Usually I have a training partner so it's not an issue, but occasionally I require someone else in the gym to spot me on the bench press.

I require that person to help me unrack the bar and rack it at the end of the set, not to help me complete a rep.

After asking for a spot, I usually say, "Just help me unrack and rack, don't make a rep easier for me", but every time when they see me slowing down through the last few reps, I feel them deload the weight. Then as I'm 'thanking' them, I have to guess whether I would have completed the set by myself or not.

Is there a better way? I was slowly but surely getting to the top of a shoulder press the other day when someone walked past and helped, so I'm thinking this could be tricky.

  • Someone helped you on an overhead press!? That's dangerous. Wow. Jan 23, 2013 at 22:00
  • Is that because they're helping me get to a position I can't lower from safely?
    – jontyc
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:09
  • 3
    Seems so out-of-bounds to touch the bar of somebody else that I'm not even spotting.
    – user4644
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:26
  • 1
    @Affe, even if you've been told to not touch the bar? I have never expected my spotter to take responsibility for my safety. If the bar "slips" a better question is "where the &%^$ were her thumbs?"
    – user4644
    Jan 23, 2013 at 23:32
  • 3
    DaveLiepmann, jontyc I am pretty sure the correct way to spot for a shoulder press is too brace just under the elbows and push the arms up if the lifter stalls during a rep, and brace them as they re-rack.
    – Megasaur
    Jan 24, 2013 at 11:11

3 Answers 3


"I'd rather fail a rep than have a rep be half-me, half-you, so please only help me with racking and unracking. Give me a sec if I have a hard time with a rep--I'll shout for help if I need it. Thanks, chap." Big friendly grin.

If they screw it up by "helping" with a rep anyway, and I think I'm going to need their assistance again in the future, I'm the type who'll find a way to mention my preferences obliquely. "Yeah, that last rep was tough. Too bad you jumped in--I wanted to see if I could grind it out. Anyway, cheers, mate. You need a spot for anything, just let me know."

Part of this may be the clash of cultures: the bodybuilding tradition doesn't mind forced reps, because it's the muscular fatigue they're after. In contrast, weightlifters generally regard The Lift as sacred, probably because the Olympic lifts require so much mental focus and physical precision. In Olympic lifting, it's common to regard even walking or making noise too near someone setting up for a lift as a significant faux pas.

  • 1
    Good point about the cultural reasons behind the communication problems.
    – user4644
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:33
  • When I'm doing cleans I wait until people stop moving around me. Way too distracting. For regular strength stuff I'll say "please don't touch the bar unless you see it pinned to my body and I'm screaming for help like a small child, seriously"
    – Eric
    Sep 23, 2014 at 20:08

I say "I'm going to do 5 reps. Please don't touch the bar unless I ask for help".

If you're following a reasonable progression (only lifting a bit more than last time), there's always time to ask for help as you lower the bar to your chest while failing, or even after you've lowered it to your chest.

The rule my regular partner and I have is that we don't touch the bar unless it has started to move downward, but that's quite a bit to explain to a random helper... better to just tell them to not touch the bar until you ask for it.

  • Sorry, I should have mentioned last set is AMRAP so I can't nominate a number. I always require help unracking and racking however due to the rearward racking position.
    – jontyc
    Jan 23, 2013 at 21:56
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    I think the second part is more important. Just tell them. "I only want help unracking and reracking the bar. Otherwise, please don't touch the bar unless I ask you to." Jan 23, 2013 at 22:03
  • So there's no succinct terminology to describe what I would have thought is quite a common request?
    – jontyc
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:26
  • 1
    @jontyc: even if there was, you can't expect the average gym user to know it and know what it means, so you are stuck having to explain exactly what you want either way.
    – Sylverdrag
    Jan 24, 2013 at 4:49
  • This! Absolutely. Don't help unless I shout for it!
    – 10B
    Sep 26, 2018 at 15:52

The words I use are:

Can I get a hand off?

A hand off is simply asking the person to hand you the bar. I've found most people understand this phrase. These days I need them less and less as I'm focusing on higher rep ranges, and I have safeties. The basic idea is that if I can unrack it, I better be able to press it. That said, if I ever do testing, I may request a hand off to save my energy.

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