For most athletes and busy professionals, injury recovery doesn't get to slow you down. Sure, you spend a few weeks staying off the knee or ankle, but you don't actually stop exercising or working. As you heal, you expand what can be done safely, especially with the help of a spotter. 

In athletics, a spotter is someone who provides oversight and support while an athlete pushes themselves to the limit. Consider, for example, lifting a barbell on a bench. The lifter loads up as much weight as they can possibly manage and pushes themselves until their arms collapse. Right before they collapse, the spotter catches the bar and helps dock it on the bench, which prevents the lifter from being crushed when they push past their breaking point.

In less dramatic terms, the spotter often provides advice and guidance to help the athlete maintain their form and helps push them to their breaking point.

 

Spotting and Injury Recovery

With all this in mind, it's no surprise that spotting plays a part in injury recovery. Someone with a trustworthy spotter can attempt greater activity or can exert more energy as their injury heals. A spotter can be there to prevent someone with an injury from putting too much weight on a damaged leg or from lifting with an injured arm. A third person often finds it easier to remember both good safety measures and good form from the outside of the lifting or exercise experience.

During injury recovery, every activity is an exercise experience. Especially if you are working around a critical leg or arm injury. Tasks such as going for a walk or playing with your dog might be a workout adventure. In these situations, you want to wear a brace and have a spotter for anything active or risky. The right brace can reduce your risk of injury and a spotter can help you make it all the way through a physically challenging task or exercise. Many people naturally ask or offer so that an injured person will have a non-injured friend to handle doors and to carry things. This is another social form of spotting where the spotter is simply available just in case there is a hazard to navigate with the injury.

 

It's Always Okay to Ask for a Spotter

If you have recently been injured and/or are going through injury recovery, never be afraid to ask for a spotter. Whether you're at home, at work, or at school, there will usually be someone who can help you avoid reinjury. Living your life around injury recovery sometimes means taking risks, like going down stairs or crossing slippery pavement. If you're worried about stability or need to carry something while moving carefully, ask for help. Having another person nearby, even if they aren't actively supporting you, can reduce the chances of an accident and provide you stability if you do slip or stumble. That way, you don't risk reinjury.

For exercise, the rule is the same. Whether you're exercising on your own or for a team sport, you can work out during injury recovery, you just have to work carefully around the injured limb or muscle. The best way to do this is with a spotter, someone who can help you lift weight off of yourself or maintain safe form even if you're not in top condition during injury recovery. Ask a fellow athlete or even a family member to spot you with normal exercises to ensure that you don't accidentally reinjure yourself while trying to work around the injury.

 

The Basic Principles of Spotting

Of course, simply asking for a spot may only be the beginning. For casual activities like going for a walk or working in the kitchen, there is no formal way to provide spotting. Casual tasks are done with a friend so that someone will be there if your injury causes you to trip or fall. But with traditional exercises, especially weight lifting or gymnastics, it's important that your spotter know how to provide the support and activity safety you need.

Support Without Substitution

For this, both of you need to understand the basic principles of spotting. Mainly, spotting is there to provide support, encouragement, and emergency rescues but not to help the spotted person do the work. Spotters in formal exercises often provide small taps and very brief moments of support or push to help the athlete get through a difficult set. Spotters in gymnastics provide a point for balance, but not to ease the burden of balancing muscles.

In this way, your spotter will not take away from the difficulty of a task, merely prevent it from becoming dangerous. A spotter can help you maintain good form and make it through a difficult moment in a task or exercise without removing the benefit of the exercise for you.

Emergency Rescue Spotting

Rescue procedures are a spotter's other duty: to keep the spotted safe. Spotting allows an athlete to push themselves beyond what could safely be handled on their own, because the spotter will help prevent injury. A spotter must be prepared to provide emergency support or remove the weight or task before a possible injury could occur.

When spotting for injury recovery, the same principle applies except with a greater emphasis on avoiding the risk of failure and reinjury. A spotter for an injured friend may feel freer to step in with emergency rescue procedures.

 

Spotting Tips by Activity

- Spotting for Traditional Exercises

During traditional exercises like weight lifting, the key to spotting is to provide guidance without touching the lifter. For bench pressing, the spotter is positioned with their fingertips a few inches below the bar. In moments of struggle if the lifter can't get past a point in the lift, the spotter should lightly tap the underside of the bar. This tiny boost is usually enough to help a lifter get past their stopping point and find a second wind.

With dumbell bench pressing, the spotter places their hands an inch under the lifter's elbows, and with dumbell curls, the spotter places their hands underneath the wrists to provide form support. Always default to dropping the dumbells in an emergency, and encourage your spotter to keep their feet out of the drop zone. Spotting for chin-ups/pull-ups should support the trunk, not the feet.

As long as the lifter's arms and related back muscles are not injured, then lifting can remain part of your regular workout even during injury recovery. For traditional exercises, a spotter can help you lift more and can also help you compensate if your body is off-balance from the injury. 

- Spotting for Stretches and Gymnastics

Spotting for stretches and for gymnastics is done differently. Often, with these moves the challenge is maintaining balance and form instead of supporting large weights. Spotting for stretches and gymnastics is done at key points of balance, and is often supplied steadily throughout the exercise.

The key to gymnastics and yoga spotting is to provide balance while allowing the spottee's muscles to learn the move. For example, spotting a hand-stand involves catching the legs and providing loose support while the person hand-standing learns to hold their arms, back, and legs in the right position for better future handstands. Spotting a back-bend involves placing one hand in the center of the back. Only provide support if the spotee begins to wobble or fall. It's important that the spotter always be standing or kneeling in a stable position.

When performing these moves with an injury, always assess your practical ability first. If you would need to support or balance with the injured body part, pick a different exercise. If you go ahead, let your spotter know that you are injured and which weak point to watch out for. They may be able to provide you with additional help to compensate and prevent further injury.

- Spotting for Free Form Exercises

The last form of spotting is casual or free-form spotting. If, for example, you are going for a walk with an injured ankle, you might take a friend with you. On the off-chance that you step on a slippery patch of ice, your ankle makes you more likely to reinjure, but having your friend with you counters that and makes it less likely. Take someone with you if you go on a walk or run or ask someone to walk with you across your school campus or corporate facility. Just having company will help you walk carefully and they will be there to help you manage doors, steps, and potential slips along the way.

Spotting for free-form exercise is about moving consciously. Ask someone to accompany you and let them know that you're injured and need a hand. This will tell your companion that they have to become a spotter and many people enjoy this role instinctively. Free-form spotting is a state of alertness, so that you are careful about your injury and your companion is ready to help at any moment.

 

Training Someone to Spot You

Finally, be ready to quickly train someone to spot you, know what you need and how to ask for it from a friend. Most people don't know how to spot, but now it's easy to look up the right form for a particular exercise and how to spot that exercise on the internet, you can learn and your friends can learn quickly.

Often, you can get a new spotting friend up to speed with a quick explanation of your injury, your specific risk of reinjury, and when you'll need spotting most. If you're doing specific exercises, just cover the spotting instructions as a sequence of polite requests as you go along.

 

Mueller Sports Medicine Has Your Back

Here at Mueller Sports Medicine, we are dedicated to helping athletes and professionals through injury recovery. With the right sports brace and equipment, you can support an injury to decrease your risk of reinjury throughout the day. Visit the ailments section on our website to find out more about what we offer for a variety of injuries.