How to Be a Good Spotter

Man providing spot in the gym

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Whether you are new to resistance training or a seasoned pro, there may come a time when someone needs you to spot them in the gym. And when that time arrives, it is important to be prepared. Providing someone a spot in the gym is more than just helping someone perform an exercise, it is about ensuring safety when someone may be struggling.

To be a good spotter you need to know proper hand placement, have the ability to keep an eye on the person performing the lift to ensure safety, and be prepared (and have the strength) to lift a portion of the weight if needed.

What you do not want to do is get in the way of the person's focus, lift all the weight for them, or worse, cause an accident. Learn how to be a good spotter with these tips.

Why Spotting Is Important

It is easy for someone to hit the weights solo and go in for a major lift thinking they got this. But the moment they don't have this is when they will regret not asking for a spot. Spotting is important to help avoid injury.

If you do not have a training partner to spot you, try asking someone nearby if they are able to watch your lift. If the latter is not an option, you may want to consider reducing the weight or leaving a potential PR (personal record) for a future session.

Jesse Shaw, DO

Spotters historically are used to help guide the line of motion of the weights, provide external motivation, and be prepared to assist if incomplete racking of the weights occurs.

— Jesse Shaw, DO

"During certain exercises, the use of a spotter is recommended for safety in case injury occurs or muscle failure develops," says Jesse Shaw, DO, an assistant professor of primary care and sports medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. "[And] although the use of training partners is widespread there are minimal evidence-based, scientific recommendations of when and how to spot."

Dr. Shaw points out that spotters are not there to lift the weight for you. But they can help out. Think about the last time you struggled on the bench press to get the bar back on the rack above you. A spotter can give you that extra oomph to rerack the weight and prevent potential injury. 

"Spotters historically are used to help guide the line of motion of the weights, provide external motivation, and be prepared to assist if incomplete racking of the weights occurs," Dr. Shaw says.

Though the research is lacking on spotters in the gym, there are a few studies that can give us confidence beyond anecdotal evidence that having a spot in the gym is beneficial.

One study looked at the presence of spotters on bench press performance in trained participants around the age of 21 years old. In this study, those with a spotter during bench press were able to lift heavier weight, perform more reps, and reduce ratings of perceived exertion.

That means not only does a spotter provide a safety net, but also may help you lift more and feel better about your workload.

And if you are unsure of asking someone of the opposite sex for a spot, don't be. One study found that no significant difference was observed on 1RM (one rep max) bench press between a male or female spotter.

"The primary reason to recommend utilization of a spotter is for the safety benefit expected," says Dr. Shaw. "The most common injuries during resistance training include self-harm due to dropping weights, getting caught between weights, or hitting themselves with weights. So if we want to improve safety, increase volume from forced repetitions, and improve performance and motivation, we should utilize a spotter whenever possible in the gym."

How to Spot in the Gym

Technically a spotter can be used for all exercises performed in the gym. According to Dr. Shaw, spotters are needed when performing free weight lifts, bench press, squat, leg press, and military press.

"Almost any exercise can be spotted except the deadlift," says Wayne Scheiman ACE-CPT, lead trainer at the South Orange Family YMCA. "Spotting for someone also requires the spotter themselves to be able to assist in lifting the weight. The spotter needs to be able to put the weight back on the rack if the lifter fails."

Because ensuring safety and assisting the lift are the two primary goals of spotting someone, you must be in a position to provide maximum assistance.

Dr. Shaw emphasizes that you should be able to see the bar movement, the body cues from the lifter, and have access to the dumbbells or barbells are imperative to a spotters position. Another thing to consider is your strength and ability to assist the weightlifter with their desired load.

"Although a spotter is usually required to only carry a portion of the weight, there are times when the lifter is approaching muscle fatigue and the spotter will be required to carry and transition more of the load than expected," he says.

Know what you're getting into before agreeing to provide a spot. If someone's lift (or weight) is out of your wheelhouse, it is OK to turn it down.

How to Spot for the Bench Press

If you are asked to spot during a bench press, often the lifter will ask for help with the "lift-off," which means you are simply providing a little help to get the bar off of the rack.

Stand behind the bar with feet about shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar in the center about a hand-width apart. Wait for the lifter's cue, then gently assist the lifter to bring the bar up and off the rack and into position over their chest for the bench press. Make sure they are ready for you to let go before doing so.

Refrain from touching the bar during the lift, but keep your hands close by and in a mixed grip. This means one hand is in the overhand and the other is in the underhand position.

If the lifter needs assistance, refrain from yanking up the bar, and instead, lift the bar with the person you are spotting. Allow the person to perform the exercise on their own as much as possible.

If the bar is going down or the lifter is asking for help, pull the bar up with full force and move back to place the bar on the rack.

How to Spot for the Squat

To spot the squat, simply keeping your hands at the lifter's obliques and moving at the same rate as the lifter will work quite well. Stand behind the lifter in close proximity at all times, but do not interfere with the movement.

If the person is having difficulty standing up, wrap your arms around their torso across their chest or shoulders. Help them stand up as much as you can and move the bar toward the rack.

How to Spot for the Military Press

It can be tempting to spot someone below their elbows for the military press. This approach can be dangerous because it does not support their wrists in the event their wrists give out. The result would be the weight falling directly on their head.

Instead, stand behind the lifter and support them at their wrists. Lift their wrists upward as needed while still allowing the lifter to work as hard as they can to perform the movement. If the lifter needs help placing the weights on their shoulders, stand from behind and reach around to help bring the dumbbells, one at a time, from their knee to their shoulder.

How to Be Prepared to Spot Someone

Spotting someone for the first time can be nerve-wracking. With a few pointers, you can reduce anxiety, increase your ability to keep the person safe, and help them better their lift.

"Prior to initiation of a resistance-training program with your training partner, pre-lift communication is an important aspect of a good team approach to safe lifting," says Dr. Shaw. "Discuss the need for a lift-off, expected set and rep targets, and what communication will be used to ask for your assistance."

Make sure you know what to expect as well as what will be required of you before they begin their lift.

"Communication is key," says Scheiman. "Does the lifter need assistance getting the weight off the rack? Does the lifter need assistance controlling the weight, or does the lifter just want someone to grab the bar if it fails to move forward or fails to move at all? Also how many repetitions are they aiming for?"

How to Be Safe While Spotting

Spotting is not the time to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror or chat with your training partner. To keep everyone safe—including yourself—maintain your focus on the task at hand. Also, keep a close distance to the bar or weights so you can quickly grab them in the event the person you are spotting reaches failure.

"The spotter should always have access to the bar or weight in the unfortunate need of intervening but allow the lifter a chance to succeed," explains Dr. Shaw. "The prepared spotter with proper position and form will be able to engage if needed, in a safe and controlled manner."

A Word From Verywell

Working out in the gym with free weights and resistance training equipment to get desired results means you might have to push yourself beyond your perceived capacity. Using a spotter will not only help you reach your goals but will also keep you safe and give you a greater chance of success.

Additionally, learning how to spot someone else when they need it, is an important part of the training process as well as builds camaraderie. Even if you do not have a training partner that you spot on a regular basis, knowing how to spot someone if they ask, is an important skill to have.

If you are concerned about hurting someone, or if you are just unsure how to spot someone, talk to a certified personal trainer for tips.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sheridan A, Marchant DC, Williams EL, Jones HS, Hewitt PA, Sparks A. Presence of spotters improves bench press performance: A deception dtudy. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33(7):1755-1761. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002285

  2. Nickerson BS, Salinas G, Garza JM, Cho S, Snarr RL. Impact of spotter sex on one-repetition maximum bench press performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2021 Sep 1;35(9):2397-2400. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003156