Spotting in the weight room
Now that you’ve made the decision to start lifting weights to get stronger it’s time to talk spotting.
Spotting provides a measure of protection for the trainee whenever the bar is being lifted over the head, chest or during the squat. Spotters are there for one reason and that is to protect the lifter if the load becomes unmanageable and impossible to complete.
The normal spot, as seen in the majority of gyms, both professional and school settings, would lead an observer to believe that both the lifter and spotter are doing the lift. Lifting is not a partner sport. It is one person pushing or pulling against the load on the bar. It is not two people lifting every repetition and unless there is a force plate beneath the spotter, it is impossible to determine how much of the load the spotter is lifting during the repetition.
Warm up sets do not require a spotter unless the lifter is inexperienced and the spotter is acting in the capacity of the coach. In this case, the spotter is giving corrective verbal cues to the lifter during the lift.
Once the session moves into the heavier workout sets then a spotter is a requirement, at least it is in my gym. This is particularly true when lifting in the cage where the weights will be more substantial.
When does the spotter grab the bar?
Good question and the short answer is when the bar begins to move back from a concentric into an eccentric path or before it moves out of the groove and gets into an unsafe position. If it is not moving, the spotter has to decide how much help they will give in getting it back into the rack. If this is the last set then the spotter may consider adding just enough help to squeeze out that last repetition.
The spotter has to decide whether to closely follow the bar (called a close spot), to take the full load, a partial load; assist in reracking it or guiding it along the correct bar path. This is an especially important point with two or more spotters. It is dangerous to have a well-meaning but inexperienced side spotter lift the bar up and start putting it back in the rack before the opposite spotter reacts.
This puts the lifter into the precarious position of having an asymmetrical load on the bar that immediately throws them off balance and in danger of suffering an injury.
The communication between the spotters and lifter is critical in the prevention of a bar suddenly being whipped up on one side exposing the lifter to a preventable injury or crushing the lifter when it gets totally out of the groove or is too heavy. One person has to be in control of the spotting crew and that person has to be the one deciding and telling the others what to do during the spot.
There has to be an agreement before the lift begins about the number of repetitions and the signal from the lifter about when to take the bar.
If a single spotter is handling the center of the bar their hands should be in the alternate grip with one in an overhand grip and the other in the underhand grip. This helps prevent the bar from slipping out of their hands.
The spotter should not, must not spot with their fingertips. If they are spotting they must do so with safety in mind and that means both hands gripping the bar and ready to instantly assist in the racking. When side spotting, the spotters have to have their fingertips interlaced together.
I can assure you that no matter how strong your lifters are, they will not be able to catch a bar falling back on the chest of their lifter if they are not in the correct position with their fingers interlaced together. The extra time it takes to interlace the fingers is all it takes for the bar to be on the chest.
Remember this: If your spotter touches the bar before the lift is finished, IT IS NO GOOD and you have wasted a repetition.