Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lifting For Two

Are you a gym loner?  Are you one of those people who hits the gym solo, day in and day out, in your own little world, at your own intensity level, and with your own goals in mind?  Well, thousands upon thousands of people are, and you know what?  That's just fine.  Some people work well alone, and most of the time I think I fall into this category just fine.  For months on end I've been hitting the gym solo, and have gotten plenty of personal records in the process.  Lots of people do the exact same thing with great success, so what's the problem?  Well, the thing is, by working out alone, you may be falling into a hidden trap, and squandering your own potential.

What do I mean?  Well, let me put it this way.  It's much easier than you think to set both your goals and your intensity levels far too low, and lose out on quite a bit of possible muscle gains.  In fact, you could get stuck in a rut without even realizing it.  Sure, I've given you ways to prevent this, such as setting short term goals which you have to try your darndest to stick to, or getting your diet right so you have maximum energy and feel ready to hit the heavy stuff day in and day out.  But honestly, the most effective motivation in a workout is sometimes just another person.

I can speak from personal experience here.  Whenever I've had the pleasure of another person to lift alongside, I've felt better and more motivated than any other time.  The reasons for this are quite simple, and I bet you all could figure them out.  However, because that wouldn't make much of an article, I'll post them here regardless:

Assistance:  Whether it's loading the weights, checking for good form, or just moving equipment around in general, you can get your next workout set up faster with someone else helping you.  You can also make sure you're doing it right.  Though a mirror works fine to check for squat depth, it'd sure be nice to have someone else there checking it for me as well.  And if your back rounds during a heavy deadlift, they can yell at you to drop that sucker before you get hurt, before you actually GET hurt.  That'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Distraction:  When the weight gets heavy, and you're there alone, that's all you can think about.  It's just you, under this stupidly heavy weight, and you need to squat it from top to bottom to top again.  And god it's heavy, why's it so heavy?  It wasn't this heavy yesterday, was it?  Oh my god I can't do this.  But I'm going to try I here I go...and then BAM!  You fail.  You dump the weight, make some noise, and miss a chance at another PR.  Sucks, doesn't it?  There are two ways to alleviate this.  Take some weight off (hah! like that'll happen), or get a friend to come and watch you.  Performing for someone else can actually have a positive effect on lifting ability.  Your friend creates a distinct distraction that can easily take your mind off the task at hand, and instead get you into the right mindset to make the lift.  They can talk to you, root you on, tell you to push harder, and most likely you'll listen, and succeed.  Plus, having a friend there makes even the longest workouts fly by.  Just don't get chatting instead of lifting.

This distraction aspect also works GREAT with cardio.  I hate running, so whenever I had to go for a run I'd try to find someone to run with.  MUCH EASIER! 

Competition:  This used to be my driving force back in high school, with a guy named Cameron Stiles.  He and I would go back and forth trying to push out more reps with more weight (in fact our motto was jokingly "more weight, more reps, less rest") than the other could do.  Usually he won, considering he had about 10 lbs more muscle than I did, and was also built like a full-back (short arms, short legs, resembling an M1 Abrams Tank if you squinted.)  Nevertheless, he pushed me to get stronger faster than I ever had before, and god was it fun trying to beat him.  Next chance you get, bring a bud to the gym who's around your strength level, set up a few competitive lifts, and have at it.  You'll not only get a great workout in, but you'll feel like a beast WHEN you beat him.  And if competition doesn't get your mind in the right place to lift, I don't know what will.

Encouragement:  I've sort of covered this one already, but on a hard rep sometimes someone yelling appropriate encouragement can really push you through.  Keep in mind this needs to be the right tone of voice, intensity, volume, etc., so most likely not every one of your buddies will get you lifting that last rep as efficiently as they could.  For me, again, it was Cameron.  He had a way of yelling at me that just made me angry, energized, and extremely determined to get that last rep.  Haven't found someone else yet who could do the same.  But give it a shot, bring a friend and egg each other on, because a little encouragement can go a long way.

Safety:  Now this one kind of seems like a no brainer, but I'll mention it anyway.  Squats I'm not so concerned about, anyone who really knows what they're doing can dump a bar backward or forward, but on something like a bench press, seated military press, or anything else where you're suspending a bar over your body with no place to really throw it if it goes bad, it'd be nice to have someone there to pull the thing off you when you can't lift it anymore, right?

A Few More Reps:  This one kind of goes with the safety topic, though not exactly.  See, when you're benching alone, you know you need to rack it before you get to that one "grinding" rep, where you may or may not get stuck under the darn thing.  If you have someone there spotting you, and they know what they're doing, you can ALWAYS go for broke, and go right until you can't lift another rep.  Then, the best part is, your friend can help you push one more out by gently, lifting up on the bar and alleviating some of the weight on the concentric phase.  Heck, you can do that same thing four or five times and really push your body over the edge so much that it HAS to grow to adapt.  Go past your max, and you'll put on muscle, quick.

Creativity:  If you put two brains together, usually you can come up with better programming and more effective exercises than you would normally on your own.  You can discuss what you're feeling in your bodies throughout the workout, and determine what your next lift should be accordingly.  You can even design routines and lifts on the spot, and confuse your muscles enough so that they'll be forced to grow big and strong.  And trying new and crazy things can really make you feel impressively strong, and walk out of the gym that day feeling truly accomplished.

So there you have it, exactly why you should try to work out WITH someone else the next chance you get.  You'll push harder, be more efficient, creative, and effectively worked.  Plus, I can almost guarantee that it'll be a lot more fun (if you're working out with someone you actually like...).  Give it a shot, I'm pretty sure you'll see what I mean.  Progress comes quickly when someone else is there to help.

Get a buddy, hit the heavy weight, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

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