Spotting: A Partnership of Support


Spotting is an overlooked, but extremely important part of a gym’s training culture. Spotting provides a lifter with the confidence they need to push through a difficult lift effectively and safely. But it takes practice and an understanding for when it’s necessary.

How a gym handles and teaches spotting is usually related directly to the intentionality of the programming and the gym’s philosophy on how to train properly. And athletes who learn to spot properly have a positive impact on the gym’s culture, since training intelligently cultivates an atmosphere of teamwork and responsibility.

In this article, I want to focus on when a spotter is necessary and proper spotting procedures.

Missing a lift is an inevitable part of training for experienced lifters, since we want to push our limits and really understand our capabilities. But, consistently missing lifts can create negative psychological effects, which can undermine an athlete’s confidence when approaching heavy weights. This is where an understanding for the use of maximal and sub-maximal loads is necessary.

During daily training sessions, using sub-maximal loads based on percentages of tested 1-rep maxes should result in very few missed lifts—especially if you’re training smart. For experienced athletes who consistently push 80-90% of their maxes, weights should feel heavy, but not unfamiliar. Spotting becomes important when athletes work at maximal loads: 95-100+% of a lift. Regardless of the weight on the bar though, if your partner wants a spot, be there for them.

Smart training involves developing a sense of one’s capabilities, and knowing when to ask for help. Another pair of eyes on the bar is always a good idea and begins before the weight leaves the rack. Communication between the lifter and the spotters is very important. If an athlete is trained to think, “Okay, when things get hard, my partners have my back,” they learn to approach heavy lifts with confidence.

The goal of spotting a lift is to take some weight off the bar so the lifter can complete the lift safely. This can’t be done by applying force to the lifter’s body. If the lifter needs assistance, spotters use both hands on the end of the bar to help decrease the load of the bar. Even, balanced weight distribution is important to ensure the lifter’s safety. Always spot the bar, not the lifter.

It may seem obvious, but the lifter has a responsibility to remain active under the load they are lifting—especially during max efforts. Meaning, just because you have spotters doesn’t mean you give up if you hit a sticky spot during a difficult lift. Be aware of your limitations as the weight increases, communicate this to your spotters, and continue to push through every rep.

In rare instances you may need to dump the weight—dropping behind you. BUT BE CAREFUL! This can be an effective but also dangerous maneuver. This can be avoided by ensuring there is enough help in the gym. Whenever possible, use two people to spot the squat. With the bench press, one person is usually sufficient to ensure a safe spot.

In the June 2000 Issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers compared unsupervised and directly supervised participation during weight lifting. The researchers concluded that direct supervision and monitoring during weight lifting was more effective in terms of increased training load and strength gains.

Increased strength gains…that alone is reason enough to have as many spotters in the gym as possible. So get a spot when you need one—and know when this is.