Any time you push yourself to the limit in the weight room or perform an exercise that positions weights over your head or your torso, you should have a spotter to help you keep the weight under control. But things usually don't end well if you wait until you're about to drop the bar before squeaking a panicked "Help me!" at the first person who wanders by. So make sure you have a spotter lined up, and that you're both on the same page, before you start the first rep.
Communication and Focus Are Key
Your spotter won't do you any good if he's watching the cute girl across the room as you drop a barbell on your chest -- so insist that he treat you as his singular focus throughout the whole set, then return the favor when it's your turn to spot. Make sure you both understand how many reps of what exercise you plan to do and work out brief verbal cues to coordinate your efforts: For example, your spotter can say "spotter ready" when he's ready to help you lift the bar off the rack, then you count down to the assisted lift. Once the weight is up and you're ready to take full control of it, tell him "ready" or "got it" so he knows it's safe to let go.
Spotting Chest Exercises
Bench presses are one of the easiest exercises to spot. Stand at the head of the bench, core tight and hands near the bar in an over-under grip so there's no risk of it rolling out of your hands, and follow the bar through the full range of motion without actually touching it.
You can also spot a dumbbell chest press from the head of the bench, although you may need to kneel to get a good working angle on the weight. Stay as close to the weight as possible and spot your lifter with one hand lightly on or right next to each wrist; if he struggles you can control his wrist and thus the weight. Never spot from the elbows, as this still leaves the door open for the lifter to drop the weight on himself -- or on you.
If you spot squats from behind, forget about the bar -- follow the squat close behind the lifter and use your hands under his armpits to help him maintain proper chest-up posture. Help him stand back up to rack the weight if necessary. You can also use two spotters for squats, with one at each end of the bar. Have each spotter stay close enough to grip the end of the bar in a "racked" position, hands at shoulder height and close to the body, elbows pointing down -- but not so close that they get in the way of the lift.
This two-spotter technique is also a good option to use during barbell bench presses if the weight is too heavy for one spotter to handle alone.
To Spot or Not
Overhead presses and skull crushers can both be spotted using the same technique as for bench presses. Keep in mind that there is no safe way to spot explosive Olympic lifts, because you can't get close enough to help out without putting yourself in the way of the bar; it's better to give the lifter plenty of room so he can safely drop the bar on an unsuccessful attempt. You should also decline a request to spot if you feel you're unable to safely control the amount of weight being lifted.
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