The clanking of barbells, banging of plates, and the low grunt during a forceful exhale — all part of a heavy lift on the gym floor. But there’s another common sight: a spotter ready to step in at the first signs of struggle and help complete the lift. Having good spotter during a heavy lift can do more than just help prevent injury, it can help boost lifters to new PR’s (and who doesn’t want to impress their friends?) Weight-training injuries. Common injuries and preventative methods. Mazur LJ, Yetman RJ, Risser WL. Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center. Sports Medicine,1993 Jul;16(1):57-63. . Only challenge is: Good spotters are made — not born. Read on for tips on transforming from lifting bud to spotter superstar.
A Little Help Here! — The Need-to-Know
Weightlifting can be dangerous — very dangerous in fact — when performed incorrectly Injury incidence and prevalence among elite weight and power lifters. Raske A, Norlin R. Linköping Medical Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2002 Mar-Apr;30(2):248-56. Sport-specific injuries in weight lifting. König M, Biener K. Institut für Sozial-und Präventivmedizin der Universität Zürich. Schweiz Z Sportmed,1990 Apr;38(1):25-30. Originally published in German. . And so, the first rule of spotting is to know when to step in and when to stand back. Not all lifts are spot-worthy. Explosive lifts like Olympic cleans and snatches aren’t spotter-friendly since they are extremely quick, plus the lifter should know how to ditch a failed rep safely. Lend a helping hand with big but slower moves like the bench press, squat, dumbbell presses, and even pull-ups. In general, one spotter should work. Keep in mind, though, the spotter should also be familiar with the lift itself (sorry, newbies). Can’t find someone strong enough in the gym? Two gym rats can be better than one (positioned on opposite sides of the barbell). But take caution: This is an advanced technique for extremely heavy lifts. Not just any Joe (or Jane) is capable of heaving up a heavy weight after a failed rep. An ideal spotter should be able to lift the weight in the event of injury or fatigue. So even though your 8-year-old niece wants to help, chances are, she’s not lifting 315 lbs off your chest. Another key quality to seek out: good communication skills. Spotters should be paying attention throughout the whole set — not checking themselves out in the mirror or practicing their dance moves. To make sure you’re on the same page, first, determine whether or not the lifter will need a “lift-off” to start the lift. (In a lift-off, the spotter helps move the barbell off the rack and into position.) Next, determine the appropriate count (will it be 1,2,3 lift or 3,2,1 go?). Then, take a step back. If the lifter is failing far before the desired reps, the weight is too heavy. The spotter is there to help, not get in a workout as well. Finally, always have a short and concise safety word — “help” usually works fine — to use in case the lifter knows they cannot complete the lift. That’s a spotter’s cue to spring into action!
1, 2, 3 Lift! — Your Action Plan
All lifts — and therefore all spotting techniques — are slightly different. But there are some tried and true methods for common lifts like the bench press, squat, and dumbbell presses. Read on to become the best spotter a lifting partner could ask for.
Bench Press: Ah yes, even the king of chest exercises needs a helping hand every once in awhile. Stand with a wide base of support at the head of the bench-pressing rack. Use two hands in an alternating fashion (one palm up, the other palm down) at any time when assisting the lifter. This gives the spotter much better control over the bar. Stay hands off during easy reps, but don’t be afraid to step in and provide assistance if the lifter starts to struggle. Often times, lifters find security in the fact that a spotter is there should they fail.
Barbell Back Squats: Helping someone drop it low — and stand back up — requires proper positioning. To give the right amount of support, spotters should stand in a solid stance, with feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Don’t be afraid to get up, close, and personal (now’s not the time to be grossed out by a sweaty shirt). During the lift, the spotter should place their extended arms on each side of the lifter’s rib cage, right underneath their armpits. Lower as the lifter squats down and be prepared to assist by lifting under their arms if they fail. A spotter’s main job during a back squat is to keep the torso upright and prevent the lifter from falling forward. Remember, safety bars are a lifter’s best friends during heavy reps.
Seated Dumbbell Presses: Dumbbell variations are awesome because they help to change up a workout routine, but they also throw an element of instability into the mix. Help prevent a buddy from getting injured by offering a boost during tough reps. Avoid spotting at the elbow. This can cause the dumbbells to crash down on the lifter’s chest if their arms give out. Instead, spot by placing each hand on the lifter’s wrists and moving throughout the range of motion during the exercise. When the lifter struggles, give them an added boost but avoid pushing the dumbbells outside of their normal pattern.
Don’t forget that verbal encouragement (and even a little friendly competition) goes a long way in helping someone complete a lift. Learn which phrases motivate a lifting partner and what goals they are looking to achieve. Use proper spotting technique to save them from injury and boost them to new PRs. Then, celebrate achievements and big lifts together (fist and/or chest bumping encouraged!). This article has been read and approved by Greatist Experts Rob Sulaver and Robynn Europe. Have a great story about how a spotter boosted you to a new PR? And what about the horror stories? Tell us in the comments below!