Spotter Please

Remember, a spotter is someone who is ready to help the lifter in case he or she can't complete a lift. As someone who has chosen to lift a heavy object—often over your precious head or neck—it's your responsibility to make sure you have a spotter whenever you're doing an exercise that may jeopardize your health and welfare. Probably the two most important exercises to have a spotter for when you're using freeweights are the squat (Chapter 15, "Below the Waist") or bench press (Chapter 17, "Chest or Bust"), but they're not the only ones. Again, if you can't lift the weight, you're in serious trouble.

Even when you're using a machine or doing freeweight exercises where your safety isn't jeopardized by the absence of a spotter, a helping hand can help you get more out of an exercise in two ways.

How? Everyone has exercises that he or she finds particularly difficult. Let's say for you it's shoulder presses. (For an illustration, see Chapter 18, "The World on Your Shoulders.") Oftentimes, just having someone stand next to you provides the extra motivation to focus and finish the set with good form and maximum effort. Second, a spotter can help you get a few extra reps out of any exercise by offering the barest assistance. We've had spotters who nudged the weight with two fingers who provided invaluable help.

As the lifter, it's your responsibility to tell the spotter what you're going to do. Let him or her know how many reps you're hoping to do, if you want a spot on the lift off (when you first pick the weight off the stand), and so on. It's also your job to never give up on a lift. Jonathan has helped spot powerlifters bench pressing over 400 pounds. While he couldn't lift close to that much by himself, as long as the lifter doesn't bail out on him, he'll never have to. In fact, even if the bruising powerlifter can't moose out that last rep, as long as he gives it his best effort, Jonathan only has to help out with the last few pounds.

Sooner or later, you'll be asked to switch places and act as a spotter. In that case, it's your job to ensure the lifter's safety. Here's the key: Never agree to do something you can't. And if you're not sure what's expected of you, ask. A good spotter is like a good baseball umpire—as unobtrusive as possible. Aside from an inattentive one, an overanxious spotter is the next biggest sinner. Once you've ensured that the lifter doesn't drop 200 pounds on his esophagus, the spotter's job is to make sure that the weight keeps moving with as little assistance as possible. Remember, you're doing the lifter a disservice if you provide too much assistance.

If you see the weight stop moving, give it a little nudge. (On most exercises that use a barbell, you're usually best off by lifting the bar itself. In the case of exercises that use dumbbells, it's usually preferable to nudge the lifter's elbows.) Once you've done it a few times, you'll get the hang of it. The most important things to keep in mind are to always pay attention, don't jump in too soon, and stay close enough to the lifter to help out whenever needed.

Now that you understand the various x-factors of weight training, let's move on and teach some specific exercises to you.

The Least You Need to Know

Understanding why no two different lifters are alike should clear up a lot of questions as well as potential frustration you may feel.

>- The anatomy of a repetition is of the utmost importance.

>- The nitty-gritty of a strength-training program: how many reps, how many sets, and how much weight?

>- Offering assistance to your fellow lifters is a standard part of gym etiquette.

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