Lone wolves, loners, garage gym dwellers. They’re a special breed. It takes an exceptional person to wake up early and hit the 20-degree garage to crank out multiple sets before heading into the office. Some do it this way because they like the solo aspect of their particular way of training. Others would train with a group, if only that were a viable option. Either way, lifters without training partners see workouts through their perspective alone.

Training alone takes a specific type of self-motivation that isn’t a common trait. The quest for self betterment isn’t an easy one and if you're an individual that chooses this path, you drive yourself past easy in search of difficult — and most times that's enough.

There are also gym-goers who work out with their friends. They show up at a certain time, or run a little late, and decide what to work on when they get to the gym. If they did arms yesterday, then they’ll do back or arms again today. With no set plan, every day working out was a crap shoot. It doesn’t matter though, it’s just working out anyway.

Your gym buddy is just that: a fella that you can tell jokes to and yell at a little during a tough set of preacher curls. You talk about girls, shows, movies and how wasted you got last night. Not much attention is paid to how he is getting the weight up, so long as the rep gets completed, avoiding the bitch title. Appearances are of the utmost importance here, with strength being a cool side effect. Speaking of, strength is something that is displayed by loading up the leg press and entering The Mode of the Beast. This is the pinnacle of power while working out on leg day.

I've been in both of these camps of lifters. I trained alone for years, slowly piecing together a powerlifting gym in a spare room of my house. I had a rack, I had a power bar, I had bands, chains, plates and a stereo. I was alone, and I loved it. The hanging catch chains were my spotter and the cell phone camera was my second set of eyes. Taking video of sets helped me see what a training partner would see, or at least a glimpse from their vantage point. I had everything I needed. Or at least I thought.


I took my first step into the world of team lifting when I met a group of guys to lift with at box gyms. I still trained at home on some days but it felt good to get out in the world and train alongside other people who cared about what they were doing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of training. Sure, I did some hard sets with some great people, but it was a far cry from the regimented training that I had done by myself at home. Training often turned into working out on a tangent. Getting aimlessly sore for days on end just for fun wasn’t helping me as much as I thought it would. It turned out that just any group of lifters wouldn't cut it.

Getting serious about training was the only way I was going to get stronger. That was my thought as I walked through the door of a brand new powerlifting gym that was looking for lifters. Meeting the coach and speaking with a few of the lifters, I knew right away that this environment was different. The words “leg day” were never uttered. Rather, they talked about squat night like it was a group studying for an exam that they looked forward to taking. Everyone had a plan and seemed motivated to enact it. I had made it where I needed to be.

Over the months and years of training with a steady group of lifters, I learned a lot about myself. I learned my limits weren’t where I previously thought. I learned that I didn’t always know the best way, even for my own body. I learned that training strengths and neglecting weaknesses was a road to injury and regression. But I learned a lot about others, too: Hunters three-count is really a fast two-count when lifting him off on the bench. Mason’s sticking point on bench is right off of the chest, but if he clears two inches, he’ll complete the lift. All of Jackson’s reps are the same speed, whether it’s 300 or 650 on the bar.

From learning these kinds of things about other lifters, I was able to learn things about myself: If I shift the bar in my hands on bench, I usually miss the next rep. I flare my left elbow before my right when fatigued. On heavier squats, I lose upper back tightness and the bar rolls. The heaver the weight, the higher I start my hips on sumo deadlifts.

These are all things that have been learned from and about my training partners because we cared enough to notice them. Having the same goals of lifting our absolute best as a group has us looking out for one other, coaching one other, and correcting one other. My one set of biased eyes could not see what 6-7 pairs of experienced eyes could.

This is training as a team, and this is what it offers.



I never had a spotter at home, except for those catch chains I relied on so many times. Even in the box gym, my spotter was usually a stranger or a well-meaning friend who was out of place to render assistance if I needed it. Failing a lift is more dangerous than just setting the bar onto the pins when it staples you. It can mean passing out between reps, having the bar slip from your hands on a bench rep, or falling backward while locking out a heavy pull. An inexperienced spotter may as well just be the guy who runs to call 911 for you in most instances.

The safety in the group isn’t just the hands that grab the bar and brace you when you fail. The safety is in the eyes of the group and their watchful vigilance. As a spotter, I can look into the eyes of a lifter that I’ve trained with for a while and see whether he has more in him or if he’s done and just gutting it out. The eyes of a lifter can tell you a lot. They can relay anguish, strain, fear, and fire. Knowing how to distinguish these looks can help you as a spotter be in position to take quick action to render the right assistance. I know when to get closer to the bar just by taking a look at my fellow lifter's face.


I was surprised how helpful it was to hear a fellow lifter give me the verbal cue to “breathe.” It may sound ridiculous to tell someone that,but in the hazy void of life between reps, basic human thought is reduced to background noise. As the pressure builds, the lights and music fade out ever so slightly and the peripheral melts away and your only thought is how heavy it is; a familiar voice telling you to breathe is exactly what you need.

Verbal and visual cues can help a lifters form click where other methods have failed. Everyone learns differently so working with a diverse group of lifters increases the odds for success in learning the leverages and technique of various lifts. Some need to see it performed, others need actual hands on form adjustments and others do fine with verbal cues while the lift is repeated. Taking advantage of this help is a great benefit of group training.

Cues are one of the most important functions a spotter can serve, right up there with saving you from decapitation. The cues “elbows up” on a front squat or “hips/glutes” while locking out a sumo deadlift are helpful at a time when everything grinds to a near halt and my eyes see only a small square on the wall. Often times, I’m unaware of my actual body position in relation to lockout. It can feel much further that it really is, and my spotters are able to see where I actually am. You can think of your spotters as a multi-angled security system feeding you information in real time. While you’re flying blind, they’re there to offer you guidance. That’s a lot more helpful than get it, get it, get it! at a box gym.



Training alongside like-minded, driven, and hungry people in complete silence is more motivating than all of the lifting memes, YouTube videos, and heavy metal riffs in the world.

Having the support of a good team by your side means knowing that you’re not alone in your efforts. The feeling of having the electricity of an entire room full of people who want you to be successful just as much as you do forces accountability. I’m no longer just training for myself; I’m representing a brand, a gym, and a team. Giving anything but my absolute best not only short-changes myself but is a slap in the face to all of the other lifters putting out their 110%.

Being a part of something larger than yourself means knowing where everyone’s numbers are at any given time, sharing the suspense of a PR attempt, and the excitement of their new accomplishments. Motivating others and building them up fosters a group environment that’s buzzing with positive energy for everyone. Six guys within four cinderblock walls can move mountains for each other when the bar seems impossibly heavy.


Lifting heavy won’t last long if not lifting smart at the same time, and the group setting enforces this principal. Seeing lifters in gyms training together light-heartedly during serious sets seems harmless at first glance. But that lifter assumes that everything is safe during their rep work if they don't receive input from their partners. They may not realize the strain they’re shifting to their strongest muscle group as form gets tossed out of the window to just complete the rep. An uneducated or inexperienced spotter may throw gas on that fire by egging the lifter on to continue.

A smart and attentive spotter should stop a lifter when the lift becomes unsafe, regardless of the weight on the bar or the feelings of the lifter. Training as part of a group means watching out for the health of your fellow lifter during training and making and receiving suggestions when needed. If you’re not in the game long enough to get strong without getting injured, you’re shortchanging your potential.

There is a time and a place for fun, but jokes about bodily functions and acts of perversion are best left for the down time between lifts, not while coaching and spotting. If you ever laugh at the bottom of a heavy squat, you will likely die.



Training is a shared experience that forms bonds within a group, so it’s not uncommon for lifters to develop friendships that form fast. Tough conditions and tough sets reveal lifters true character in the face of adversity if only a brief glimpse. It goes beyond respect and admiration for the lift itself, rather respect and admiration is given for a lifter who just won’t quit. Regardless of the weight on the bar, there is a lot to learn from someone who sees an obstacle they’ve yet to conquer and marches forward in confidence and defiance to achieve it.

A good training group of trusted lifters can be a support system outside of home. Fellow lifters may know what's going on in your life outside of the gym and can offer advice when you need it most. Sometimes they're just a set of ears to unload on when things at work are testing you to your limit. Many of the world's problems could seemingly be solved by the ideas within those four gym walls, even if it starts with your own personal ones. Your gym dues pay for a whole lot more than a bar and plates; think of it as a steel clad therapists couch with a chalk bowl instead of a tissue box, if you'd like.

That brotherhood extends outside of the gym as well. The team mentality doesn’t end when the lights go out and the gym door is locked. Members of the group are there for each other in everyday life. I know I can count on any of the lifters in my group to be there if I need something, whether it’s digging a Christmas tree out of storage when their team mate was too injured to do it himself or helping a member move everything into a new home. Whether it’s helping lay the floor and move equipment into a new gym space or driving out of state to support a fellow lifter at a meet, a tight knit group of lifters is a second set of brothers and sisters in a world of strangers. A good group of lifters are your lifeguards when you swim with the sharks, both inside of the gym and out.

Training alone may sound like fun sometimes, but once you experience all of the benefits of a dedicated team of lifters, it will be hard to ever go back.

Josh Mac is a full-time railroad engineer, dad, and part-time lifter. He competes in powerlifting and strongman out of Raleigh Barbell in Raleigh, NC.