Weightlifting Spotter: Why You Need One

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

The bar is loaded. Your pecs have been primed and filled with blood. Rage Against the Machine is coursing into your eardrums, unearthing a host of primitive, animalistic desires from within the depths of your subconscious. It’s go time. Today is the day you finally crack 225 lbs on the bench press, a rite of passage in the Iron Paradise.

This is your moment…

You’ve been dreaming of this moment since the night Shannon turned you down at the 6th grade Winter Social, electing instead to dance with Chet, who sprouted armpit hair and a mustache before his age reached double digits. To hell with them. This is about you. You’ve been abiding by the law of progressive overload for months, steadily increasing your weights and decreasing your rep range, building up to this final, mighty heave that will thrust you into the pantheon of roughly the 60th percentile.

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

You carefully scan the room for a potential weightlifting spotter

Option A: A 240 lb. juice head rocking a skin-tight Hollister tank top with a gallon water jug at his feet. He’s audibly grunting, profusely sweating, and takes a nice long rip from his $80 vape pen after each set. NEXT!

Option B: A 17-year old high school couple celebrating their three-week anniversary. They’ve got matching jumpsuits and won’t stop making out by the Smith machine. They’re in love. It’s disgusting. PASS!

Option C: A full-fledged geriatric in Velcro sneakers who won’t stop telling the front desk what he learned from Sean Hannity last night. All of a sudden, this 225 lbs. seems a bit more manageable on your own.

Working with a Weightlifting Spotter

You lie back just as the rhythmic, chanting crescendo of “Killing In The Name” begins.

Ba boom ba boom. “Now you do what they told ya.” The bar feels cold and abrasive, but strangely enticing.

Ba boom ba boom. “Now you do what they told ya.” Your feet plant firmly on the ground and your quadriceps lie dormant, ready to begin the chain of kinetic energy once called upon.

Ba boom ba boom. “Now you do what they told ya.” Your shoulder blades retract, squeezing together like a pair of loaded springs, awaiting the imminent command to explode.

Ba boom ba boom. “Now you do what they told ya.” The bass drums rattle your adrenal glands as your heartbeat increases in synchrony with the growing intensity of the chorus.

Ba boom ba boom. “And now you do what they told ya!” The weight doesn’t care how much money you make, what school you went to, or how many likes you get on Instagram. It sees right through your facade.

Ba boom ba boom. “But now you do what they told ya!!” The time for talk is over. Nothing matters aside from this most immediate reality. It’s now you versus the weight in a battle as old as time. One of you will win. One of you will lose.

Ba boom ba boom. “WELL NOW YOU DO WHAT THEY TOLD YA!!!”

In a very predictable turn of events…

A flood of endorphins release as you un-rack the bar and begin your descent. In a very predictable turn of events, the weight that you planned on dominating has almost instantly begun choking you out like some sort of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Panic ensues.

There might as well be a bulldozer on your neck; you are straight-up TRAPPED.

As you lie there pinned, unable to breathe, and swiftly fading from consciousness, your face turns the color of death. You’re better off dead at this point. Flailing your legs around in total desperation is the only distress signal you can manage to convey. Maybe someone will save you before your oxygen-starving brain suffers permanent damage. Maybe this is Darwinism in its rawest form, disposing of the weak and unprepared, all because you were too naïve to ask for a spot.

But FEAR NOT, friends, for I have created a short, easy-to-follow checklist for the next time you need a weight lifting spotter. Without being hyperbolic, this could quite literally save your life.

Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

Read the longer version. Reviewed by our team to be the best, check out these articles to get a more in-depth perspective of the topic: 5 Spotting Techniques and Rules, and Spotting 101 – How to Spot the Bench Squat and Dumbbell Press.


Plan ahead

Know EXACTLY how many sets for which you plan on using a weightlifting spotter, what weights you will use, and your target rep range. Don’t be fumbling around indecisively when he or she shows up to help.

Also, if I’m spotting you on flat barbell bench press, I am not here to work on my bent over rows. I should be able to spot you with two fingers, or very minimal effort at most.


Weight lifting spotter selection

The guy enthralled in a superset who hasn’t taken a breather since hopping out of the locker room is simply not an option. In fact, he may even physically assault you just for insinuating that you were worth his time. However, you do want to be sure that the weightlifting spotter is at least an intermediate to advanced lifter. Lifting heavy can be dangerous, especially when you’ve got some green horn behind you with no idea what he’s doing. When in doubt, ask a gym staff member.


Abolish ambiguity

Before the set, the lifter and spotter must establish the terms and conditions with absolute certainty. Tell the spotter whether or not you want help with the initial un-racking (a lift-off), your target rep range, if/how many reps you plan on extending past failure, and whether you would like them to spot from your elbows or from the bar. If the spotter is providing a lift-off, then both of you must also be clear on how the countdown (or up) will sound. I ALWAYS say “lift on zero, as in 3, 2, 1, lift” so as to eliminate any doubt.


Mid-set communication

During a lift-off, a good weightlifting spotter will gently guide the weight to a natural position in which the lifter can safely begin the motion. Announce that you are in this position by stating “the weight is mine” or “I got it”, at which point your spotter should back off. If you want the spotter to assist with a few extra reps (assume three for this example) near the end of a set, simply say “three more, need help” or “give me three more”. The “please” is inferred, so don’t worry if you sound demanding. Also, and most importantly, be sure to declare when you do NOT want help at the end of a set. If you are fighting for your last rep, but feel confident that you can finish it singlehandedly, then simply repeat “I got it” or “Me” until you either lock it out or need to call for help.


Set a limit

You shouldn’t need a spotter for more than 3-5 sets in a single session. A defined limit will serve the dual purpose of avoiding both injury to yourself and nuisance to your spotter.



ALWAYS offer to return the favor, even if that means paying it forward to a later date.

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About the Author

John DeLuca

John DeLuca


After a brief stint in the Men’s Physique competition realm, and even winning first place in his final show, John decided to use his expertise to help normal, everyday people create the body they’ve always desired. His book, “The Busy Body: Principles for Building a Great Physique without Missing out on Life” is the culmination of over a decade of honing his craft. John is currently an RN in the Cardio-Thoracic Surgery ICU at Duke Hospital.
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