Making progress in the gym is ten times easier if you have a spotter. Not only do spotters help to give you more motivation to keep pushing through those difficult reps, but they also help you to physically lift weights that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and act as a safety net in case you bite off more than you can chew and end up pinned under the weights. If you’ve ever trained with a spotter then, you’ll probably find that your gains increased significantly and you had more enthusiasm for the gym in general. How do you go about getting these kinds of benefits when you’re training on your own?
One of the first things to do when working without a spotter is to make sure that you have some good music to listen to. This is important because music has the ability to almost ‘keep you company’ when you’re training. If you often find yourself feeling bored in the gym, then music can help to make the experience a little less dull and give you something to focus on while you’re lifting. A podcast will have this effect too allowing you to multitask even while you train.
Another benefit of music though is its ability to inspire and motivate. Music has a powerful effect on the listener because it ‘entrains’ our brain and body to increase our heart rate when there’s a fast beat etc. This then means that if you listen to the right music, you can feel more energetic and somewhat empowered to push through your normal limits. Actually the most effective music is that which starts with a slower tempo and then gradually increases to spur you on. Inspiring and motivating lyrics can also be helpful here.
Forced reps are repetitions that you force yourself to do beyond failure. This is exactly what you normally do with a spotter: you’ll lift the weights as many times as you can, then once you can’t do any more, they will step in to help you by lightly pushing your hand up or assisting in other ways.
Fortunately there are other ways to do forced reps that don’t require an extra pair of hands. One method for instance is to drop down to a lower weight and then continue lifting – which is what is known as a ‘drop set’. Another method is to swing your body slightly to provide momentum and help yourself lift the weight – which is known as a ‘cheat’ (just make sure that you don’t put your back out). Of course if you are doing a unilateral (one handed) exercise then you can even just use your free hand to help.
Help From Elsewhere
Or you can enlist help from elsewhere. That might mean calling over a gym instructor or just someone else who’s training. You don’t want to do this too regularly, or take up too much of their time, but what you can do is to ask them to help only when you’re trying to improve your one-rep max and then drop down from there on.
Machines are also very useful for pushing yourself past what you would normally be capable of without risking injury. Doing a chest press on a high weight for instance will mean there’s no chance of you dropping a barbell onto your chest, and while it’s not quite as challenging or representative of your overall strength, it’s still useful.
Best of all is the Smith machine, which is designed specifically for helping you to lift safely through the big three compound movements (bench press, squat and deadlift). This will help slightly and take away some of the challenge by steadying the weight, but it will still provide a great alternative to free weights that is much safer for pushing yourself.