Spotting with a Friend when Lifting Weights

By LaReine Chabut

A spotter is someone who stands close by you when you’re lifting weights. This person is ready to grab your weights in case your muscles give out. The spotter can be a lifting partner with whom you go to the gym or a stranger in the gym whom you enlist for one or two exercises.

If you don’t know anyone to be a spotter for you, you can usually ask a staff person who is working on the weight-training floor. If you work with a personal trainer, she’ll spot you.

Going to the gym with a friend is a good way to hold each other accountable. You can spot each other during lifting, and while you rest in between repetitions, your partner can perform the same exercise. Friends can encourage you in the last few reps, and keep you motivated. Your regular lifting buddy also knows what you’re capable of and when you’ve had enough.

If you’re in the gym lifting weights alone, you may not need a spotter hovering over you for every free-weight exercise because you may feel smothered, as if your mom is chaperoning you on a date. But do call on a spotter when you’re alone and doing the following:

  • Trying an exercise for the first time: Even if you’re not lifting significant weight, the weights may wobble when you perform a new movement. A spotter gently guides you through the motion until you have the confidence and the muscle memory to do it yourself.

  • Attempting a heavier weight than usual: If you’ve never bench-pressed 100 pounds, try the exercise first in the presence of a spotter. The moment the bar comes crashing down on your chest isn’t a good time to find out you weren’t ready for the lift (or the time to try gasping for air to yell for help).

    Lifting heavy weights without a spotter is a lot like a trapeze artist working without a safety net. You may be fine the first nine times, but the tenth time. . . .

  • Wanting to eke out extra reps: Sometimes you’re just not sure whether you have one more repetition in you. If you have a spotter, the repetition is worth trying (because there’s no danger involved when you have a spotter). A spotter also can help you with machine exercises and assist you, for instance, on the last few inches of a heavy leg curl or arm curl.

Regardless of who your spotter is, prepare him or her for the mission ahead:

  • Explain how many repetitions you’re aiming to complete. Consider how many reps you think that you can do before you’ll need the spotter’s assistance. Be honest! If you think that you may need a spot on the sixth repetition, say so. This way, your spotter can start paying extra close attention around the fourth rep.

  • Make it clear to your spotter whether you need help lifting the bar off the rack or getting the dumbbells into position. Don’t try to do something yourself if you know you’ll have trouble with it — there’s no shame in asking for help. Better safe than sorry.

  • Set up a specific plan. Will the spotter help you on the count of three or after the count of three? Tiny misunderstandings can lead to big injuries.

  • Offer your gratitude both before and after your set. Don’t forget to thank your spotter. An attitude of gratitude makes you a reputable person in the gym.