Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Safety is paramount in all areas of our lives. Weightlifting in the gym is no different.
And while sometimes there are extreme situations where our safety is not the first thing on our mind, lifting weights should never, ever be one of those times.
Whenever we do anything in the gym, it's absolutely vital for us to assess whether or not it's actually safe for us to be doing.
Often times, our safety during exercise can be amplified through the use of a spotter. And on many of the exercises that we do in the gym, having a spotter is almost always a good thing.
Having a spotter with us provides and extra safety net that gives us the confidence to push harder for those final reps and allows for more safety, should we actually fail those reps.
However, is it safe for us to be lifting without a spotter? This is a question that many beginners and less experienced lifters ask, and we're here to address that in this post.
First of All: What is a Spotter?
Before we begin, we just have to clarify exactly what a spotter is for those people that haven't been lifting for too long yet.
Basically, a spotter is the extra person with you during your set that's there to help you bring the weight back up should you fail on your final couple of reps.
You'll mainly see people spotting on the barbell bench press and barbell back squat, but a spotter is going to be useful on any exercise where there's a high risk involved if the lifter does end up failing their reps.
This applies to most exercises where the lifter is underneath the bar.
For example, in the image above, the man is spotting the squatter and is ready at all times to help drive that bar back up should she fail the squat. This is going to help keep her safe and avoid potentially life changing injuries.
Many people train with workout partners and spot each other, but sometimes you will just have to ask a random lifter (who's not in the middle of a set) to give you a spot.
Don't be shy to ask for help!
What Are the Benefits of a Spotter?
The benefits of having a spotter with you are absolutely huge.
We'll list them down below and briefly explain why each one is so important.
Safety and confidence
First of all, you have the ability to push harder. You gain the confidence to push for those final reps, knowing that you'll still be safe (provided your spotter knows what they're doing) if you fail the rep.
This confidence to push for those final reps can help boost your gains and allow you to build more strength and more muscle mass over time.
A spotter can also help motivate you during your set, and sometimes it can mean all the difference in the world. There's just something about being under the bar and hearing others cheer you on.
Lift with the right form
A spotter can also help you keep your form in check. Often, it's hard for us to notice our own mistakes and flaws. Having a spotter with us can help keep us in check and help keep us honest about our form. If it starts to break down without us knowing, having a spotter with us can help us correct it and get back on track.
So Can You Lift Without a Spotter?
The short answer is yes, you definitely can lift safely without a spotter. However, it is not recommended that you take these sets too close to failure if you're training alone. You will likely have to compromise a little bit of your training intensity to keep yourself safe.
Lifting without a spotter is perfectly fine. You shouldn't put your workout off simply because you don't have a spotter. You can still make some great gains and make great progress towards your goals when you're alone.
However unless you're very experienced and know exactly how to bail on the most common exercises when you're alone, do not ever take a set on the bench press or barbell back squat without a spotter.
You might already know this, but failing when you're by yourself on exercises such as the barbell bench press and the barbell back squat can lead to life altering injuries or even death in some extreme cases.
Especially on something like the bench press where the bar can end up crushing your chest or crushing your neck, you don't ever want to fail a rep when you're alone.
And just because you see people saying: 'lift or die' or crazy things like that on TikTok and Instagram doesn't mean that you have to as well. Sure, sometimes it might allow you to squeeze out that extra rep.
But remember, all it takes is one mistake or one bad rep and you could be out of training for weeks, months or even for life.
There are videos all over YouTube and TikTok that show fails. There was one video of a bench press fail under 545lb or 247kg, in which Larry Wheels and the other two spotters were just able to save the lifter's life. If the spotters had not been there, the consequences would likely have been fatal.
We won't include the video here as we understand some might not ant to see it, but you can definitely search it up on YouTube and find it.
So lifting without a spotter can definitely be done, but it's very important that you're sensible with the weight you lift and always, always play it safe. It doesn't matter how hard you work or how much weight you lift. The best way to make sustained progress is to avoid injuries.
So What Can You Do?
We already said this before, but never take your sets to failure if you're training alone. This is simply going to increase your chances of injury dramatically.
Alternatively, you could switch to lifting on machines or with dumbbells if you usually do have a spotter, but find yourself without one on a random given day.
Lifting with machines is generally safe whether you get the final reps or not. Even on things like the hack squat and leg press, you can usually change the position of the stopper to keep yourself safe should you fail the final reps.
This might cause a little bit of a trade off in range of motion, but it's definitely worth it. You might've seen videos of people failing on the leg press and almost crushing themselves between the footplate and the seat. This is certainly a situation that you don't want to find yourself in.
And lifting with dumbbells is usually safer than barbells as well. Of course, at all times in the gym you have to be careful and sensible with the weights that you try to lift.
However, generally, lifting with dumbbells is safer than a barbell would be. For example, on the dumbbell bench press you can drop the weights down by your side if you fail the rep. You do not have this freedom if you're using a barbell.
If you're doing dumbbell goblet squats, it is a little bit harder to execute but you still can just drop the dumbbell if you fail your final reps.
A dumbbell exercise is almost always going to be safer than a barbell exercise.
You should also try and learn how to bail out of your exercises should you fail your reps.
For example, on the bench press you've got two options. You can either leave the clips out and then tilt the bar from side to side and let the plates slide off, or you can learn how to 'roll' the bar off of your chest and get out of the dangerous position.
And on a back squat, you should look to learn how to bail out of that safely as well. Having the safety pins there is not going to be enough. You need to know exactly how to execute the bail, as you don't want it to fail a squat under loads heavier than you and find out the 2 minute YouTube video wasn't enough for you to learn how to do it properly.
We'll leave you with helpful links to YouTube videos that show you how to bail out of the most common exercises where spotters are used. Please note that these videos do not belong to us. All credit is given to the rightful owners.
Spotters are an amazing aspect of weightlifting that allows us to drive more gains and lift with more confidence.
However, if you find yourself without a spotter one day. don't sweat it either! You just have to remember to be sensible with your weight and do not take your sets to failure unless you know exactly what you're doing.
Always make sure that you take the time to educate yourself and learn as much as possible when it comes to keeping yourself safe.
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