Grinding With Friends

The pros and cons of partner WODs.
By James Toland,

The “Partner WOD” … we’ve all been there. You stumble into your local box and glance past the warm-up scribbled out on the whiteboard to see that the workout of the day is to be done with you and another person … together. The slight jump of your heartbeat. That fleeting second of joy. Followed by the anxiety of the question, “Who should I pair up with?”

I’ve gone two ways on this one. First I think, “I’ll grab [insert other male’s name], and he and I will kill this thing because he’s a beast.” This seems like the right strategy to me, but the reality is that the other person is not going to carry me, because the programming requires us both to do equal amounts of work. The problem quickly becomes evident that he wants to do a lot more weight a hell of a lot faster than my grinder butt. Now the advantage of working with a guy who is faster and stronger is that he forces you WAY out of your comfort zone — he pushes you to work at his level. This might be seen as a way to improve, sure. But if you aren’t ready to REALLY knock out some Rx-level work, this plan could backfire on you, big time.

Plan number two would be to find a friend who is around your same speed, strength and training style. I have a group of people I train with, and we refer to ourselves as “The Grinders.” (I know, shockingly original, right?) In this circle, we all have similar skill sets and generally share a good understand that we are not moving slowly because we are dogging it or not trying; we just move slowly. This strategy has its upside, because as a collective, we know what to expect from each other physically in the workout. But we also know how to get on each other verbally without breaking the other person down and to motivate when needed. This method has proven far more pleasing but has produced much slower times and results and probably is less in the spirit of CrossFit because it is a more comfortable way to train.

There are definitely pros and cons to either approach. Sometimes, this element of choice is not even available because our trainers pair us up based on available equipment or as a result of odd numbers of members in that particular class. I think this is a circumstance that probably allows for the most growth and development for me. Just like WODs throwing new things at you in constantly varied ways and situations, having no say about who you are being partnered up with gives us a chance to do new things with new people. This seems to be the closest to the heart of one of the most unique qualities of CrossFit training — which is that it is new and challenging.

I wouldn’t assume that at many traditional gyms across the country, a group of people walking through the door to get their daily workout in would suddenly be stopped, given a set of work to accomplish in a specified amount of time, randomly partnered with another person and then told they had to work together to accomplish the task. I think a majority of those people would turn around and walk out. The opposite effect occurs in CrossFit, where these types of partner- or even team-based WODs get the box buzzing with excitement.

Reality is that not only is it a fun thing to do every once in a while, it helps people prepare for situations in which they might need to work with others of different backgrounds and skills. Think about the scenario when you are trapped in an elevator in a group of four or five people. Would each person put on a set of headphones, turn on their “playlist for emergencies” and then turn to the task of getting the group out on their own? Of course not. The only way to effectively work through that situation is to organize the group and use each person’s strengths to accomplish the task and get the job done. This goes along with the spirit of the partner workout or even the team competitions at the CrossFit Games and Regionals.

I wouldn’t encourage our trainers to do partner WODs all the time because the community of CrossFit does such a good job promoting individual growth through shared experiences. As I stated before, they are a fun and educational experience, and I know many of you out there would agree: Sometimes it’s nice to grind with friends.

Stay on the grind.

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