1. Be a cheerleader/Be a support system.
Partner workouts don’t come along all that often, so it’s nice to mix things up and enjoy CrossFit in a different way by sharing the experience of a WOD with a fellow athlete. But to fully enjoy it, you need to be fully behind your teammate! You may be used to giving yourself a mental pep talk in the middle of an individual workout, but now you need to deliver that same kind of enthusiasm to the athlete working alongside you—regardless of their abilities in CrossFit. In fact, it’s important that you quickly identify where they struggle and where they excel, and adjust your level of support accordingly. This is obviously easier when you know the person you’re working out with, but there will be times when your partner is a complete stranger. When that’s the case, you need to understand that what’s easy for you may be exceedingly difficult for them, so don’t try to yell at them ‘to pick up the bar!’ Instead, try to coach them through the movement gradually and offer gentle encouragement—like calmly counting down how many reps they have left and congratulating them when their set is up. On the flip side, there will be times when you absolutely need to light a fire under your teammate’s ass, so up the volume (but not too much in the case of a brand new partner) and get them psyched ahead of their lift or set. And when the workout is complete, high five them, give them a pat on the back and congratulate them on a job well done.
2. Scale to the limits of the team.
Usually, you’ll want to pair up with someone who is the same height as you or close to your level of ability in CrossFit, for obvious reasons. You don’t have to mess around with rack heights, constantly switch out weights and you know that you’ll both be able to complete the workout doing the same movements and using the same weight. That’s the ideal scenario, but there will be times when you are paired with someone at a different level than you, and it’s important to accept that—particularly when it comes to the metcon. It makes no sense to force someone to have to move a weight that is simply too heavy for them. How would you feel if your partner kept telling you to hit a muscle-up when you already know that you’re simply not at that level yet? You’d feel that your partner is a dick—and you’d be right. The solution to the conundrum of varied weights and movement abilities is to simply scale to the limitations of the team. Essentially, if your partner can only go so heavy on a movement, you stick with that weight for the workout (assuming that there aren’t enough barbells and/or weight plates to go around so that each of you could use a separate weight). So what if the barbell is now ‘too light’? That just provides you with an opportunity to A: go much faster in the workout and B: provide an extra emphasis on maintaining good form. Everybody wins!
3. Don’t be impatient.
Speaking of scaling and adjusting to the limitations of the team, one of the worst faux pas to avoid when working out with a partner is being impatient. Yes, it can be a little annoying to have to constantly strip and add weight to the barbell during your strength work, but come on—it’s not that big of an issue! It can be daunting for a novice athlete to share a rack with a squat monster, knowing that they are going to have to adjust the weight on the bar for each set. So simply be a decent human being and help them strip the weight as necessary, giving CrossFit (and perhaps more importantly, your affiliate) a good name in the process. Similarly, don’t stand around during the WOD acting annoyed as you wait for your partner to finish their workload. Like I said, you need to understand what limitations they have and what serves as an accomplishment for them. So instead of telling them to hurry the hell up, be an awesome cheerleader instead and encourage them to see out their set. Positive reinforcement always outweighs negative reinforcement.
Once you’ve established what the working weight will be for the WOD, the next rule of the partner-workout etiquette code is to divvy the workload up as evenly as possible. Even if knocking out 50 deadlifts at 185lbs is a walk in the park for you, you cannot crank out 45 and then hand it off to your partner for the last five reps. That’s just poor class. They’re there to get fitter and become better athletes—just like you! So avoid being an arrogant tool and split the rep scheme up as best as possible. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50/50, but the ratio should still allow your partner to have a good workout—just as you would want if the roles were reversed! And remember—there’s nothing stopping you from going faster if you want to get that extra work…
The best teams (and the best teammates) are effective communicators, so in order to have the best workout possible you need to make sure that you’re actively talking to your partner. You should discuss the weight you’re going to use for the workout, how you should break up the reps/sets, what movements each of you struggle with and excel at, and so on and so forth. During the WOD itself, help each other count down the reps, make each other aware of how much time is remaining on the clock and how far ahead (or behind) your rival team is. On top of that, it’s important for you and your partner to focus and be aware of when you need to tag in or our. It can be amazingly frustrating when you drop the bar to rest only to find that your partner is daydreaming or not aware that they need to pick up the bar and go. So talk to each other and keep your attention on the task at hand.
6. Get to know your partner/Socialize.
Take the opportunity of working out with a buddy (or a new athlete) to shoot the shit and enjoy yourself! There shouldn’t be any awkward silence between the two of you. During the strength portion of the class get to know one another in between sets (if you don’t already know them well). You may discover something cool about the person and you’ll more than likely end up making a new friend. After the metcon is over, recap the WOD with your teammate, find out when they’re next coming to class and thank them for being a good partner. If you (and he or she) followed these guidelines, hopefully that was the case and each of you was able to have a successful partner workout.
Photo courtesy of Runar Eilersten/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0