Bodybuilding is most definitely not a team sport. In fact, many of us have gravitated to it from sports like football or wrestling because we hungered for an athletic venue where we would take on the sole responsibility of success or failure. There would be no one to point the finger at in blame if we failed to reach our goals, and nobody either to take shared credit for victory. No, bodybuilding is all about you versus the merciless weights, a lone battle that is ultimately fought within oneself. But is this the best way to fight for bigger muscles and a more impressive physique?
The vast majority of champion bodybuilders over the past thirty years, men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Flex Wheeler, have all trained with training partners rather than alone. Is this because they're lonely and need someone to chat with between sets, or is there more to it? Though bodybuilding is indeed an individual sport, there are many advantages to having a regular training partner that supercede the heroism and nobility of doing it all by yourself. Once you review them, you should clearly see that a bit of teamwork goes a long way toward better results from weight training.
Advantages To Training With A Partner
Safety And Confidence
Let's be honest. There isn't a single one of us who hasn't felt at least a twinge of fear when attempting a new max on squats or bench presses, especially if we didn't have a spotter. Truth be told, you'd be a fool not to be afraid. Lifting very heavy weights carries with it a significant risk of injury. Getting stuck is a possibility, and slipping just a couple centimeters "out of the groove" can spell disaster in the form of devastating lower back or shoulder injuries. Yet without constantly pushing to lift ever heavier weights, you simply can not continue to gain muscular bodyweight. You may think you can train just as heavy by yourself, but the actuality is that you can't. Consciously or subconsciously, the confidence to give your all and break past previous boundaries isn't there when you're going solo. To take it one step further, you won't have full confidence with just any old spotter you grabbed off the gym floor. A training partner who you know and trust, and who knows how to read your verbal and nonverbal signals, is the only person who you will feel totally safe with as you attempt what was recently impossible. That partner knows exactly how to spot you so that there is never the slightest chance of getting hurt, even with hundreds of pounds of cold, unforgiving iron doing its damnedest to crush you into sediment. This is where the advantages of a regular training partner over a random spotter are apparent. You can always find some schmuck to stand over you as you bench press, but only a trusted training partner will erase that nagging doubt in the back of your mind and let you truly push your personal envelope.
Many of you are already highly motivated, particularly if you are just starting out in the sport and are young, with few responsibilities outside of perhaps school and part-time work. Motivation is also effortless to sustain in the first couple years of training because results are regular and continuous. As the years go by, results are slower and harder to come by. There will even be periods of months where you struggle through plateaus, and no gains in size and strength are made. That's just the nature of the beast. Add to this that you will most likely work full-time, marry and have children to care for, and perhaps you can see how it's possible that your zeal and enthusiasm to lift weights and get big could sizably diminish over time. The next time you're at the gym, take a look at some of the guys in their late twenties, thirties, and beyond who are training by themselves. You'll note that most of them don't seem terribly thrilled to be there. I often refer to these poor souls as zombies. They go through the motions, but they're not really there. In contrast, the fellows training with partners are almost always more animated, excited about what they're doing, and more "up" in general. There's something inherently energizing about lifting weights with a buddy. Knowing that someone is there to push you to do your best makes you want to do your best. Training alone, it's easy to let your mind wander and start worrying about your job, your relationships, your bills, or your children. A training partner keeps you focused on the exercises and working your muscles to the max, as you should be. Sometimes all it takes is a simple phrase from your partner like "let's do this" to get you amped up and ready to tear up the gym.
Probably the most widely used intensity technique in bodybuilding is forced reps, because they are so very effective at taking muscles past the pain barrier and into the growth-stimulating zone. Though you never want to overdo forced reps by making them part of every single set, they are a key to muscle gains when used judiciously. A good training partner will develop an instinct as to when to give forced reps, and just how many. He or she will also know exactly how much help is needed, so that the set is made harder instead of easier. Should you choose to train by yourself rather than with a partner, you will miss out on the considerable benefits of forced reps. With them, you can take your musculature to a higher level.
With today's hectic schedules, it's quite tempting at times to say, "ah, I'll go to the gym tomorrow instead of today." If this should happen often enough, you will soon find your physique starting to show the ill effects of missed workouts. With a training partner, you are far less likely to skip a workout. None of us like to let our friends down. If you know your pal Joe is going to be at the gym at six tonight to train back, you'll make it there. If nobody's waiting for you, it's too easy to blow off the gym. The real key to a great physique is consistency, or many great workouts on a regular basis over a period of years. Having a training partner goes a long way toward ensuring that you will make it to the gym when you are supposed to.
What I consider the biggest advantage of a training partnership is rivalry. We're all competitive by nature, and we all perform better when there is someone to compete against. Though hard to find, a training partner roughly at your level of strength makes an excellent rival. As you try to outdo each other for weight and reps, you will both be taking in the most grueling, productive workouts of your lives. And because it's a competition, it will seem like fun rather than exercise. In the end, you will both come out big winners.
How To Be A Good Partner
Now that you see how much better your training can be with a partner, here are some notes on how to optimize the relationship.
Be on time if at all humanly possible. Few things take the fire out of you like waiting for someone when you're raring to start training. If you have to be late, have the decency to call and let them know so that they're not sitting around expecting you.
There are two extremes to bad spotting, and you don't want to be at either end of them. The "all you!" spotter lifts a high percentage of the weight for the lifter, and the "you do it!" guy will stand idly by while you are slowly being crushed to death by a 400-pound barbell. The ideal spot doesn't help the lifter until no reps are possible without assistance, and then only applying enough help to barely complete the last rep or two. A great spotter will even have the lifter reduce the resistance if he finds his assistance is required for the majority of the reps. In addition to knowing exactly how much help to give, a good spotter will also know how to spot from the best location for each exercise. Applying pressure to the incorrect areas will not only make the exercise extremely painful to the lifter, but is potentially dangerous as well. The following list should serve as a partial guide to the ideal locations for spotting on certain exercises:
|Exercise / Type||How To Spot|
|Dumbell presses for shoulders or chests||under the elbows|
|Barbell and dumbells rows, shrugs||do not attempt to spot|
|All machine work||apply push or pull to apparatus itself|
|Squats||behind lifter, arms under armpits|
|Barbell bench press, curl||pull or push on bar|
Spotting Video! Here is a video of Mark Tilden spotting Lance Sganzini while he squats 405 for 4 reps after finishing 4 previous sets.
Though it isn't critical that training partners share identical objectives, similar goals will be more conducive to smoother-running workouts. If you both want to be as big as cattle, you would both focus on heavy free-weight movements for 6-10 reps. If, however, one of you wants to be Mr. Olympia and the other is aiming more for the look of an underwear model, your exercises, intensity, and rep ranges will be incompatible. A training partner who has roughly the same goals will make for a better partner in most cases.
Often veteran lifters will team up with a beginner in order to feed off their wild enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is infectious, and it goes a long way toward fueling legendary workouts that spur excellent gains. Cultivate it in yourself, and encourage it in your partner. Lifting weights really is mind over matter, so get your mind in a positive state where you are absolutely psyched up to have the greatest workout ever.
One aspect of being a good training partner that is never mentioned is contribution of knowledge. There are thousands of types of training routines, techniques, nuances in form, and bits of nutrition and supplementation knowledge to be found in the pages of magazines like Musclemag and all over the Internet. If there was ever a time in history when information was fast and easy to acquire, this is definitely it. You owe it to yourself and your training partner to invest some of your time in research. Why should one person be responsible for coming up with all the ideas and innovations to the training of both? Certainly, in a situation where a veteran is taking a beginner under his wing and acting as a mentor, such a one-sided contribution arrangement is understandable. There is no excuse when both trainers are at a similar level of training experience. Both of you should constantly be scouring the magazines and the web for anything that can enhance your results. Maybe one of you read that an EMG analysis showed that doing lying triceps extensions on a decline activates more muscle fiber than performing them on a flat bench. Perhaps you saw a torturous leg routine that could be the ticket to killer quads for both of you, or your buddy ran across a radical eating program which might very well pack on serious pounds of muscle.
The old folk saying, "two heads are better than one" is quite appropriate here. With both of you on the lookout for knowledge that could improve your physiques, the odds are twice as good that you will discover and implement some new strategy that could translate into a major breakthrough. If only one of you is contributing ideas and innovations to the training, you're missing out on potentially valuable information. Though I consider myself fairly knowledgeable, I have always sought out training partners who had unique ideas and training styles of their own to contribute. The result of a team like this is synergy, where together you produce greater results than merely the combination of both your individual efforts.
If you are waging this war against the weights we call bodybuilding by yourself, it's time you seriously considered getting a training partner. Working out with a great partner can mean the difference between looking the same year after year or finally building a physique you can be proud of. Stop being a loner and realize that two muscleheads are better than one!
Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.