Spotting 101

When I was training for my first meet after a layoff, I remember looking in the mirror to see my spotter (who shall remain unnamed because my wife hates it when I criticize her) playing on her smart phone. After being crushed down to the cage’s safety pins as if I were in a trash compactor I asked why she didn’t give me a hand.

“I thought you had it.”

Don’t take spotting for granted. Even if you keep your lifter from getting killed or maimed, you may still kill a good rep or set.

Common Mistakes

Just because a lifter stalls or stops doesn’t give you the right to take the lift away from them:

Even if it’s a PR attempt, it’s better to jump in than to bounce the bar of your lifter’s head:

So what is the right amount of assistance?

Generally speaking, you should give the minimum assistance needed to keep the bar moving. Let the lifter take over once past the sticking point to lock out if they can. Unless it is the lifters final set, and you are trying to completely spend them, don’t keep your lifter struggling and burn them out. Help them keep the bar moving at the normal rate they would press (for that weight). This will allow them to continue to lift productively for future sets.

Here are some spotting tips for specific types of training.

High rep and failure sets

If your lifter is completing a high rep set, push them to complete the full set. This means you’ll start to assist lightly as the bar begins to slow, and may be giving them significant help by the end of the set. The key is to keep the bar moving at a normal rate. Exception: if the lifter is going for a rep PR, don’t assist until they fail.

Heavy Training

When doing heavy sets, generally speaking a lifter should only complete one rep once you need a spotter’s help. Unless they’re working on a PR, don’t make them come to a full stop before assisting. Again, keep the bar moving at a normal rate so they have something left in the tank to complete the training session. I realize some lifters don’t want any help before failing (heard a guy a few weeks ago tell his spotter ‘touch the bar and I’ll kill you’), but it’s not worth killing the volume remaining in the training session to complete that one rep unassisted.

Note: I do make an exception to the ‘don’t keep your lifter struggling’ rule. If I have one of those lifters who wants to do 8 reps after they hit failure I let them struggle as long as it takes to completely burn them out before helping them rerack the weight. It’s not my set.

Setting a new PR

Setting PRs come with their own rules, whether it’s a one rep max (1RM) or a rep PR. If your lifter is setting a 1RM PR, don’t touch the bar unless they hit failure and the bar comes to a complete stop or begins to descend. Since the lifter is at their maximum weight, you need to be ready because they can get into trouble very quickly. Stay under the bar to protect your lifter if they fail. If they do fail on the attempt they may be spent, and the weight will be heavy – be ready to take the bar away. Give as much assistance as needed to get the bar back to the rack.

If the lifter is setting a rep PR, don’t touch the bar until they hit failure. You don’t necessarily have to take the bar away from them, you can help them get additional reps. Depending on how spent they are at that point, how heavy the bar is and your ability to assist them you may past the failure point.

Side Spotting

If the bar weight is beyond your ability to assist on your own, add side spotters to assist in the event the lifter fails with a very heavy weight. Our team has threshold weights for benching and squatting where we automatically add side spotters, and I recommend this approach.

When side spotting:

–          Keep your hands under the bar and ready to catch in case of a sudden failure, but don’t touch the bar. If the lifter needs assistance let the back spotter provide it.

–          If the back spotter needs your help, don’t yank the bar up suddenly. Both side spotters need to bring the bar up evenly or you could injure your lifter.

–          Once the lift is complete, even on successful lifts guide the bar back to the rack without lifting more than just what’s necessary to re-rack.

Wrap Up

As a spotter, your job is more than just keeping a lifter from failing. A good spotter helps the lifter get the most out of their lifting sessions.

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