While to some it may seem self-explanatory, asking for a lift-off and a “spot” when bench pressing is one of the many things I’ve seen being done incorrectly. Notice I said, “asking” for a lift-off. The instructions you give are just as important as the person doing the actual lifting off and spotting. 

To make this a seamless process and prevent it from not taking away from your lift, you and your spotter must work as a team. Not everyone wants to be lifted off in the exact same manner and there are a number of variables that must be kept in mind.

It’s first important discuss why having someone lift you off in the Bench Press is vital. If you have read my Two Part series on the Bench Press entitled “Bench Press Tip and Tricks” you may recall how important I regarded setting up properly. In doing so I placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of shoulder blade retraction. This position, aside from making the exercise safer as far as the health of the shoulder is concerned; it shortens the distance the bar has to travel. Without a lift-off, maintaining shoulder blade retraction is nearly impossible, heavily compromising the optimal position you must achieve in order to bench big weight.

How do you want it?

Remove slack, One, Two BREATH, Out and Over, Slowly release…get out of the way..

Before lying down on the bench you must first inform your chosen lift-off guy when exactly it is that you will need his assistance. The first piece of information that must be conveyed is when the lift-off will begin. This may be after a “two count” or after a “three count”. To avoid confusion I prefer a “2 count” with the liftoff being executed where number 3 would be. In other words.. ONE TWO “BIG BREATH”. At the start of the “big breath” is when I want the bar lifted off. 

Taking things back one step back, I have found when spotting, you must make sure you ‘re synchronizing your breathing with the last breath the lifter is taking prior to lift off. Doing so will help make this a smooth process. Another issue of importance as the spotter, is making sure before giving the lift off that you have removed all slack from your arms and shoulders as well as the bar. Think “tight grip” and actually begin to exert an upward force on the bar before it actually breaks off of the uprights. If the slack isn’t removed you will wind up “jerking” the bar out of the rack potentially causing the lifter a loss in tightness possibly throwing them off balance. As a lifter, I prefer that the spotter allow me to feel a good portion of the weight, which I have found to keep me in proper position, rather then taking all of the weight from me (bringing it too high in the air), which could force me to adjust, thereby putting me in a less-than-ideal position. 

Once the bar clears the uprights, as a spotter your job still isn’t complete. It is important that you help the lifter bring the bar out over his or her body right above the point, which they will be lowering it. This point of contact should also be communicated from the lifter to the spotter ahead of time. This should be directly below the nipple line and may be as low down as the Xiphoid Process. This will vary due to anthropometric differences. Once the bar is in the proper position and the lifter seems to have control you may now let go and step down from the spotter’s platform. When letting go of the bar it is important not to open the hand too quickly when letting go as once again this could throw the lifter off balance.

While some prefer to lift off with an alternating grip as they would when deadlifting I prefer to have my spotter lift me off with a double overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. I have found the alternating grip to cause an uneven lift-off more times than none. Lifting off as described above is done with less difficulty on a bench that has a spotter’s platform. This is due to leverages, which are based on arm length of the lifter and height of the spotter. If you’re in a commercial gym where the bench lacks a spotters platform my best advice would be to stack up rubber matts or plates. Without the platform your job will very difficult.

“It’s all you bro”

If the spotter touches the bar THE REP DOESN’T COUNT…..


Once the lift-off portion of the bench press is complete it’s now time to spot. As a spotter this doesn’t mean helping the lifter complete the exercise. Doing so will make the lift unquantifiable giving the lifter a false sense of accomplishment. Training is all about progressing week after week, based on the results from each workout. When you have artificial assistance from a spotter, planning out the next session becomes a difficult task. The rule of thumb we have in my facility is…. if the spotter touches the bar THE REP DOESN’T COUNT. 

The only time the spotter should come in contact with the bar after the ascend is if the bar drops back down during the ascend or the lifter gets stuck for an extended amount of time and calls “take”, “no” or whatever other word they may exchange signaling the spotter to take the bar. For the spotter this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to take a vacation mid-set as it’s important to stay within “distance of contact” which I would classify approx. 4-8” from the bar but not so close than you’d be a distraction to the lifter. This distance may decrease during the end of a set when the lifter begins to “grind”.


Whether its simply human nature to want to help those in need or some other sort of hard wired protective mechanism in our brain I have found 9/10 times unless you are specific to the point of relaying your message like you’re talking to a 5 year old, the typical commercial gym lifter being used as a spotter will touch the bar and assist in your lift ultimately f/cking up your set. You would think a conversation like this would be sufficient.

Lifter: Hey, can I please have a spot.

Spotter: Sure

Lifter: I’m going to count 1,2 and take a big breath and that’s when I want the lift-off

Spotter: ok I got it

Lifter: I’m doing 5 reps touch and go. Don’t touch the bar even if I’m struggling. I need to get this weight on my own which will enable me to properly plan out my work for next week.

Well guess what….. As soon as the bar begins to slow down on rep 4 or 5 this MF'er... puts his dirty gloved paws on it even after you told him not to!

Since the conversation above rarely works try this approach and I will guarantee a 99% success rate:

Lifter: Hey, can I please have a spot.

Spotter: Sure

Lifter: I’m going to count 1,2 and take a big breath and that’s when I want the lift-off

Spotter: ok I got it

Lifter: I’m doing 5 reps touch and go. DO NOT TOUCH THE BAR UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Even If I’m stuck the bar stops moving do not put your hands on it. Only time you will touch the bar is if I say “take it”. Other than that I don’t even want to see your hands in my field of vision. Now please repeat what I just said….

Spotter: no matter what happens unless you tell me to take the bar I won’t even come close to it.

Big benches don't happen with crappy spotters and bad lifts. Of course, the best option is to BYOS (yeah, Bring Your Own Spotter, in the form of a training partner), or failing that, once you've trained some poor soul to give you the perfect spot, start working out at the times you know he'll be there.