“Hey man, can I get spot?”
Ah yes, a phrase you hear at the gym as much as any other. You’ll hear it from people you know and complete strangers you’ve never seen before in your life. And you’ll often find yourself saying it, too.
As common as it is to ask for a spotter or to spot someone yourself, you’d think most people would be great at it. They’re not. You’d think most people would at least be alright at it. They’re not. Oh come on, you’d think most people would be close to mildly acceptable at it… right?
They’re not. And for all I know, you are one of these very people.
The truth is, a good portion of the dumb shit taking place in most gyms (especially on the bench press) is at least partially due to a spotter doing something dumb. And I’ve honestly seen so much dumb stuff that I don’t even know where to begin pointing it out.
So instead of focusing on what spotters do wrong, I want to focus on how to do it right. Not just from the point of view of the person doing the spotting, but also from the point of view of the lifter trying to get the perfect spot from someone else.
This Is Mainly About The Bench Press, But…
I just wanted to quickly point out that everything you’re about to read is specifically aimed at spotting the bench press, which includes any sort of flat, incline or decline press or any common variation (such as the close grip bench press) as well as many other pressing movements (like the shoulder press).
However, you’ll also find that most of this applies just the same to many other unrelated exercises. That’s because the basics of what goes into being the perfect spotter or getting the perfect spot is pretty much universal.
So, let’s start with the most important thing of all.
What Is A Spotter REALLY Supposed To Do?
If everyone knew the answer to this question, the world would be a much better place. But alas, they don’t. It’s time we fix that right here and now.
When bench pressing, the primary (and by default, the only) purpose of the spotter is to make sure the person on the bench doesn’t get stuck and pinned by the bar.
Contrary to the aforementioned dumb shit you might regularly see in your gym, spotters are NOT supposed to do the reps for you. They’re not even supposed to partially help you do the reps. They are there just in case you reach failure and need help finishing that final rep.
So when you reach the point where you’re struggling with your last rep and the bar starts to come back down towards you (rather than back up where it belongs), that’s when the spotter should step in and help you get that bar up and racked.
Not a second before, not a second after.
Now granted, there is such a thing as forced reps and negatives and various other more advanced things a person can be doing that actually does require the spotter to do more than just pull the bar off if they get stuck. But in your average gym with your average trainee, that’s just not the case most of the time.
Which means, unless otherwise instructed, all the spotter is supposed to do is pull the bar off you if you reach failure. And optionally, maybe also give a lift off at the start of the set.
Got it? good.
7 Ways To Become An Awesome Spotter
Now that you understand the general job description of a spotter, it’s time to go over how to not just do it well, but do it perfectly. A quick warning though… getting good at it will often result in having the same people ask you to spot them over and over and over. Consider it a compliment.
Now let’s get down to how to do it right…
1. Spot Someone The Same Way You Wish They’d Spot You
This of course assumes you fully understand what I just described about what the role of a spotter is and is not. As long as you do, that’s the way you should want everyone else to spot you. And, by default, that’s the way you should spot everyone else.
- Don’t help them do the reps.
- Don’t grab the bar before they need you to.
- Don’t even come close to touching the bar before that point.
- Don’t yell shit at them (“5 more bro, you got this!!!”).
- Don’t distract them.
- Don’t bother them.
- Don’t annoy them.
- Don’t randomly start talking to someone nearby.
- Don’t pull out your phone and start texting.
- Don’t do anything but stand there ready to grab the bar if they reach failure. Nothing more, nothing less.
The perfect spotter should be there and ready without the person benching even noticing them. That is, until the exact second they are needed.
And sure, you’ll occasionally end up spotting someone who requests that you do something extra (like help them get an additional rep or 2 after reaching failure or yell things at them while they lift) or just completely go against what you know is right. For example, I’ve had people say “can you do me a favor and keep your hands on the bar the entire time?”
But generally speaking, spot people the way you’d want them to spot you unless they specifically request something different.
2. Ask How Many Reps They’ll Be Attempting
A lot of times someone will ask me to spot them and then immediately lay down on the bench with no other communication of any kind. If you’re the person getting the spot, this is beyond stupid, and I have the first hand experience of dealing with every form of terrible spotter known to man to back this up.
In this case, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands if you want to do this right. The first step is finding out how many reps they intend to do.
Why? So you’ll know when to expect to be needed. Don’t get me wrong, you should obviously be ready and alert the whole set, but it definitely helps to know exactly how many reps this person will be trying to do. Will it be 3 reps? 10 reps? 1 rep? 6 reps?
Knowing this helps you (and them) in many ways. For example, there have been many times when someone asks me to spot them and they end up failing on the very first rep. Seriously dude? You didn’t think it was necessary to maybe give me — your spotter and soon to be saver-of-your-life — a quick heads up that you are attempting your 1 rep max? Or maybe you didn’t even know this was going to be that heavy for you? Maybe you expected to get like 8 reps rather than 0.5 reps?
In either case, you’re an idiot, and you’re lucky you had someone spotting you who was prepared for someone like you.
But for years now I’ve stopped waiting to be surprised by how their set will go. Now I always ask how many reps they will be going for. It’s the first thing I say after agreeing to spot someone.
“Can you give me a spot?”
“Sure, how many are you looking to do?”
Pretty simple. Now I’ll have at least some idea as to when to expect them to start to struggle, or when they might fail, or when they’ll be attempting another rep, or when they’ll be ready to rack the bar to end the set.
3. Ask If They Want a Lift Off
Once you know how many reps they’re going to attempt, the next question to ask is whether they want a lift off (some people call it a hand off). This of course means helping them lift the bar out of the rack for the first rep.
If they say no, then cool. Don’t do anything. But if they say yeah, there’s a followup question you should ask. And that is something along the lines of: “On three?”
Meaning, they should let you know exactly when to give them the lift off by counting to 3 at the beginning of the set. As in… 1, 2, 3, lift. If no one counts, they’ll start to lift the bar out of the rack before you’ve started assisting that lift off. Or vice versa.
But if they (or if they prefer, you) count it off, you’ll be on the same page and everything will be perfectly synchronized.
4. Get Tight, Assist Evenly And Please Dry Yourself Off First
Sometimes when you’re spotting someone, they just need the slightest bit of assistance possible… like literally just 1 finger on the bar from each hand. Other times, they’re going to need 2 full hands and everything you’ve got. And probably most often, somewhere in between.
To ensure you get it right no matter what level of help is needed, get tight and stabilize yourself at the start of the set. I once had a guy bang his knee into my head because he was standing behind me unprepared and completely relaxed. Don’t be that guy.
Similarly, when spotting someone, try to do it evenly. Meaning, try to center your hands on the bar before touching it and try to pull with both hands equally so the bar comes up straight.
And last but definitely not least in this trifecta… do the lifter a favor and wipe the sweat off your face before the set. This is one I really wish I didn’t have any personal experience with, but I do. And trust me, there’s no faster set-killer than feeling some random dude’s sweat drip onto your face/mouth/eye/wherever while you’re lifting.
5. Don’t Rack The Bar Too Soon OR Prevent It From Being Racked
Even if the person tells you they are going for 5 reps, there’s always a chance they’ll get to 5 and feel confident that they’ll get 6. So, they’ll change their original game plan mid-set and attempt an additional rep more than they may have told you they would.
This is a good reason why you shouldn’t attempt to put the bar back in the rack until the person has failed and the set is obviously over, or the person benching is clearly done and has started to move the bar back towards the rack.
At the same time, the opposite is true too and it’s SO much worse.
Here’s an example. I rarely ever go to failure, but I do end most sets about 1 rep short of that point (meaning I probably would have failed on the next rep). But since most spotters are idiots who don’t realize this, they see my attempt at racking the bar before reaching failure as me ending my set too soon.
And, they somehow have the balls to take it upon themselves to STOP me from racking the bar. This has happened to me more than once. I’ll get all the reps I’m looking to get and when I try to rack the bar, I’ll feel my spotter pushing in the opposite direction from behind me to keep the set going.
“Come on, you got at least 1 more in you!” I’ve literally gotten into arguments with my spotter in the middle of the set because of this shit. Don’t ever be that guy.
6. Tell Them The Truth
How often do you see a spotter doing more of the lifting than the person who’s bench pressing, and then proceed to yell “ALL YOU!!” as this is taking place? Yeah, don’t be that guy. That guy’s a dick. The same goes for after the set is over. If you significantly assisted them in completing the last rep, don’t tell them it was “all them” if it really wasn’t.
It may seem like the polite thing to say, but it’s inaccurate and annoying. Either don’t say anything at all (unless they ask how much you helped), or just be honest. It’s better that way.
7. Offer To Do It Again
If you’ve ever been in the position of having to regularly ask random people in your gym to spot you, then you know how much it sucks when your rest time is just about up and you’re still waiting around to make eye contact with someone to ask them for a spot.
That’s why, assuming you don’t mind, you’d be the world’s nicest person if you offer to spot them again. Just saying something like “If you need me for the next set, I’ll be over there” is perfect, and they’ll appreciate the crap out of it.
You’ll also have a new friend who will surely spot you if you ever need it.
5 Ways To Get The Perfect Spot From Someone Else
So now that you know the basics of how to be the perfect spotter, it’s time for something maybe even more important… how to get the perfect spot from someone else.
It’s unlikely every person in your gym will have read the tips above (although I can dream, can’t I?), so you’re going to have to help them help you if you want this to go as perfectly as possible. Here’s how…
1. Tell Them How Many Reps You’re Attempting
Whenever I ask someone I don’t know for a spot (which I never do anymore… I’ve learned my lesson years ago), the first thing I always tell them is how many reps I’m going for.
Like I mentioned before, this is to give them a better idea of when during the set I may start to have some trouble and require their assistance. So, in that regard, it’s for their preparedness and my safety. But there’s another important reason for telling them how many reps I’m attempting.
What is it, you ask? Well, it’s so they’ll (hopefully) understand that I probably won’t have any trouble till then (if at all) and therefore will NOT need them to come near the bar before that point. More on this in a minute.
2. Tell Them If You Want a Lift Off Or Not
If you DON’T want a lift off, be sure to make that clear. Otherwise, you’re going to get an unwanted and unexpected lift off that will probably through off your entire set.
If you DO want a lift off, be sure to make that clear and specify how it’s going to go (for example… count to three or tell them to count to three).
Another thing to consider is that even if you DO want a lift off and you DO time it perfectly, there’s no guarantee that it’s actually going to be done right. For example, I’ve had people bring the bar out too far, too short, pull me to one side and throw me off balance… all kinds of crazy stuff. Sometimes no lift off is better than a bad lift off.
3a. Tell Them Not To Touch The Bar Until It’s Absolutely Needed
3b. Tell Them Not To Touch The Bar Unless You Are Completely Stuck
3c. For The Love Of God, Stay The Fuck Away From The Bar!!!
I don’t know what it is about spotting someone — especially on the bench press — but no matter how many times you tell the spotter not to do anything until it is absolutely necessary, they still feel the need to do so anyway.
That’s why I always used to explain it like this: “I’m going for 8 reps, but please don’t touch the bar AT ALL unless I get stuck on that 8th rep and can no longer move it on my own. Even if it’s just barely moving and taking 20 minutes… leave it alone.”
And then, on the very first rep, their hands are already on the bar. WTF?
I’ve literally told guys “don’t touch the bar until you hear me say to” or “just stand a few feet away and keep an eye on me in case I get stuck.” I’ve even half-jokingly said “don’t touch the bar until it’s choking me to death” to get my point across
Yet, in damn near every single case, there they are anyway… standing over me with their hands on the bar doing half of the reps for me. Often while yelling encouraging things like “all you bro, come on, you got this, 3 more, 2 more, 1 more… 3 more!!”
Forget training your chest. Benching like this is fantastic for training your capacity to not jump up from the bench and beat someone to death with a barbell.
Bad spotters just love spotting you much more than you need and much sooner than you need it. Your job is to make it as clear as possible that you don’t want them to do anything until you’ve failed on a rep and it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Try your best.
4. Make Sure They Look Capable Of Spotting You
Here’s a story. During one of my first weeks inside of a gym, some huge guy asked me to spot him on the decline bench press. If I remember correctly, he had 3 plates on each side (315lbs). I was about 16 and probably weighed 125lbs at the time. I was also probably benching a massive 15lbs on each side (no exaggeration in either case).
Why this dude asked me to spot him, I have no idea. Maybe he wanted to show off to the new weak skinny-fat hardgainer kid? Maybe no one else was around? Maybe he didn’t realize just how unqualified I was of spotting him? Not just in terms of not actually knowing how to spot someone, but not actually being capable of pulling that bar off of him if he got stuck.
Hell, the dude could have had 1 plate on each side and I may not have been of much help at that point. Luckily for both of us, he didn’t need me. But if he did? HA!
The moral of this story? Make sure the person you ask to spot you actually A) looks like they have any idea what they’re doing, and B) looks capable of pulling that bar off of you if you get stuck.
5. Make Corrections, Remember The Good Ones And Avoid The Bad Ones
Let’s say someone gave you a spot that was almost perfect. As long as you do it politely and aren’t douchey about it, it’s fine to mention to them what you’d like them to do differently if you’re planning on having them spot you on your next set.
Beyond that, if you’re going to need someone in your gym to spot you every time you bench press, you’re going to want to do your best to remember who was good at it and who completely sucked. This way you’ll know who to ask and who to avoid in the future. You’ll be happy you did.
What If You Don’t Have A Spotter?
Unless you have a regular training partner, most of us don’t have a spotter. What we do have are just people in our gym that we ask for a spot anyway. Sometimes they are people we see all the time and know kinda well, and other times they are people we’ve never seen or talked to before.
So if you need a spot, don’t be shy. Feel free to politely go up to someone who looks competent and capable and ask them. As long as you wait for them to finish their set before you ask (and PLEASE don’t stand right next to them while you wait for them to finish), they’ll almost always say yes.
Now if you’re still too shy to ask someone, or never see anyone in your gym who would even know what a spot is, or if you train alone at home, you have a few options.
For example, you can set up your bench in a power rack at just the right height that the safety bars will act as your spotter. You can press with dumbbells instead of a barbell. You can do a better job of knowing when to push for that next rep and when not to.
And if you ever find yourself in the lovely position of reaching failure on the bench press without a spotter, you still have some options. More about that here: Stuck & Pinned By The Bar Without A Spotter
All You, Bro
So, that’s the basics of how to not only be the perfect spotter to someone else, but also get the perfect spot in return when you’re the one laying on the bench.
If this article helps stop just one person from touching the bar too soon or prevents a single instance of a spotter shrugging, curling and deadlifting the bar while yelling “all you!” …then my job here is done.