Are You Abusing Your Gym Spotter?
Before I start, I want to make one thing perfectly clear…
Having someone spot you in the gym is a very good idea in many cases.
It will help prevent injury, and allow you to really push yourself to get that one last rep – without the fear of crushing yourself with heavy weight, lest you fail.
In fact, having someone spot you can be the difference between making progress that week, or bumping up against your current plateau (especially on exercises like the bench press).
However, just like you can have a bad spotter at the gym – someone that lifts too much of the weight for you, or doesn’t know how to spot properly – you can also be a bad spotee.
And then, before you know it, no one will want to spot you again…
Yup, I know a guy just like that.
Let me tell you about it.
How Not To Treat Your Spotter
There is unspoken code-of-conduct in most gyms, where if you ask someone for a spot, they are somewhat obligated to provide it.
Yes, it really just comes down to basic gym etiquette; a sense of recognition, if you will, of the communal endeavor.
And this is all great – until you get someone who just doesn’t seem to get it.
There is a guy at my gym just like this (I’ll call him Barry, in case he’s reading).
Barry is in pretty good shape and works out hard. He is also friendly, funny, and generally likable.
However, you don’t want to be the guy that Barry asks to spot him…
It goes something like this.
Barry: “Hey man, will you give me a spot.”
You: “Sure – what are you going for?”
Barry: “As many as I can get, but make sure to help on the last few reps.”
You: “No problem.”
So you go over to the bench press, and Barry lies down to begin his set.
The first few reps are fine – all him, in fact – but after he knocks out 3 you can tell he has nothing left in the tank.
But Barry doesn’t care, because he has you, the trusty spotter, there to awkwardly lift the last 3 reps for him.
And that’s exactly what happens…
He does the first 3 by himself; you do the remaining 3, practically by yourself (trying not to give yourself a hernia in the process).
After the set, Barry seems pleased. In his head he did 6 reps, with a little help from you – whereas in reality you were upright rowing the entire weight for him for half of the set!
Yup, it has gotten so bad that some guys, myself included, have suggested to Barry that he might want to drop the weight to something that he can lift properly.
But Barry pays no mind to these comments, and will likely continue to abuse many unwitting gym spotters for decades to come.
What You Should Expect From Your Spotter
The problem here is simply one of expectation.
Like many others, Barry regards the function of the spotter – whether consciously or unconsciously – as someone that helps him do more reps.
And from an emotional perspective, I’m sure that we can all understand this. It feels a lot better to tell yourself you did 6 reps of any given weight as opposed to 3.
But really, he is missing the entire point…
I’ll spell it out very clearly: the only purpose of a spotter is to give minimal help – and only if necessary – on the very last rep of your set, so that you avoid injuring yourself.
Yup, that’s it.
They are not there to lift the weight for you. They are certainly not there to spot you for multiple reps which you have no hope of doing yourself.
And this isn’t just an issue of being rude; it will negatively impact your own progress as well.
Why Spotter Abuse Will Only Hold You Back
The problem with misusing spotters, is that it will effectively mask where you really are.
How much weight you can actually lift on any given exercise, and for what specific number of reps.
You see, as I mentioned, people like Barry tend to think that they can lift far more than they actually can – and this is because they chronically misuse spotters to enable this mindset, week after week.
Why does this actually matter?
Well, as I’ve written about before, if you want to make consistent progress – in terms of building more muscle and getting stronger – you need to lift heavier and heavier weights.
This is called progressive overload, and I cover it in detail in this article.
Unfortunately, when you have someone almost-entirely lift the weight for you for several reps of your heavy sets, I guarantee that it’ll be a lot tougher to systematically progress to heavier weights.
Yes, if you do this, you won’t have a clear idea of where you actually are, and therefore won’t have a solid basis to progress from.
This is further compounded by the variation in spotters. Some people will readily lift everything for you, whereas others will make you work more for it.
If you choose to rely on spotters to lift a substantial percentage of your reps, then this variation will only serve to obfuscate the truth of where you are.
So, my advice is pretty simple here.
Ask for a spot on exercises where it makes sense (like the bench press or squat).
However, don’t plan on having them lift any of the reps for you. They are there as a fail-safe, nothing more.
If you know that you can only get 3 reps of that weight – either go for 3, max 4, or drop the weight if you want to work in a higher range.
I promise that if you do this, you’ll get more out of each set and ultimately make more progress.
Also, it will be a lot easier to find someone to willingly spot you – unlike poor Barry, who everyone now understandably tries to avoid.