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February 4, 2014

Choosing the right workout partner—5 Questions to ask yourself

Written by Damect Dominguez

CrossFit, for the majority of us, is an individual sport. And just like any other sport (or strength and conditioning program), we seek to become better in multiple areas to improve our performance and ourselves. We do this in a variety of ways; from the food we eat to the equipment we buy, but one of the best ways to become a better CrossFitter is by having a workout partner. A workout partner can be immensely beneficial to your development, as long as you choose the right partner. But be careful! The wrong workout partner can keep you from maximizing your potential. So before you team up with your best friend at the box, stop and ask yourself these questions:

1. Is my partner at a similar ability level to me?
Look, there is very little benefit in trying to match Rich Froning (or any Games athlete) workout for workout. There’s a reason those men and women make it to Carson. Just as it’s important to set realistic goals for yourself, it’s crucial for your workout partner to be at a comparable level to you with regards to skill, strength, speed and the amount of volume you can handle. This is the person that you are trying to match in your workouts and lifts, so you need to feel that you can compete with them, rather than constantly staring in glum defeat at the clock as your incompatible partner (see Froning) finishes five minutes before you. Instead, you should be pushed to give your full performance while keeping your partner (now your competitor) within sight. By having this friendly little race, rest time will decrease, you will be pushed past your own limits and thrown out of your comfort zone because you will be working more aggressively to keep on track with or surpass your partner. Whoever lifts more, whoever finishes first or hits more reps will be setting the benchmark-the time to beat, the weight to beat, the numbers to beat. And as a result, your own ability within CrossFit will steadily rise as you progress together.

2. Can I learn/benefit from my partner’s strengths?
Though your training partner should be at a similar overall ability to you, it’s important that you each possess different sets of strengths and weaknesses. It’s a simple theory: You guide me on your strengths and I’ll guide you on mine, together we’ll eliminate our weaknesses and become well-rounded athletes.

Prior to the 2013 CrossFit Games, Samantha Briggs reached out to Lindsey Valenzuela about training together. Briggs knew that while she was skilled in many areas, she was lacking in her overall strength. Briggs decided to contact Valenzuela to learn from one of the strongest women in CrossFit. Valenzuela saw an opportunity for both athletes to become better and accepted—which led to Briggs making the trip from England to Los Angeles to live and train with the SoCal athlete. And what did Valenzuela have to say about her new training partner?
“We complement each other very well during our workouts; Briggs pushes me on the workouts with lighter loads and that are more endurance-based while I push Briggs on the heavier loads.” –From the CrossFit Games site

3. Does my partner have the same goals as me?
If two people have different goals, more than likely, they’ll have a different roadmap to success. If your goal is to make it to Regionals and your partner’s goal is to ‘tone up’, then you may need to revaluate the relationship. In the end, this type of relationship will do both parties harm. Best case scenario, you’ll reach a compromise where both goals get watered-down and no one is satisfied. 

4. Will my partner have the right attitude?
One could make the argument that this is the most important question you need to ask yourself. As I mentioned earlier, in a perfect world you could always workout with your best friend, but oftentimes this just isn’t the case. How often does your friend come to the box? Do they always come for the same class, or do they fluctuate? Are they serious about CrossFit the way that you are? Will they hold you accountable for your training? The answers to these questions will reveal a lot about the attitude of your potential partner, and whether you feel that they would be a good fit. Remember, this person should make you a better CrossFitter, and if their attitude motivates and inspires you in the gym, that’s a pretty good sign that this is someone you want to workout with regularly. Take Rich Froning and Dan Bailey. Like Briggs and Valenzuela, in 2012, Bailey actually moved in with Froning and his wife so that they could train together more frequently and push each other. This may be an extreme example, but it just goes to show that you want to surround yourself with the right people who, once again, are going to make you a better CrossFitter.

5. Does my training partner want to train how I want to train?
Even if you’re partner has met all the previous qualifications, if they don’t want to train the way you want to train, you’ve probably ran into a huge hurdle. What if your partner is as motivated and positive as you, has the same goals, but wants to train with a heavy emphasis on metcons while you want to emphasize strength? Or what if you both want to do a strength cycle but your partner wants to do a Wendler program and you want to do a Westside Barbell program? Before you tie the knot with your future workout partner, make sure both of you are on the same page on how you plan to achieve your goals. Most of the time, a hybrid version (of Wendler or Westside Barbell for example) isn’t going to work.

Having a great workout partner is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal that will help to develop your weaknesses, your mental strength and your overall performance­­—which in turn should help you enjoy CrossFit even more than you already do. Keep in mind that this partner may be someone you haven’t spoken to that much, so learn and observe your fellow CrossFitters, and choose wisely.


About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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