How good is your spotter?
How many times have you had to ask your spotter how much they helped on a bench? Probably more than once. The only reason you have to ask that is because the spotter touched the bar. Although probably well-intentioned, that is subpar spotting.
In the sport of powerlifting, being able to lift the weight by yourself is literally the point of the sport. You should receive no help, no taps, not one finger on the bar for a lift to count in terms of powerlifting standards.
Well, then how should you spot for powerlifting training? While all three lifts differ in the spotting technique, the rule remains the same: do not touch the barbell unless absolutely necessary. Let’s go ahead and talk about what is actually necessary for squat, bench press, and deadlift, and how to set up for them.
Proper Spotting for Each Exercise
Let’s start off in the order powerlifting competitions are run, which means squats first. There are several ways to safely spot a squat, depending on the number of people spotting. If only one person is spotting (and you damn well trust this person) they must place their forearms under your armpits and be as close to you as possible without touching you. The single spotter must perform a squat simultaneously to yours, as their arms are under your armpits.
In the worst-case scenario, the lifter is unable to finish the rep. The spotter will be right behind them, cradling their chest and using their legs to help the lifter bring the bar up.
If there are two spotters, they will position themselves on each end of the bar. Their arms will be placed under the plates, ready to cradle them if necessary.
I must point out the most common mistake when having two or more spotters is the spotter cradling the end of the barbell as if to catch a football. This isn’t only suboptimal in terms of leverage to help lift the weight, but also dangerous to both lifters and spotters as they risk the bar slipping from their hands.
Once the lifter has their arms below the plates, both spotters must perform a squat with the lifter, ready to lift their side of the plates if needed. Lastly, with two spotters, you run the risk of one of them lifting the bar to help re-rack it but the other failing to do so, making you lopsided for your re-rack.
As a common rule of thumb, the spotter should not help with a re-rack unless the lifter is visibly struggling to rack the bar. If you are lucky enough to have three spotters, the back spotter will perform exactly the same as if they were the only spotters, while the side spotters do their job as described earlier.
Let’s keep it going with the bench press. In this article, I will not cover a proper handoff, as that deserves its own article. Today, we will just cover the spotting technique and proper etiquette.
If someone needs a bench spot, the first thing the spotter should be aware of is what bench they are using. If the bench press itself has a spotter deck, they will be able to step onto it and have the proper leverage to help pull the bar up if needed. If the bench does not have a spotter deck, then the spotter can either find some plates to step on top of to give you proper leverage or have the spotters face uncomfortably close to your groin as you hover on top of them for better leverage.
Now that they have proper leverage, the spotter will keep their hands off the bar unless the bar starts moving downwards after the initial descent. Spotters do not touch the bar if it stops moving, as the lifter is allowed to stall and possibly grind the rep if needed.
If the lifter is unable to lift the bar, spotters then place both hands on the bar and do an upright row in order to assist the bar back into the rack. The only time this advice should be disregarded and the bar taken off the lifter as fast as possible is if the lifter asks you to.
Lastly, the deadlift requires the least amount of spotting due to the nature of the movement. The only reason a spotter should be there is to catch the lifter in the event they lose consciousness. This may sound a bit exaggerated for regular weight training, but it is common to have powerlifters pass out during the lift itself or shortly after completion. For this reason, the spotter should be behind the lifter and close enough to catch them if necessary.
Follow This Advice!
So please, for the love of gains, apply these proper spotting techniques and rules of etiquette next time you are required for a spot.