Military Muscle: Partner up for progress

Working out with a partner has a ton of upsides and only one small downside — the opportunity to get distracted while talking about other things.

A few of the upsides:

Motivation. Challenge each other to push through the rough spots.

Competition. Challenge each other on reps, weight or speed (if both partners are fairly equal).

Spotting. Help out when technique starts to falter.

Managing time. Keep the workout focused.

It is important to have a partner with similar goals, dedication and work ethic. A good partnership can absolutely be male/female.

Here are two workouts that I have my clients do in a partner environment.


Keep it at 10 exercises, mixing strength and body weight, limited only by your imagination. The start seems like a snap, but as you progress, it settles into an endurance grind. The partnership is focused on the motivation side with one partner designated as the lead.

Workout flow. When you build this workout, put your weak areas at the beginning so they get the bulk of the work. Shoulder press an issue? Make it No. 1 and you’ll get maximum reps. Choose a weight that is comfortably difficult.

The lead person does exercise No. 1 and then rests while the partner does the same exercise. The lead person then does exercises No. 1 and No. 2 while the partner rests, and then rests while the partner does the same two exercises. Keep going, always adding the next exercise in the lineup.

If you chose 10 reps for each exercise, then at the end, you would have executed 100 reps of the first exercise. The total workout is 550 reps, and both partners will average 65 minutes.

  • Shoulder press
  • Weighted crunches
  • Box jumps
  • Incline pushups on a stability ball (hands on the ball and feet on the floor)
  • Mountain climbers (count only one leg)
  • Ball slams
  • Lunges (count reps for each leg)
  • Hammer curls
  • Pullups
  • Crunches on a stability ball


This workout is focused on the competitive side of partnering up, but it does not eliminate the motivational input. It’s a common workout in most gyms and will be familiar to anyone who has done a CrossFit-style workout.

Workout flow. This is a timed workout of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for eight rounds. This can be a max effort.

You can do Tabata for one exercise, but I like to do five — which is 20 minutes of hell — and I prefer to rotate through each exercise every round versus doing all eight rounds of one exercise before moving on.

The partners work simultaneously, together for 20 seconds and resting for 10. When I have partners who have been in my program a while, I give them 70 to 80 percent of the work time as their rep target (14-16 reps).

Weight and target reps are set according to ability. I like body weight and other functional-style exercises. The competition lies in who can maintain their rep target or stay as close as possible.

  • Pushups
  • Box jumps (standing jump from floor to 20-inch box)
  • Wall ball (throw a heavy medicine ball at a 10-foot-high target)
  • Body squats (no weight, but lower to parallel with your quads)
  • Triceps overhead press (two-handed dumbbell press from behind the head to fully vertical arms, keeping your elbows along your ear line)

You can develop any workout into a partner workout. Have fun as your fitness progresses.

Related: Partner workouts Part 1: This workout involves a partner as part of each exercise, using different fitness tools.


Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas has been our Military Muscle columnist since 2007. He’s the director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. He’s his base’s lead trainer, a wounded warrior program facilitator and the Navy nutrition counselor there. His special emphasis is on fitness for the military retired population. Find his Military Muscle columns here.