The back squat is often performed at high loads, and that comes with the risk of injury or danger if there is a mishap such as failing the repetition. For this reason, it is important to have spotters that support you during the execution. Spotters also provide the squatter with confidence and reassurance for safety.
But how do you spot a back squat properly? To spot a squat, you need to stand behind the squatter with enough space between you and the squatter, with your arms hovering below their armpits or lats. As the squatter descends, you descend too, mimicking their movement. If there are two additional people, they can spot standing at each side of the barbell too.
In this article, I will go through a step-by-step guide to spotting a squat from behind or from the side, common mistakes that get made when spotting a squat, and important considerations when spotting a front squat.
Table of Contents
Spotting A Back Squat Properly: Step-By-Step
There are 7 steps to spotting a squat:
- Communicate with the squatter
- Stand behind the squatter
- Prepare your arms and posture
- Descend with the squatter
- Ascend with the squatter
- Catch the squatter when necessary
- Walk with the squatter back into the rack
Step 1: Communicate With the Squatter
Before you spot a squat, communicate with the squatter to establish a mutual understanding of expectations. Different squatters have different expectations of what it means to be spotted. Both the squatter and spotter can get hurt if you aren’t on the same page.
You should ask the squatter what they prefer the spotter to do and not to do. You should also make it clear for the squatter to stay with the barbell if they fail the repetition so that the barbell is not dumped backwards, which could hurt you.
You also do not want to try and grab the squatter if they were about to dump the barbell forward as they may roll the barbell across their neck and head in a way that risks injury. They may also want to give you an early signal for you to support them sooner before visible repetition failure.
You may also want to establish how many repetitions the squatter intends to perform so that you know when to support the lifter back to the rack.
Not sure what the ideal rep range for squats is? Check out Best Rep Ranges For Squats (Science-Backed).
Step 2: Stand Behind the Squatter
Stand about 2 to 3 feet behind the squatter, giving them plenty of room to step backwards once they unrack the barbell and walk it back. Pay attention to the plates and ensure that the weight plates are secured on both sides of the barbell.
Taking too many steps backward from the rack is a common mistake when squatting. Learn how to improve your squat walkout in Squat Walkout: 7 Common Mistakes Lifters Make.
Step 3: Prepare Your Arms and Posture
Once the squatter stands in their squat stance, reach your arms forward and leave them hovering just underneath their armpits or lats. Make sure there is enough space between your arms and the squatter so if they do end up squatting fast, they do not squat into your arms prematurely.
Maintain a safe distance between yourself and the squatter to give them enough room for their hips to come backwards. Keep your hands open and fingers straight when you put your arms beneath the squatter’s armpits or lats.
Step 4. Descend With the Squatter
Stand in a similar squat stance as the squatter so that you can squat with them as the squatter descends. You need to be in a strong position to be able to catch them safely if you need to catch them.
Descend with the squatter and maintain a constant distance between your arms and their torso or armpits. In other words, don’t let your arms move forward, back, or out to the sides — once they’re in position, keep them there and only move up and down with the rest of your body as you descend into the squat.
Step 5. Ascend With the Squatter
Once the squatter hits depth, they will attempt to ascend, which is when you need to be vigilant and catch them if they fail this portion. It is important to remember that they may lose strength and collapse into the hole as well.
When they ascend, ensure that your arms are either constantly moving upwards with the lifter, or still when the lifter stalls. The reason why you do this is so that they can fall right into your arms if they do fail or you can suddenly push them if they want to give up.
Failing out of the hole in the squat is a common sticking point for many lifters. Learn how to fix this and prevent injury in How to Fix Losing Tension At Bottom of Squat (8 Tips).
Step 6. Catch the Squatter When Necessary
If the lifter does fail or signals for help from the spotter or spotters, immediately support the lifter by either grabbing their lats or pushing them from their armpits. Stay with the squatter until they can fully stand up with their legs straight and walk with them to rack the barbell back into the squat rack or power cage.
If it seems like the squatter is falling forward when they fail, you may want to reach forward a bit more and cup the front of their shoulders to stop them from falling forward. Depending on the size of the spotter and squatter, you may or may not be able to do this.
If you frequently fall forward in the squat, try my 5 solutions for how to fix leaning forward in the squat.
Step 7. Walk With the Squatter Back Into the Rack
When walking the squatter back into the squat rack or power cage, make sure they successfully land the barbell into the J-hooks on both sides of the rack. You want to still keep your hands close to them just in case they accidentally miss both J-hooks.
Want to improve your squat technique?
6 Common Squat Spotting Mistakes
Now that you know how to spot a squat, you should also be aware of the common squat spotting mistakes so you can prevent any mishaps from happening to you or the squatter.
Here are 6 common squat spotting mistakes:
- Standing too far away
- Standing too close to the lifter
- Standing with your legs too narrow
- Not having your arms ready
- Spotting too early
- Grabbing the barbell
1. Standing Too Far Away
If you stand too far away from the squatter, you will not be in a strong position to help catch them and help them stand up. You may even find yourself toppling forward to try and catch the lifter from behind.
2. Standing Too Close to the Lifter
You do not want to stand too close to the lifter because they may accidentally make contact with you when they squat, which can throw off their lift or make them lose their balance.
You may also want to keep a distance for personal space reasons too.
3. Standing With Your Feet Together and Upright
If you stand in a normal upright stance, you may need to bend your knees forward, which could cause you to make contact with the squatter’s hips.
You may also bend over too much, lose balance, and tip forward accidentally if your feet are too narrow.
4. Not Having Your Arms Ready
If you do not ready your arms, you may delay your reaction time to catching the lifter as they may fall faster than you anticipate.
This may lead to them potentially injuring themselves as they get stuck in the bottom of a squat with a load.
5. Spotting Too Early
Spotting too early refers to unnecessarily making physical contact with the squatter with the intention to help them up. If you spot someone too early, you may inadvertently make them lose balance or just simply make their repetitions easier than they would have liked.
6. Grabbing the Barbell
Grabbing the barbell off from the squatter’s back is not normally recommended (although it may sometimes be the appropriate option). You may make them drop the barbell behind them, forcing you to have to catch it.
You may also accidentally injure the squatter, as they have tightly held onto the barbell on their shoulder and back region.
How Do You Spot A Female Doing Squats?
It is important that you respect boundaries when you are spotting a female. You should be careful to only use a straight and open palm to push via the armpits, shoulders, or lats.
If a female is falling forward during a squat and you need to pull them backwards, ensure that you do not grab in the region of the chest area when you reach to pull them back.
If a female lifter has a very narrow grip where their hands are very close to their shoulders, you may want to keep your arms outside of their forearms. This is so you can catch their shoulders from the outside of their forearms.
How close should your hands be to your shoulders when you squat? It often depends on personal preference, but as I discuss in my article Squat Hand Position: 4 Rules to Follow, there are some tips to keep in mind to prevent excess strain on your joints.
Why Are Side Spots Used?
In some circumstances, spotters may be used on each side of the barbell. There may be one or two people on each side of the barbell for a side spot.
A side spot can be used if more help is needed to safely manage a heavy load on the barbell. Some squatters prefer not to have a spotter from behind. With side spotters, it’s also easy to help the squatter rack the weight in case they miss a J hook on one side.
Having two spotters can also increase confidence in the squatter by knowing there are two people to help them if they fail a rep.
Side Spotting A Back Squat Properly: 6 Steps
Here are 6 steps to performing a side spot for a squatter:
- Stand by the side of the barbell facing the squatter
- Ready your arms and legs in a good position
- Descend and squat with the squatter
- Ascend with the squatter
- Catch and assist the lifter if they fail
- Help the squatter rack the barbell
1. Stand by the Side of the Barbell Facing the Squatter
You want to position yourself by the side of the barbell while facing the squatter. You want to maintain closeness to the barbell so that you are in a good place to spot, but with enough space that the barbell does not accidentally bump into you.
2. Ready Your Arms and Legs in a Good Position
Stand in a wider than shoulder-width stance so that you are in a strong and stable position if you do need to catch a barbell. Put your arms in a position where you are ready to catch the barbell if you need to.
A good position for your arms will be in a cradle-like position so that if the squatter suddenly fails, it can fall right into your arms or hands.
3. Descend and Squat With the Squatter
Descend in sync with the squatter as they squat and try to maintain a constant distance between your arms and the barbell. Be prepared for them to squat faster than you anticipated because you don’t want them to accidentally make contact with you.
4. Ascend With the Squatter
When they start ascending, maintain the constant distance between your arms and the barbell. Only allow your arms to go upwards when they are standing up in the squat. If they fail, the barbell lands right into your arms or hands.
It’s also important to follow the squatter’s bar path so you can be prepared for anything. The squatter may start ascending and then fall back down into a squat, and you need to be able to safely catch the bar if this happens. The same is true if the squatter starts to lean forward or backward at any point in the lift.
5. Catch and Assist the Lifter if They Fail
If the squatter fails at the bottom of the squat or halfway up, the barbell should promptly land in your arms or hands, which should trigger you to help bring the barbell up with them.
Pay attention to the opposite side spotter as well to make sure that you are not pulling your end of the barbell higher than the other side.
Do you have trouble moving fast after you get past parallel when ascending from a squat? Check out my 5 tips for improving your squat lockout.
6. Help the Squatter Rack the Barbell
Whether the squatter fails or not, you need to help them rack the barbell by guiding it to the J hooks of the squat rack.
Considerations For How To Spot A Front Squat
Spotting A Front Squat Performed With Bumper Plates
If the squatter is using bumper plates on a weightlifting platform to do front squats, spotters should be avoided. The lifter can simply perform a safe escape and dump the barbell in front of them while hopping backwards.
Spotting A Front Squat In A Commercial Gym, With Metal Plates, Or In A Squat Rack
If the lifter is front squatting in a commercial gym, squatting with metal plates, or front squatting in a rack, the safest option is to get two side spotters for both sides of the barbell when spotting.
This is due to a few reasons. The most obvious is that because the bar is held in front of the lifter during a front squat, you wouldn’t be able to safely assist them from behind if they failed a rep.
The lifter also can’t drop a barbell loaded with metal plates even if they’re on a lifting platform. And if the lifter is front squatting in a squat rack, there may not be enough room for both of you to fit comfortably.
As well, most commercial gyms prohibit their members from dropping weights. Spotting a front squat at a commercial gym can give the lifter some reassurance that they won’t get in trouble with the staff if they fail a rep.
If you’re new to performing front squats, learn how to do them correctly in this ultimate front squat guide.
Frequently Asked Questions: Spotting A Squat
Do I Need A Spot For Squats?
No, you do not always need a spot for squats. If you have safety racks or safety belts in a power cage, you can control the barbell back down if you feel like you will fail the repetition.
Why Do People Spot Squats?
People spot squats so that they can help the lifter back up if they fail. It also gives the lifter more confidence performing heavy squats safely and securely.
When Spotting From Behind On Squats Where Do You Place Your Arms?
When you spot someone from behind on squats, you want to keep your arms under their armpits or next to their lats. If a squatter has a narrow grip so their arms and elbows are in the way, keep your arms outside of their forearms.
At What Weight Do You Need A Spotter For Squats?
You need a spotter for squats if you are performing 85% or more of your 1 rep max or if you are performing a set of squats closer to failure.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes an interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com.