General Barbell Safety
Barbell safety is obviously an important topic and should not be overlooked. In general, make sure the lifting area is clear of stray plates and collars, or anything else you could trip over. Also, collar the bar (when appropriate) and ensure that the correct weight is loaded on both sides of the bar.
Squat: Safety Pins vs Spotting
If you’re training alone, squat inside a power rack and use the safety pins or safety arms. Set the safety pins at a height slightly lower than where the barbell would be at the bottom of the squat. If you miss a rep (if the bar starts going back down after it came up), safely lower the bar down to the safety pins and get out from under the bar. Never throw the bar or drop the bar off your back. You could drop the bar on your lumbar spine if you do this. Keep your hands in contact with the bar and simply squat another few inches lower to place it on the safety pins.
If you have training partners, you may choose to let them spot you during the squat. Spotting the squat requires two people, one on each side of the barbell. Each spotter should place the crook of their elbow under the barbell sleeve and their hands by the plates. Spotters only touch the bar if the lifter misses the rep, which happens when the bar starts moving downward when it should be going up.
Then, the spotters will grab the plates with their hands and use the crook of the elbow to catch the sleeve of the barbell and help the lifter squat back up into the upright position. Spotters should be able to see both the lifter and each other – and ONLY touch the bar if the lifter fails the rep.
Most importantly, the lifter NEVER bails on the bar – he stays with the lift and helps the spotters get the bar back into the rack.
Learn about how to squat here.
Spotting the Bench Press
The bench press requires one spotter, whose job is to make sure that if the lifter fails (if the bar goes back down after it was going up), he is there to help the lifter safely finish the rep. The lifter should always take a thumbs around grip for the bench press – never a thumbless grip, otherwise known as “suicide grip.” Additionally, never collar the bench press, even with a spotter.
The spotter helps the lifter unrack the bar at the beginning of the set and rerack at the end of the set or if the lifter misses the lift, indicated by the bar traveling downward, after the lifter starts pressing off of the chest.
If a spotter helps with the unrack (also known as a “hand off”), you should communicate with them beforehand about your preferred timing. For example, count to three with the spotter.
If you are benching by yourself, you are assuming a certain amount of risk. You can adjust your setup to decrease that risk, but it is always present.
First and most importantly, don’t ever collar your bar. If possible, bench inside a power rack with safety pins or arms. The safety pins should be set slightly lower than where the barbell would be when touching the chest. Always check to make sure your safeties are at the correct height before you start loading weight on the bar. If you don’t have a power rack, we don’t recommend you bench pressing alone. If you choose to do so, the risk is much greater.
Learn more about how to bench press here.
Don’t Spot The Deadlift
The deadlift never needs a spotter. Safety is good form – we don’t lift with a rounded back. We maintain contact with the legs through the entire portion of the lift. We don’t jerk the weight off the ground. Learn how to deadlift here.
Spotting The Press is Dangerous
There is no way to safely spot the overhead press. If you are concerned: (1) Use bumper plates; (2) Press in the power rack with the safety pins or arms set high enough that you can drop the weight onto them and not on your head. Learn how to press here.
Check out our podcast episode about barbell safety for an in-depth discussion.