, bar placements, handoff preferences, lifting needs (pre, during, & post), launch sequence, adjustments in position, etc. Anticipate needs. Be useful. Don’t just stand there.
A harmonious group will function similar to a NASCAR pit crew. The group will be moving in a synchronized, choreographed flow of efficient and purposeful movements achieved only through countless repetition.
Minimum requirement: spot & load. Take both seriously.
7. Actively participate and be present.
Find a place in the moment and participate. Think about nothing else. Never check your phone. Never talk to people outside of the group. No distractions. Be 100% committed and focused in the present moment on the lift that is occurring.
Find a way to get involved.
If done properly, an optimized training session can feel like meditation in motion.
8. Motivate and encourage.
Contribute to intensity. Don’t just feed off the energy. Help to set the tone. If you want an intense, high-energy environment, be an intense and high-energy individual. It is contagious. Your mood and demeanor affect those around you. Be a positive influence.
Encourage your teammates, but remember to be a coach and not a cheerleader. Tell them what they NEED to hear, not what they WANT to hear.
9. Write everything down.
Keep a log. Work towards continuous incremental improvement. You can only manage what you measure, and paper is a great way to expand the potential of the human mind.
Make copious notes. Reflect. Make changes. Improve. Repeat.
10. Have fun.
We do this because we love it. Enjoy the moment. Celebrate accomplishments.
It is a process in constant evolution. I continuously learn and adapt. When better practices emerge or I become aware of other aspects, I change my approach and application.
Train with focus & intent. Be strong.
About Reid Harris: Reid is an ISSA – Certified Personal Trainer at Austin Simply Fit. Reid enjoys helping people move through the world better and is an active powerlifter at ASF. In his free time, Reid enjoys exploring the Austin’s beautiful outdoors, as well as cooking and spending time with friends and family.