Spotters are an essential part of lifting weights safely. There are certain exercises where you risk injury if you choose not to use a spotter (check out our list of exercises that need a spotter here).
Sometimes though, a spotter can definitely be detrimental to your lift. There are certain exercises where using a spotter makes it riskier to fail a rep as you put both the spotter and lifter at risk of injury and also some exercises where you become too reliant on a spotter and don’t progress properly in terms of strength.
If you train solo and are wondering what exercises don’t need a spotter then read on, we’ve covered the best exercises that you can easily and safely do without a spotter.
What Exercises Don’t Need a Spotter?
Spotters are great for minimizing potential injury through failed reps on high-risk exercises. That sounds complicated but if you’re stuck under a 315lb barbell bench press and can’t move the weight, you’ll be praying for a spotter to help you re-rack it.
For all the high-risk exercises that do need a spotter, there are also a lot of exercises that don’t need a spotter. Some of these are actually riskier to use a spotter than if you just did without! Below we’ve listed 10 exercises that don’t need a spotter.
The number one exercise that doesn’t require a spotter is the deadlift. The reason this is such an easy one to explain is that if you fail a deadlift rep you can just drop the bar.
In most exercises where you need a spotter the opposite is true. You don’t want to drop or lose control of the bar because it puts you at risk but the deadlift is the only exercise where simply dropping the bar is the safest way to fail a lift.
A spotter would serve no purpose on a deadlift other than to give form/technique adjustments. There isn’t a safe or recommended way to spot a deadlift because if someone is falling a rep, the best option is to just drop the bar.
Related – Dropping weights
2) Front Squat
Most people think that a spotter is necessary or even essential for a barbell squat because the lifter is in such a compromised position with a high risk of injury if they fail a rep. The truth however is that not all squats need a spotter and especially not a front squat.
As the bar is positioned in front of the lifter for a front squat, the center of gravity and weight is also in front of the lifter. To safely spot someone you should position yourself in the best possible position to support the weight if a rep goes wrong.
To spot a front squat though you need to be positioned behind the lifter which doesn’t give a stable position to control or help a failed rep. The arm position of a front squat also makes it difficult for a spotter to position themselves securely to support a rep – especially if you used a crossed arm stance to support the bar.
To safely do a front squat, we’d recommend not using a spotter and instead, using spotter pins on a power rack. It’s much easier to drop the bar or fail a front squat onto safety pins than it is for a spotter to get into a favorable position and support reps.
3) Military Press
Whenever a lift involves having a weight positioned above your head, a spotter is always advisable. Failing a rep in this position could result in dropping a weight on your head and this obviously has serious consequences when lifting heavier weights.
The exception to this is a military press or standing overhead press. In this position, it’s easier to lower the bar to your chest or drop the weight completely if you’re failing the rep.
A spotter won’t be able to position themselves in a strong position to support a rep and if you lose control you also risk injuring the person spotting you.
4) Barbell Back Squat
This is a debatable one so let us explain why most people don’t need a spotter for a barbell back squat.
** At a competitive level, powerlifters will have as many as three people spotting them on a squat. Therefore, we know how important it is to safely spot a back squat.
The reason we don’t think most people should have someone spot them on a back squat is that the general public doesn’t know how to do this properly. The people spotting a powerlifter can tell when they are failing a lift, when they need to step in to help and how to step in and help.
A general gym-goer does not have this knowledge or ability to safely spot someone back squatting. If you don’t believe us just check out this video below:
While it’s a movement that does need a spotter at heavier weights, we’d suggest most people use the safety pins or safety straps on a power rack if they are failing a lift. This way you can be confident of just dropping the weight with a much lower risk of injury to yourself or a spotter.
5) Barbell Row
In a similar situation to a deadlift, trying to use a spotter or trying to be a spotter for a barbell row is unnecessary.
If you’re failing a rep when rowing, the easiest and most logical thing to do is just drop the bar. As you’re positioned over the weight, there’s a very low risk of being injured on this exercise.
If you want to use a spotter for performance or to extend a set, it would be better to use a machine or T-bar row. With these exercises, someone can help you through sticking points in the lift and they’ll be in a much better position to support the weight.
6) Olympic Lifts
A big No is spotting someone doing an Olympic lift. Olympic lifts are technical and explosive lifts that are not done to fatigue the muscles for hypertrophy. Trying to spot someone on an Olympic lift will put both the spotter and lifter at an increased risk of injury.
Olympic Lifts include the following:
- Clean & Jerk
- Hang Clean
- High Pull (hybrid lift)
Due to the speed that the barbell and weight move on an Olympic lift, there isn’t a safe way to spot someone doing the lift. This is why you have dedicated lifting platforms positioned away from people in the gym.
When doing a barbell or dumbbell shrug it can be difficult to get into a fully shortened position at the top of the lift (shoulders closest to your ears). On most exercises where this is also an issue, a spotter can help you through a sticking point without necessarily helping you lift the weight.
For shrugs, however, the shorter range of motion for the lift means that most people can work up to a relatively heavy weight.
As a result, it’s much harder to spot someone because you’d have no way of comfortably positioning yourself around the person or weights. If you can’t finish a rep when shrugging, you can also just drop the bar onto safety pins so a spotter is unusable for this exercise.
8) Calf Raises
Due to the short range of motion and minimal risk of injury from a failed rep, any type of calf raise would not require a spotter. Sure, a spotter could be used to help get a few extra reps for muscle hypertrophy but when considering how essential a spotter would be, a calf raise is an exercise that definitely doesn’t require one!
9) Barbell Hip Thrusts
This one is tricky as a spotter can be needed to get into position for this list. Getting under the bar on the floor can be difficult when training solo and using heavier weights. Therefore, a spotter could be used to help you get your legs and hips under the barbell.
During the lift, however, it’s very difficult for someone to spot this exercise. You won’t need a spotter from a safety perspective as you’re essentially lifting off the ground and have a low risk of injury through failed reps. A spotter could be useful for squeezing out some extra reps though.
The difficulty is that the spotter can get positioned into a safe or strong stance in order to support a barbell hip thrust. The movement happening so low to the floor means a spotter would need to be bent over in order to help move the weight and this ultimately puts the spotter into a weak position.
The irony of spotting a barbell hip thrust is that the spotter would be at risk of injury more than the lifter!
10) Dumbbell Lunge
Any single-leg exercise would benefit from a spotter. When considering balance, a spotter can help to prevent the lifter from falling to one side due to a loss of balance.
The exception to this would be for a dumbbell lunge. With a dumbbell lunge, it’s much easier to drop the weight if you’re losing balance. When using a barbell, you’re much more restricted by the lift, and losing balance on this could be dangerous.
Spotters are a necessary part of pushing your body to its limits and doing so safely with minimal chance of a lifting accident occurring – like below:
With that said, a spotter is certainly not needed for every exercise. There are a number of exercises that you don’t need a spotter for and can still improve your strength and muscle mass as a result.
The key exercises that don’t need a spotter are:
- Front Squat
- Military Press
- Barbell Back Squat
- Barbell Row
- Olympic Lifts
- Calf Raises
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Dumbbell Lunge
If this is a route you are taking because you tend to train solo or at home then you might also want to check out our guide on how to train safely without a spotter (((((()))))))