Spotting in powerlifting is not easy. Each lifter likes the bar lifted out on the bench a different way and you always want to give the person the best chance of making the lift. A good training partner will be as happy to see you succeed as they are to succeed themselves. Whilst competition can and often does exist to some degree, if you are worth anything as a training partner then you want your training partner(s) to hit their attempts in training and on the platform. The same applies for coaches not wanting to see their lifters fail lifts.
A problem can arise, however, from a lifter’s coach or training partners not wanting to see them fail so much they protect them from this by some rather over-generous spotting. Obviously on the deadlift a person is pretty much on their own, but on the squat and bench a tactical centre spot can give someone more than just a confidence boost.
Spotting effectively and intuitively is a difficult yet important skill to develop
Whilst I believe that when this happens, the coach or training partner’s heart is in the right place, it can be a massive shock to a lifter when they go out on the platform in competition and don’t have the same assistance.
As a coach or someones training partner you have to make sure you are letting the lifter perform the lift by themselves. When doing a centre lift out on the bench, if your hands are touching the bar at all when they lower the bar and press it back up then you ARE helping them, even if you barely feel like you are taking any weight. You may only be taking 2.5-5kg off the bar in terms of assistance but that means they haven’t lifted the full weight by themselves.
Simply by touching the bar you have guided it and added a confidence boost to them which may have been what they needed to complete the lift. Whilst this may seem like the kind thing to do, it will not benefit the lifter in the long run. If you build up their confidence thinking they can lift more weight than they can, then you set them up for disappointment on the platform.
Whilst you may not think you are helping, just lightly touching the bar can make more difference than you think.
I have seen this happen with several coaches and training partnerships. They want to keep their lifters confidence high and don’t want them to fail, and this is a valid concern, but if they never let their lifter stand on their own two feet and lift totally unassisted then they end up falling very short of their targets come competition time. I have in fact seen one coach who claimed their hands lightly touching the bar was not assisting their lifter in any way, and yet somehow enabled the lifter to get 4 or 5 reps on 2.5kg under their 1 rep max. When the same lifter tried to repeat this feat in a different session without their coach spotting them, they could barely get one rep.
Usually done with the best intentions
I commend the fact the coach cared about their lifter’s confidence but I believe in this case the coach used this assistive spotting because that way the lifter became convinced that the coach was invaluable to them as they had great sessions every time they trained with them.
So there can be selfish reasons for a coach / training partner to assist their lifters when spotting. One way or another though, it is done because they do not want their lifter / training partner to fail. If they are not allowed to fail though, then how can they ever get an honest idea of where their strength level is?
Learning how to make smart weight choices is a skill a lifter must develop over the months and years. If they are being shielded from attempts which would have actually been failed had the spotter not ‘lightly guided the bar’ then they will always struggle to know how to make appropriate weight jumps. Their confidence will be high, right up until the point they go out on the platform, in competition, and open up too heavy and struggle with a weight they had previously thought they found easy.
So here’s the conundrum for the coach / training partner…
You want to keep your lifter’s confidence high, and don’t want them to fail, but you also don’t want to build up false confidence where they feel they are completing the lifts totally by themselves but in fact are getting assistance. So what do you do?
Honesty is the best policy…
My feeling is that you just want to be honest with the lifter and not blow any proverbial smoke up where the sun doesn’t shine. Only allow them to count lifts which they have completed with valid competition form unassisted by the spotters. If when benching, the centre spot was touching the bar at all (even if only ever so lightly) then the lift does not count as a PR until the lifter can do it unassisted.
A coach / training partner might still find occasion for some assisted spotting here and there. While they may wish to still protect their lifter from failing, absolute transparency should be adhered to in my opinion. The lifter should know if they can truly claim the lift. There can be some advantage to not allowing your lifters to completely fail, but if they build up a false sense of security then you hurt them in the long run as they will invariably fall short of their ego when they hit the platform.