It’s been a fair while since my last post. Between a sudden surge in clients, writing a sports conditioning course and working on some exciting new business plans, I’ll be honest, I’ve not allocated any time to updating the blog.

So, to break myself back in gently, I’ve compiled a short list of the top five things I think you need to consider when training with a friend.

Quite often my posts are inspired by my daily rants about one thing or another, and I’ll be honest, this one is no different. However, rather than jump on my recently recovered soapbox, I’ll just share the advice and let you decide.

1. Don’t do the work for them

A spotter is there to prevent death or injury, and on rare occasions help with 1 or 2 forced reps. If your friend can’t make a repetition, then the set ends there. Mid-block forced reps (i.e. any set other than the last one of a particular exercise) only impair your ability to perform subsequent sets. Consider the following:

5 sets of 8 reps with 40kg

1 set of 10 with 42kg, 1 set of 10 with 40 kg, 1 set of 10 with 38kg, 1 set of 10 with 36kg and 1 set of 10 with 34kg

Volume for option one equals 5 x 8 x 40=1600kg

Volume for option two equals 420+400+380+360+340=1500kg

Even though the reps are higher for the second option, the total load moved is lower. And that doesn’t even take into account how much less you’d be lifting if the reps were forced. Bottom line, unless the weight changes direction or there’s an imminent risk, don’t touch the weight.

2. Don’t let them cheat

Just like the previous option, results come from great technique. Far too often I see ego get in the way of progress. If you’re counting your training partners reps (which you should be), don’t let them get away with crummy ones. One of the reasons I like having someone to count my reps, is because I focus on technique and moving the damn weight so much, I sometimes lose track. Which considering most of my workouts contain at least one max repetition set, isn’t a good thing. However, if your training partner shortens range or uses too much momentum, call them on it. Let them know that crappy reps don’t count and that you expect the same ruthlessness when they’re spotting you. Aside from the physical benefits from working through your full range of motion, you’ll also be less likely to injure yourself. The bench press is a typical example. I see people shortening their range every day and I know they’re headed for shoulder problems, if they don’t have them already. And no, having a shoulder problem is not an excuse for shortening the range. If you can’t do something properly, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. The exception here is strength athletes and powerlifters. Partial range training is essential for those two groups for overcoming sticking points, BUT……’s a tool used specifically. What I’m talking about here is the default movement patterns most gym users have for most exercise.

3. Don’t let them stop if they want hypertrophy or fat loss

Without getting caught up in the specifics, a general rule of thumb for muscle gains in men and optimal fat burning hormones in women, is 40-70 seconds of time under tension for a given exercise. That means the exercise is performed without pause for that period of time. No pause between reps, no resting at the top and no, just getting your breath back. You either make a rep or you don’t. If you fail to make the target reps, drop the weight. My friend Jeff Willoughby, an outstanding trainer in New Zealand, mentioned this in his blog recently. One of the main reasons that people fail to make the progress they want is that they don’t hit their time under tension targets. Needless to say, if you want your training partner to improve (and you’re a pretty douchey friend if you don’t), don’t let them rest between reps and keep them on tempo.

4. Don’t talk until afterwards

Just like the previous points, this one’s about improving effectiveness and efficiency. If you spend too long chatting between sets you can actually change the training effect of the workout. Any chat during the workout should be primarily about technique or how many sets and reps you’re doing. I get a lot of flack from other PT’s for this as I’m not a particularly chatty trainer during the session. I’m accused of being too impersonal. My two rationales for this approach are as follows:

  1. My clients pay me for an hour of my time to get them results. If I’m not completely focussed on their results for that time, I’m charging them for work I’m not doing.
  2. By staying focussed on their training during their workouts I’m not distracted when I chat to them about their lives at the end of the workouts.

If you’re serious about getting any kind of results from your training, I’d suggest keeping chat to a minimum during your workouts. The other advantage is your workouts will get finished quicker and you’ll have more time to hang out and chill afterwards.

5. Experiment

Nothing freaky. I’ll bet that for most of you reading this, there are certain exercises you always do. I can tell what most people in the gym are going to do when they come in because it’s what they always do when they come in. It doesn’t have to be a complete exercise swap, I recognise that for many people that would be like splitting from a long term partner, instead consider the following tweaks:

  1. Change the grip – Wide grip to narrow, pronated to underhand, etc.
  2. Change the foot position – Wide stance to narrow, flat to front foot elevated, etc.
  3. Change the tempo – Instead of 1 second down, 1 second up, change the speed of either phase
  4. Change the range – Give yourself permission to go lighter and re-visit full range of motion, if you’ve been shortening it over time, the challenge may surprise you.
  5. Change the rest periods – discover just how fit you are by challenging your recovery rate

Nothing particularly ground-breaking, but these are all things that are easy to lose sight of over time. As always, go steady. Change all of these at once at your peril, particularly if you’re a hard charger.  The first 2 points are critical though, so if I had to prioritise, I’d suggest sorting those first.