Years ago, I was lifting at a gym that didn’t provide safety pins to hold the weight plates in place. On my last repetition of bench pressing, I missed the rack and dumped 175lbs worth of weight plates across the gym floor. More than creating a spectacle (which it was), I was lucky to escape injury. If I had asked for the assistance of a spotter, the whole debacle could have been avoided.
What is spotting?
Simply put, it’s the act of supporting another person during an exercise to ensure safety and allow the exerciser to lift or push more than he or she could on their own.
Some spotters are good. And some spotters suck. So to be a better spotter, here are a few tips focused around bench pressing:
- Communicate. Asking someone for a spot is a bit like asking someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Good spotting relationships are built on a foundation of communication. Being on the same page involves asking the exerciser what they need from you and how many repetitions they are aiming to complete.
- Help only when needed. When someone asks you to spot, they’re not asking you to do the work for them. If they’re struggling and moving the bar slowly, don’t provide assistance. If the the exerciser is failing and gravity is pulling the bar down, do provide assistance.
- Don’t use full force – unless needed. When you do provide assistance, apply the proper amount of force. Usually, this means providing just enough force to lift the bar. The exerciser should still be working throughout your spot. The exception would be a sudden drop in the bar or total failure on the part of the exerciser; in this instance, full force is necessary to safely re-rack the barbell.
- Spot lift off. When bench pressing, lifting the barbell off of the rack may require some assistance. You’ll commonly see this in powerlifting competitions. It’s always smart to ask if they’ll need help with this movement.
- Help re-rack. You’ll probably be expected to assist in the re-racking of the barbell upon completion of the set. This is especially important if the lifter has reached failure. Many accidents happen when exercisers miss the j-hook, so be proactive during this part of the exercise.
- Know the technique. Different exercises require different spotting strategies. For the bench press, keep your hands near the bar but don’t touch it until needed. Having a mixed grip of one hand under the bar and one hand over the bar will enable you to use maximum lifting strength if required. Spotting on a squat, on the other hand, is much more technical. If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable spotting, just let the exerciser know. It’s better to speak up than risk injuring the exerciser.
- Pay attention. When someone asks you for a spot, they’re putting their safety in your hands. It’s not the time to look around the gym or check your cell phone. Pay attention. A good lift can go bad quickly, and you’re the safety net to prevent serious injury.
If you have any tips, spotting stories or pet peeves, share them in the comments below!
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