The art of spotting: How to be a good weightlifting spotter?


The Importance of Spotting in Weightlifting

Is spotting in weight training necessary? When lifting heavy weights, especially free weights, you could easily get pinned under a weight in some exercises if you could not complete the exercise movement. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a training partner.  A spotter assists and protects the person lifting from injury. In other words, a spotter is a person who is in a position to help you complete the lift if it becomes necessary. He is here to assist when you have reached the point of initial failure by helping to lift the weight up after you perform the eccentric part of the exercise alone. With a spotter you will increase your safety and get the maximum benefit from the exercise. In an ideal world we would always train with someone to spot us. In practice, however, it is often not possible to have a spotter.

What are the main responsibilities of a spotter?

  • Add encouragement and motivation.
  • Monitor technique and give feedback.
  • Assist in completing of a repetition.
  • Assist during eccentric/negative training.
  • Count tempo, rhythm, rest, or repetitions.
  • Unload bar during drop sets/strip sets.
  • Summon help if required.

How to be a good spotter?

  • Know to proper exercise technique for the exercise the lifter is going to perform.
  • Know what signs (gesture) or signals the lifter will use to communicate during the lift.
  • Be sure you are strong enough to help with the weight the lifter is trying to raise.
  • Tell the lifter if you think you’re not strong enough to assist with the weight.
  • Know how the lifter expects to be spotted.
  • Before the lifter begins a set, ask how many repetitions will be attempted.
  • Stay alert and focused all the time. Give your full attention to spotting the lift. Do not carry on a conversation with someone else during the lift.
  • Avoid touching the bar during the exercise if the lifter can complete the lift without your assistance. By doing so, you may decrease the overload stimulus that the lifter needs to make the desired gains.
  • Remove all loose plates, barbells, and dumbbells from the area to avoid slipping or tripping on them.
  • Place your body in a proper spotting and lifting position all the time. Maybe you will have to catch the bar. You have to be able to respond immediately if the lifter needs help. That’s why you should keep your knees flexed and your back flat.
  • Know when and how to guide the bar in the desired path.

General guidelines for lifters being spotted

  • Don’t assume that the spotter can read your mind. Therefore, make sure that the spotter knows what you expect.
  • Tell the spotter what exercise you will perform, how many repetitions you expect to do, and how much help you expect to receive. Inform the spotter if there will be any forced reps or negative reps at the end of the set. Also, the spotter should know if you expect help getting the weight into position (lift-off) or help guiding the weight back onto a rack at the end of the set.
  • Don’t quit on a repetition. Even if you cannot complete the repetition by yourself, keep trying. It should take very little lifting by the spotter to help you complete the lift. Never let go of the bar or dumbbells or quit on a lift when the spotter touches the bar.

Which exercises require a spotter?

Not all exercises require a spotter. More spotting is generally needed with free-weight exercises than with machine exercises. Most exercises are spotted by either one or two people. You can have only one spotter for many barbell exercises when the weight is not extremely heavy. Generally, when using dumbbells two spotters are necessary, with each one responsible for spotting one dumbbell.

The exercise movements that require the use of a spotter fulfill these criteria:

  • A bar or dumbbells move over the head or face.
  • A bar is placed on the back or neck or is racked at (i.e., positioned on) the front of the shoulders or clavicles.

It is, therefore, more than obvious that the free weight bench press and the back squat, and those exercises involving over-the-head or over-the-face movements definitely require one.

Barbell exercises that use heavy weights, such as back squats, require two spotters. They stand facing each other at opposite ends of the barbell. Additionally, you can perform some barbell exercises (such as squats and overhead lifts) in a power rack with the pins of the power rack set at the lowest point in the exercise’s range of motion. That way, if the lifter loses control of the barbell it will be caught by the pins of the power rack.

Which exercises don’t require a spotter?

For some free weight exercises you don’t need a spotter. Barbell deadlift is one of them. The lifter can either drop the barbell or lower it to the floor if he can’t complete a repetition.

Dynamic lifts, such as power cleans, also don’t require a spotter. This is because you must perform them at relatively high velocity. By the time spotters could react to the lifter loosing control of the weight the lift might already be over or the barbell already returned to the floor. However, even though it may not be necessary to spot these types of exercises, spotters still should monitor and correct the lifter’s exercise technique and perform other duties listed in the spotter’s checklist.

Advantages of training with a spotter

  • Your high-intensity training is much safer.
  • You can work your muscles to their limits.
  • You are able to get the most out of each set because you are lifting the load until you no longer can.
  • The fear of being trapped under the bar is eliminated.
  • The spotter is also very useful for encouragement and motivation.
  • A good and experienced workout partner can also coach you to avoid improper form during the lift.

How to be a good spotter?

Closing Thoughts

Exercising with a workout partner or spotter is integral to safe resistance training. This is not a sign of weakness or inexperience. For maximum safety, particularly when attempting maximal lifts, it would be ideal to have at least one person spotting. In some cases, particularly when lifting heavy dumbbells, even two spotters are recommended. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible outside a dedicated lifting club. Often it will be a case of asking someone on a rest period or a duty gym instructor to help you out.

Remember, if you are training alone, at home for example, then it is wise not to attempt maximal lifts or to perform sets until you can do no more and to always keep your mobile phone within arm’s reach, just in case of an accident.


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