In a recent class of new personal trainers, as with a lot of classes with beginner and novice trainers, a question about spotting came up that always seems to get asked: “What if I can’t lift the weight the person I’m spotting is trying to lift?” Now while it may seem that you have to do some heavy lifting to spot someone, the main point of spotting isn’t to pull the weight off their chest after their sternum has been crushed and they are gasping for air, their only hope of survival being your ingrained ability to bicep-curl their bench press weight from a cold start. Unfortunately, this scenario is way too cool for reality, and spotters need to realize their importance. Take a look at the following video, and look at the amount of effort the spotter is putting into helping lift the weight.
One of the best illustrations I give during class is to get the smallest and shiest girl in the room to spot the biggest and strongest guy on bench press. As the guy starts getting to the failure point, the girl tends to get a little antsy, and everyone else in the room starts to feel like they are about to witness a car accident of epic proportions. When the guy benching does fail and the spotter gives a little assistance to get the bar back to the rack, she and everyone else realises that spotting isn’t about lifting the weight, but more about helping the person finish their rep safely and effectively.
Now I’ve seen some pretty piss-poor spotting techniques out there. One of the worst is spotting a dumbell chest press at the elbows, leaving the dumbells and hands freely flapping in the breeze. At one time I saw a guy’s tricep fatigue and the dumbell came right down on his face, while the spotter looked on in dismay and shock and horror, wondering where the nearest exit was so he could make a break and leave this poor guy by himself on the chair. Spotting takes a little bit of thought going in, as you want to make sure the person being spotted has the greatest chance of getting out alive, and that you don’t get injured as well. This aforementioned unfortunate incident could have been avoided by spotting at or near the dumbells instead of the wrists, so that if the hands started moving around then the spotter could have given some help and made it safe to complete and get out.
95% of the time, the spotter won’t need to do anything amazing or heroic, as the lifter is doing the vast majority of the work. Spotters are only going to give finger-tip assistance to keep the bar moving, and only rarely have to pull a bar off someones chest. The benefit to a spotter is giving the person lifting the confidence to go for another rep, and push their workouts that much further. Most people balk at asking someone for a spot, but having been stuck under a bar more than one time without anyone around to ask for help, it makes a valuable addition to your training by simply asking someone “spot me?” You may have to return the favor, but that’s how people communicate with each other and make connections!!