Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to start by explaining why I decided to use the word “training” in the title instead of “exercise” or “workout.” I think that will give you the most insight into my thoughts on this topic. “Training” implies that you have a goal in mind. It inherently means that you want to make progress. “Exercise” and “workout” can both mean physical activity, but they do not have the motivation built into the meaning. Now, I’m not saying there can’t be overlap; odds are I may accidentally use some of them interchangeably here. But, that’s not the main point. What is important is that thinking about what you’re doing as “training” will keep you in the mindset of making progress. This will help you make a better decision on whether you want to train alone or with a partner.
Training with a partner or two can be extremely beneficial, regardless of your experience level. For people at any level, training partners hold you accountable. You’re a lot less likely to skip a day if you have someone else expecting you to show up. Training with others can help keep you motivated. A healthy sense of competition should make you want to perform to the best of your ability, and hopefully these partners want to push you to do so in a safe way.
If you’re a beginner, having a partner or two to train with can lighten the burden of becoming acquainted with a gym for the first time. If you train with someone who is more experienced than you, then you get the added benefit of having your own personal guide. Having someone to watch your form, spot you, and show you how to perform certain lifts can be a huge boon to your progress. It’s also way cheaper than hiring a personal trainer. On the flip side, if you are a gym veteran training with someone less experienced than you, odds are you’ll realize you were getting a bit lax on your form while you’re showing them what to do.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu training together
When I think of training partners, the first duo that comes to mind is Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. Both of these men were at the top of their sport, yet they still trained together to make each other better and to learn from one another. This is the ideal training relationship. If your training partner helps you become better and is invested in your success, then you've found one worth keeping.
However, not all training partners are created equally. Some will encourage improper form and ego-lifting, some will flake or convince you to skip with them, and some may be more focused on that girl in the high-waisted leggings than they are on spotting you. Or, maybe you go with a group of four other people, and by the time two hours have passed, you’ve only gotten in 10 sets of leg workouts. If any of the above describe what you’re stuck with, I recommend ditching your training partner(s). Training with someone who isn’t invested in your success is not going to help you reach your goals, and bringing your whole crew to the gym probably isn’t going to be time-efficient. The reason I’ve been using the phrase “a partner or two” is to highlight the importance of how many people you train with. A group of three will keep the rest times short while giving enough time to recuperate, and it isn’t so large of a group that things will take forever. When you start having groups of four or more go together, people tend to wait around too long and get distracted from the goal-- not to mention you’ll probably be taking up a bench or a machine for entirely too long.
Dumping a bad training partner can be one reason for lifting alone. If you find that none of your friends are able to reliably fill that role, it may be awhile before you build that training partner relationship with someone else at the gym. You may also be like me and find that you just prefer training alone, which is totally fine. Sometimes Anthony and I will do a lift or two together, and while in college I would go train with my friend Ben sometimes. They are both solid training partners and I’ve definitely enjoyed some of the sessions we’ve had together-- I just like training alone more. It’s my “me time,” per se. I have trained alone for most of my life and I’ve made awesome progress with it, so don’t think that you’ll be held back by training alone.
On the downside, training alone means you have to check your own form and occasionally ask for a spot. However, if you enjoy training alone more, then this is likely a worthwhile tradeoff. Now, I’m not saying I completely isolate myself while I’m at the gym (although occasionally I do); I’ll still chat a bit or work in with a friend for a couple sets. But what I do do (heh) when it is time for a lift is turn up my music, zone in, and crush that set. I usually can’t get into that same zone when I train with a partner for whatever reason, so I tend to train alone because I know I’ll get the most out of myself that way.
Properly spotting your training partner is important for their safety and progress
So, what is the takeaway from all of this? Should you be training alone or with a partner (or two, of course)? Well, as long as you know what you’re doing, it’s a matter of what you enjoy the most and what will help you make the most progress. However, if you’re a full-fledged beginner, I recommend finding someone knowledgeable to train with, at least to start. I learned the ropes by training with my dad when I was younger; I was lucky to have someone who has been into weightlifting for most of his life to help me out. He was also extremely concerned with me being safe, as he’s dealt with injuries before (and my mom would have killed him if I got hurt while I was at the gym with him). Once I was older and had my form down well, I started working out on my own and realized that solo training was for me. However, I still had someone there to stress the importance of good form and to help me build safe, sound habits. I suggest finding a training partner who will do that.
I would also be inclined to recommend training partners to anyone who is looking to compete, as you’re going to benefit from having someone to push you when you’re tired and provide unbiased critiques on your physique. But, if that doesn’t work well for you, that’s fine-- there are always exceptions to every generality. These recommendations are all just a part of my take on a widely discussed topic, but hopefully this inspires at least one person to either ditch a bad training partner or go find an awesome one.