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.
Now let’s get down to how to do it right and be a good spotter:
1. Spot Someone The Same Way You Wish They’d Spot You
Generally speaking, spot people the way you’d want them to spot you unless they specifically request something different. Meaning:
- 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 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.
2. Ask How Many Reps They’ll Be Attempting
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?
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.
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. 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
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.
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! 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 it.
You’ll also have a new friend who will surely spot you if you ever need it.