WHAT IS IT?
Self-spotting allows the trainee to push beyond concentric failure by using their free arm(s) to apply assistance to either their own body or the associated modality in order to keep the movement going beyond what was possible by way of the working muscle(s) alone.
HOW TO TRACK PROGRESSION?
Progression can be tracked by measuring load used, total reps achieved (before and after technique is applied), reps achieved beyond concentric failure, and/or as a qualitative measure of eccentric control once the self-spotting begins.
WHO SHOULD USE IT?
Due to the limited applicable exercises, minimal fatigue generated and low prerequisite skill level, pretty much any level of trainee will be able to get benefit from self-spotting as long as they can take a set to technical failure with perfect control and no breakdowns.
WHO SHOULD NOT USE IT?
Trainees who are unable to strain or who struggle with proper form, controlling tempo, or feeling the tension in the right muscles should be hesitant before jumping into self-spotting. Additionally, there will be local fatigue generated (even if it's lower than other intensity techniques), so it shouldn't be used haphazardly.
WHEN TO USE IT?
Generally, the most benefit from self-spotting is going to come in the latter weeks of a training cycle when traditional methods of progress have stalled, and there is a lower chance of additional fatigue having negative carryover to the rest of the program. If used early in a progression, more deliberate attention should be paid to notice any potential, unintended consequences that may present.
WHEN NOT TO USE IT?
Self-spotting should be avoided early in a training session when it has the ability to negatively impact a more important/stimulatory exercise that comes afterwards. Additionally, too much frequency and/or intensity early in a training block may actually inhibit longer-term progress due to local overreaching.
HOW TO USE IT?
Unilateral variations and movements that have a high level of intrinsic stability will be the most viable self-spotting candidates. Typically, machines and cables will be favored based due to the ability to safely and purposefully push beyond failure without sacrificing tension on the target muscle(s). Because it will be your upper body applying the self-spotting tension, there is an inherent limitation to the types of movements that are able to benefit. Biceps/triceps isolation work tends to be the best use case.
Ex) Single Arm Machine Preacher Curls, Single Arm Triceps Pushdowns, Machine Adductions (here is an exception!)
HOW NOT TO USE IT?
Though it is possible to self-spot on bilateral, lower body exercises such as a leg press, the accompanying load and intensity tends to increases the risk of injury, compromise positioning, and lower the magnitude of effect of the technique. There are also going to be upper body patterns that are logistically incompatible with self-spotting such as rows, presses and lateral raise variations.
Ex) Hack Squats, Single Arm DB Press, Single Arm Pec Deck
BENEFITS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
- Allows you to safely push beyond concentric failure
- Low systemic fatigue generation
- Extremely small technical and temporal footprint
- Can be used as an overloading or metabolite technique
- Negates the need to rely on the skill, availability and attention of someone else as your spotter
- Can have profound hypertrophic benefits especially on precise variations that tend to hit concentric failure quickly
- Can be used to increase tendon integrity and strength
- Scalable across almost any experience level
DRAWBACKS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
- Relatively limited in viable exercises
- Suited best only for unilateral movements, and going further, elbow flexion/extension variations
- Though progress can be measured, it is difficult to do so because there are subjective aspects (such as the amount of force being applied as judged by the trainee)
- Because of the applicable variations and limited negative biofeedback, there is a tendency to overuse the technique or rush into it
- If setup improperly, attempting to self-spot can compromise the original body positioning