It’s amazing how much motivation a small group of enthusiastic onlookers can provide during a hard training session. As I set up in front of the squat rack, staring down the heavy bar (heavy being a very subjective term here), there’s this reassuring sense that I’m not in this alone. Even though I know that once I step in there it’ll be just between me and the weight, it’s a little less intimidating with some friends nearby (and not just because they can pull my mangled body out from under the bar should I fail). I’ll dance my little red-faced dance with the barbell, the weights will get scrambled, and someone else will step up for the next round. No one is getting off easy.
The set is almost finished. That last rep was a little sticky, and my face is about to explode. I know I can still squeeze another clean rep out, and they do too, or at least I imagine that they do. Either way, it’s enough to convince me to go for it. I descend once more, silently cursing myself for a fool and at the same time mentally smirking at the challenge. Under the combined weight of the barbell and the gaze of my training partners I know that failure is out of the question. I hit the bottom position, the pressure peaks, and I spiral my feet into the floor, driving upwards. It’s a slow grind, but a few simple words from behind me, “you’ve got this”, and a well-timed manly roar grant me the last bit of strength I need to lock in the finish position. I unload the bar and treat my lungs to some much needed oxygen. There are soft congratulations (it feels like fanfare), fist bumps (“niiiiiiiice!”), and high fives (I love high fives!).
This feeling – a strong mix of camaraderie and collective enthusiasm for the pursuit of fitness – is still pretty new to me. In the past I trained almost exclusively by myself. This was mainly by choice, as I always suspected that having other people training with me would break my focus, that their presence would somehow cloud my mind with concerns from outside the gym. It was also, in part, because I hadn’t found (or sought out) anyone else who was actually serious about making progress.
I realize now, of course, how foolish that was. I have to wonder how many opportunities I missed to pick up awesome training partners through the years, people whose unique mindsets, ideas, and personalities could have had a positive impact on me as an athlete. How many mistakes could I have avoided? How many fundamental skills could I have picked up earlier?
Regret doesn’t do much good, though. Better late than never, right?
Good training partners are some of the best training tools you will ever find (as long as you don’t call them tools). They provide motivation and support, fresh perspective, and a constant source of accountability. Choose your training partners well, and they’ll do more to enhance your training than any supplement or piece of gear ever could.