Posted On Jan 29, 2014 By Chad Martin

how to self-spot with free weights

Having a spotter is one of the best tools any lifter can have. Having someone there to motivate, inspire, protect and help you achieve all of your goals is great. But what about the majority of us who don’t have anyone that fits the bill?

I have joked with many people that I think it is harder to find a lifting partner than a wife. I know that sounds bad, but to get someone that shows up on time, never misses, and has the same goals and determination, is no small feat.

So, the key is figuring out how to control the weight by yourself.

There are many machines out there that will help you do just that; but what if you are using free weights? Here are a few techniques that will allow you to push your intensity to the next level, but still allow you to stay safe:

The finger spot: One of the biggest challenges to spotting someone or yourself is trying to figure out how much you are helping. If you are assisting the lift too much, then how will the lifter make any improvements? Resistance is the key, and progression is essential in development. One technique I use is the finger spot. For example, if I am doing a preacher or concentration curl and I get to rep #5 and I’m having trouble finishing the rep, I will take one finger from my other hand and place it on my wrist to finish the rep. If I can’t lift with the one finger, then I will add another as necessary in order to squeeze out at least two more reps. Now this obviously will only work with single arm lifts.

Chair Pull-ups: Pull-ups are probably the best back builder than any other apparatus in the gym. Most people can’t even do one pull-up, so they typically don’t even try or instead use the cable pull-down machine until they can build up enough strength to do one. For those of us who never had a pull-down machine in the garage, something else had to be done. For example, I would use a chair and cross my feet and place one toe on the chair behind me. Now as you are pulling yourself up and you reach the critical spot where you can’t make it, push with your quad like a leg extension to finish the rep over the bar. The key to the spot is getting the chair or stool high enough to allow the push. As you get stronger, getting a lower chair will eventually lead to getting rid of it all together (Also will work for dips).

Push-ups/Chest Training: Doing a full push-up is still hard for many to master especially for those who have gained a little weight since high school gym class. So starting basic with as little body weight as possible is the key to slowly developing strength in the shoulders, chest and triceps. A really basic push-up would be to start with your feet together facing a wall, then taking a step back until you find a comfortable amount of resistance. If that is too easy, then move to a kitchen cabinet with a high height of around 3 feet or so using the same footing. Taking it to the floor is optimal, but many still cannot hold their own weight. So by starting on your knees, but placing your feet in the air, you can get a good estimate of your strength.