The best way to break up with your training partner

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I’ve been training with a training partner for the last few months, but it’s not working for me. They slow me down and don’t push me. How can I lose them without making it awkward at the gym in the next few months?

-I’m sick of my swolemate

GOOD RELATIONS CAN be tough no matter where you are. The gym is no exception, even if it’s more associated with macho bending than sharing feelings. The bond you can form with a training partner is special. Not only do you have a friend you can count on to share how you’re feeling, both physically and mentally, you have someone in your life who (ideally) shares the same motivations, goals, and willingness to take the time to work towards achieving them. Some of my best friendships have been established or strengthened by working out together—after all, there are few experiences more effective at building trust than saving your friend from being crushed by a barbell with a good point.

So when you don’t feel good about the dynamic you have with your workout partner, you’ll be well served to take the same care you would with any other type of relationship when working through your issues. Perhaps you disagree when you want to train, what your goals are, or you need someone more eager to motivate you to finish a tough set. In this case, you’ll need to prepare for one of the hardest aspects of a partnership: ending it.

Breakups suck, no matter the context. There is no good way to tell someone that you have a headache and don’t want to spend any more time with them. To better understand how you should approach that tough talk, I spoke with Shadeen Francis, LMFT, CSTa certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist.

Francis says you shouldn’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll be able to get over the breakup without some sort of emotional response, whether from your workout partner or yourself. You are both people, even if at the gym you largely shut down your feelings to focus on your workouts. Francis notes that you especially can’t do anything about how your future ex-lift partner will react to the news that you no longer want to be there to give him a seat.

It’s not in your control, nor is it your responsibility, to keep someone else from having feelings, she says. You may have the most perfect, clear, loving conversation with this person, and they still may not take it very well. This could make things awkward for the two of you.

Feeling uncomfortable isn’t a reason to avoid the conversation, whether you take one extreme or the other. The phantom exit from the partnership guarantees awkwardness if you want to show your face at the gym again, and Francis says having a conversation allows you to at least create a significant exit ramp, out of the relationship. On the other hand, you could be setting yourself up for even bigger problems if you stick with your training partner to avoid conflict. You’re not giving them a fair chance, because you’re actually gone, you’re gone, he says. It doesn’t actually advance your relationship, it just makes you resentful. Holding resentment for the person you have to trust to bail you out with a good job if you fail a pass isn’t ideal. You may even start dreading your workouts together and find excuses to skip.

The costs are really high, because the relationship with fitness, movement, health and your body takes up a lot of psychological space, says Francis. If you also don’t feel present and engaged in this thing that you are doing for your overall well-being, how much does it cost you down the road?

When you’ve reached the point of no return with your training partner, taking a measured approach to breaking up could help make the process less painful. Francis has a game plan that you can use to talk through your problems with your soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Most importantly, she says you should make sure you’re using two guiding principles in your approach to communicating your intent to end things: Be clear and be kind.

To record

First, you should check in with your workout partner to see how they’re feeling. Francis says this is an especially useful starting point if you’re not 100% sure you want to get rid of them altogether. Here’s how he advises you to open that talk: I haven’t felt very good about this training plan that we have. I’m acknowledging that we train at different paces and have different energy levels. I want to check in with you, how do you feel about this? Does it work for you?

From there, you can assess the situation and determine how you want to move forward.

Indicate your needs/desires

Remember, you are training with this person because you decided at some point that this is how you wanted to spend your time. That can change, and it’s important to remember that your feelings and desires are important and valid.

Francis recommends being crystal clear about that change of feeling. Maybe like this: We started this out of a mutual desire. And now I would like to change it because my desires have changed.

These probably won’t be the exact words you use, given the context of the situation, but you can use the specifics of your problem to fill in the blanks and make it more relevant to you.

Give them the floor

Once you’ve raised the issue and made your feelings clear, you can’t just walk away from the discussion literally or figuratively without giving them a chance to express theirs. What a lot of people often do in this process is they get very clear and create their kind message, and they send it in a message, and they say Great, I did it! Francis says. It’s not really a conversation and it’s not always the best way to navigate a relationship.

Even if you’re communicating via text message which Francis thinks is fine, since you’ll be able to be as clear as possible in describing your needs without distraction IRL, you can’t just leave their response read (or unread). You must be ready to listen to them and also to respond.

Be firm with your needs

If you aren’t crystal clear about what your needs are, or if you struggle to set boundaries with people, what comes next could be challenging. Francis says some people might take the suggestion that a relationship needs to change and end up as feedback about how they can change to make things work. That might be all you need in some cases, but if you’re absolutely done, you need to be prepared to be firm about it.

If you’re into people, this can be especially difficult, but Francis offers two suggestions for this type of scenario. First, he states what your intention is for the outcome of the conversation at the outset. He names that this is the request I’m making, or this is the action I’m taking, he says. It could be that you want to hit the gym with them at the same time, but don’t lift together, or that you’ll find someone else to single you out.

Second, you can practice in advance how the other person might react so you have an idea of ​​how to counter his suggestions. Maybe even sketch out some potential answers, if [you] feel like this person might take a bit of a disproof or boundary test, she says.

Don’t be a jerk

This might sound like a lot of advice, but Francis says the breakup process can be boiled down to a simple TL; DR: Do a vibe check and don’t be an ass.

Your approach Could be be a little more nuanced than that if you were following closely, but keep this simple statement in mind as you move towards the end of your collab. The speech may not be as scary as you think it will be in the beginning. After all, you are not the only person in the partnership. They may be just as ready to end things with you as well. If so, wish each other well and go your separate ways. You can always meet after your workout for protein shakes.

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Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former professional football player and technical journalist who divides his training time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts and running. You can find his work elsewhere on Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.

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