When I was training as a professional triathlete, I did most of my training on my own. This was largely because my ideal training times were mid-day, a morning workout at around 8am and an afternoon workout at around 3pm, and because the workouts very specific for me and my goals. It was necessary, but I would often struggle with this solo training during harder workouts and felt it limited my performance. Yes, I could hit my numbers and, for the most part, get the workout done to plan. However, I felt it came at a greater cost, because I was alone. The workouts were more mentally taxing, and therefore, more taxing overall. I often complained to my coach about this. We tried to find groups/individual for me to train with. I sometimes swam with the U of T Varsity team, biked with other strong cyclists, trained during WattsUp Class times and ran a few times with Marathon Dynamics (though that ended, because of my knee injury). I always found that my peak fitness could be achieved when I had consistent training partners. I still struggle with trying to find training partners, but recently I have found a swimming and running training partner. Not surprisingly I have noticed the benefits. I am currently swimming faster than I have and running faster than I have in the past 5 years.
So, what is behind the benefit of training with someone? And what can be the cons?
A few of the benefits:
1. The support of others towards achieving your performance goals. When you train with others they are also interested in how you perform during that workout. They are holding you accountable and this can be motivating. Studies support the fact that just talking to others about your training can help you achieve your targets.
2. Training partners add a bit of fun. A positive attitude during a training session can definitely help to push you a bit harder.
3. More variety in your workouts. I have a swimming background and can come up with some incredibly creative and effective swim sets. However, my run workouts are often effective, but can get a bit boring. Training with others like Tara-Jay and Alex, with different run training backgrounds, has given me some new types of effective run workouts to try.
4. Form/Technique checker. A training partner can give you feedback about your technique. Adam was great at telling me that my head was too high or I wasn't in a strong aero position when I was riding outside or that I wasn't leaning forward when I ran. In the pool, a training partner can give you similar type of feedback.
5. Safety. This is true across all sports: swim, bike, run. Triathlon is a risky sport, with lots of opportunities for injury or accidents to occur. If something does go wrong in your workout, your training partner is there to help you.
6. It can be humbling. Sometimes, when training on your own, you can believe you are strong/faster/fitter than you are. That's not as common these days with Garmin/Strava/TrainingPeaks, which leaves little about our fitness that is unknown. But when you go head to head with someone, there is no more guessing. You are on the same course, in the same conditions, etc. and it can be an ego-checking experience when you can't keep up. This then helps you figure out what your weaknesses are and can force you to address them.
7. The most important to me: Competition! It is no surprise that having a bit of competition can drive you to perform better. During the past 30x200 swim that I did with another, I knew that he was right on my feet, so I made it my goal to stay ahead and push strong to the finish. Near the end of the set, I made it my goal to try to break away from him, and, as a result I pushed myself harder than I would have otherwise. There have been so many other instances where this has been true!
A few of the cons:
1. You end up training too hard or too easy. If you are training with someone who is much stronger or not as strong as you, then you risk training outside of your appropriate training zones. This could be detrimental to your performance.
2. Trying to match up training times can be stressful. If your training partner lives across the city or has a very different schedule than you, then this can cause more problems than it's worth. Don't go too far out of your way to train with someone else, especially if it means you have to compromise your workout.
3. You do your easy/recovery workouts too hard. If you are a competitive person, a recovery session could turn into a time trial if you choose to do these workouts with someone. This could lead to injury, burn-out, etc.
4. If your training partner has a different goal or goal race than you. If you are training for Ironman, you shouldn't be doing too many of your training sessions with someone training for an Olympic triathlon. You will be compromising some of your training time for non-specific workouts and this can also be detrimental to performance.
In conclusion: I feel that an individual will benefit by doing intense/longer workouts with others of similar fitness and similar goals, but keep the easy/recovery/base workouts solo.