How to Spot a Squat Safely and Effectively

Yes, there's a right and wrong way to help someone power through their heavy lower-body lifts. Find out how to spot a squat correctly with these trainer-approved tips.

Man Spotting a Woman Doing a Barbell Squat
Photo: Getty Images

When you're attempting to squat with bowling ball-sized kettlebells or the heaviest pair of dumbbells you own, your legs might give out halfway through your last rep, leaving you stuck at the bottom of the movement. Luckily, this jam usually isn't too risky, as you can safely return to standing by dropping your weights to the floor (so long as your toes aren't in the way).

But once you trade in those tools for a barbell and begin to use even heavier loads, you may want to tap a friend to spot you during the exercise, says Alyssa Parten, M.S., C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer and powerlifting coach. Here, Parten explains why having a spotter — aka a person to provide assistance in case you fail to complete a lift — is so important while squatting. Plus, she shares tips and demonstrates how to spot a squat with safety in mind. Spotting may look simple, but trust, you shouldn't overlook these pointers.

The Importance of Using a Spotter During Squats

ICYDK, it's valuable to have someone spot you during any exercise that's performed over the head (e.g. barbell shoulder press), over the face (e.g. barbell bench press), or with the bar resting on the back or on the front of the shoulders (such as a back squat or front squat, respectively), according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The ultimate goal of having a spotter? Injury risk reduction, says Parten. And yes, this goes for barbell beginners and weightlifting pros, she says. Newbies may not feel completely comfortable using an unfamiliar piece of equipment, which can lead to compromised movement patterns. Advanced lifters who feel confident enough to attempt heavy lifts, on the other hand, still need a second (or third) set of hands to keep them safe on the chance they can't complete those reps, she says.

For squatting in particular, spotters can be valuable when you're lifting until the point of fatigue or you're testing your one- to five-rep max (read: the heaviest amount of weight you can properly lift for one or five reps), says Parten. "You want to make sure that if a heavy lift doesn't go as planned, you have someone there who knows how to get you out of that compromising position," she explains. For example, you might get stuck at the bottom of your squat and fall backward or forward, the latter of which can "absolutely risk injuring your head or your neck," says Parten. A spotter, however, can help you press back up to standing and ensure the barbell is safely re-racked, she says.

How to Spot a Squat

How you'll go about spotting a squat all depends on the number of spotters on hand, says Parten. Here, she breaks down how to spot a squat with one or two spotters. Plus, Parten demonstrates how to put her tips into action.

How to Spot a Squat with 1 Person

If you're the sole spotter for your workout buddy, you'll first stand a comfortable distance behind them and simply watch their form during their heavy lifts, says Parten. "If the lifter is doing their squats and they're looking good, smooth, and don't have any issues, you just stand back," she explains. "You don't have to put your hands near them until you start to see them strain a bit." Think: The lifter can't push out of the squat after a few seconds of trying, falls back down to the lowest point of the squat, or simply asks for assistance, says Parten.

At that point, you'll move closer behind the lifter (keeping about a foot of space in between you and the squatter), extend your arms out in front of your body, and raise both of your hands up underneath their armpits — making sure not to touch their body. As they squat, you'll mimic the movement, keeping your hands hovering at their sides, says Parten. "I've seen people be too handsy when spotting," she adds. "If your client isn't at risk of endangeringthemselves or somebody else, give them some space."

If the lifter needs help getting out of their squat, you'll extend your arms forward, press your forearms into their armpits, and grasp your hands onto the front of their shoulders. Then at the same time as the lifter, press up to return to standing, says Parten. At the top of the movement, you'll help the lifter re-rack the barbell, she adds.

One major no-no: Simply grabbing the barbell off the lifter if they're stuck in their squat, says Parten. "You're putting the lifter in danger because they might then fall, and you're putting yourself in danger because you might not have the strength to lift that barbell off them," she explains. "You just want to help them with the squat movement so it's like two bodies are lifting the barbell instead of one."

This spotting technique is relatively the same for all barbell squat variations, including high-bar and low-bar squats and squats with specialty barbells, says Parten. During a front squat, though, you may need to reach your arms slightly past the lifter's torso and position your hands in front of their chest (not hovering directly underneath their armpits); if you were to use the traditional spotting technique, the lifter's elbows may block you from holding onto the front of their shoulders, she adds.

How to Spot a Squat with 2 People

When two spotters are involved, you'll follow a protocol similar to the one previously described. But instead of standing directly behind the lifter, each spotter will stand at one end of the barbell and face the lifter. First, you'll watch for any signs of struggle. When you pick up on some strain, you and the other spotter will assume your positions at either end of the barbell and mimic the squatting movement, hovering your hands on each side of the bar. If the lifter fails their rep, each spotter will grasp onto the barbell, simultaneously press up and out of the squat, then help the lifter re-rack the barbell, says Parten.

What Lifters Should Keep In Mind While Using a Spotter for Squats

While it's important that spotters are educated on how to spot a squat properly, it's also key that lifters know how to safely fail a rep, says Parten. "You can put the spotter in danger if you try to get rid of the bar and you push it behind you onto that spotter, or if you try to escape the bar once the spotter is holding on to you, so they're forced to essentially lift it," she explains. "If it's too much weight for them to handle, you're putting them into danger." To keep both parties safe and sound, the lifter should continue to press into the floor and rise up out of the squat — not call it quits once they've received the spotter's assistance, she says.

Regardless of the exercise, the lifter should always have a quick convo with the spotter to communicate what they'll be doing and the help they'll need before any reps take place, says Parten. "If you just ask somebody to spot, then they might not know if you are trying to work up to a one-rep max or a fatiguing set and you might have a preference in how you want to be spotted," she says. This short-and-sweet chat may be easy to overlook, but it's essential to ensure everyone stays safe, feels comfortable, and gets what they want out of the workout.

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