Tips For Training Without A Spotter – The Big 7
There are two basic reasons for a spotter:
First, a spotter helps prevent injury that could be possible if you are either caught with too much weight over you or forced to use really bad (dangerous) form to complete the last rep.
Second, a good spotter helps you get the most out of a set by giving you the smallest amount of assistance needed to complete your last rep without sacrificing form.
[Always remember – if you have to use crappy form to get that last rep, then don’t count that last rep! Ditto for using a spotter for your last rep – it doesn’t “count” – but it’s still a fantastic idea to use a spotter.]
But sometimes, you don’t have a spotter.
So what do you do?
Here are a few tips to either prevent injury or get one more “partial” rep out of your set, for each of The Big 7 exercises.
1) Use a squat rack, or a power rack the with horizontal catch bars set to be lower than your full decent position.
- If you fail, no worries, you’re fine. Of course, you’ll have to strip the weights to get the barbell back up to the starting position (smile).
2) Use dumbbells instead. While I don’t recommend this as your normal practice, it’s better than getting hurt, since you can just let go of the dumbbells if you are failing. This changes the exercise into more of a deadlift…
3) It’s ok to do a few half-squats AFTER you’ve done as many full squats as you can. Those half squats are not as effective for overall development but they are great for recruiting a few more fibers at the end of your set.
I’ve not really even heard of spotting for the deadlift, because if you are failing you can just let go of the weight. But you should use bumper plates so the plates don’t crack.
Bench (Chest) Press
1) Do your bench inside a power rack with the horizontal catch bars at the right height. Use the shorter rack hooks for the starting position (what you rest the bar on to start the weight for a squat). You’ll want the catch bars to be low enough that you can bring the bar to your chest, but high enough that if you fail, it is the catch bars that catch the weight, not your chest. Downside: unless your physical dimensions are perfectly matched to the power rack pole positions, you might not get the full range of motion as you’d get from a regular bench press station.
2) Do incline bench. While you still might fail with a lot of weight on you, the potential damage is likely less because you can probably roll the bar down your chest to your hips and then can probably wiggle out of the bench at that point. Plus you’d be using less weight anyway. Still a bit dangerous though so don’t try maxing out or anything.
3) You can use dumbbells.
1) Little need for a spotter for injury prevention with pull-ups and chin-ups, as you can just let go of the bar when you fail.
2) Some gyms have the “assisted pull-up machine” – clever machines that you either stand on or kneel on when doing chins/pulls that let you use a semi-natural path of motion but make it easier. I just hate these.
3) To push yourself past the point of exhaustion, you can then do negatives: instead of pulling yourself up, jump up off the ground (after you’ve done as many regular chins/pullups as you can) so that your momentum gets your chin over the bar. Then just hold it there. Slowly – very slowly – lower yourself all the way down. Then repeat. For more ideas, click here.
There are many variations of rows, and each has a slightly different set of tricks to get your last rep done with proper form without a spotter, but I’ll list some here. Also, like deads and chins, you don’t need to worry about being caught under a ton of weight. If you get in danger, just let go. It might make a loud noise(!) but you aren’t likely to hurt yourself.
1) To get extra work, you can do partial reps. This just means going for as full a range of motion as you can, which will degrade with each added rep.
2) Improve grip. If you are failing because of your grip (rather than because of your lats), then after you fail, just hold it there in the fully extended position for as long as you can to teach your grip to hang on a little longer!
Standing Overhead/Military Press
1) Use a power rack. Like many exercises, using a power rack lets you adjust the height of the catch bars so that you can fail gracefully and safely.
2) Use dumbbells. Not my favorite recommendation, but the lack of a bar means you are less likely to have 150 pounds dropping on your head.
3) Use a little push-press for the last rep. Now, technically the push-press is a different exercise so you can’t count the last rep as completed, but at least you are pushing your body to work harder safely.
1) Not much need. Little danger to worry about here so no spotter replacement needed for safety.
2) The same “assisted pull-up” machine we talked about for chins/pulls also usually has a dip bar. And I equally hate this use.
3) Like chins/pullups, you can then do negatives. Jump up to the top position and slowly – very slowly – lower yourself to the bottom, being sure to go as far down as possible. Then jump up again and do another negative!
Do you have more suggestions? Share them here!