Saturday, March 29, 2014

"He touched the bar!" And it's your fault.

Everyone has had this happen.

You ask for a spot from someone in the gym.  He obliges and you take the next few minutes out to get your bearings to prepare for the set.

It might be for a max, or a rep PR, but inevitably we all eventually have "that guy" that grabs the bar even though we know the attempt would have been good.

This is one of the most frustrating things to happen during a set or attempt you've worked yourself up for.  Now, in our mind, it really doesn't count.  Good for it or not, when the spotter puts his hands on the bar, it's not "all you".  No matter how much some "bro" screams that it is.

Luckily, I have three guys in the gym that have spotted me for quite some time that all understand how I lift, and what my sets and reps look like.  The other part of that is I've taken time out with each of those guys to explain what I need for them to do.

For bench, no lift off.  Don't hover.  Don't touch the bar unless I say so.

On incline, I do get a lift off, but no touching of the bar unless I signal it.

On press behind the neck, I get a lift off, and no touching of the bar unless I signal it.

All of these guys know this.  So I always feel very confident when they spot me.

Well today, I had to ask a guy in the gym for a lift off on press behind the neck that had never spotted me.  He gave me a lift off at 275 and 315.  Both of which I blew up easily for triples.  So I figured I would go ahead and take a shot at a double at 365.

He gives me the lift off and I can feel that the weight in my hands doesn't feel heavy, so I immediately feel confident about the double.  I lower, and press.  The bar speed slows just a bit, as it always does in that transition point, and he jerks the bar up.  I felt a something "twinge" in my right shoulder and I was instantly pissed off.

And I let him know about it.

I explained to him, in a rather hostile way, that not only does he not need to touch the bar, but he definitely should not jerk it like that.

I still wanted to hit the 365, but I knew at this point the double was out because getting "up" for that set and the effort put into that rep did tax me pretty good.  So I took about 10 minutes out, composed myself, and hit it for the single.  This time he didn't touch the bar, but you can see in the video that he was still worried about it.

As much as it pisses us off when someone does this, we have to remember that we are asking someone else to take time out of their training, to give US a hand.  The onus is on us to let them know exactly what we need from them as a spotter.  People aren't mind readers, and anyone that has spent enough time in a gym knows that the great majority of guys that train can't spot worth a shit.  Their hand offs are shit, they hover over the bar, they grab and pull on the bar, etc.

As the lifter, we need to be very VERY clear about what it is we need them to do for us.  VERY CLEAR.

As you can see, this guy was still gracious enough to come back and spot me again after I acted like an ass.  And I not only thanked him for it, but I told him I was sorry, and that it was indeed my fault for not letting him know not to touch the bar during my set.

A lot of times we get so focused on preparing for the set that we get tunnel vision.  If someone that doesn't know us, or hasn't spotted us is taking time out to give us a hand, we need to show enough grace to inform them exactly what we need.

My other downfall is that because I do not consider myself to be very strong, so I tend to project my own mindset onto the spotter, i.e. "this is no big deal".  But in this case the guy told me after, he was scared as fuck to spot me.  Again, that kind of communication should have been part of the dialog before the set, and I should have reassured him that this was a weight I could handle, and not to touch the bar unless I gave the signal to provide help.

In the future, if you have to ask for a spot, keep this in mind.  It's up to you to give directions to the spotter so that your set isn't ruined.  You will also be doing him a service by teaching him how to spot someone properly.  So that's a situation you both win at.

Anyway, video below.......


  1. The thumbnail for this video is perfect. Shows the fear and confusion on his face right after that first set

  2. With how quick he ripped that up, I'd be willing to bet he had serious doubts of his own ability to assist and get it racked if needed

  3. I've been following for a while and don't remember ever reading about behind the neck press. Serious question: what is this giving that regular OHP will not? It seems to put much more strain on the shoulder than say, a standard overhead press.

    Thanks Paul.

    1. PBN doesn't strain my shoulders at all, obviously. Standing military makes my elbows feel like trash. And what is it giving me? Better shoulder development and strength.

  4. If you were running a 6 week Mass 15 cycle, would you need a deload week if you were to run the Strong-15 right after? I was thinking not, since the Strong 15 has the 3 week break in phase...

  5. I once tried a one rep max on bench with a spotter who was in the gym for the first time ever. He'd never spotted before, and only had a vague idea of how to do it. So when I failed, instead of pulling the bar up, he started panicking and pulling the bar BACK so it was drifting towards my neck. It was not a very heavy weight (low 200s, I'd maybe been lifting for a year), but I knew it was enough to obliterate my larynx. I finally yelled for help and some random guy rushed over and grabbed the bar right before it would've crushed me.

    At first I was angry with the spotter. Later, I realized just how fucked up it is that I put him in this position. Every time I've run into him since the incident, he's apologized - he still thinks about how he almost killed a guy in the gym. But it was really my fault - he had no idea how to spot and I convinced him to do it anyways.

    Anyways, great article Paul. Everyone needs to read it

  6. I think Planet Fitness just got the idea for their next commercial.