Sometimes you’re trying to push yourself in the gym but you just can’t get past a certain weight. It’s either tough to get into position with the heavier weight or you can’t get past a certain point in a rep. If I found myself in this position in the past, I would just keep lifting the same amount of weight and think I was somehow getting stronger, or try to lift more in very small increments. All I was doing was working my endurance and maintaining my current strength!
That’s why I’ve been thinking about spotters and power racks lately. I’ve been impressed by the results I’ve seen using a spotter on bench presses, and I had an uneasy moment on a squat that a power rack could’ve remedied, had I been using this piece of equipment correctly!
Using a Spotter
After I’d been using a traditional bench press rack for a couple of weeks, I realized I wouldn’t be lifting more weight without help. I couldn’t get the bar off the rack and even if I could, I definitely would have trouble getting it back on. There was no way I could push myself if I couldn’t lift more. It wasn’t until I started asking people to help that I quickly started seeing results in my chest muscles and strength. In the last five weeks I’ve seen a 20% increase in the amount of weight I can lift by myself.
Not only can a spotter help you lift the bar on and off the rack, he or she can give the bar a light push up when you hit a sticking point (muscle failure), allowing you to complete more reps. Even if you can only complete a few reps initially, that’s better than staying at the same weight forever.
A spotter can also encourage you to push yourself harder than you normally would. Recently someone who spots me at the gym encouraged me to try decline presses with fairly heavy dumbbells, which I definitely wouldn’t have tried on my own (try lying almost upside down with 50 pounds above your head!). I’ll keep that up for a few weeks until I can lift that weight by myself, then I’ll move to a higher weight with a spotter again.
The key to using spotters is finding people who (1) spot correctly, without impeding your progress, and (2) who can lift as much as you. You want a light touch so that your spotter isn’t doing all the work for you.
Using a Power Rack
A power rack (pictured) also allows you to break through sticking points and work on a specific range of motion that is difficult for you to progress through. As I mentioned, during a squat a few weeks ago I felt my quadriceps abruptly stop moving at the bottom of the rep. I was in a sitting position with 145 pounds on my shoulders and very nearly couldn’t get back up! Fortunately, the muscles did kick back in and allowed me to stand, but the experience pushed me to figure out what I could do differently. I positioned the safety rods right below my weakest point and began the rep at the bottom of the movement instead of at the top. This may feel difficult at first, but if you can push through your weakest point your muscles will get a power surge and be stimulated into mega growth.
On bench presses, my sticking point is about midway up. I position the safety rods right before the midway point of the rep and push the bar from the rods to the lockout position. It’s tough, but it’s a great way to lift heavy through my weak area.
Power racks are also recommended as the perfect way to lift solo because you can position the safety rods at a point where you can you drop the bar safely if needed (for bench presses, right above your chest). In reality, this might be safer than a spotting partner since your spotter may not be able to lift the weight either, or may be distracted, or various other reasons.
If you haven’t used a spotter or power rack, give it a try. I’d love to hear about your results!