Eat More. Do Less.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of a Partner WOD

Crossfit workouts on your own are tough. You’ll sweat, you’ll get light headed, and you may wish for death at some point. The level of exertion is probably something you aren’t used to. Unless you’re an active SEAL.

Flickr image by Matthew Batchelor

Flickr image by Matthew Batchelor

If you haven’t met the partner WOD yet, you will. My first thought was, “Great! I don’t have to do all the work myself!”. Then the reality hit me. Let’s start with the not so great part of the partner WOD.

The Bad

If you’re new relatively new to Crossfit, you’ve probably already discovered the concept of rep-shaving. This is your ability to double count a few reps or just leave one off here and there. It’s something most new athletes face because you don’t want to be last and the work is hard. In the end, you’re only cheating yourself, but you justify it by being new and not as in shape as everyone else.

The coach isn’t your mother and doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head so you can get away with it in a group setting if you really want. When you are doing a partner WOD, you WILL be doing every one of your reps because someone is standing there counting. No blending into the crowd for you.

The Ugly

The hardest part for me was knowing someone is standing there watching me struggle. Already self-conscious enough about my unfamiliarity with the lifts and terminology, I didn’t care for the thought of someone watching me go full red-face from lifting such little weight. If anything opened my eyes to my weaknesses if was the partner WOD.

For a new Crossfitter, a partner WOD is a great time to finish last. It’s happened to me more than once. It’s just going to take you and your partner longer to do burpees if you’re both at the same beginner level (see below). However, you also may get to experience the axiom, “Crossfit is the only sport where the loudest cheers are for those that finish last”. Again, I’ve been there.

Finishing last isn’t a bad thing. Giving up is. *Of course, there will always be times when you need to stop, but with the right weights, you should be good to finish.

The Good

So if one of the bad things is not being able to shave reps, how can that also be a good thing? Having someone count your every rep will benefit you in several ways:

  • You’ll see you can actually do every rep and finish which builds confidence
  • It will train you not to shave reps when working on your own
  • You will improve faster

Working with a partner is also a great chance to be a coach. You’ll be providing encouragement. When they break, you give a 3-2-1 back on the bar. When the voice in their head tells them they can’t keep going, it’s your voice they’ll need to get the last one or two reps.

It’s a good way to get to know other people in the box. A grueling partner WOD can be like surviving a traumatic event together where that bond of fighting along side someone for a common cause is forged. That may be overstating it a bit, but it is great for learning names and breaking the ice.

Surviving a Partner WOD

The most important step is to find someone close to your level. It will allow you to keep the weights the same. It’s also nice to have someone moving the same pace as you. If you are taking three times as long to finish your part, it’s not exactly a confidence booster.

Keep moving. You don’t want to slow your partner down where they have to wait on you. This is worse if they have to hold a 95lb barbell overhead while you do 20 wall balls. Don’t go crazy at the beginning. Set a pace and focus on staying moving.

Keep count. Partner WODS tend to be a little longer and it’s easy to lose track of where you are. We do these terrible WODs where one partner does a movement while another partner does a hold. Partner one might be hanging from the bar while partner two does 15 deadlifts. Trust me, while you’re hanging, there will be no counting, only praying for a time warp. If the WOD is an AMRAP, grab a piece of chalk and keep track on the floor of the rounds you complete.

If your partner gets to a point where they just can’t go anymore without a minute or two of rest, jump in and do your set if you can. They can always finish their last reps at the end by taking another turn. I’ve been on both sides of that equation. If you only got through 5 of 10 burpees and had to break and your partner started their next round, do those 5 remaining burpees at the end, but do them. There is no greater satisfaction than simply finishing when you wanted more than anything to quit.

It’s about doing the work and helping someone to get the most out of their workout at the same time. Partner WODs can be some of the most difficult, but also most rewarding workouts you will endure. Make the most of them and bring what you learn about yourself and your capacity back to your individual sessions and you’ll be better for it.

Why do you love or hate the partner WOD?