Learn how to properly spot a squat to ensure safety as a spotter.
Squats. They’re some of the best moves for strength and conditioning in the gym and for everyday functional movement. We all have to do them and there’s a good chance you have an understanding of your squat form if you’ve been lifting for a while.
They are one of the best weightlifting moves to develop toned glutes, thighs, quads, and hamstrings. They can help you improve your confidence, no matter what body type you have.
When performed correctly, they can also help alleviate hip pain and improve hip mobility and flexibility.
But what about understanding and helping a friend with their squat technique? Get to know the best way to support a fellow squatter.
Find out what to look out for to let you know it’s time to step in. Get familiar with proper squat bailout technique, whether or not your squat cage has safety rails.
Plus, is this a risky squat? Learn to look for signs of potential injury in other people’s squat techniques.
A common spotting mistake is being too far away from the lifter. The spotter needs to be as close as possible without getting in the way of the lift…then HELP them lift it if need be. If your spotter can’t lift the weight themselves, they probably shouldn’t be spotting #gymgail #gymmistakes #squat #spotterfail #gymnewbie #newbielifter #greenscreenvideo
@danflorestraining demonstrates the dangerous consequences of poor spotting in a squat. Plus how to get it right.
When Should You Spot a Squat?
Not every squatter needs a spot, or at least, not in a hands-on way. Generally, you should only physically step in and help a squatter when you notice them struggling to push up from the bottom of their squats.
When they get halfway up and drop down again, or when they ask you for help, you can step in.
Coming in too early may throw them off, leading to a lackluster set.
That being said, there are some conditions when you should step in.
Testing One-Rep Max
If you or someone else is testing out your one-rep max (1RM), which, as the name suggests is the maximum load you can lift with proper technique for one rep, have a spotter on hand!
This is a significant new weight for someone to lift.
This kind of heavy lift can easily take someone down. Not only is it super embarrassing, but it can hurt. Falling backward out of a squat with a weighted barbell puts you at risk of head and neck injuries, which are especially dangerous.
People who are new to back squats with a barbell often like to have spotters on hand for confidence.
They may have some gym experience squatting with dumbbells, plates, kettlebells, or bodyweight. But the barbell, even with no weight is a big and clunky piece of equipment.
One of the biggest fears new gymgoers have is stepping up to the squat rack and performing with confidence. Especially in a packed gym when others may be waiting for the barbell.
Here, it may not be a case of too-heavy weight, but of being a support system to help another lifter feel secure.
Fatigue or Injury
If for some reason, someone is choosing to squat to failure, has muscular exhaustion from a previous tough workout sesh, or is recovering from an injury they might not know how much weight they can successfully work with.
Even experienced lifters have off days, so lending a helping hand to someone who might need it during a recovery is always appreciated.
How to Properly Spot a Squat
If you are spotting another squatter, the best course of action to ensure both people’s safety depends on what you’re visually noticing in their squat.
Does the person look generally smooth and comfortable in their squat position? If that’s the case, you can stand back and watch them from the side.
Don’t intervene physically until you see them start to wobble or show effort in their squats that could be destabilizing. If you notice they’re holding longer at the bottom of their squats, struggling to drive up from the bottom with their feet or dropping back down after getting partway up, here’s where you’d want to step in.
To spot at this point:
- Come up behind the spotter, standing as close as you can without immediately rubbing against them.
- Hook both your arms underneath their armpits. Raise your hands to track alongside their body near their shoulders (do not touch them unless they start falling).
- Start into the movement with them. Hint: think of yourself as their shadow here, following their movement with your arms just hovering nearby.
- If they need help coming up, extend your arms and push your forearms into their armpit area, grabbing the front of their shoulders.
- Drive up and out of your feet to come up and out of the squat with them. Essentially, a spot squat should feel like the power of two people squatting in unison.
- You can use this technique for high-bar or low-bar squats.
How to Bail from a Squat
On the other side of acting as a spotter, if you are performing squats yourself, it’s important to understand how to bail out of a squat that is too heavy for you.
Learning how to bail gives you more leeway to squat at reasonably heavy weights without a spotter. Understanding what “the big bail” entails also helps you be a better spotter to other squatters when it’s your turn to do so.
To bail out:
- Make sure you’re squatting inside a cage or power rack. These come with spotter arms for safety! Using them properly can save your squats and your back.
- Set the arms up slightly below the bottom position that you’ll hit once you squat down. That way, the bar doesn’t have a long way to travel if it is going to fall.
If you’re practicing in a cage without safety rails:
- Don’t use an empty barbell. Dropping an empty barbell can ruin your floors or bounce back and hit you (this hurts!) Use rubber bumper plates at a weight you know you can lift. Most commercial gyms have these on hand, as they’re less damaging to the floors and less damaging to you if they hit you.
Squat Spotting Tips
Great spotting requires great communication between the spotter and the spottee.
Before you squat:
- Find out what kind of help this person needs in their squat. Is this a weight they’ve lifted before? Are they trying for a new 1RM or personal record? Is the weight they are lifting more or less than you can lift? Answering these questions will help you consider whether you can provide a safe spot.
- Do they know how to fail on a set? Sometimes using a full range of motion but getting stuck at the bottom of a squat causes a lifter to panic. This may make them struggle, or try to ditch the barbell, either trying to ditch the barbell or pass it off to you. Remind them that your assistance is to take some weight off the move so they don’t get stuck, NOT to lift the weight yourself.
Common Spotting Mistakes
Although more practice can quickly make you a competent spotter, there are a few moves you should always refrain from trying to help someone squat.
Here are a few of the most commonly made mistakes that spotters encounter when spotting squats.
Grabbing the Top of the Bar
As a spotter, grabbing a squatter’s barbell from up top, rather than reaching under their armpits to grab from the back and clamp their lats gives you little control of the movement.
Only gripping the top of their barbell doesn’t allow you to support the squatter using your body.
Spotting from the Lats
Like grabbing the bar from the top, only holding someone’s sides doesn’t give you proper control of their body. Or your own if they fall off balance in a squat.
Grabbing the Bar Off the Squatter
It’s a dangerous idea to try to lift the barbell off of the person who’s squatting if they are about to fail in their lift.
You could end up dropping the barbell on them or yourself.
Getting Too Close or Staying too Far Away
Appropriate proximity to the person you’re helping with squats is crucial for safety. But getting too close can be uncomfortable.
The squatter should always feel like you’re “there.” Sensing your presence can help them with their confidence since they know they have support. That being said, rubbing or pressing your body against the squatter, especially if it’s someone you don’t know well will make them feel uncomfortable and violate personal space.
Think about how you’d like to be supported in a squat yourself and try to give the same courtesy to other people.
Touching the Squatter Before You Need To
If it’s not necessary, don’t make contact. The person squatting could be having a decent set and just want a little extra support or encouragement.
Helping out prematurely prevents them from getting full reps in, which can be annoying if there’s no significant issue. It can also shake their confidence if you look like you’re assuming they’ll fail on a set.
Don’t touch your squatter if there’s no immediate danger to their safety or risk of injury or failure. Wait until they A) struggle to come up, or B) ask for help.
Do I Need to Be Stronger than the Squatter?
No. You can spot someone stronger than you. The role of a spotter is not to perform a full lift, but to take around 20% of the load out of a move in case of failure.
Keep in mind that although most people who lift heavy enough to need spotters understand their weightlifting capacity and know their limits, sometimes, people fail unexpectedly during a lift in a way that may cause risk.
Always understand the potential for error in spots you are assisting with. If you don’t feel comfortable providing a spot, ask someone else in the gym for help. They can “spot your spot” if you feel uneasy. A stronger person can also provide a primary spot, whereas you may be able to encourage and support more than being hands-on if this is safer.
Can I Spot a Deadlift?
Generally no. Deadlifts do not need spotting unless you compete professionally. If someone fails in a deadlift, they simply drop the barbell.
In competitive weightlifting, lifters may have spots in the deadlift in case they pass out. The person will usually fall backward and have someone available to catch them.
Squat spotting is simple, yet fairly technical.
That being said, you can learn to be a great spotter with a bit of practice and a lot of communication!
Only physically assist in a squat if a squatter gets stuck at the bottom, makes it partway up and drops back down or asks for your help.
To spot a squat, get close (but not too close) to the person you’re spotting, and hook your arms under their armpits with hands extended.
Grab the front of their shoulders if they need it. Drive up and out of the squat with them if they get stuck at the bottom.
Always talk to the person you’re spotting to understand whether you’re the best person to give them a hand. Find out what their goals are, where they are in their set, whether they’re working to failure, and whether this is a new weight for them.
That way, you get to know whether you can safely help without risking their safety or your own.
Whether you’re doing front squats, goblet squats, high bar squats, or any type of heavy squat, it’s important to squat safely.
Make sure to assume a safe starting position for any squat variation. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider.
Bend your knees to try and get your thighs parallel to the floor. Avoid common mistakes like leaning too far forward or back and keep a straight bar path. You should be able to build muscle in no time!
Not keen on squats? If you’re looking for an alternative, the leg press is another great way to target your leg muscles. If you’re focused on booty building in your squats, you may be curious about how to get a round butt or learning more about inverted butts so you can work out for your dream butt shape.
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