If you’ve been working out for a while, you’ve likely done some form of partner workout. Maybe you and your buddy take turns spotting each other during a lifting session or you race each other up an incline during hill sprints.
Or perhaps you alternate work–rest intervals in a “you go, I go” format — one person resting while the other does 20 kettlebell swings as fast as possible, for instance, before swapping roles.
But have you ever actually used your partner in a partner workout? Pulled, pushed, climbed, or lifted him or her? In other words, have you ever taken advantage of your buddy as a tool as much as a teammate, an implement to build your strength as well as a source of friendly midworkout motivation?
At London’s Commando Temple — lauded across Europe for its strength disciplines, including strongman, powerlifting, and kettlebell training — this hands-on partner approach is the central premise of calisthenics classes.
To help you get the gist, we asked Commando founder Rob Blair to create a partner workout you can do anywhere, anytime. All you need is your body weight and a willing training partner.
“The exercises incorporate many primal-movement patterns that are vital in everyday life, such as twisting, bending, and squatting,” says Blair.
What makes them different is that you’ll use the resistance of your buddy’s body to complete the exercises, with each of you getting a chance to be the movement initiator.
Working with a partner in this way can help you progress and regress certain movements (such as the pistol squat, pushup, or pull-up), making them more accessible. (For advice on working out with a buddy, see “Better Together,”below.)
The workout alternates these partner exercises with individual movements in the form of light plyometrics, ground work, and mobility drills.
The beauty of this workout (namely, that you’re always working together) is also what makes it challenging. Chill time arrives at a 3:1 work–rest ratio, which means for every 90 seconds of work, you get a mere 30 seconds of rest.
Good thing you have a partner who’ll push you, encourage you, and — hopefully — laugh right along with you.
The Partner Workout
- Set an alarm for 30-second intervals (use an app like Round Timer or an interval timer like Gymboss). There’s no predetermined set or rep scheme; partners set the pace during each 30-second window.
- Perform each Partner Drill for 30 seconds. When your timer beeps, trade places to reverse roles. When it beeps again, perform the corresponding Ground Drill for 30 seconds, both of you working at the same time. Then, rest for 30 seconds before moving on to the next pairing.
- A single eight-minute round of the four exercise pairs will be enough for beginners, but “two to three rounds is where the party is at,” says workout designer Rob Blair.
- Aim to provide an appropriate amount of resistance for your partner, based on her or his strength and fitness level. Go easy to start and build intensity as you build mutual confidence, making good form a priority.
- Tip: Create a dynamic warm-up by combining the Ground Drill movements. Perform each move for 10 reps or 30 seconds, whichever comes first, then dig into the full workout.
Partner Drill: Power Tower
Facing one another with your arms extended in front of you, wrap your hands around your partner’s fists. Bracing your core, attempt to push your partner backward. Both of you should maintain a straight line with your arms. Make sure you have plenty of space, and push in a straight line. Keep your shoulders drawn down and back to activate more muscles and provide a solid foundation from which to push and resist.
Ground Drill: From a standing position, lie down on the ground on your stomach and stand back up. Repeat. (Easy!)
Partner Drill: Hero Carry
The goal is to hold your partner for time. Squat down and, without rounding or hyperextending your back, gently rotate to scoop your partner into a carry position, holding her or him around the upper back and under the knees. Brace your core and press through your legs to stand up. (Alternatively, your partner can jump into your arms to assist the initial lift and wrap his or her arm around the back of your shoulders to help secure the position.) Squeeze your glutes and abs to maintain proper form; don’t lean backward to support your partner’s weight. Your partner can extend his or her legs to make the drill harder or bend them to make it easier.
Ground Drill: From standing, place your hands on the crown of your head, interlock your fingers, and lie down on your back. Keeping your hands where they are throughout the movement, stand back up. Repeat.
Partner Drill: Partner Pistol Squats
Facing one another, grab ahold of your partner’s wrists or hands and lift your right foot an inch or two off the floor. Slowly and with control, bend your left knee and lower your butt toward the ground, going as low as you comfortably can while maintaining a neutral spine. The left knee will track in the same direction as your left toes. As you squat down, your right leg will extend in front of you; it should not touch the floor. Squeeze your glutes to return to start; your partner can help by pulling up during the ascension phase, but just enough to facilitate the movement. Alternate legs each rep.
Ground Drill: From standing, grab ahold of your two big toes. Lie on your back and then stand back up, never letting go of your toes.
Partner Drill: Supine Pull-Ups
Lying on your back with your legs stretched out straight, extend your arms overhead so your partner can grab ahold of your wrists (your partner will be sitting a couple of feet from the top of your head). Your partner will then secure his or her feet on your upper trapezius muscles for stability. Begin to bend your arms, aiming to pull your elbows toward your hipbones to simulate a pull-up. Only your arms should move — engage your core, glutes, and legs to avoid sliding around on the floor. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your elbows close to your sides. After each rep, reset yourself by extending your arms straight overhead and then pull again.
Ground Drill: Run in place, side shuffle, shadow box, or skip. Go with a movement that feels easy to maintain.
Sure, you can get a great workout with your body weight alone, but it can be highly motivating — and beneficial — to team up with someone else. Here are some tips for working well in pairs:
- Pick a partner of roughly your same size or strength. Or just be ready to adapt the resistance based on who is playing what role in the drill. The idea is to make your partner work hard, but not so hard that form breaks down or somebody gets injured.
- Choose a partner you’re comfortable with. These drills call for close proximity and hands-on interaction. Trust and comfort are key.
- Communicate clearly. Check in and ask if your partner needs you to provide more or less resistance. One of the perks of working with a partner is that you can adjust the challenge on the fly. Offer encouragement and make the exercise a team effort.
- Roll with the ruckus. Partner drills aren’t going to go perfectly. You’ll inevitably need to make adjustments in body position, and you can expect a few amusing and potentially awkward moments. That’s normal: This type of workout can build your strength and your cardio capacity, and also make you breathless from belly laughs.
The Partner Workout: Bonus Exercises
Tack the following exercise pairs onto the above partner workout for a 16-minute session, or use them as an alternate buddy workout. Either way, the same rules apply:
- Using an app like Round Timer or an interval timer like Gymboss, set an alarm for 30-second intervals. There’s no predetermined set or rep scheme — you two will set the pace during each 30-second interval.
- Perform each partner drill for 30 seconds. When your timer beeps, trade places to reverse roles. When it beeps again, perform the corresponding ground drill for 30 seconds, both of you working at the same time. Then, you both get to rest for 30 seconds before moving on to the next partner-ground drill pairing.
Partner Drill: The Angry Hug
From a modified “hug” position (where your upper bodies are in contact but your lower bodies are not), try to push your partner backward while she resists being pushed. Stay low and avoid driving your shoulder up or down — aim through her waist for best results. Make sure you have plenty of space to avoid obvious tripping hazards, and push in a straight line. Reset your positions as needed. “Competitive people love this one,” says Blair.
Pair with Ground Drill: From standing, place your hands in your pockets (or in the waistband of your trousers), lie on the ground and stand back up, alternating lying on your front and lying on your back. Vary the way you stand up and lie back down.
Partner Drill: Circus Press
One partner lies on her back, arms extended straight upward, hands closed in fists and shoulders drawn down and back in a solid position. Standing on the ground several feet above her head, facing her, the other person grasps her partner’s fists and steps back into the top of a pushup position. If both partners feel strong and stable, the top person can try partial or full-range pushups. Or, she can simply hold the position.
Pair with Ground Drill: From standing, lie down on the ground without letting your arms (including your shoulders) touch the ground. Alternate lying on your front and lying on your back. As before, vary the style you use to transition.
Partner Drill: People Pushup
One partner assumes the top of a pushup position — head in a neutral position, body straight from head to heel, with thighs, knees, and ankles pressed together. Brace the core tightly. The other partner stands a few feet to one side, facing her. Positioning both her hands on the horizontal partner’s hip and upper back in a manner that’s comfortable and solid for both people, the standing partner will step into the top of a pushup position. If the top partner is able to, she can perform pushups, while the bottom partner remains stable. Otherwise, both partners simply hold their positions. To make the exercise more difficult for the base, the top person can play with the positioning of her hands or perform the pushups explosively to provide additional load and a shock to the system, says Blair. Switch sides each round so your core gets a balanced challenge.
Pair with Ground Drill: Cross your arms over your chest. From standing, lie on your back and stand back up.
Partner Drill: Resisted Glute Bridge
One person will lie on her back, knees bent, thighs together, and feet on the ground. Driving through the heels and squeezing her glutes together, she will lift her hips up high, until her body is straight from shoulders to knees. Standing off to one side, the partner providing the resistance will then place her open palms on the bridging partner’s hipbones and apply some portion of her body weight to the down partner’s hips. “This is a very strong position for the bridgee — make her work!” says Blair. Apply plenty of your body weight, but make sure you are applying it symmetrically.
Pair with Ground Drill: This time, lie down and get back up again without using your left arm or right leg. Alternate the arm and leg being used for good strength symmetry. “This is a tough drill,” says Blair.