Partner Training (…and My Top 5 Partner Exercises)

I’ve had this article on the ideas pile for a while now but when I saw George North pick up Isreal Falou like a gold, Quantas sponsored sandbag I knew it was time to bring this piece to fruition.

Enter ‘partner training’

Partner training is the use of another person as a piece of training equipment. It’s certainly nothing new, in fact it may be responsible for the premise of strength training – progressive overload. Legend has it that Milo of Croton performed loaded carries with a new-born calf every day until it was fully grown. As a side note it’s also alleged that he consumed 20lb of meat, 20lb of bread and 18 pints of wine every day – surely proof that the original strongmen weren’t Paleo?!

Uses for the partner

A human being is the ultimate in versatile training tools and serves all of the following functions:

  • Giant, poseable sandbag

Pretty much any exercise you can perform with a sandbag you can replicate with a human. The bonus with the human is that you can also change the shape to fit the exercise. For example, you can use an upright one for a fireman’s carry and a curled-up-into-a-ball-shaped one to (carefully) play human atlas stones.

  • Adjustable box

Why pack a box when you can have a person? Someone in the plank position provides a great base for hip thrusts, push ups and so on. For a higher box get them on all fours. Nice little stability exercise for the boxer too.

  • Fixed anchor

Performing rowing exercises can be a problem if you’ve no equipment. If you’ve got another person you needn’t worry though; a partner can serve as anchor to row against. You can also the human anchor principle to perform isometric exercises such as different types of push and pull. Oh… and you can use them as an anchor for Nordics… how could I almost forget these?!

  • Perturbation provider

Stability training should primarily focus on resisting movement in the presence of external force. What could be a more sport specific form of external force than a fellow athlete? Whilst at the entry level some of these types of exercises can appear a bit lightweight you can work towards incorporating some pretty heavy duty grappling drills.

  • Bodyweight support

I’ve put this last as it’s the least sexy but it’s a great tool to use when you want to regress an exercise. Use a partner to assist with movements such as squats, single squats and even push ups to make the exercise a little easier.

My top 5 exercises:

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 partner exercises:

  • Wheelbarrows

Crawling-type movements are underemployed in most training programmes but provide a host of benefits for the shoulder and trunk complexes when done well. Get the wheelbarrow to clamp their legs onto to the partner for an added adductor benefit too.

  • Piggyback/fireman carries

Loaded carries are another thing we rarely do enough off. Lend themselves really well to a bit of competitive action, be this races over set a distance or a carry for as long as possible.

  • Ball wrestling

Simple premise, just get two people wrestling over a ball. Naturally lends itself well to rugby but it’s a great catch-all exercise for stability. Play around with the positions to vary the challenge.

  • Partner rows

A great exercise not only because it’s hard to find things to row off, but also because it’s a pretty good stability challenge for the anchor.

  • Nordics

Ahh, the Nordic. How people hate me for them. No need to explain these I think, just get them done.


Knowing how to use athletes as a training tool is a fantastic skill set to be able to draw upon. Partner training is little unorthodox, encourages team cohesion and can be a fantastic amount of fun for all concerned. If you’ve not already then I suggest you give it a try!

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