May 10, 2018
A Helping Hand

When working in the weight room, it’s important that the athletes engaging in each exercise understand the proper technique. However, to keep players truly safe, coaches should also have a strong understanding of how to properly spot for different exercises. They can then make sure their athletes understand this as well.

In a blog for Breaking Muscle, Katie Chasey, founder and head trainer for the RXBound training team, offers some tips to create smart lifters and spotters. First, Chasey explains that the spotters job is not to help lift the weight, but to support the lifters proper form. While this means letting the lifter struggle a little, it is okay to help when the lifter gets stuck. Next, is to make sure your spotters understand the correct stance.

“Spotters should use a widened split stance to create a larger base of stability,” writes Chasey, who also serves as a coach, programmer, and instructor. “To do this, you set one foot in front and the other one staggered behind. Maintain a tight and upright trunk and core, and adjust your hand placement according to the lift.”

When working with the back squat, Chasey recommends either having one spotter on each end of the bar or one behind the athletes. When standing behind the athlete, the spotter should allow the lifter to back from the rack and settle into their stance. Then, the spotter stands behind the lifter and mirrors their motion into the squat with their arms under the armpits and hands on or near the chest. At the end of the motion, guide the bar back into proper rack position.

“Your role here is to help the lifter maintain a raised chest as the tendency as the tendency when fatigue sets in is to collapse the core or trunk forward over the quads,” writes Chasey. “By your guiding that chest up, the lifter has the advantage of maintaining form while still fighting for those last important strength-building reps.”

The next exercise that Chasey discusses is the dumbbell press. The spotter should rest their hands right under the lifters elbows, making sure not to make contact. If the lifter starts to fail, you can help by pressing the elbows up. Unlike the dumbbell press, when working with the bench press Chasey says it is okay to assist in lifting the bar off the rack for the first rep.

As for placement of hands during the bench press, Chasey recommends placing the fingertips or palms of the hands under the bar and just inside of the lifters hands. Again, it is important to refrain from completely helping the lifter through each struggle, although a small amount of assistance can be given to keep them moving forward.

The last exercise that Chasey discusses is the pull up. During the pull up, Chasey writes that the proper technique is to spot by the hips or by the trunk and obliques. Then, use your judgement to decide if an athlete needs assistance. However, like the other exercises Chasey stresses the importance of letting the athlete do as much of the movement on their own as possible.

By spotting each of these exercises, athletes are helping to build a foundation for power exercises. However, Chasey does express the importance of never using a spotter during power exercises.

“The two Olympic lifts are a great example (the clean and the jerk and the snatch) of instances where no spotter can or should be used,” she writes. “Build up the fundamental and foundational strength, technique, and skills and then apply them to power exercises and other athletic movements that are meant to be done unassisted.”

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