A training partner can be a valuable asset in so many ways. He can spot you on lifts, such as the squat and bench press, as well as assist with forced reps, allowing you to hoist heavy weights you can’t quite handle on your own. He can also provide motivation and camaraderie. It’s a great feeling: sharing goals and working as a team to transcend limits of strength and endurance.

Selecting the right partner isn’t an easy task. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Find someone as serious as you are, someone who shares similar goals to yours. If your partner jokes around while you’re psyching up for a big set, you’re bound to become frustrated! He should share your love for training.
  • Your partner should be unselfish to the core. If you need a spotter and your partner is too busy checking himself out in a mirror, then I’d recommend finding a new collaborator. You want to be with someone who focuses on you while you’re performing your sets, not himself.
  • Make sure your partner is someone you like and get along with. You’re going to be spending a good deal of time with this person under some very stressful circumstances. If there’s too much tension between the two of you, you’re not going to enjoy your time spent in the gym. And if you’re not enjoying your gym time, well, you’re missing the point!

Keeping these things in mind, you can now screen potential partners carefully. That’s what I did, and that’s how I found Rick Gianone, Tyrone “Ropeman” Felder and Fred Richards.

Rick trained with me in 1984, the year I won my first Olympia. He was 6’2″ and weighed 310 pounds, curled 225 and benched 500. He always believed in using heavy weights, and I had to do my best to keep up with him. He would push me to new heights in my training all the time, which is why I brought him back as I prepared to make my assault on a record-breaking eighth Olympia win in ’91.

Ropeman was totally crazy, a prerequisite for being one of my training partners. As we prepared to attack the gym, he’d turn his cap around to the back, which meant he was ready to get busy! He was so intense — I loved it!

Fred had a great attitude that he developed while serving in the Marines. We trained together as I prepared for the 1990 Olympia. He would say to me, “You are what you eat, and you are the company you keep.” He always kept me positive.

Lee haney shoulder press2
Courtesy of Weider Health & Fitness

One word of caution regarding training partners: Never become too dependent on them. As much as training partners can be a great benefit, they can sometimes hinder your progress. What if your partner feels like crap? That negative energy can spill over into your workout. Be wary of this scenario: “I’m not up for training today. Let’s go get a burger.” Or “Man, I got into a big fight with my girlfriend last night. I’m not sure if we should break up or stay together.” So he’s ready to shoot himself, and you’re somehow supposed to enjoy your set of bench presses. No way! Never let a partner drag you down. The idea is to get motivated, not distracted, by your buddy.

Remember, positive energy breeds positive energy; it brings out the best in people. If you do your homework and find the right training partner, then the sky’s the limit in your training and ultimately in your success as a bodybuilder.