Why Is It Dangerous to Ask a Stranger for a Place

When it’s time to go all-in with a new personal best at the gym, you can ask a stranger for a “spot,” which in fitness jargon means “help me bro.” You think you’re ready to crush it … but what if the person doesn’t really know how to recognize and you crush it? Worse, what if you both get hurt? This is why this is a bad idea and what to do instead.

In some situations, space is required. Most often, this is when you are trying to lift heavy weights to achieve a new personal record (usually with a bench press, overhead press, or squat) and don’t want to be crushed if things look bleak. Either way, when you ask for a seat, you enter an unspoken, violent bond of trust that goes both ways.

You assume that the spotter knows exactly how hard you can (or are about to) push, is perfectly capable of moving your weight (without hurting yourself), and understands proper spotting techniques and etiquette. But as this Wall Street Journal article astutely points out, most people in the gym have never been taught to notice.

Moreover, if the belayer is unaware of what he or she is doing and / or has a pre-existing injury (such as the butt of the shoulder or the like), it is a double blow to the risk of injury for both the belayer and the athlete. Not to mention the fact that such a large weight in any case can be dangerous for the athlete.

If you want to ask for a seat, remember the following:

  • Make sure the person you are asking is a trained professional. Fitness trainers at the gym are (usually) more reliable.
  • Chat, chat, chat. State your goal clearly: how many reps you are going to do, how many and when should the spotter “help”, have you lifted that amount of weight before, etc.

As a spotter, you must remember:

  • You are not here to lift weights for a lifter ; you’re here as a safety net in case something goes wrong.
  • For the above, you need to be prepared and alert at all times . Something can go wrong at any time.
  • There are stands and grips that can also make it safer to watch you . The WSJ article notes that “an alternating grip (one top and one bottom) with a narrower grip than the athlete’s” provides a safer way to grip the bar on the bench press. For more tips on how to spot spotting correctly, see this article on the Breaking Muscle website.

Simply put, if you are in a situation where you are being asked to notice, but you do not feel comfortable due to inexperience or trauma, it is your responsibility to say no. For the rest of us, try not to ask strangers for a location unless you’re sure no one gets hurt.

Courtesy of Dangerous Weightlifting: A Definition for the Bench Press | Wall Street Magazine


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