Squatting down with a heavy weight and realizing you don’t have the strength to stand back up can be a frightening and potentially dangerous situation, especially if you don’t have safety racks ready. Therefore, you’ll need a spotter or even a few of them in order to perform the exercise in a safe way, without exposing yourself to the risk of injury. The main task is to find an experienced one who knows how to spot a squat the right way. In this article, you’ll find many different spotting guidelines for the front squat and the back squat. Once you digest them you will also be a desirable spotter for other people. It’s always useful to know the spotting guidelines for each individual exercise, as well as general spotting requirements.
Which exercises require a spotter?
Not all exercises require a spotter. You will definitely need much more spotting when performing 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. Because barbell squat (back or front squat) is one of the most important free-weight exercises in which you’ll most probably use heavy weights, the need for a spotter(s) is completely justified.
What are the most important spotting guidelines (tips) for the barbell squat exercise?
Help out your fellow lifters in the gym by learning how to spot the barbell squat with these pro tips.
The main characteristics of a good spotter for squats
Whether or not you will need one or maybe even two (sometimes even three) spotters while squatting depends on the amount of weight you plan to lift. The spotters should be experienced, strong enough, and tall enough to actually spot correctly. If not, either those spotters should not be used, or the weight should not be lifted. A spotter’s first job is to make sure the bar has collars on each side of the bar (see other safety tips and precautions) and that the safety bars are at the right height for the student-athlete doing the lifting.
One spotter in use
If you’re using lighter weights then one spotter will be more than enough. This spotter should be behind the exerciser, squatting with the hands in a neutral handshake position under the exerciser’s armpits. This enables the spotter to assist the exerciser up. The spotter’s body should be close to, though not touching, the exerciser’s torso. Although this might looks awkward, you really need to be there should you see the person start to fail. Spotters should descend by flexing at the knees and hips along with the student-athlete while keeping their own torso upright and strong and rise up as the squatter rises by extending the knees and hips.
If the exerciser needs assistance, the spotter grabs the exerciser under the armpits and helps him or her rise to the standards in the uprights. For safety reasons, spotters never pull a squatter back into themselves but only help the exerciser to rise up if possible. If the exerciser is unable to complete the repetition, the spotter helps the exerciser place the bar on the safety bars smoothly and in a controlled manner. Don’t assist before you’re needed. That’s annoying and ruins the set.
The need for two spotters
In a case in which you have two spotters available, one should be on each side of the bar. Also, one of them has to be appointed as the head spotter. Both spotters will take a stance similar to the exerciser’s: chest spread, upright neutral spine, knees slightly flexed, and head neutral. They should place both hands under the bar: the hands do not touch the bar unless the exerciser wants help lifting the bar off the supports, however. When the exerciser is standing up and has control of the bar, the two spotters slowly let go of the bar at the same time. The spotters keep their hands close to and under the bar during the whole exercise and for all the repetitions.
The spotters follow the bar down by flexing their knees and hips and follow it up by extending them. At the end of the exercise, or at the exerciser’s signal, or if the spotters see signs of trouble, the exerciser and the spotters communicate, and the spotters grab the bar at the same time and guide or help the student-athlete safely back up to the supports.
If the exerciser is struggling or is not in a safe, strong position to complete the exercise properly, the head spotter says “down” and slowly and safely helps the exerciser lower the bar to the safety bars. Sometimes the role of the spotters is simply to encourage the exerciser lifting the weight.
The need for three spotters
When you attempt to lift your new maximum the safest option (highly recommended) is to obtain three spotters for assistance.
In this situation there should be one spotter on each side of the bar and one spotter behind the exerciser who has his or her hands open, palms facing inward toward the exerciser’s body, and under—but not touching—the exerciser’s armpits.
The spotter in the back is the head spotter in this situation. If the exerciser needs assistance to complete the exercise, all three spotters will simultaneously lift up together on the command of “up”. If the exerciser seems unable to complete the exercise safely, the head spotter says “down”, and helps the exerciser guide the bar down to the safety bars in a controlled manner.
Putting it together: Spotting Guidelines for the Front Squat and the Back Squat
Probably the most critical aspect of safe training is the use of a spotter(s), particularly with free-weight exercises (such as the barbell squat and its variations). A spotter is a knowledgeable individual who assists in the proper execution of an exercise. His or her responsibility is to ensure the exerciser completes all repetitions with good technique, assist the exerciser with the completion of repetition when needed (or to help complete forced repetitions), and summon help when necessary. This responsibility should be taken very seriously, as failure to do so may result in serious injury not only to the exerciser but to the spotter as well.
Perform barbell squats with a spotter whenever possible, and be sure that you’re warmed up. Squatting when your legs are stiff is a courting injury. If a spotter isn’t around, be sure to use an apparatus that’s designed for squatting. A cage, such as the one pictured in the following figures, is designed to catch you if you can’t get up from the squatting position.