Exercise Safety Tips: How to Properly Spot 7 Common Exercises

STACK Expert Andrew Meyers offers guidelines and precise instructions for how to spot lifters on 7 common strength exercises.

Gains are made in practice, but also in the weight room. Athletes can improve their game by performing strength exercises with proper technique and the assistance of a spotter.

A spotter is a person who assists a lifter in the execution of an exercise to protect the lifter from injury. Spotters are typically teammates who not only create a safe weightlifting environment but can also motivate you to achieve success.

An important exercise safety tip for athletes: although you should use a spotter for most free weight strength exercises, you should never use a spotter for free weight power exercises.

Below are proper spotting techniques for seven common strength exercises. They can help athletes make gains safely to increase their athletic performance and avoid injury.

RELATED: Here's What Happens When You Bench Without a Spotter

1. Barbell Bench Press

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect and very close to the head of the bench without distracting the lifter.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly flex your knees.
  • Grasp the bar with a closed, alternated grip inside the lifter's hands.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with moving the bar off the supports or rack; this is known as the lift-off.
  • Guide the bar to a position over the lifter's chest.
  • Release the bar smoothly.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the alternated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter lowers it.
  • Slightly flex your knees, hips and torso and keep your black flat when following the bar.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the alternated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter raises it.
  • Slightly extend your knees, hips and torso and keep your back flat when following the bar.
  • At the lifter's signal, grasp the bar with an alternated grip inside the lifter's hands.
  • Guide the bar back onto the supports or rack, keeping your grip on the bar until it is secure.

2. Dumbbell Chest Press

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect and very close to the head of the bench without distracting the lifter.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly flex your knees.
  • Grasp the lifter's forearms near the wrists.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with moving the dumbbells to a position over the lifter's chest.
  • Release the lifter's forearms smoothly.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands near, but not touching, the lifter's forearms as he lowers the dumbbells.
  • Slightly flex your knees, hips and torso, and keep your back flat when following the dumbbells.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands near, but not touching, the lifter's forearms as they raise the dumbbells.
  • Slightly extend your knees, hips and torso, and keep your back flat when following the dumbbells.

RELATED: 6 Times When Weight Room Spotting Gets Super Awkward

3. Barbell Back Squat

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position: Two Spotters

  • Stand erect at opposite ends of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly flexed.
  • Grasp the end of the bar by cupping your hands together with your palms facing up.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with lifting and balancing the bar as it moves off the supports or rack.
  • Release the bar smoothly.
  • Hold your hands 2-3 inches below the ends of the bar.
  • Move sideways in unison with the lifter as he moves backward.
  • Once the lifter is in position, get into a hip-width stance with your knees slightly flexed and torso erect.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Keep your cupped hands close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter lowers it.
  • Slightly flex your knees, hips and torso, and keep your back flat when following the bar.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Keep your cupped hands close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter raises it.
  • Slightly extend your knees, hips and torso, and keep your back flat when following the bar.
  • At the end of the set, move sideways in unison with the lifter back to the rack.
  • Simultaneously grasp the bar and assist with balancing the bar as it is racked.
  • Release the bar smoothly.

4. Barbell Forward Lunge

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect and very close to the lifter without distracting him.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly flex your knees.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with lifting and balancing the bar as it moves out of the rack.
  • Move in unison with the lifter as he moves backward to the starting position.
  • Once the lifter is in position, get into a hip-width stance with your knees slightly flexed and torso erect.
  • Position your hands near the lifter's hips, waist or torso.

Forward Movement Phase

  • Step forward with the same foot as the lifter.
  • Keep your lead knee and foot aligned with the lifter's lead foot.
  • Plant your foot 12-18 inches behind the lifter's foot.
  • Flex your lead knee as the lifter flexes his lead knee.
  • Keep your torso erect.
  • Keep your hands near the lifter's hips, waist or torso.
  • Assist only when necessary to keep the lifter balanced.

Backward Movement Phase

  • Push backward with your lead leg in unison with the lifter.
  • Bring your lead foot back next to the lifter's trailing foot, making sure not to stutter step backward.
  • Keep your hands near the lifter's hips, waist or torso.
  • Stand erect in the starting position, pause to wait for the lifter, and alternate lead legs.
  • Assist only when necessary to keep the lifter balanced.
  • At the end of the set, help the lifter rack the bar.

RELATED: Perfect Spotting Technique for Weight Room Safety, Part I

5. Barbell Step-Up

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect and very close to the lifter without distracting him.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly flex your knees.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with lifting and balancing the bar as it moves out of the rack.
  • Move in unison with the lifter as he moves to the starting position.
  • Once the lifter is in position, get into a hip-width stance with your knees slightly flexed and torso erect.
  • Position your hands near the lifter's hips, waist or torso.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Lean your torso forward and reach with your arms, but do not take a step toward the lifter as he steps up on the box.
  • Keep your hands as close as possible to the lifter's hips, waist or torso.
  • Assist only when necessary to keep the lifter balanced.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Follow the lifter with your arms as he steps back down to the floor.
  • Keep your hands near the lifter's hips, waist or torso.
  • Stand erect in the starting position and pause to wait for the lifter.
  • Assist only when necessary to keep the lifter balanced.
  • At the end of the set, help the lifter rack the bar.

6. Seated Barbell Shoulder Press

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect behind the bench with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly flexed.
  • Grasp the bar with a closed, alternated grip inside the lifter's hands.
  • At the lifter's signal, assist with moving the bar off the supports or rack.
  • Guide the bar to a position over the lifter's head.
  • Release the bar smoothly.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the alternated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter lowers it.
  • Slightly flex your knees, hips, and torso and keep your black flat when following the bar.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the alternated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter raises it.
  • Slightly extend your knees, hips and torso and keep your back flat when following the bar.
  • At the lifter's signal, grasp the bar with an alternated grip inside the lifter's hands.
  • Guide the bar back onto the supports or rack, keeping your grip on the bar until it is secure.

7. Lying Barbell Triceps Extension

For this exercise, the guidelines for the spotter are as follows:

Starting Position

  • Stand erect and very close to the head of the bench without distracting the lifter.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly flex your knees.
  • Grasp the bar with a closed, alternated grip inside the lifter' hands.
  • Hand the bar to the lifter.
  • Guide the bar to a position over the lifter's chest.
  • Release the bar smoothly.

Downward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the supinated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter lowers it.
  • Slightly flex your knees, hips and torso, and keep your black flat when following the bar.

Upward Movement Phase

  • Keep your hands in the supinated grip position close to, but not touching, the bar as the lifter raises it.
  • Slightly extend your knees, hips and torso, and keep your back flat when following the bar.
  • At the lifter's signal after the set is completed, grasp the bar with an alternated grip, take it from the lifter and set it on the floor.

Conclusion

Lifting weights is a key to making strength gains and increasing athletic performance. Safety in the weight room is critically important, and lifting with proper technique with the assistance of a spotter is the most efficient way to ensure it. Prior to lifting weights, always communicate with your spotter about the amount of weight you will be lifting, the number of repetitions, and whether you require a liftoff.

Never use a spotter for power exercises.

Following these spotting guidelines will help athletes make gains safely and effectively.

Reference:

Baechle, R. Thomas. (2008). Chapter 14: "Resistance Training and Spotting Techniques." Pg. 329-368. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: WEIGHTLIFTING | EXERCISES | BENCH | PRESS | DUMBBELLS | BARBELL | LIFTS | STANCE | WAIST | RAISES | SAFETY