Friday, October 23, 2009

Can You Spot Me on This Lift?

I've always loved to people-watch. The gym is a classic place for it, but when I'm working out by myself I like to hit my rhythm and shut everything else out. When I successfully hit that zone, my own Dad could be using the bench next to me and I wouldn't even know it. For some reason though I've been a little distracted lately and more aware of what is going on around me. I have to say, it's entertaining to say the least. It's been a long time since I've been on a cardio machine in the gym for any length of time, but I'm really tempted by it because I think it may be the best view in the house.

One of my favorites is to watch the dynamics that occur when someone asks to be spotted. Both parties are fun to watch. The person asking for a spot always seems to look around and ask the biggest guy in the room. The assumption is that because he's a big guy he can either remove the weight as a rescue attempt, or he actually knows how to spot (two completely different things). The other thing I've noticed is that no one ever asks for a spot on anything but a bench press. This is interesting because it ignores the fact that a significant amount of damage can be done by dropping dumbbells on your face, or hitting yourself in the head with the bar on a skull crusher. I honestly don't ever see anyone squat with a bar outside of the Smith machine even though we have a really great rack for it, so no spotting there. The other thing I rarely see is anyone asking for assistance with dumbbells or bars for loading to start position and unloading. What can be seen on a regular basis is dumbbells dropping to the floor from extended arm positions, such as behind the head on a pullover or from the extended arm position on a fly. That seems like a good method for a shoulder injury!

Back to the bench press. The big guy who has just been asked for a spot (usually acting annoyed) takes his place behind the bench. Sometimes he is watching, sometimes he's looking around. Then on the last uneven rep being gutted out, he places one hand in the center of the bar with an overhand grip to guide it back to the rack. Now, in all honesty, I've never seen an accident in the gym. I'm not sure why. Perhaps we're not lifting heavy enough to really push outside of the safe zone. Even so, if we get sloppy someone is going to get hurt. It's a good thing to know a few basics on how to spot someone for moves that are going on over the head or face.

Here are some suggestions for spotting:

Don't spot someone on a power move. You're probably not going to see explosive power moves such as cleans and snatches in your average gym. Ideally they would be performed on a platform or an adequate designated space in the case of an incomplete power move. This would allow the lifter to push the bar forward (and the body backward) to let the bar fall to the floor if necessary.

A tip when spotting on a squat or lunge from a rack is that the person should step backward at the beginning of the set and forward at the end of the set (never stepping backward at the end of a set to try to re-rack the bar). If two people are available, place a person on each end ready to grab the end of the bar. This takes a little more synchronization.

An essential component when spotting any move is communication between the lifter and the spotter. Cues for assistance with loading to start, needing help during the lift and unloading after the set should be determined before the set begins. If you're spotting an experienced lifter, you will take some verbal abuse if you randomly touch or grab the bar!

For spotting a bench press, make sure your feet are firmly planted, your knees are slightly flexed, your back is flat if bending forward and you're ready to grip the bar with an alternated grip (one overhand, one underhand), about shoulder width apart, if necessary. This gives you the best positioning to secure and handle the bar in case of lifter fatigue resulting in an incompete lift. The same technique could be used for skull crushers or overhead tricep extensions with a bar.

Exception: Spotting not needed if bar is imaginary.

If spotting someone during a dumbbell chest press, don't try to grab the weight or the lifter at the elbows. Instead, be ready to grip the lifter's arms at the wrist or forearms. This places the spotter's hands closer to the weight itself and may keep the arms from falling to the sides in case of failure. The same technique might be used for spotting overhead dumbbell presses or flyes.

If in doubt, spot each other! Frequently we feel that we don't need spotting until we get into the really heavy stuff. That may be true in many cases, but a 3 pound dumbbell can knock a tooth out if your arm fatiques. The point is safety. Ask to be spotted, and learn to spot. A big guy might be able to pull a weight off of you, but a smaller person who uses even basic technique may be able to safely spot you. Better safe than sorry.


Smoketheblowfish said...

Welcome to the Dark Side Kelley, welcome to all the subtle nuances of daily occurences in the gym...welcome to my world.

Outside of that, great information on proper spotting. I have one more tidbit to add: Should one not want to spot on the bench press (that would be me), when asked I will respond with "I'd like to but I'm not wearing any underwear today". That pretty much will end all conversation (present and future).



Word Verification du jour: hodesse

I'm not even going to attempt the definition of 'hodesse'.

Kelley Moore said...

Haha MikeZ I did think of you when I was posting this. Your descriptions of the antics that go on in the gym are too funny. People really don't know what they are missing. Beware of the person that actually wants you to spot them even after this answer!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kelley! Terrific post...I can relate: I've been reluctant to ask for a spot whenever I try and do a PR, usually for bench press...I think it's because I'm not very 'social' in the gym either...try to get in and out with not chatter, etc.

I will admit when I was trying to match Maniac Mike on the DB press, I would ask for assistance getting the second DB up (75 lb-ers) simply because I COULDN"T manage them myself!

Please install a flashing "warning" sign at the beginning of the comments section when Smoke has commented...some images (not wearing any skivies) are not meant to read right before lunch.

Love the post! You Rock "Ms. M"!

Kelley Moore said...

Hey Fred, happy Friday! I know what you mean about not being social in the gym. I like eventually meeting people, but I don't like to talk while I'm trying to concentrate or keep my pace! I don't build in a lot of rest. Jimmy's doing a 90 pound bar right now on skull crushers and I spotted him and that's what made me think about it. Getting dumbbells in the right position get tricky the heavier your weight gets! LOL about warnings re: Mike's comment!!!

Smoketheblowfish said...


I at least wear compression shorts underneath! I just don't need anyone takin a peek at my stuff.

Wouldn't want to deflate any egos at the gym either...I do it for the good of mankind...always giving until it hurts.

Kelley Moore said...

Awww.. that is good to know!

Roundballnz said...

Great post there kelley ...... not great at asking for a spotter myself on the rare occasion anyone is around

got a bad habit or good habit of working out when most are not!

Kelley Moore said...

Roundballnz: thanks for your comment! Interesting thought on whether or not it's a good habit or bad working out when most are not. I tend to like the chaos of a busy gym as it gets me revved up, but I must say it's easier to get in the zone and concentrate when you don't have all the disruptions of others around you. I know you will be safe though!