There are just some universals in sports. Your favorite six-foot-eight villain wildly misses not just the basket, but the whole board, and you hear the inevitable, "Aaaaair ball!”  The pitcher puts a little extra spice on the ball and it blows by the batter, making him look like he was not even paying attention. Then, the umpires bellows, "Steeeee-rike!”  Of course, there is also your lifting partner who just can’t quite pull the trigger on his squat, and he comes up out of the hole only to head back down to the tune of those two dreaded words: “Taaaaake it!” Yet, sometimes not even "Take it” comes out. Sometimes a closed-eye, squinched faced head shake is all the warning you get.

This is why we have spotters. But looking like you are spotting and actually spotting are two very, very different things. More specifically, although you can be an actively engaged and alert spotter, that doesn't mean that you are being an effective spotter. Consequently, this means that the lifter you are spotting has a higher risk of potential injury.

At the MONSTER GARAGE GYM, and surely at most serious powerlifting gyms, before you are allowed to spot (yes, allowed—spotting a fellow lifter is a privilege and an honor because the lifter is putting his/her safety in your trust), you are shown how to spot and why you are to spot that way.

Let me back up by first explaining the difference between spotting in regards to a max effort-type lift vs. say a spot with a volume set. In your mind’s eye, picture that you have just lifted off to the bencher. He has a weight on the bar that is heavy, but you know his redline and you know that he has about three or four good reps in him. So you watch, you count his reps, and as the weight starts to move slower, you ease your hands near the bar. As the weight actually slows to a stop, you assist the lifter with the rep and help him rack the bar. That is what I would call an assisted lift spot or a guided spot. The name is not important, but what is important is that this is the most basic spot.

Moving are now a side spotter for a shirted lifter. He is in a new shirt, the weight is 680 pounds— his max weight, and he is going for one big rep. With this type of spot, I see spotters with the best intentions locked-in and engaged. They have their game face on, they are ready to cheer on the lifter, and they have their hands near the bar just ready to jump in and save the day if needed. However, here is where we are entering a dangerous territory...

First, as the side spotter, you should not be the cheerleader. You need to be waiting for something to go wrong because that is your job.  The lifter is to lift the bar, and the team of guys around you can be cheerleaders. Your focus is waiting for the worst case scenario, and when that scenario does not happen, that is great!  When it does, you are there.

Secondly, you should be in the mindset that the worst case scenario would be much more than the lifter not quite making the lift. Rather, the worst case scenario would be that something horrific happens—the bar falls out of his hands, the loaded bar shoots back at his head because he missed the groove with the new shirt, he suddenly suffers an injury and there is no longer anything there to push the weight, someone brain farted and there is no collar and the weights have shifted and are coming off one side, there was a huge misload, etc. These are only a few reasons why a side spotter for the bench needs to have his hands cupped, his fingers locked under the sleeve of the bar, and needs to follow the bar down with his hands almost touching the bar’s sleeve.

Shown: Mike and Masam spotting. In this case, the bar literally came out of the lifter's hands and the spotters, along with the elitefts™ bench safeties, allowed for the lifter to get his 500 pounds on the next attempt vs. a trip to the emergency room. Bad things can happen quickly—as you can see, World Champion bench presser Bill Blackstone still has his judging face on and hasn’t registered what has happened yet. For Mike and Masam the same is true, but they have the bar caught in their hands because their hands were anticipating this event. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography.

As the spotter, you are “paid to be paranoid” so-to-speak, and that is the mindset you need to have. Hope for the best but be 110% ready for the worst because in powerlifting, it happens in the blink of an eye.

When it comes to the squat, we use the same paranoid approach. Send the lifter as much positive mental energy you can, but be prepared for the worst. For the squats, we use five spotters for our 700-pound to 1,065-pound squat attempts. For any weight under that amount that still requires a spot, we use a minimum of three spotters. We also use either a safety chain or the elitefts Spud-mono-strap. (It's the best $79 you will ever spend).

The two main side spotters for the squat have one arm under the sleeve (at the bend of their arm) and the other around the weights. With this spotting stance, you can basically bear hug the weight on your side with the full leverage of your body. This gives you the maximum probability to keep both the lifter and the spotter safe, or at least it allows you to slow the weight down as it heads to the floor in order to minimize injury to both the spotters and the lifter.

Here are a few photos taken at the MONSTER GARAGE GYM that illustrate what this suggested spot looks like:

Shown: Dr. Al with three spotters plus the rack safeties. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography.

Shown: Dr. Al (165 pounds squatting 685 pounds) with five spotters. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography.

Shown: Ralph with three spotters plus 80-grade steel safety chains. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography.

Shown: Mz. Dawn with three spotters plus the rack safeties. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography.

In this short video, as you look at the right-hand side of the screen, Alex (165 pounds) and John (181 pounds) are not as physically imposing as say Phil (300 pounds) who is spotting behind Dr. Al, but as side spotters go, they are absolutely the best.


There are definitely universals in sports and in powerlifting, and one of those universals is pushing your limits as a lifter. So, when you are on the spotting side of the barbell, keep in mind that the lifter is potentially going to be pushing himself to his redline, and he is trusting you with his safety. Being a good spotter is invaluable.  Remember, just because a guy in the gym is 310 pounds, it doesn't mean he knows how to spot.

Ever Onward.