Forget about the dumbbellskettlebells, Olympic weightlifting platforms, pullup bars, cross-trainers and even your lucky deadlifting t-shirt. The most important piece of ‘equipment’ in the entire gym is that guy standing above you on the bench press, making sure you don’t decapitate yourself while going for a new PR.

That’s right: A great workout partner can motivate you, keep you accountable, push you harder and keep you from killing yourself.

But with great power comes great responsibility. Here are the key traits that make for a great workout partner.
1. Know When to Spot and When to Not

Spotting key lifts is a skill in and of itself, but so is knowing when not to spot. Nothing’s more frustrating than having someone rip the bar out of your hand before you feel like you are done driving a rep home. A general rule of thumb to follow: If the bar is still moving concentrically (being lifted), no matter how slowly, keep your hands off. Also, unless you are using a special technique such as forced reps, there is never a need to keep helping with additional reps beyond the first rep you had to spot. Meaning: Once your partner needs help with one rep, that should be the last rep of the set. Most importantly, while you don’t want to rob a guy of trying to push through a rep, always err on the side of caution and be ready to grab the bar before there’s any risk of injury.


2. Show Up and Be on Time

It’s 5:30 in the evening. You’ve chugged your pre-workout shake, laced up your sneakers, foam-rolled, and warmed up in preparation for an epic squat session. Your workout partner, however, who was supposed to meet you a half-hour ago, is nowhere to be found.

When you’re late or no-show for a session, you can totally kill your training partner’s motivation and force him to alter his workout plan. And, when you’re left stranded, you realize how much that sucks. So, just as you would for a job interview, a first date, or an important meeting, be sure to show up for your training sessions prepared and on time.


3. Know When to Push and When to Hold Back

Even those of us who love to train have days where we’re just not particularly motivated to train hard. This is where a great training partner can pick up the slack and infuse you with the energy you need to make it through the session—something that might not happen if you were training on your own. However, if you notice your partner isn’t moving well, is missing lifts, and is risking injuring himself, it’s your responsibility to advise him to pull the plug, take down the weights and come back stronger in your next session.


4. Be a Coach….

One of the great things about having a consistent workout partner is that they know your strengths, have seen your movement patterns, and understand your training goals. They can be an invaluable resource in helping your choose the load for your next set or correcting faulty technique based on what they are seeing. Even in the middle of a set, a solid workout partner can give you cues such as “drive your knees out” or “stay in your heels longer” that can help you get through a rep. Movements like cleans, snatches, squats, deadlifts, and presses are complicated. Having another set of eyes watching and guiding you can prove to be invaluable.


5. …But Don’t Over-Coach

On the other end of the spectrum are those workout partners who are over-analytical and yell out every piece of instruction before your hands are even on the bar. Base your coaching on what you are seeing during the lifts and be sure not to give more than the most important one or two cues during the set. Even if a lot is going wrong, it’s impossible to process or correct half a dozen things at once—especially when you are also dealing with a loaded bar. Let the poor guy finish his set and then discuss what he can do better on the next one.


6. It’s All About Teamwork

There’s a reason sports teams practice as a group. It promotes teamwork, unity, and an “us against the world attitude” that helps build champions. Even people who participate in individualized sports such as tennis, track and wrestling, prepare as a unit. Your goal should be to build this same type of camaraderie and attitude with your workout partner. Doing so will make you both more accountable, ramp up the energy and excitement of your training sessions and just might help your push your limits in order to not let down ‘the team.”


7. Do Your Homework

While it’s great to use your time in the gym to shut off your brain and simply get physical, you don’t want to be the guy who never brings any ideas for workout programs, new movements, or performance goals to your training sessions. Don’t rely on your training partner to always do the heavy mental lifting. Research a solid program that is in line with your goals that you can work on together. Alternatively, come up with a friendly wager that’s dependent on hitting a performance goal, such as who can hit a 315-pound back squat first. Doing your fair share of the prep work and bringing good ideas to your training session is a great way to ensure you get invited back next time.