When you’re attempting to do squats with kettlebells the size of bowling balls or the heaviest pair of dumbbells you own, your legs might give out halfway through your last repetition, leaving you stuck at the lowest point of the movement. Fortunately, this situation is not too dangerous, as you can safely return to a standing position by dropping your weights to the floor, as long as your toes are not in the way.
However, once you switch to using a barbell and increase the weight even more, it may be a good idea to have a friend act as a spotter during the exercise, according to Alyssa Parten, a certified personal trainer and powerlifting coach. Parten explains the importance of having a spotter, who can assist you if you fail to complete a lift. In this context, spotting refers to having someone provide help or support in case you struggle with a squat. Parten also shares tips on how to spot a squat safely. Spotting may seem simple, but you should not underestimate its importance.
The significance of using a spotter during squats is that it is valuable to have someone assist you when performing exercises that involve lifting weights over your head (such as a barbell shoulder press), over your face (like a barbell bench press), or with the bar resting on the back or front of your shoulders (such as a back squat or front squat). According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the ultimate purpose of having a spotter is to reduce the risk of injury. This applies to both beginners and experienced weightlifters. Beginners may not feel entirely comfortable using unfamiliar equipment, which can lead to compromised movement patterns. On the other hand, even advanced lifters who feel confident enough to attempt heavy lifts still require an extra pair of hands to ensure their safety in case they cannot complete the repetitions.
When it comes to squatting specifically, having a spotter can be particularly valuable when you’re reaching the point of fatigue or testing your maximum weight for one to five repetitions. Parten explains that you want to make sure that if a heavy lift doesn’t go as planned, there is someone present who knows how to get you out of that position that puts you at risk. For example, if you get stuck at the bottom of your squat and fall backward or forward, a spotter can help you push back up to a standing position and ensure the barbell is safely returned to its rack.
To spot a squat properly, follow the guidelines explained by Parten.
How to Identify a Squat with 1 Person
If you are the sole observer for your exercise companion, you will initially position yourself at a comfortable distance behind them and simply assess their form while they perform their intense lifts, according to Parten. “If the person lifting is executing their squats with smoothness and without any issues, you can just stand back,” she explains. “You only need to intervene when you notice them exerting themselves.” For example, if the lifter is unable to push out of the squat even after a few seconds of effort, if they fall back down to the lowest point of the squat, or if they explicitly ask for assistance, Parten suggests stepping in.
At that point, you will move closer behind the lifter, maintaining about a foot of space between yourself and the squatter. Extend your arms in front of your body and raise both hands up beneath their armpits, making sure to avoid physical contact with their body. While they squat, you will mirror their movement, keeping your hands close but not touching their sides, as explained by Parten. “I have witnessed people getting too hands-on when spotting,” she adds. “Unless your client or someone else is at risk of harm, it is better to give them some space.”
If the lifter requires assistance in getting out of their squat, you will extend your arms forward, press your forearms against their armpits, and hold onto the front of their shoulders with your hands. Simultaneously with the lifter, you will push up to return to a standing position, according to Parten. At the peak of the movement, you will aid the lifter in re-racking the barbell.
One crucial mistake to avoid is simply grabbing the barbell off the lifter if they are stuck in their squat, warns Parten. “By doing so, you are placing the lifter in danger because they might fall, and you are endangering yourself because you might not have the strength to lift the barbell off them,” she explains. “The goal is to assist them in executing the squat movement, as if two bodies are lifting the barbell instead of just one.”
This spotting technique applies similarly to all types of barbell squat variations, such as high-bar and low-bar squats, as well as squats with specialized barbells, notes Parten. However, during a front squat, you may need to extend your arms slightly beyond the lifter’s torso and position your hands in front of their chest (rather than directly below their armpits). This is because the lifter’s elbows may obstruct your ability to grasp the front of their shoulders with the traditional spotting technique, she adds.
How to Spot a Squat with 2 People
When there are two spotters involved, you will follow a similar protocol as the one described earlier. However, instead of standing directly behind the lifter, each spotter will position themselves at opposite ends of the barbell, facing the lifter. Initially, both spotters will observe for any signs of struggle.
When you detect a certain tension, you and the other observer will adopt your positions at opposite sides of the weightlifting bar and imitate the act of squatting, keeping your hands suspended on each side of the bar. If the lifter is unsuccessful in completing their repetition, each observer will firmly grab hold of the barbell, simultaneously exert upward pressure and move away from the squatting position, subsequently aiding the lifter in returning the barbell to its original placement, as mentioned by Parten.
What Lifters Should Keep In Mind While Using a Spotter for Squats
While it’s crucial that spotters are educated on how to properly spot a squat, it’s also important that lifters understand how to safely fail a rep, says Parten. “You can put the spotter in jeopardy if you attempt to get rid of the bar and you push it backwards onto that spotter, or if you try to evade the bar once the spotter is holding onto you, so they’re compelled to essentially lift it,” she explains. “If it’s excessive weight for them to handle, you’re putting them at risk.” To ensure the safety of both parties, the lifter should continue to press into the ground and rise up from the squat — not give up once they’ve received the spotter’s assistance, she says.
Regardless of the exercise, the lifter should always have a quick conversation with the spotter to communicate what they’ll be doing and the assistance they’ll require before starting any reps, says Parten. “If you simply ask someone to spot, then they might not know if you are attempting to reach a one-rep maximum or a tiring set and you might have a preference in how you want to be spotted,” she says. This brief and straightforward chat may be easy to overlook, but it’s essential to ensure everyone remains safe, feels at ease, and achieves their desired outcomes from the workout.
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