Bonds for a lifetime: training partners indispensable ingredients in the creation of legends
Kirk Karwoski and Bob “Nacho Del Grande” Myers: at the highest level of strength sports, training partners are invaluable, indispensable, critical. Bobby became Kirk’s training partner when Kirk began training at Ian Burgess’ Maryland Athletic Club, in College Park. Bob was a mid-wife for Kirk’s glory years when the boy prodigy became a full-blown dominator. Bob was there for every training session and Kirk’s rate of progress and physical maturity in this period was astounding and in large part due to Bob. Whether it was using his incredible hand strength to wrap Kirk’s knee wraps past a human’s ability to withstand pain (Kirk is not a human being) or yelling with his stentorian voice at ear-shattering volume right before a Karwoski limit attempt, Bobby’s presence took everything to the next level. You could not have designed a better training partner.
Men lift weights to transform themselves from what they are into what they want to be. What men want is to undergo a radical physical transformation. A certain type of man has an inherent yearning to become bigger, stronger, leaner, faster, healthier, sexier – they want it all. These men are Alpha males (and aspiring Beta males) that naturally gravitate towards the superhero ethos and admire and desire the superhero physique.
The tools and protocols needed to successfully ignite a dramatic physical makeover have been around and known about since the 1930s. Hard and heavy resistance training has been growing massive amounts of muscle on hard training alpha males for nearly 100 years. Basic barbell movement patterns, done repeatedly and with slightly heavier payloads (combined with calorie + eating) increases strength. Increased strength begets increased muscle size.
Iron Pioneers discovered eons ago that if they became exponentially stronger at certain benchmark resistance training exercises the muscles used grew exponentially larger. Hardcore resistance training done consistently makes men stronger, more powerful, and more muscular. And for these reasons, hardcore resistance training done right, done with barbells and dumbbells, will never die. Hardcore protocols coupled with free-weights was, is and forever shall be, the undisputed King of muscle-building and strength-building.
At the higher levels of resistance training, transformational training becomes a type of team sport. When a man handles super heavy poundage in the barbell squat and bench press, at some point you are going to miss a rep. What does a man training alone do when he misses a rep in the bench press with 405-pounds and has to ride it down to his chest? He had better think of something quick.
What does a man training alone do when he misses his 5th rep with 585 in the squat? Throw 600-pounds off his back? What if its too heavy too be thrown? It rides him down to the basement in less than a second. Better think of something quick. Great lifters need training partners, good ones, to spot them when they attempt their result-producing limit-exceeding reps on top sets.
Training partners are people that throws in with you. Training partners follow the same identical training format. The best lifter “leads”, and the others follow: the only thing that changes for each workout participant is the payload. While everyone will do the same exercise movements using the same techniques for the same number of reps, the “top-set” poundage used will vary, athlete to athlete.
If a (hypothetical) group of say five hardcore, drug-free, raw, powerlifters gathered to train and the five training partners best squats ranged from 450 to 600. The squat poundage sequence would likely go…
135-pounds all five lifters would rep the 135 as many times as possible to warm-up
225 2nd warm-up set, each in turn would step to and rep 225
275 3rd set for whoever wanted it
315 4th set warmup
365 5th set warmup
405 6th set 1st (of 5) training partner hits the top rep set, done, he continues to spot
455 7th set 2nd training partner’s top rep set
495 8th set 3nd training partner’s top rep set
545 9th set 4th training partner’s top rep set
585 10th set top rep set of the day done by the 600x1 squatter
Everyone adheres to the same training template. Each of the five lifters spot, assist, load, and exhort whoever is up. No distracted conversations, no phone calls, no texting, you give each other the same undivided attention they gave you when as you performed your set. Lifting in front of a group, being the center of attention, ups a man’s game.
There is an art and science to being a responsible and effective training partner. Good training partners enable the champion to obtain results that the champion would have been unable to attain without the help of the training partner(s.) The champions will be the first to tell you so because really good training partners are rare. What makes a great training partner?
- Show up: the first rule is to never miss a training session. Show up. Missing sessions is an indicator that you are either not serious or do not have the life situation required to be consistent. Others are depending on you. Step up or step off.
- Becomes absorbed in the “process:” Training partners becomes more knowledgeable as they adopt the elite lifter’s approach. The acolyte learns how to create customized strength training templates (how to periodize) based on realistic and ruthless self-assessment.
- Strong: a weak training partner, no matter how knowledgeable or clever, is of very little use to a super-strong, elite iron athlete. If you are not strong enough to pull a failed bench press off a struggling lifter, then you put the champ at risk.
- Knows what to say: good lifters want feedback after a set. Technically, how did it look? Was my depth good? Were my benches locked out? Any hitching or stalling on the deadlift or overhead press? Don’t become a cheerleader or a groupie.
- Knows when to shut up: please say less. Make your words specific. No one cares about your observations expressed in ten-minute monologues. The lower on the group totem pole you are, the fewer words that are needed from you.
- Expert spotter: there is an art and science to spotting. The 1st rule for spotting is you spot with fierce attention; you assume the lifter will fail with every rep. If at any point during a rep the bar stalls and starts to go backwards, the rep is over, the spotter takes control.
- Expert forced rep giver: the lifter goes to positive failure, the spotter steps in and offers just enough assistance to keep another rep moving smoothly and steadily towards lockout; the training partner does not let a forced rep stall or stop.
- Attend competitions and assists: the training partner(s) travel to competitions and assist their stablemates during the competition. At a competition, the training partner’s job is to assist in the warmup procedures and get the athlete onstage warmed-up and focused.
Leroy Davis and Dorian Yates: never were training partners more critical than in the Yates/Davis partnership. Dorian’s strategy depended on massive weights taken to positive failure and then adding a forced rep or two – never more. How the forced rep was administered is critical: too much help lessens the depth of the muscular inroad, too little help allows the payload to stall and is injurious, unproductive, and unacceptable. Leroy Davis (and Bobby Myers) had four critical talents…
- He understood exactly what Dorian was doing and what his role was because he trained the same way and required his training partners assist him the way he assisted Yates.
- Strong as hell: if a weight were missed, (rarely) the hawk-eyed Leroy would have zero problem pulling a massive weight off the champion. Davis spotted assuming every rep would fail. Heightened vigilance is critical spotting those that push the envelope.
- Loud as hell: both Leroy and Bob had operatic voice volume; it makes a difference when a ferocious monster man is a foot from your head screaming at you to finish a rep. The sheer volume was shocking and effective – when they screamed, the world stopped.
- Both men succeeded: Yates and Karwoski became legends. Would they have been as good without their training partners? No freaking way - and Dorian and Kirk would be the first to tell you so.
It is one hell of an accomplishment to have been .
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.