“Having a training partner that pushes you is one of the most important factors in sports. Run with the fastest, lift with the strongest, wrestle with the toughest”.
-Reece Humphrey, Team USA Wrestler, 3 x US Open Champion
You can never underestimate how crucial it is to have a training partner that challenges you and holds you accountable on a daily basis. No matter how dedicated and driven you are, there will be days where your effort is subpar or you’re just not feeling it. A good training partner should be able to sense these things and help you feed off of their energy. There needs to be a natural competitive spirit to the workouts that keep both of you pushing to beat the other one.
I was fortunate to not only have a great weightlifting teacher at an early age (my father), but also a workout partner that possessed the same drive and dedication as I had. In our teenage years, Cory Gregory and I used to battle every day – whether it was in the Edison High School weight room or my garage. Neither one of us wanted to give an inch. If I did 25 pull-ups, he did 26. If he benched 225 x 5 reps, then I grinded through 6 or 7. Although I hated to lose to him, there was a part of me that wanted him to win…only because I knew it would make me raise my game to defeat him on the next set. Looking back, this friendly daily competition was why we advanced in the weight room faster than our peers, and probably is the basis for our competitive drive that still exists at Old School Gym.
Now, I would be lying if I said I always recognized the importance of battling with someone that challenges you. I distinctly remember being at an Open Mat practice my senior year of wrestling at a high school in Northeast Ohio. It was the end of practice and we had to pick a partner for a live match. I turned around and there directly in front of me was Sonny Marchete, a 3x state champion and one of the top kids in the country. I turned away and grabbed a kid I could handle with ease, rather than suffer through 6 minutes of punishment. Marchete, unable to find a partner, walked off the mat and left the practice early. My coach was not happy with me to say the least. “Why would you turn down an opportunity to wrestle the best? How do you think you are going to get better?”
The lesson was not lost on me. Years later while competing as a boxer in my late 20s, I remembered the Open Mat incident and kept that in mind when sparring. Sure it felt good to get some rounds in with someone I could dominate, but I knew if I wanted to improve I needed to spar with guys whose skills and toughness were greater than mine. If there was a week where there were no professionals to spar at my gym, my coach would take me to the Rec centers in inner city Columbus. There, I could get in work with guys who had been boxing their whole lives. Sometimes I would get lit up by teenagers that had 50-100 amateur fights under their belt, and as a grown man that was a humbling experience. But it was also one that helped me grow and develop as a boxer more than anything else. The coaches at the Rec center loved me because no matter who they put me in the ring with, I would always push the pace and not back down from the fight when things got heated.
In the years since Cory and I battled it out in my garage I have been lucky to have some very competitive and high level training partners. Some of my many great lifting partners over the years include Jody Wiley, Luke Spencer, TJ Davis, Arjuna Smith, Nick Lancia and Thomas Covert. I wouldn’t feel right writing this article without giving them a shout out. Training with Reece Humphrey, one of the best wrestlers in the world, week in and week out for the past 4 years has helped me step my conditioning game up to a whole new level. As a strength coach working with the Ohio State wrestling team, perhaps my greatest asset to the program is that I actually run and lift with the athletes rather than just coach them. Not only does that give them a different level of respect for me, but it pushes them to work that much harder. After all, no 20 year old D1 athlete wants to lose to an old man.
So the best advice I can give to you is find a great workout partner. The quality of the partner is more important than any gym or workout plan. Find someone dedicated, consistent, and ideally close to your level of strength. The most important thing you can do for them? Try to beat them on every set of every workout. Trust me. They want you to…but only so they can beat you next time.
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