For lots of people, fitness is a social endeavor. They go to the gym with the intention of both improving themselves and catching up with friends, and for many, it’s that social interaction (and peer pressure) that helps keep them coming back. The social element of fitness can be a powerful one, serving as the basis for long lasting friendships and offering a level of mutual support that can help you to achieve things you may not have thought you could otherwise.

I’m just not at all about that shit.

I’m one of the other kind of gym guys: the guys that have headphones in before they even walk in the door. In my personal and professional life, I strive to be more approachable than my admittedly gruff looking exterior lets on — but in the gym … there I get to be the real me: no polite welcoming of constructive criticism, no bright-eyed “networking” handshakes, no concern for how I look, just me and my objective.

My “lone wolf” approach to fitness was probably born from years of failed attempts at relying on a gym partner (or group). People have bad habits of making promises to themselves while drunk on motivation, then failing to follow through on those promises in the harsh glow of the morning sun. I’ve organized groups of lifters, fighters, runners and watched our numbers dwindle as progress came too slowly for some and the effort proved too much for others, until there I was again — alone on the mats getting my time in with the one teammate that always shows up, my punching bag.

The danger in relying on gym partners is that their motivation can directly affect yours. That’s really the point of a gym partner: to help motivate you into making progress and be your spotter along that route, but that symbiotic relationship can turn on its head with the wrong partner. Sometimes, that symbiosis can give way to a parasitic relationship, wherein you’re trying to stay motivated enough for the two of you, and your increasingly undedicated partner can start to be your own excuse for skipping days.

“Greg isn’t coming today, so I might as well take today off too.”

Lifting alone grants me full control over my fitness destiny, gifts me a reprieve from our social world, and gives me a chance to unwind while improving myself but it also makes progress a little tougher to come by. Having a spotter is about more than just safety, they allow you to push your limits in a way you simply can’t on your own. When you know someone can help the get bar back off of you, you pack a few more pounds on or go for a few more reps. When you know the only way this bar doesn’t end up embedded in your sternum is by getting it up under your own power, you have no choice but to play things a little safer.

That’s not to say that you can’t push yourself — I try my best to lift to failure every day, you just have to be a little creative in the endeavor.