They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps. If you associate with positive, motivated, driven people it can only rub off on you and make you more successful in anything you do. If your running buddies are nothing but a bunch of degenerates, that pretty much says that you are a degenerate, or will end up one. Like the legendary old school rap group, EPMD once said, “Hang with nine broke brotha’s and you’ll soon be the tenth.” Sometimes, in life we outgrow our friends as we age and mature. Yes it’s sad, but it is also a fact of life. In high school and college everyone wants to have fun and live carefree. Eventually, most of us realize that there comes a time to grow up and get serious. Unfortunately, not everyone finds that same sense of responsibility and that drive to succeed in life. When you have friends that fall into that category, it’s best to cut them loose. While this may seem harsh advice at first, in the long run it will prove to be your best option. You can’t change people no matter how hard you may try, so don’t waste your time. I’ve been down that road a few times, and experience has me taught me that negative or unmotivated people will only bring you down. It usually ends up being more trouble than it’s worth. If you want get to the top in anything you do, you have to surround yourself with like-minded people. Training partners should be no different.

Your training partners are a reflection of you much in the same way that friends are. If you want to get bigger, stronger, and faster, you had better surround yourself with people who want to do the same. The amount of hard work that goes into being a superstar athlete or world class lifter is enormous. It requires dedication, discipline, and desire in massive quantities. If the people you train with do not share these same qualities or have the same passion to excel as you do, you must get rid of them immediately. When you show up at the weight room every day ready to bust your ass, your partners had better be ready to do the same. If they are not, they are only doing you a disservice. When your training partners give anything less than their best or fail to display the same undying commitment to excellence as you, they become your enemy. At that point they are holding you back, and you absolutely can not allow that.

When I had the great opportunity to host an elitefts™ Force Training Seminar in April of this year, my friend Jim Wendler, told the audience that (I’m paraphrasing), “It doesn’t matter what kind of training you do, weather it’s HIT or Olympic lifting or Westside or whatever. It doesn’t matter if you are not training with the right people. The people you train with are the most important factor.”

As an athlete who wants to be the best, you should go to the gym with a specific goal in mind for every workout. While some people may be there to socialize or find a date for the weekend, you are there to work hard and take the next step towards greatness. That will be a lot easier to do if you have training partners with the same goals as you. Although it can be done without the help of anyone else, I would heed Jim’s advice and find some one to train with. If I had to describe myself in one word it would be “driven.” I will do whatever it takes to succeed in any aspect of my life. So, of course I could train alone, but what why would I want to? No matter how self motivated you think you are, there is something to be said about that alpha male instinct to compete and win. By adding just one or two more competitive people to your training atmosphere your weights will go up automatically. Successful athletes hate to lose, and will do anything to avoid that feeling. Try as you may, you can not create this type of atmosphere by yourself.

The hour or so that you spend at the gym should prepare you for what you will face in a game situation. And that is, first and foremost, competition. You should be fiercely competitive with your training partners and they should, in turn, be out to crush you. Of course, you still want to be supportive of each other, but as strength training guru Louie Simmons once said, “I don’t know these people (his training partners) in here when I’m training. I don’t like these people…I wanna take them out to deep water and drown them…The goal is for you to be the top dog in that workout. I don’t have any room for poodles in my gym, I only want pitbulls.” If your training partners do not share that same pitbull mentality, I suggest you look for someone who does.

A few years ago, I was training with my friend and former professional baseball player, Joe Cuervo. We were having a strongman competition one Friday afternoon to finish out our training week. The third or fourth exercise of the day was the keg clean and press. We filled the keg about two thirds of the way up with water, plugged the side tap and got started. The goal was to clean and press it from the ground to straight overhead as many times as possible without stopping. I went first and banged out twenty one straight reps. I knew there was no way Joe was going to beat that and I told him so. I wasn’t thinking at the time that this guy had been told he couldn’t do things for years. They said he was too short to play baseball. They told him that due to the multiple operations he had on each knee, he should stop playing ball as a sophomore in college. He ignored that advice and busted his ass in fulfilling his life long dream of playing professional baseball. Knowing that, I should never have underestimated him. He knocked off the first 15 reps with relative ease. On number 18, he lost control of the keg and it came down and split his eyebrow wide open. If he let go of the keg to tend to his wound the contest would have been over and I would have been victorious. Instead, he blew the blood out of his eye and, with a surge of unbridled adrenaline, finished the final four reps he needed to beat me plus one more to emphasize his victory. When he put the keg down, we cleaned up the blood and took him down the street to the emergency room to get stitches. Thirty minutes later we were back at the gym to finish our workout with a car push contest. That’s the kind of person you want to train with.

In the latest Westside Barbell Club video, Vogelpohl XXX, they show Chuck attempt a box squat and completely miss the lift. He sat down with an insane amount of bar weight and bands and got stapled to the box. In that situation there would usually be two options for most people; half of the people would lower the weight and try again. The other half would keep the weight and get psyched up for another attempt. Chuck did neither. He instead grabbed two twenty fives and slapped them on each side. On his next attempt, he didn’t get just one rep, he got two. And made it look easy! To all the HIT jedi’s (as they like to call themselves) out there, that is what you call intensity. That, my friends is the kind of person you want to train with.

Where you train is just as important as whom you train with. Most public “fitness centers” will not cut it. Gyms like these are a great place to get a pump and meet girls, but are usually not conducive to serious, hardcore training. The “fern and chrome palaces,” as the great author John McCallum used to call most commercial gyms, are not where you want to be if you have a choice. Find a small hole-in-the-wall place with some character and good equipment. You don’t need a place that has forty six different leg curl machines. A squat rack and a good glute ham bench will do a lot more for your strength and speed development. Westside Barbell Club is the strongest gym in the world and has absolutely no fancy machinery, neon lights, or juice bars in its less than two thousand square feet of space. What they do have is attitude. And an entire gym full of intensely motivated lifters who would do anything humanly possible to lift heavier weights.

One final note about public gyms is that it usually isn’t wise to attempt a one rep max with Britney’s latest abomination of a Rolling Stones classic or anything of the sort playing on the gym stereo system. In fact, I believe there are several studies which have proven that pop music can decrease neural output and overall strength by as much as 37 percent. To avoid this, either bring headphones, or find a gym that plays Slayer.

Now that you know where you should be training and what kind of people you should be training with, you must ask yourself the following questions, “What are my training partners doing for me? Are they helping me reach my goals? Do they motivate and inspire me? Do they show up on time ready to go to war each and every day?” If the answer to any or all of those questions is no, then you had damn sure better find some new training partners. Remember, you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps.