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My Wish: Learn How to Spot

After years and years of weight training in a variety of gyms, I’ve come to realize that very few people actually know what they’re doing in there. It’s really frightening to see at times.

But if I had one wish for you this upcoming year, it would be this: learn how to spot!Many of us go to the gym solo – no workout partner. I’m one of them. I hate the feeling of waiting for others and the temptation to talk in between sets – it just slows things down for me. That’s just how I am.

But there are times throughout some heavier workout days that I want to max things out and for this I need a spot. I look around the area to find someone who seems to be a regular and politely ask them to “give me a spot“. I have to be picky – my life is on the line here!

Unfortunately, I find out midway through my set that the guy has no idea what he’s doing.

This makes things really awkward – he keeps asking me if I “need one more” and I shake my head as I search for a new spotter.

As a personal trainer, I’ve been taught the proper spotting technique so maybe I take it for granted and assume that everyone knows this. That’s just not the case.

When I’m bench pressing and I need help on the last one, don’t just pull the bar up for me. I know you think you’re being safe but what you’re doing is not effective. If I wanted to end a set early I would’ve just set the bar down myself.

Here are some things you need to remember (for a bench press spot).

The spotter’s responsibility’s include:

  • Help the lifter get the bar into and out of starting position,
  • Ensure lifter is maintaining proper form throughout the lift,
  • Have your hands out and ready to assist but do not touch the bar,
  • If the lifter is struggling to lift the bar, assist him by slightly helping him push the bar up – make the lifter do the majority of the work,
  • Encourage the lifter to complete his set,
  • In case of danger of muscle failure (should rarely be the case) or something drastic, be ready to fully grab the bar and place it back on the stand.

Spotting technique varies slightly from exercise to exercise. It’s important to understand the concepts listed above.

So take some time to learn how to spot properly. Read a little about spotting technique for various exercises. This isn’t just to benefit others – the day will come when you’ll need to ask somebody for a spot and you’ll want to make sure they know what they’re doing.

Do you have any interesting stories of bad spotters? Please share in the comments below.

Alejandro "The Fittest Vegan" - November 20, 2010

I like yourself prefer to workout alone, when I go with someone the workout takes too long and the conversation takes over the focus over the workout itself.

I wish gyms would place the guidelines you spoke about above on the wall. This way everyone would understand that I dont need them to lift the bar for me but just be there in case I do need help and to have confidence that I wont hurt myself in case something happens.

I’ve had situations where I was not able to lift the bar so I’ve learned to never place clips on the weights in case I need to drop the weight I can just tilt it to one side.

Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips - November 21, 2010

Unfortunately I work out alone these days but remember the challenges of having a spotter who could adequately assist as well as motivate me. That was more critical when I trained to failure though. Nowadays I always leave one rep in the tank which makes things a bit safer.

    Test - November 21, 2010

    @Alejandro
    That seems like a great idea – post the guidelines on the wall and make sure people know about them. Great point at the end about the clips. A lot of people don’t take that into consideration. Thanks for the comment!

    @Dave
    I think it’s always safer when you have a spotter. But if you don’t have a workout partner then you need to get someone else to spot you. The problem is they usually have no clue what they’re doing.

michael - November 21, 2010

Great post!

I have to say I favour working out alone too. I wouldn’t feel happy trusting most of the dudes in my gym to spot me safely tbh. Its a dying art.

In my gym I’ve seen guys spotting each other on nearly everything, but the one that really confused me was the chest press machine, on a horizontal plane (so absolutely zero risk). I was definitely scratching my head over that one.

Michael

Kelly-Fitness Overhaul - November 22, 2010

I agree that it is hard to find a good spotter. I was a powerlifter and competed for a while doing some pretty heavy squats and bench press. The worst thing would be if my training partner didn’t show up and I needed to ask a total stranger to spot me on squats! It’s a mental game and when you don’t trust your spotter, it is hard to concentrate on the lift.

The other thing about spotters is when you are spotting someone else and they feel the need to do five forced reps on the bench! I’m like, “Give it up my man! Training to failure is one thing, but this is a little crazy, I did my upright rows yesterday! πŸ™‚

-Kelly

Louis - November 24, 2010

I also prefer to workout alone. I like to put on my headphones and do what I want to do. When I was working at a gym in Northern CA their was a guy who worked out there that was a power lifter. He would always come find me to spot him because he said no one else ever did it right. When I workout and would need and want to go heavy I will do one of the following: Try my luck at finding a spotter, not put the collars on like Alejandro does, if its bench I will either just use dumbbells instead or drag a bench to a power rack and set the safety bars just above my chest. I know I lose a little rage of motion but it is better than getting hurt. Great post and I agree people need to learn to spot.

Louis

Test - November 25, 2010

@Michael
I find working out alone more efficient. I don’t like wasting too much time in the gym. And, yes, I’m scratching my head about that one too πŸ™‚

@Kelly
As a powerlifter you NEED someone who KNOWS how to spot. It’s very risky business looking for a spotter in the gym. I’ve seen some crazy things in there. Once a guy asked me to spot him on the bench (he loaded 2 plates) and he couldn’t even get it off the rack!

@Louis
You’re right – safety is the key. If you do have to do it alone you can always use the safety bars and, like you said, get rid of the clips in case you need to unload the bar. Thanks for the comment!

Josh - November 28, 2010

Luckily, I bring my own training partners to the party. When you are going heavy, you can’t depend on dudes in a commercial gym, because they just don’t know what they are doing.

Try finding a guy who knows how to spot a heavy squat at your local Gold’s Gym…it ain’t gonna happen.

Jason - Core Routine Workouts - December 6, 2010

I train people and have been in the gym for some time. If someone is struggling with the weight I pull the par off. I do not think you are ending the set early, it was over 1 or 2 reps ago. You are just asking for trouble now. I do not think there is a benefit to grinding out your sets. Weight training takes years, that one last set is not going to turn you into Mr Olympia. Come back next week and get it on your own.

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