Having a good spotter is very important. For one if you have a reliable spotter who motivates you, your bench press journey on Critical Bench will be that much more successful. The thing about training partners is that it's always hard to find someone who is as dedicated to training as you are. However, when you do find a training partner who is as dedicated, reliable and understands the "art" of spotting, then every time you step onto the bench you will feel more confident, energized and you will have one less thing to worry about. Remember, if you change your circumstances in the gym, then you will have better and more productive workouts every-time you step foot into the gym. So get together with your spotter or alone as we all have to spot at some point! In this article I will provide you with new insight about how to spot and coach the bencher effectively.
Tip #1 - The timing of the handoff
When you are lying on the bench, you always want to communicate with your spotter. For example if you are lying on the bench, have your spotter count to 3 and after your spotter counts to 3, he will then un-rack the weight and hand it off to you. I find the 3 count to be important because if you aren't prepared to take the weight, you will either get hurt or you won't have your technique down right when it's time to attempt the heavy lift! Not only do I find the 3 count beneficial for safety but I also find the 3 count as an opportunity to get prepared for the lift. Once the spotter counts to 3, you can then begin to squeeze the bar extra hard, get tight, and take the weight! Once the "1, 2, 3" command starts, you will be ready to go, it's crunch time now, baby!
2) The magic touch when un-racking the weight
The spotter needs to help balance, and control the weight as he helps the bencher un-rack the weight. For example, if the spotter gives the bencher an un-even hand off and un-racks the weight with too much force, then that can throw the benchers groove completely off. This can be hazardous to the bencher's performance. The last thing that the bencher needs is to get the "press" command, when he doesn't have the weight in proper groove.
So in conclusion, some lifters spot with too much force when un-racking the weight, some lift one side more so than the other and some don't assist enough off the rack. These bad spotting techniques put the bencher at risk of missing the weight and potential injury. I think in order to master the art of "hand offs" the spotter and bencher will need to practice handoffs (taking the weight off the rack) with lighter weights.
3) Practice hand offs with lighter/medium weights
A bencher and spotter should both step under a lighter weigh, ex: 135, 185, or 225. As the spotter hands the weight to the bencher, the bencher should say "Yes, good sport", or "Do this differently". So the bottom line is practice hand offs with the lighter weights so you can be confident with the heavier weights. Practice makes improvements.
4) The Spotter's role during the lift
A good spotter should always say something positive to the bencher before the bencher steps under the weight. For example the spotter could yell "Light weight", "Bench Fast" ,"Fill your belly with air, belly filled with air", "Elbows in, elbows in, bench lower" flair out your lats, I said flair out your freakin lats", "stay tight", "arch higher", "yeah you got it, keep showing me that animal desire"! The thing is, if a spotter motivates the lifter before and during the lift, it's going to bring out the lifters "higher self", into play instead of their "regular selves", allowing the bencher to be more intense and aggressive on the bench when they are benching. The bench press is all about technique and mechanics, if the spotter can remind the bencher and yell positive cues, this will help the bencher propel the weights to lockout.
5) The Spotter's role after the lift
At the end of the lift, the spotter should give the bencher feed back. The spotter can yell "You're a strong animal, however, next time control the weight, bring it down slower, squeeze your quads into the bench and use your legs more. When you're benching 500lbs everything needs to be perfect, so make 315 perfect too". So the spotter should also give the bencher little detailed tips to improve their technique for the next time that the bencher attempts to bench again, this way the bencher continues to grow. If you are training a day with drop sets, tri sets, or speed benches, the spotter should say "Let's go, don't rest, keep moving", If the bencher is doing a heavy day, the spotter can say, "put your sweat shirt on, relax, keep warm and practice mental imagery for your next attempt". Also the spotter should always be educating themselves like on a speed bench day the spotter can say "It's more effective to do 8 sets of 2 reps then 8 sets of 3 reps, as training has evolved, that's right speed benches are 8 sets of 2 now". Finally, the spotter could give the bencher little pointers like "put your index finger on the ring to bench wide, so you don't have to bring the bar down as far, and this will help you widen your back. You know, wider backs, means bigger bench". On the other hand if the bencher is doing a burn out set after 2-3 heavy bench sets, the spotter can say "Pause on every rep and use a narrow grip, this will improve your competition max"! All of these details of attitude and communication between the spotter and bencher should take the benchers benching ability to new heights. So, the bottom line is that your spotter should be like your "coach", instead of just a person just existing to keep you safe.
6) A little spot can add higher intensity, resulting in better gains
Sometimes a little spot and assistance is healthy for the lifter. If the spotter keeps his hands on the bar during the lift, this can actually increase the intensity of the lift and help the bencher get stronger. For example, let's say a bencher can only do 315x3 on their own, but with the assistance of a spotter they might get 6 reps. This could actually help the bencher train harder and this could be effective if it's done every once in awhile and not during every single workout.
7) Dangers of assisted reps for the spotter
On the other hand if a bencher can only bench 315x1 and the spotter assist the bencher so he does 315x15, or 365x8, then that isn't useful for the bencher or the spotter. The bencher is actually putting the spotter in a great deal of danger because during every single rep, the spotter has to perform an awkward rowing motion to help the bencher get the weight up. The spotter is doing most of the work and he could fall onto the bencher while the bencher is benching. This puts both the spotter and the bencher at great risk of injury.
8) Mental dangers of assisted reps
If the bencher is always doing force reps, then it's a great way to get weak fast and ruin your journey of strength. For example if a bencher struggles benching 240 once and then if they throw 300 on and have a spotter do the weight with them, the bencher might believe that they are doing the weight. This will automatically give the bencher a false sense of strength and the bencher won't learn to control the weight on his own. Most of all, the bencher will have doubt and never want the spotter to let go of the weight because the bencher knows that he isn't as strong as his self proclaimed benching ability. The thing is, if a bencher has a 200lbs bench max and they are being assisted with 250lbs, and the bencher wants to get to 300lbs, then they are 100lbs away from their goals instead of 50lbs. Forced reps are one of the biggest mistakes that rookies and young benchers make and they are a habit that is very hard to break. Early on in the benchers training careers, they should do their reps on their own and get assistance when they can't go anymore. If you are stuck in a rut and you can only train with force reps, then I suggest you get a home gym and train where people can't see you. This way you can get stronger and trust me you will see a 50lbs increase in your bench press fast.
Finally, remember being happy with yourself is the key to being a good bencher. For example, some guys can bench 350 but they think that 350 isn't a strong bench because they desire 500lbs in their minds and feel that is where they should be. So they refuse seeing the best benchers in the world and getting help. On the other hand there are guys that only bench 250lbs as a max and they will say "I'm okay with myself, it's okay that I only bench 250", since the second guy thinks that it's okay that he benches 250lbs he has an open mind, he will learn from the best, do the lifts on his own and obviously improve.
Remember, there are many 700+ benchers out there and they aren't the brightest and they have awful technique, and that is why they bench in the 700s instead of the 900s. They have so much hubris (excessive pride) that they aren't willing to look at their bad habits. The guys who are comfortable with themselves even if they bench 225 will eventually be the strong and happier benchers in the end because they can train right without letting the concept of "never being good enough" ruin them.
9) How to spot an ego lifter
If a bencher comes into the gym and loads the bar and says spot me, give them a tiny bit of assistance. A tiny bit means, gently guide the weight up as the bencher is trying to move the weight from off their chest to lockout. For example let's say a bencher loads the bar to 275lbs and this is their one rep max but for whatever reason they want to feel secure and want your hands on the bar. So, spot them in slow motion for the first rep. Then if they want to attempt another rep, spot them again in slow motion so that the lift takes 5-6 seconds for them to perform. Trust me they are going to want to rack it and not do three painful reps with 275. The purpose for a "gentle guide" instead of "force reps" is that if you forced their reps the lifter will do 10 reps and he will keep going heavier. If he goes too heavy then the lifter is putting him self at danger. Some lifters will in fact step under weights 100lbs over their max, if they get a good spot.
I know that there are lifters like Jimmy the Bull who benches over 1000lbs with 3 spotters assisting him but that is a different type of training and if you want to gain mass that way, then make sure that you get many spotters for safety. I also understand that there are plenty of men whether they are training with boards, bands, shirts, or even without any equipment at all, who always load the bench press bar past 500,600, and 700lbs. If you are one of these men then having reliable spotters is important because you can't mess up. So if you are ever in need make sure that you have 3 strong spotters with 3 extra buddies along the side because you can't mess up with 700lbs, or you will get hurt. This is the world of bench press extreme.
10) Get the right spotter
Remember, everyone is different and everyone has different goals. The best advice is to find what works for you, as nobody knows what you truly want as much as you do. Some benchers want a spotter that cranks up the volume, yells in their face and others want silence and concentration. As there are others in the grey, who want some intensity but they want to focus at the same time. So follow some of these tips of course but remember some lifters want more assistance and others are against forced reps completely. So, find the spotter and training partner that works for you! I believe by finding a spotter that is always trying to find "what could be better", a spotter that sees huge weights as being "attainable", and who is always believing that you can make consistent progress is the way to go. Get a spotter who thinks that benching 500lbs is not a big deal because the stronger your mind is the easier it will be to bench 500lbs! So get a good partner today and let the attitude of training and gaining begin!