The squat is one of the most effective exercises as developing size and strength for the lower body. It’s also one of the most dangerous exercises that can be performed when it’s done incorrectly or if you don’t have a spotter. If you are coming out of the hole and get stuck without reliable help, the situation can get really bad, really quick.
The realities of not having a proper spotter came to a tragic light recently following the death of Indonesian bodybuilder and fitness influencer Justyn Vicky, when his neck was crushed following a squat attempt of 450 pounds.
Sadly it took a preventable tragedy for the general weight-training world to stress the necessity of having a proper spot, and spotters ready for any mishap. At places like Kabuki Strength, safety always comes before one-rep maxes, as it should in every gym.
Always Have a Spotter
Rudy Kadlub of Kabuki Strength is a legend in the world of powerlifting. He has competed in the 70-74 Masters division at the highest levels and has several world records to his credit. In July 2023, he broke his own world record with a squat of 462 pounds. He also broke his own world record in the deadlift that same day. Anytime he’s preparing to get under the bar, safety is the first focus on his mind.
“We have a rule in our facility that if someone is getting to 85 to 90 percent of their one rep max, they need to have a spotter,” said Kadlub. He also advised that the spotter needs to be someone strong enough to provide that spot if needed. Asking a random person in the gym may not be the best idea. You also could benefit from having more than one person around.
“If they’re getting to 95 percent and up, we have three spotters – two side spotters and a back spotter.”
Know How to Spot
It isn’t only about being there, however. Spotting for the squat requires technique and effort as the movement itself does. The side spotters should be ready to use their entire arm and shoulder to assist instead of simply cupping their hands around the sleeve of the bar. Kadlub explained how he assists when he is the back spotter. The idea shouldn’t be to simply be ready to take the barbell. The approach should be to spot the lifter, not the weight.
“We’re hovering at the squatter’s chest. You need to be able to squat down with the squatter, close to the back without bumping into them, and your hip hinge needs to be the same as the lifter’s,” said Kadlub. He also suggests putting in reps on spotting would be a good idea.
“It’s definitely something that takes practice so you’re not interfering with the squatter, but you need to be able to hug the squatter to your chest and assist so two people are lifting the weight instead of one.”
In powerlifting competitions, lifters use a monolift or a pair of stands to squat, but there are multiple lifters ready to help when needed. Most trainees work in a squat rack on leg day, which is much safer, but that doesn’t mean it’s the safest method. Kablub shared that even inside of a rack, spotters should be onsite and ready to help.
Don’t Rely on Just Safety Equipment
Kadlub goes on to say that, “Even with safeties, there’s an element of danger. The safeties or straps may give out, and people get comfortable until they fail. It’s always wise to have a training partner when squatting or benching.”
Kablub and the Kabuki Strength team have an educational service called Kabuki EDU+ that provides sound information to lifters and coaches that want to learn how to get stronger or better in any fitness capacity. To learn more, go to kabukistrength.com .