Strength training gives us an opportunity to push our limits.
Hitting a new PR or grinding out the final rep of a tough set delivers a euphoric sense of accomplishment. Those moments make us physically and mentally stronger.
The Bench Press is one move where we especially like to test ourselves.
A big bench press will instantly earn you respect from fellow fitness enthusiasts, and the move itself offers a high ROI for upper-body strength and muscle development.
But do you need a spotter to bench press?
While you can bench press without a spotter, we wouldn’t recommend it — especially not for anything heavier than “warm-up” weight. It's simply too dangerous.
The safest way to bench press without a spotter is to utilize a lifting rack or stand that has adjustable safety pins, spotter arms or safety bars. Before we unpack that tactic, let’s address the dangers of a failed bench press and go over some other fixes people use in an attempt to bench without a spotter.
The Grave Dangers of a Failed Bench Press
A failed bench press can put your life in jeopardy.
A failed deadlift is uncomplicated — the bar simply drops straight to the ground or never leaves it. A failed squat may be loud and a bit unsettling, but the bar will usually either fall to the ground or be caught by a set of safety pins, spotter arms or safety bars. These are all sturdy horizontal fixtures that can be set up to catch a barbell.
A failed bench press is a different beast.
Most bench press racks don’t include any sort of safety system. The technique of the bench press also provides no easy way to dump the bar.
This isn’t a big deal if you’ve got yourself a good spotter. Your buddy can simply help hoist the bar off you and put it back onto the rack.
But failing a bench press without a spotter will likely leave you trapped beneath an unforgiving, heavily-loaded barbell.
At best, a failed bench press bruises your ego (and perhaps your torso).
At worse, it can cause serious injury or death.
Beyond the scenario where the lifter's unable to press the barbell back to the lockout point, there's also the "bar drop" failure.
This is a bigger hazard for those who utilize a “suicide grip”. A suicide grip sees your thumb wrapped over the top of the bar rather than underneath it. This makes the bar far more likely to slip out of your sweaty palms. We strongly advise against utilizing a suicide grip, as the potential downside can be catastrophic. But if you really want to try it, you better make sure you've got a pair of safeties in proper position.
The bench press is probably the most commonly-spotted exercise in any gym or weight room.
Yet there are any number of reasons why you may find yourself wanting to bench press without a human spotter.
- You can't always rely on having other people around, particularly if you train at odd hours or at a home gym.
- Asking a complete stranger to spot you can be awkward.
- Spotters are far from perfect. Many are unaware of proper spotting techniques or will grab the barbell before you actually require their help, making your reps less effective.
These factors are why so many people seek a method where they can safely bench press without a spotter.
Awkward Fixes for Benching Without a Spotter
The simplest way to bench press without a spotter is to always use a weight and rep scheme you’re 100% confident you can achieve.
However, this isn't a very productive way to train. Your results will likely be mediocre and your workouts will feel boring and unfulfilling. And of course, accidents can still happen when lifting light.
Rather than avoid any chance of failure, some gym rats espouse some interesting (yet ultimately unsatisfactory) alternatives.
There’s the “roll of shame”, a technique that sees the lifter slowly roll the loaded barbell down their body until they're able to stand up with it.
Others recommend benching without clips so you can dump the plates off the barbell by violently angling it from side to side.
These tactics may be better than laying helplessly pinned beneath a heavy barbell, yet they’re still super risky and uncomfortable.
Another option is to perform a Floor Press rather than a traditional Barbell Bench Press. Placing your body on the floor as opposed to a bench helps you more easily slide out from under the bar or roll it away to escape trouble:
This technique works best if you have wide-diameter plates on the bar (such as bumper plates or iron 45s). The wider the plates, the more clearance between the barbell and the ground. Yet compared to a bench press, the reduced range of motion of the Floor Press makes it less effective for building strength and muscle.
All these solutions feel like giant compromises if you're someone who takes your safety, training and gains seriously.
The Best Way to Bench Without a Spotter
The absolute best way to bench without a spotter is to utilize a rack or stand that has safety pins, spotter arms or safety bars.
While these items may differ slightly in their design, they all serve a similar purpose and are more reliable than even the best training partner.
By setting them just below the bottom range of motion for a given exercise, you can safely fail a repetition without damaging yourself or your property.
Translation: you can confidently train super hard without having to fear for your safety.
While these devices are built-in on some lifting racks and stands, it’s very important they be adjustable.
People and benches come in all shapes and sizes, and this tactic relies on adjusting the pins, arms or bars to your unique bench press environment and technique. You should also look for models that leave no gap between their support and the rack, as any space there can be enough for the barbell to slip through.
YouTuber Omarlsuf offers a great explanation on how to bench press without a spotter:
Access to a lifting rack or stand that features adjustable pins, arms or bars can also empower the use of unique variations such as the Pin Press, not to mention ultra-safe squatting, lunging, etc.
“Lifters ask me to name the most important piece of equipment you can have. My answer? A power rack is the most critical item. First, for safety, it can act as your spotter in case you fail a lift. Lower the bar down onto the safety pins,” Louie Simmons, famed powerlifter and strength coach, writes on the Westside Barbell website.
“I trained for six years with no training partners … Just don’t forget to (actually) use the safety pins, or they don’t save anyone.”
HulkFit offers a variety of high-quality solutions that empower safe, intense workouts.
The HulkFit Power Rack and Squat Stand Pro include premium adjustable safety pins and spotter arms, respectively, while the more compact Wall Mounted Power Rack and Squat Stand Lite are fully compatible with the latter.