Partner Workouts in the Virtual (or Social Distancing) World


Born out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual training sessions quickly became a saving grace in the fitness industry, and finding a way to train groups or pairs using partner workouts can help replicate in-person interactions more authentically, and can easily carry over into social distancing gym workouts when they resume.

The Silver Lining for Fitness Pros

Putting it lightly independent contractors and/or self-employed income earners have taken a financial hit as a result of the national shelter in place orders. 

That being said, fitness professionals have the unique opportunity, unlike say, hair stylists or tattoo artists, to not only grow their skill set but also retain a percentage of their income by utilizing virtual platforms to deliver workouts to clients.

Best Practices of Training in the Virtual World

Live virtual meetings certainly aren’t new, but over the last few weeks, (or is it months? What day is it?) since sheltering in place became a way of life, the establishment of best practices with regards virtual training has grown precipitously.

One highlight I’ve heard from fellow trainers is that they’ve learned to be more precise in verbal cueing since demos are limited, and hands-on corrections are impossible. 

Truth be told, there has been a lot of positive feedback from colleagues and clients alike on the subject of live-streaming workouts. Maybe because fitness enthusiasts value the power of positivity

 Virtual Workouts vs. Social Connections

Bear in mind, virtual workouts come with their downsides. In fact, one complaint I recently fielded is the lack of social and physical interaction. 

A little background here: most of my sessions are with pairs and/or groups, big and small, and my clientele are used to incorporating various partner drills. They, much like myself, crave this social connection. So, I was determined to replicate this dynamic, virtually.

Now, I know what you’re thinking….How can you do partner work virtually, let alone in fitness facilities when they reopen with strict social distancing measures to adhere to? Here’s how!

“Tag! You’re It” Partner Protocols

This mission inspired me to try something with a small group of six, so three pairs. I started by pairing them up and putting them in separate virtual rooms, AKA breakout rooms on Zoom. Each pair was assigned partner ‘A’ or ‘B’ and given their own respective movements.

In the spirit of “Tag, you’re it,” partner ‘A’ was given a set number of repetitions of an exercise to complete, while ‘B’ was given an exercise to do while waiting for ‘A’ to finish (no set rep count). Then, they “tagged” their partner to switch.

Third Wheel Protocols

Because this worked so well in pairs, I decided to try it in groups of three. Again, partner ‘A’ had a set number of reps, partner ‘B’ completed a movement, and partner ‘C’ had something like an isometric hold. Once partner ‘A’ completed their exercise, they moved on to partner ‘B’s’ exercise, ‘B’ moved to partner ‘C’s’ exercise, and ‘C’ moved on to partner ‘A’s’. 

Tried and True Partner Drills

Here are some ideas worth trying with your clients either online or even in face-to-face workouts with six feet distance between them:

Pair Work

                           Partner A                                                                                     Partner B

1. 12 alternating lunges (6 right/left)           lateral ski jumps
2. 8 lunge complex: forward, lateral, reverse lunge (all on right leg)

* A repeats the movement on the left leg the following round

         bear crawls 

*while partner A completes reps on one side

Groups of three

                 Partner A                                                          Partner B                                 Partner C

1. 12 sumo squat to regular squat       crab toe touches plank hold
2. 10 burpees     lateral step up/down to reverse lunge (right leg       only) isometric bridge hold


Work can be assigned by number of rounds or by time.

For instance, in the first partner block from each protocol above partners were told to switch back and forth until three minutes was called; like an AMRAP. Whereas in the second block partners were instructed to complete four rounds in total. The rounds for time approach became an opportunity for friendly competition because as groups finished, they returned to the main virtual room and could see where they stood in comparison to their peers.

WWTD (What Would the Trainer Do)?

As the trainer, I popped in and out of each room to give correctional and/or motivational cues. Also, I asked groups to unmute their mics so they could count their reps and say encouraging things to each other during the block.

Cheer Them On!

One cool thing is if most groups are done, but one group is struggling, as the moderator, you can end breakout rooms in an instant and request all those who are finished to clap and cheer on those who are still working. This has been a powerful experience for the less conditioned clients. 

Prescribed Exercises

The last thing I want to mention is the bodyweight exercises listed above were used to accommodate clients without access to equipment, but partner workouts certainly can incorporate equipment when available. For example, the sumo to regular squat could be done goblet style.

Have you come up with any partner protocols you’d like to share? 


Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.