How to spot properly

By 15th January 2017Articles
Good spotters on hand, notice they do not touch the bar

Good spotters on hand, notice they do not touch the bar


Barbell lifting can be dangerous, so even if you use proper form and technique you may find yourself in a situation where your muscles fail at that last rep and you are stuck with a heavy barbell. This is why a ‘spotter’ is necessary for safety as they can help you with the little extra force to rack the bar safely. This is the proper task of a spotter. A spotter should not touch the bar during your lifting set, with the exception of helping you when you get stuck.

If you visit any gym around the world in the free weight section you will see that spotting as evolved or devolved into something different altogether. Now it has become a situation where ego lifters use their spotter to assist them lifting a weight that they couldn’t normally lift in good form and full range of motion. Now they think they can lift a certain weight in bad form, with limited range of motion as their gym buddy assists and lifts a quarter of the weight.

Don't do this you fool!

Don’t do this you fool


Although delusional and dangerous, this kind of practice does not train the muscles optimally. There is also the issue of progress. Progression in strength training and bodybuilding is to do with monitoring of strength increases; lifting more weight and/or going up in reps. If you have your gym spotter with their hands on the bar ‘spotting’ how do you know how much you can actually lift yourself? How can you know for sure if you are progressing and getting stronger? You can’t.

Ego lifting and bad spotting...when you lift a weight that you could not lift on your own

Ego lifting and bad spotting


Now this practice is not to be confused with the legitimate practice of ‘forced reps’ which is a high intensity technique which can be used sparingly for extra muscle stimulation. Forced reps are where the lifting is assisted by the spotter so that you can work the negative. For example when doing a bench press, you would do a set to failure, then the spotter assists you lifting the bar, the bar is then lowered on your own to work the negative, and this is repeated a few times and allows you to work the muscles harder. Although a good practice, I have not found this method necessary or essential. You will consistently get bigger and stronger by simply training to failure alone.

Correct spotting...where you only touch the bar when the lifter reaches muscular failure

Correct spotting…where you only touch the bar when the lifter reaches muscular failure


Power-lifters lift the bar on their own in good form. If anyone of the spotters touches the bar this would not legitimise the lift. Again if the bar is lifted without adequate range of motion again this would not be regarded as a proper lift. This should go without saying. However this is something that a large number of gym goers can’t seem to get their heads around.

There is a saying, ‘leave your ego at the door’ and this is very true. Ego lifting in bad form, with the assistance of a ‘spotter’ makes you believe you are stronger then you are and may impress some people in the gym. However it does not impress anyone with any real knowledge and experience. To see someone lift a heavy weight in good form on their own is truly impressive, and is not something you will see very often.

The goal of strength training and the secondary goal of bodybuilding is to get stronger. You do not get stronger by cheating on your lifts, you will in fact just remain weak in the muscles that are used when full range of motion is implemented.

Learn to lift weights in good form, with full range of motion and have a spotter on hand just in case you get stuck, and tell him to keep his hands off the bar until you need him.