What is a Spotter in the Gym and How to Spot a Bad One?

What is a spot? It is when you are performing an exercise for a certain number of repetitions and after a set number you can no longer execute the desired action on your own or without sacrificing good technique. It is at this point that your spotter will give you assistance in order to complete this rep and also the set if you have not reached your target number of reps.

spotting in the gym

A spot can vary depending on the exercise being performed and the weight being lifted. Even though spots can vary they must always be executed correctly and with communication between the spotter and lifter.

What type of spotter exists in the gym?

Spotter unreliabilus

You know this spotter. You are doing your chest workout and about to perform a set on the bench press. You are going for 8 reps at 225lbs. This is a weight you have lifted before but only for 6 reps. You ask spotter unreliabilus to give you a spot. You have to ask him a second time as he is deep in conversation – you think nothing of the fact that he spends more time in the gym talking than working out. Mistake number 1!

Anyway, unreliabilus ambles over to the bench easily disguising his eagerness. You, knowing good protocol say “I am going for eight reps. I have done six before so I may need a spot on seven and eight”. unreliabilus says “huh? Eh, okay!” You proceed to take the bar from the uprights and bang out the reps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; hell it’s harder than you thought and you are struggling already!

Meanwhile unreliabilus is not paying attention and is oblivious to your plight – you get 6 up after about 5 seconds and take it back down for what is uncharted territory for you. You give it your all and are so close to getting it up, one more inch and the rep is yours… as a result of all your effort unreliabilus is now focused on the task at hand. Does he give you the light finger spot you need during the sticking point?… Hell no! Why would he do a good thing like that?! He lets you sit there and struggle for about 7-8 seconds, all the time giving it loads and saying things like “push it up, come on, yeah!”

You ain’t going get it now and the penny finally drops so he gives you the bare minimum all the way up and at the top he racks it for you. Letting you struggle like this serves to risk injury.

A good spotter will keep the bar moving (slowly) but moving nonetheless, unreliabilus will let you struggle every inch of the way and rarely will he keep the bar moving, he will only move it as it starts to go back down. You are within your rights for wanting to insert the whole 7 feet of the Olympic bar where the sun don’t shine! But instead you say “thanks!” and mentally put him into the spotter kill-file (an expanding list of spotters who you will avoid at all costs.)

What unreliabilus should have done was:

  1. Confirm the number of reps you were going for: “You are going for 8 reps, right?”
  2. Pay attention
  3. Give you a light finger spot right as you hit your sticking point on rep 7 – i.e. stop the bar from going back down and move it with perhaps 5lbs of upward pressure out of the sticking point
  4. Do the same again on rep number 8 and after you have locked out he will ensure that you rack it on the uprights correctly

Spotter over-eagerus

Over-eagerus is just as bad as unreliabilus. He or she is characterised by the fact that the second you begin to struggle they reef the bar up and slam it in the uprights!

Spotter utopian.

This is the spotter you want! He or she is clued in that they know how to lift and are good at getting the most out you. They will communicate with you and ensure that you achieve your desired number of repetitions with the maximum amount of effort and control but in complete safety.

The above are really the only types of spotters you will find in a gym. Not everybody falls into the above categories some are an amalgamation of two or more of the above. The secrets to being a good spotter are:

  1. Communication – ensure you know what it is he or she is aiming for.
  2. Safety is important for both parties concerned. You should not let your spotter put you into a position where you might get injured and vice versa!
  3. Attention for the person doing the lifting. It should not matter if Jennifer Lopez or Brad Pitt walks into the gym, your attention should not be diverted from the person to whom you are assisting.
  4. Encouragement – give the lifter some verbal help. It will always be appreciated and most of us are glad to get it when the tables are turned.
  5. Availability – if someone asks you for a spot, please oblige.

When we are training with iron we should unite and help our fellow brothers and sisters; everybody needs a spot now and again and that means everybody. If you are asking for a spot, always try and ensure you get the person just after they finish a set as opposed to just about to start one!

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.