What is a safety net?
In a nutshell, as a belayer, you are responsible for safety. It might be simply being there to make the lifter feel confident, or it might be something more tangible, such as helping to remove the projectile from the stops. From time to time, you will be asked to follow closely or even help with multi-rep sets or extreme strength moves such as drop sets or partial reps.
Given the wide range of possible responsibilities, before making a safety net, you need to ask what your partner is expecting from you, and make sure you are both talking about the same thing. What is the athlete going to do and what kind of help does he expect from you? Do I need to remove the barbell from the racks? What are the conditioned signals? How many reps is he planning on doing?
However, one thing is invariable: you must be extremely careful. If someone asked for your help, help! Do not look around who is doing what else there, do not play on the phone, do not allow yourself to be distracted by anything. If I ask for insurance, I ask the person to take care of my safety!
If you’ve been in the gym long enough, you’ve probably had to ask someone for a safety net. Also, I doubt you can find a regular gym-goer who has never heard a similar request from a stranger. And by agreeing, you are unlikely to receive written instructions on how exactly you should carry out your duties. I have learned through bitter experience that sometimes it is better to do without assistance at all than to rely on a bad belayer. Therefore, I propose to return to the three pillars of strength training and talk about how to properly insure during their implementation.
How to insure the bench press
Bench presses would be much safer if benches were customarily fitted with adjustable metal armrests, such as belay pads in a power rack or squat rack. But in the absence of such equipment, most of us have to rely entirely on an additional pair of strong arms, which, in the event of muscle failure, will save our bones and vital organs from the heavy barbell.
Before you start insuring someone in the bench press, you need to find out if the athlete wants you to help him with the “breakaway”, that is, with the removal of the projectile from the stops. This is a standard practice in powerlifting competitions, since initially the bar is in a disadvantageous position for the lifter and is in its “weak” point, and therefore the mere removal of the projectile takes a lot of energy. If asked to do so, grab the bar with both hands just before the lifter’s grip. On the count of three (or as you agree), do your best to help raise the bar to its original position, then gently release the bar. Pre-arranged verbal cues will help the lifter and belayer to synchronize their actions. For example, my assistant knows that you can completely release the bar when I say “take”.
During the approach, keep your hands close to the bar, but do not touch it. This is not a team exercise! I recommend keeping one hand above the bar and the other below it, providing reliable protection against dropping the bar onto the lifter’s neck or face. In addition, such a “mixed grip” will be strong enough if it becomes necessary to take on the entire weight of the projectile.
When to help
There are only two situations you can and should come to the aid of the lifter before the end of the approach, otherwise you risk angering the dragon. If the barbell suddenly starts to fall down, you automatically get the full right to make every effort to raise the projectile. But this does not give you the right to grab the bar if I slowly lower the bar or have working difficulties; only if I’m completely exhausted, and the force of gravity treacherously pulls the bar in the wrong direction.
In addition, if a lifter asks for help, you should of course provide him with support, but in this situation your role will be slightly different. Apply just as much effort as is required to allow the athlete to complete the repetition. Often it will be enough to take on only a couple of kilograms of load. You do not have to take on the entire load until you are directly asked to do so. Let the lifter put all his energy into this last rep.
In the bench press, you are usually expected to help return the bar to the stops, especially if the lifter has worked to failure. A lot of trouble lies in wait for us at this moment, because the athlete is exhausted and runs the risk of missing the hooks, and therefore boldly grab the bar with both hands and confidently direct it to the bindings.
How to insure squats
Even on a whim, most belayers manage to handle their bench press duties and keep you from hitting the bar in the face, but belaying on the barbell squat requires a lot of technical skill. This is doubly true if the lifter really needs support, in which case the spotter must know where to stand and what to do. In a nutshell, the difference is this: when insuring the bench press, you raise the barbell, while insuring the squats, you raise the lifter.
You may think that your help is unlikely to be needed when removing the bar from the stops. In the meantime, more accidents occur during the removal of the bar and its return to the bindings than during the squats themselves. Therefore, always be on the lookout for the moment the bar is removed from the hooks.
The most comfortable position for the belayer will be to place the arms bent at the elbows under the arms of the lifter with the forearms along the lats. When he removes the projectile and takes the starting position, you step back with him and keep the optimal distance. Just as you did not touch the barbell during the bench press, you do not touch the lifter during the squat, but simply lower and raise your arms in parallel with the athlete’s movements. By the way, when an athlete squats, his pelvis moves back and you need to make sure you don’t get in the way.
When to help
A safety net may seem like an easy walk to you at first, but be very careful, especially when working with maximum weight. If the lifter slows down or starts to stagger, tense up and be prepared. As soon as the bar starts to fall down and back or something else gets out of control, get down to business! Grasp the lifter under the arms around the chest or shoulder girdle, then help them skillfully to complete the rep.
In the event that the lifter begins to experience difficulties, and this can happen due to many reasons, your task will be to protect him from being buried under the bar. In general, you are required to work in a power rack with safety chains or bindings, and you should make sure they are at the correct height before starting the exercise. As a lifter, you cannot rely entirely on the belayer because if you twist your knee, break your ankle, or pass out, the belayer cannot save you. While you shouldn’t bet on it, you must be able to throw the barbell, or the chances are that you will find yourself – like I did in my time-pressed down with heavy abs. In this situation, it remains to be hoped that the belayer will help somehow control the lowering of the projectile onto the safety platform.
During squats with heavy weights, help is expected from the belayer when returning the bar to the stops. If you helped the athlete on the last rep, stay in control and help get the apparatus back on the rack. Make sure the lifter hasn’t missed the hooks and let him know the bar is securely on the stops so he can let go.
How to insure the dumbbell press
This tip applies to all types of chest or shoulder presses, but we’ll be talking about the second option. As a rule, in these exercises, heavy dumbbells are first placed on your knees, after which they are raised to their original position. As a spotter, you should help lift the dumbbells into position for the first rep. Then you must remove your hands until your help is needed.
From time to time, especially when working with large weights, the lifter may ask you to support one hand while he raises the other to the starting position. In this case, keep your hands on the dumbbells – in no case on the handle – and discuss the verbal signal after which you can release the weight. A simple “Is there?” Is usually sufficient. When you take a weight from a lifter after completing a set, a similar signal is also needed.
Before starting a set, get standard information on reps and the like, but also ask the lifter if he prefers elbow or wrist support. The default can be selected for elbow support unless the lifter prefers the second option. In any case, the athlete will hold the dumbbells until the end of the set, and you can either grab his wrist joint or nudge your elbows when necessary. And to be clear, you are always pushing the weight upward, not inward.
When to help
As with other exercises, do not touch the lifter or dumbbells unless necessary; even in the final stage, you should only slightly assist the athlete in completing the repetition. You may be asked for a couple of forced reps, but these details should be discussed before starting the set.
Assistance is usually not required when lowering the dumbbells to the ground. If you are asked to help, follow the instructions you receive from the lifter.