The Benefits of Weaker Training Partners: An Unpopular Opinion
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
“It isn’t knowing that your friends have your back, it’s knowing that you have your friend’s back.”
-Green Street Hooligans
We’ve all heard the saying “if you want to get strong, train with guys stronger than you”. I think this is true, but not for everyone. Sure, in the beginning that’s almost unavoidable because you’re new, small, weak, and stupid, and that’s ok, because you have to suck to get better. But at a certain point, for certain personality types like myself, a lifter may no longer be satisfied with playing second fiddle to some monster 550lb raw bencher. At a certain point you will have learned enough to seek out your own training partners, and sit firmly atop the hill. Your crown may not be as shiny, but you’re still the one wearing it.
I’ll be the first admit that this is all because my ego is too sensitive to not be in control when I’m training with other people. I’d also like to point out that at the end of the day, I have nothing but respect and gratitude for my training partners who show up week after week, and everything I say in this article, I’ve told them personally.
I train 4 days a week. I’m only fortunate enough to have consistant training partners on dynamic effort lower and upper days, but on those days, I call the shots for the group. Some days they don’t want to do what I choose (they HATE squatting with the safety squat bar), but my default answer to their grievances is “when you’re stronger than me, you decide what we do”. I say this hoping to motivate them, even though I follow up with “that won’t happen unless I’m injured or dead.”
So why must I actively strive to train in this kind of environment? Am I being a jerk? Am I scared to be out-lifted by stronger guys? Do I think I know everything? The answer is that being lucky enough to be in this position allows me to push myself even farther than I normally could AND helps to reinforce a winning mentality. No matter how hard you try, you may never catch up to a stronger training partner that out-lifts you by hundreds of pounds per lift. If you can’t even win a battle, you’ll certainly never win the war. However, flip that around and be the guy that’s ahead of your team, with the right mindset, you can and will go that extra distance.
If you do it right, your training partners will respect you enough to motivate you past what you thought possible on any given training day, and all the progress they make themselves then gives you the responsibility and privelage to challenge yourself to surpass them even further. It’s your duty to be stronger and to, in turn, develop their strengths. When I train with my group, my mission for that day is to BURY their numbers or speed as deep as I possibly can. Howevever, none of that is to say that I train with rank novices; especially my first and still current training partner who’s always almost just at my heels. This is beneficial for me because I can never allow myself to be complacent because I simply cannot let him win, and relinquish control of the group.
It’s easy for everyone to fall in the trap of trying to show off. This is detrimental for the group because it won’t take long for technique to break down and everything get sloppy or, at worst, lead to injury. Be aware of everyone’s performance each day, yourself included, and remember that, for example, dynamic effort days are about rate of force development; not who’s using the most weight at the cost of speed and technique.
Meticulous record keeping is also essential. Make sure your team keeps track of all of their lifts, and periodically remind them to reflect on the progress they’ve made. This will help curb jealousy of you out-performing them, keep them focused, and realize they are still making progress every week. If you can, try to keep from being selfish and remember as many of your team’s records as you can in order to encourage them to keep going.
Unlike my training partners, I’m a multi-ply lifter. As such, I have to be careful when planning workouts, not to monopolize the training paramters. Be mindful of suggesting exercise variations that suit everyone’s needs. For example, a max effort 4 board press will have more carry over to my equipped bench lockout than it will a raw lifter who struggles at or just above the chest, so if we do use boards, I’ll have them use 1-3 boards at most.
Limit the size of your training group to no more than 3 others besides yourself, as this can quickly become VERY time consuming. For example, on dynamic effort lower days, we typically use chains and box squat in a monolift with 3 guys. I’m short and squat super wide so my rack height is 6 holes lower than theirs, I typically use almost twice the weight, and to keep accomodating resistance percentages even for all of us, we have to raise and lower the chain heights for each lifter. Fortunately we’ve had a lot of practice and can bang out 8-10 sets plus warm ups in about 45 minutes.
As for the efficacy of this method, I can really only speak for myself and my training partners. The first, Mark, I brought in with me after he spent a few years going nowhere with Olympic lifting, started out barely being able to do speed squats with 185 plus bands or chains, and now, I’m proud to say, is up in the mid 300’s plus resistance in a little over a year. I force myself to keep as much distance ahead of him as possible so each time he makes progress on speed day (which is the day we put the most emphasis on) for example, I take a new max with bands or chains while he’s there to show him I’m still in charge, but more progress is obviously possible for him, which took me from the first time I squatted in full gear last fall with 700, to the low to mid 700’s with bands or chains for doubles in just training briefs.
So find guys or girls that are at about your level of strength or performance. Work out a schedule and, without being overbearing, let them know that THIS is what we’re doing on each day. Act as a manager, take the responsibilty of thinking and planning for the group so that everyone else can just show up and train. Encourage them to kick your ass (my favorite go to cue). This will ensure your position as shot caller. Encourage, motivate, and guide your team, but know that the owness on you is to be number one with their help, because after not too long you’ll see you couldn’t have done it without them.
Jason Hatfield is a drug free, multiply powerlifter out of Iron Sport Gym in Philadelphia who mostly trains raw, you effing assholes. You ever see the GG Allin documentary where he bangs his head against the wall while repeating “I hate you motherf**kers”? He’s like that, but a powerlifter.