How to find the perfect spotter?

Perfect spotter

We have all been approached in the gym and asked if we like to spot someone or we have asked someone to spot us whilst performing a bench press.

The person we have just asked to spot us, is a complete stranger and someone that you have never seen before; so ‘why would you trust them to spot the bar for you?

A top skill is being able to identify whether the spotter is good or bad. We all know what can go wrong if we have a poor spotter and prevention is definitely better than the cure.

The focus of this article will be identify the key skills of a good spotter and how to detect a good spotter.

What is a spotter supposed to do?

The primary role of the spotter is to ensure that the resistance exercises are performed both safely and effectively. Research has indicated that strength training injuries can be vastly decreased via greater education, equipment warnings and proper spotting techniques.

For the bench press the spotter’s role in crude terms is to ensure that the person performing the lift, does not get pinned to the bench by the bar.

They are also not supposed to do any of the reps for you; as this is totally counterproductive in terms of your training goals.

One of the main objectives of spotting is to ensure that you pump out that final rep of the set. If you start to flag whilst performing this final rep; the spotter steps in and helps you to get that bar up and racked.

Timing for the spotter to pull up the bar is crucial, but let’s us again highlight the 2 main roles:

  1. The spotter pull the bar off you when reach failure
  2. The spotter will optionally lift the bar off the rack at the start of the set

6 ways to detect the perfect spotter

Here are some things you need to look out for in the perfect spotter:

#1 – Determine whether they would spot the same as you

The perfect spotter should be there without the person actually noticing them, until the exact time that they are required.

This equates to the following:

  • You shouldn’t help the exerciser to do the reps
  • You shouldn’t take hold of the bar until you are needed
  • You shouldn’t distract, bother or talk whilst they are performing the lift
  • Concentrate on the task at all times and be ready to step in when if they reach the point of failure

On the rare occasion, someone might ask you to hold the bar whilst they do all of the reps. That is your call; think about ‘would you like somebody holding the bar all of the time whilst you are lifting?

#2 – Ask how many reps they will be performing?

Sometimes people ask you for a spot and lay down and start to lift without informing you of how many reps they are executing. This is very bad practice and poor communication from the outset.

As mentioned previously, the main aim of the spotter is to step in, usually on the last rep or during the point of failure. However, how will the spotter determine the last rep when they are totally unaware of the total number of reps that are being performed?

A simply solution to this issue, is to ask many reps the performer is doing or whether they know their own 1RM.

It is not rocket science, but you will be surprised at how many people don’t actually ask these simple questions.

As a spotter you should be aware and alert at all times and it definitely helps to know how many reps the person is performing; to keep you focussed.

You also need to assess whether the person is actually in tune with their own capabilities when lifting weights e.g. lifting weight that are above their strength boundaries can cause lifting injuries.

#3 – Do you want a lift off the rack?

If they say ‘no’ to this question, that is cool. However, if they say ‘yes’ then count them into the lift off e.g. 1, 2. 3 lift. This prevents them from lifting the bar out of the rack before you are ready to assist them with the lift.

A key point to remember is that the ‘count in’ helps to synch you both together and to match up the timings of the spot and execution of the resistance exercise.

#4 – Assist properly and safely

  1. Predetermine the numbers of reps
  2. Assisting the spot can range from both hands with everything that you have got to a light assist. Regardless of the level of the assist, you should use the same technique every time, this is as follows:
  3. Get tight and stabilise yourself at the start of the set
  4. Never take away the weight away from the performer unless they are in danger of dropping or losing control of the weight
  5. Spot at the wrist and not at the elbows when the person is using dumbbells
  6. You should provide enough assistance to help them through the sticking point, if this has been pre-agreed
  7. Never spot a machine based exercise by placing your hands under the weight stack

#5 – Racking the Bar

Even if the person instructs that they are going to do 5, there is always a chance that they will do 6 or 7. This is a good reason why you shouldn’t rack the bar until they have finished their set.

As their mind can change during the set and only at the point of failure should you re-rack the bar.

#6 – Make sure they look capable of spotting your lift

Finally, size can be deceptive but a key consideration to take on board is that if you are benching a huge amount of weight; ‘will the spotter be able to help you if you get stuck?

Are they capable in terms of strength to pull the bar off you and do they look like they know what they are doing?

The answers should be ‘yes’ to both of these questions and the only method of determining these response, is by observing the spotter in action when lifting.

Gauging the power and strength of the spotter is paramount to a smooth and injury free lifting session.

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