How to do a partner WOD

What feelings stir up when you hear “Partner Up”?

My guess is a reaction somewhere between woo hoo! sounds fun and oh-my-god this is 7th grade gym class all over again. Both are totally understandable reactions. There are a bunch of reasons to do partner workouts — most of which are simply a practicality.

Adequate rest period

On a strength day, your coaches prefer you to partner up simply to ensure you take proper rest between sets. Novice trainees especially like to do their 5 sets of 5 reps at a light load, very quickly. This will inevitably result in stalled improvement and less reps being performed under the caring eye of a coach.

Relative intensity

High-intensity interval training is — as far as we know with current evidence — the most time-efficient way to add lean muscle mass, reduce body fat, improve cardiovascular function, and reduce injury. It’s really effective stuff… IF you can get to your individual relative intensity. NOT match your neighbor’s but work to your own “redline.” Partnering up is a great way for someone to push their working intervals just a touch higher than they normally would knowing that their partner will pick up the work on the next working set.

Equipment and time

Frankly, this is the main reason the partner WOD exists. There are times throughout the week when most of you prefer to work out. Sure, we could do 8am, 9am, and 10am classes on Saturday morning but you and your coaches all have a weekend of well-earned rest to get to. So, instead of three 12-person classes like you’d see throughout the week, we’ll do a big group class in partners so you can get on with your weekend and your coach can safely keep eyes on half the room working at any given time.

Why the weirdness around partner WODs?

It’s OK to not like interacting with people. It’s OK to be an introvert. It’s OK to hate small talk. It’s OK to not want to interact with other people during your hour. These are all completely acceptable reasons to avoid the partner WOD and I applaud you for knowing yourself so well.


Dig deep and ask yourself what your real hesitation is here. I’m only calling it out because I hear these things about 842 times a day.

“You’re gonna lift a ton more than me.”

“I’m going to hold you up.”

“You’ll gonna breeze right through this.”

“I’m going to need to scale/modify the rope climbs.”

Now, I’ve fielded a lot of complaints and “suggestion box” comments over the last six years — ranging from “huh, that’s a great point; never thought of it” (tampons, hair ties, and full-length mirror in the ladies’ restroom) to the absolutely absurd. In fact, I don’t believe that any suggestion or comment could surprise me at this point.

But, there is one comment I have never, ever received in the LAST SIX YEARS, 9,000 ATHLETES COACHED, AND OVER 5,000 PROGRAMMED WORKOUTS… wait for it… 

So-and-so lifted way less than me in the partner WOD. So-and-so held me up in the partner WOD. So-and-so had to modify muscle ups. NEVER. Not once. Not even a hint of a whisper of a thought in anyone’s head, ever about how their workout was somehow tainted by a partner with different abilities.

So why do you think you’ll be the first?

This probably gets to a psycho-social discussion that I’d prefer to not dig into now. But, really ponder the question — why do you think that you will be the first one someone is “held up by” or is looked down upon for not using the exact weight as someone else?

If you were really honest with yourself, you know the answer. You know that there’s a group of people that has a 100% track record of not judging someone based upon their current abilities. You know that your coaches modify workouts on an hourly basis for people with physical limitations that blow yours completely out of the water.

I’ve said it a million times – it’s your hour. If that means you don’t want to interact with other humans — totally cool. I can relate with that on a very deep level.

But your “I’ll hold someone up” rationale is BS. You know it is. It’s much easier to externalize onto someone else our own feelings of inadequacy. But, it’s in that vulnerability that we learn some pretty amazing things about ourselves. And it’s in that vulnerability that we grow.