Sean Hyson is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) and the group training director for Men's Fitness and Muscle & Fitness magazines. He is also the author of 101 Best Workouts Of All Time, available at 101bestworkouts.com.
Q1: How do I spot someone doing a barbell bench press?
Sean Hyson: Stand behind the head of the bench. Hopefully it has a platform of some kind you can stand on that will elevate you a bit and give you better leverage to hand the bar to the guy you're spotting, but make sure you’re behind him and centered to the bar. If he wants a liftoff, agree when you will give it (on the count of 3, for example). Make sure the bar is positioned at the front of the J hooks to reduce the distance it has to travel to be in position.
Grasp the bar with a mixed grip inside of his grip, and help him lift it out of the rack and over his chest. You should do enough of the work that he doesn’t roll his shoulders forward trying to press the bar out of the rack. All he should have to do is PULL it forward out of the rack so it’s over his chest.
At that point, let go of the bar. You shouldn’t touch it again until the set is over or he runs into trouble. If he can’t press the bar up, gently touch it with both hands in the mixed grip position and ease it back up as needed.
Q2: How do I spot someone doing a squat?
Stand behind him and reach under his arms and in front of his chest once he’s in position. Keep your arms there so he knows you’re ready, but don’t touch him. Your hands should be about an inch or two in front of his body. If he gets in trouble, you can gently grasp the front of his chest to help him stand up.
Q3: How do I spot someone using dumbbells?
Spot the wrists, not the elbows. If he loses control of the weights, the wrists are more likely to collapse and fall on his face, so be ready to catch them. Spotting the elbows only makes you do the work he should be doing.
Q4: What are other exercises people need a spot for?
Any dumbbell exercise that occurs overhead or over the chest can be spotted. Do not try to spot overhead barbell presses or Olympic lifts. You can spot various machine exercises, but more so to offer greater intensity (such as forced reps) than safety.
Q5: At what point should I ask for a spot?
Any time you’re unsure whether you can handle a weight for the number of reps you’re going for. Also, bench presses and squats should always be spotted whenever possible, purely for safety and to ensure technique is upheld.
Q6: When should I not spot someone?
When they don’t ask for it, or on the aforementioned exercises that shouldn’t be spotted. Never spot someone purely to help them get more reps or lock a rep out—they should be able to do that alone or else they’re going too heavy.
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