SPOTTING THE SQUAT
The squat is the king of all core lifts for athletes and is also one of the safest when properly spotted.
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 2002
GENERAL SPOTTING RULES
1. Always use three spotters (Photos 1 & 2).
2. Spotters have three important jobs:
a. To be a coach
b. To be a judge
c. To be a teammate
3. Always be focused on your spotting job (Photo 3).
The photo above shows the correct spotting positions for the parallel squat. The same position should be used on a front squat. The side spotters are in the correct position for their dual job as coach and judge. All spotters should know the Six Absolutes for coaching perfect technique. All spotters need to be quite vocal in letting the teammate who is lifting know how they are doing. No lifter can see or hear a nod of the head by a spotter.
Notice the position of the side spotters. One spotter has his head behind the bar while the other has his head in front. Spotters must get into these positions to judge the parallel squat. The side spotters need to focus on the top part of the lifter’s thigh. Use the marble test. Imagine a marble placed on top of the lifter’s thigh in the middle. Which way would it roll? If the marble were to roll towards the lifter’s knee, the lifter needs to go lower. If the marble were to stay stationary or roll towards the lifter’s hip, the lift counts. Side spotters need to tell the lifter on every rep if the lift is good or not good in a loud enough voice for the lifter to clearly understand. Remember, great judges do not let bad reps count.
All spotters should be great teammates during and immediately after the lifter’s set. Say positive comments such as “Looking good, great job, awesome set, one more rep, you can do it.” After a great set, a high-five can be a good thing.
Photo Two shows the correct spotting positions for the box squat. Notice the difference in the side spotters for this lift. They are in the best position for their responsibility as both coach and judge. The judging part is different in that a judgment is not made until after the lifter’s set is complete. The spotters should have judged the lifter’s technique. After the set, the spotters should tell the lifter about any technique mistakes. The purpose is to help the lifter better prepare for their next set.
Photo Three shows pitiful spotting by everyone. Hands in pockets. Unfocused. Distracted. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Do you want to win? Be safe? Set records? Then spot the BFS way! Correct spotting should ensure safety and success.
THE BACK SPOTTER
1. Functions as captain of the three-man
2. Physically guides the lifter through a
perfect lifting groove
3. Always holds on to the bar firmly from
beginning to end
Photo Four shows the correct hand position of the back spotter. Use an overhand grip with the thumb firmly around the bar. Photo Five shows an incorrect thumb grip. Also, do not use an underhand grip as shown in Photo Six. These incorrect grips do not allow the back spotter to have the firm control that is absolutely necessary at all times. Photo Seven shows a typical spotting position in far too many schools. This is very wrong. When bad things happen in squatting, they usually happen very rapidly. The position of the back spotter in Photo Seven would not allow him to react in time for an emergency situation. He also cannot guide his teammate in making sure he is in the perfect lifting groove.
Photo Eight shows a common way to spot with an under-the-arms, hands-on-chest technique. This is an optional way, but not the BFS preferred way, to spot from the back. This method came about at commercial gyms when one person was trying to squat and then asked their training partner or another gym patron to spot. Therefore, if the lift were missed, then this method would be better to “save” the lifter. However, in a high school or college athletic environment, a group of four athletes can usually be formed (one lifter and three spotters). With three spotters, the issue is not being able to “save” the lifter but to help the lifter have a great set. The BFS back spotting method with the firm overhand grip easily lends itself to keeping the lifter in a perfect lifting groove. Therefore, the BFS back spotter way is better. As a coach, I want everyone to spot the same way every time no matter who is lifting. Being consistent is a good thing.
The back spotter, as captain, should take charge right from the beginning. When the lifter starts getting under the bar, the back spotter should make sure the lifter is balanced and the bar is positioned correctly. They should always talk their teammate through the set. They should firmly hold on to the bar even before the lifter takes it off the rack. They should walk backwards and forwards with their teammate.
The process of keeping the lifter in the perfect groove is not difficult. Sometimes a lifter will lean too far forward or even want to take a forward step. The back spotter, with a gentle pull, can keep the lift continuing correctly. The back spotter can also assist the lifter on the box squat as the lifter rocks back slightly on the box or sits and settles back.
If a lifter misses a rep, the back spotter really uses their role as captain. As captain, they should be paying attention to the possibility of a missed rep. All spotters should anticipate a miss when the reps are getting tough. If a miss is happening, then the back spotter should yell, “Help.” This command signals the side spotters to immediately help their teammate recover and get the weight back safely to the rack.
THE SIDE SPOTTERS
1. Never tilt their side higher (Photo 9)
2. Know the spotting difference between a box squat and a parallel squat
3. Keep alert and anticipate their captain’s commands
Photo Nine shows how easy it is to tilt the bar. You can do it with one finger. If you grab the bar in an attempt to “save” your teammate and tilt your side higher than the other side, you can actually hurt your teammate. How would you like to have 400 pounds on your shoulders and be tilted sideways as shown in Photo Nine? You would be fortunate to avoid a back injury. Side spotters must always keep the bar level.
Side Spotting the Box Squat: Use an over/under grip as shown in Photo Ten. It is like a deadlift grip. If you put both hands under, you would be more likely to tilt the bar. Photo Eleven shows a full view of the side spotter. Notice the 45-degree angle of the side spotter. This is the best angle from which to coach and judge.
Side Spotting Any Squat: Keep your eyes in position on the rack as shown in Photo Twelve. This position will allow you to help your teammate take the bar off the rack correctly as they begin the squat process. Most importantly, when your teammate is finished with their set, side spotters have the responsibility to get their teammate safely back to the rack. You cannot do this if you spot as shown in Photo Thirteen. To see incorrect spotting, go to any gym; go to any college or high school weight room with athletes. The majority of side spotters will spot like Photo Thirteen. This is wrong! You cannot see the rack from this position. If you cannot see the rack as in Photo Twelve, then you are out of position and are putting your teammate at risk. Always keep your eyes on the rack on the return.