How to Spot? It's Not that Simple

The other day I wanted to do a dumbbell shoulder press with 25 pounds but I needed some help to lift it up for the first rep and perhaps the last two, so I asked someone to spot me. I saw this guy who seemed to have lifted weights for awhile, so I felt quite sure that he could help me.

Here I was sitting on the bench with the two dumbbells, the guy at my back and, and… nothing happened. I was doing all kinds of moves to lift those dumbbells up and he was watching at me but not doing anything!

If you’ve been lifting for a while, at a certain time if you want to push your body a little bit more you’ve asked for help, otherwise either your form is compromised and the risk of injuries increases or you simply don’t push yourself hard enough to see changes. The problem is that spotting is not as simple as it seems to be.

There are certain guidelines not just because sometimes the spotter do it all or don’t do enough as my case, but also because both people can get injured if they don’t exactly know what to do.

Spotting 101

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I went to my friend, Brian Biagioli, Ed.D., Executive Director, NCSF Board for Certification (, Graduate Program Director, Strength and Conditioning Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, University of Miami, to put together all what you need to know to make sure that next time you truly help your partner to make it to the next level.

1. What are the exercises that we should look for a spotter? And how we should spot?

Exercises that present a risk or a biomechanical position that lends itself to assistance can be spotted. Common examples are presses (bar or dumbbell), squatting exercises (front or back) and pulling exercises like pull-ups and pull downs.

- Squats should be spotted from the lateral aspect of the rib cage to control the spine. The spotter should squat in a mirror of the lifter. If a leg press is used, the foot plate is where added forces are applied.

- Chest press using a dumbbell should be spotted from the wrists (not at the elbows, which increases the risk of injury for both people) to control the resistance whereas bench presses are spotted by the bar using a supinated (palms-up) grip.  The latter follows for spotting other over-the-face barbells exercises such as the lying trice extension and barbell pull over.

- Military presses are spotted from the elbow, whereas seated dumbbell may use wrist or elbow depending on the resistance being used.

- Pull-ups should be spotted from the low lateral rib cage whereas lat pulls are spotted at the bar.

2. What are the most common mistakes while spotting?

Narrow base of support, not flexing the hips and knees with the movement (as seen in the squat and bench press), improper center of mass base of support alignment and incorrect hand position are all common errors. Likewise, distractions, lack of communication or not intensely focusing on the lift during the exercise performance allows for further compromise. The bar or weight should always move fluidly, never stop or counter move.

3.What are the things that each one should be aware before spotting and being spotted?

Spotting requires practice for both the lifter and the spotter. There should be a “no weight” effort to familiarize the lifter with the spotting technique and what to expect; this also serves to aid in stable positioning of the spotter and promotes familiarity driven efficiency. Under a load is never the right time to figure out mechanical advantage or realize center of mass/base of support inconsistencies or that the weight is too heavy to be properly spotted without assistance.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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