Spotting the Bench Press

The bench press is the most dangerous lift in the weight room. More injuries occur with the bench press than with any other lift...Proper spotting is the key to injury prevention on the bench.

By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Summer 2003
Every possible trauma injury from throat to forehead has happened at one time or another during the bench. We are talking thousands upon thousands of injuries, all preventable. I know of ten people who have died while bench pressing without using a spotter.
Proper spotting is the key to injury prevention on the bench. That is our first rule for spotting: In the bench, always use a spotter. Even a bad spotter is better than no spotter when it comes to preventing death or the most traumatic injuries.
Our second spotting rule is to pay attention and be alert. Rule three is to be ready to react quickly. Figures 1, 2 and 3 show three poor spotting positions. You simply cannot react quickly enough from these positions. Often, when things go wrong, they go wrong in an instant. If you are not paying attention or if you are not in the right position, you cannot perform your job as a spotter when things go wrong. You owe it to your teammates and friends to spot correctly. Conversely, your teammates and friends owe it to you to spot you correctly.
Figure 4 illustrates what may look like a good spotting position, but it is not. It is certainly much better than the positions in Figures 1, 2 and 3, but still some injuries could happen. It is that speed of reaction again. With your hands over the bar, you often cannot react quickly enough to prevent injury.
Figure 5 shows a safe position but it is not correct. Never touch the bar, as this interferes with the true ability of the lifter. If the spotter touches the bar, the rep does not count. Figure 6 shows the safest and most correct way to spot the bench. With the hands under the bar, this leaves no doubt as to reacting quickly to a mishap.
There are two accepted liftoff and return methods for a one-person spot. Figures 7 and 8 show these two methods: the alternate grip and the overhand grip.
The spotter and lifter must work together. Each must be in the right position. Sometimes a lifter can make the liftoff and spotting much more difficult by being too far forward on the bench, as shown in Figure 9 and 10. Sometimes a lifter can be too far back, as shown in Figure 11. When the lifter is too far back, the bar might hit the standards or the safety catch on the way up, as shown in Figure 12. The best way to position yourself as a lifter is to make sure your forehead is directly underneath the bar. The spotter should make sure the lifterís position is correct, as shown in Figure 13.
Two-person spot/liftoffs can be used when the bar gets over three hundred pounds. Sometimes this amount of weight can be a difficult and even unsafe liftoff for one spotter, especially if the lifter wants the spotter to do most of the work. A two-person spot/liftoff is not an easy thing to do perfectly. Everyone really needs to work together. The trick is to coordinate the balance and timing of the liftoff. It usually takes a few times to get it right. That is why regular training partners/groups give you an edge. A three-person spot is also good for heavier benchers. In this case, the third spotter is in the middle and is the captain of the spotting team. It is important to note that each lifter is different in what works best in coordinating the lift off. Some lifters want to be in control and give the signal for the liftoff. Other lifters trust the captain of the spotting team and wait for the captainís signal.
To all coaches and strength coaches: I recommend that you make a copy of this article and post it for liability considerations. You could also make sure every student gets a copy on the first day of class. Good luck and be safe.

Figure 3 Poor spotting postion

Figure 9

Figure 1 Poor spotting postion

Figure 2 Poor spotting postion

Figure 4 Better than 1,2 or 3 but not the best

Figure 5 Safe position but not correct. Never touch the bar.

Figure 6 Safest and most correct bech spot positon.

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13