This article is verified by 1 study/publication.
One of the most popular strength training exercises and a key basic exercise is the bench press. It activates numerous muscle groups in the upper body, and performance in the bench press is often a good indicator of a trainee’s overall fitness level. It’s no surprise that the “how much can you bench” question is so common.
You might think, sure, the spotter can help lift the weight back up. That’s true, but that wasn’t the focus of the study.
Instead, the study examined the influence of simply having spotters around – without any assistance – during the bench press.
Too long; didn’t read (Summary)
- A study set out to investigate whether the mere presence of spotters could influence bench pressing performance.
- The participants performed bench presses in the Smith machine, with spotters present throughout the study. However, the spotters were concealed by a visual barrier in one session, and visible in another session.
- The participants performed the exercise until they reached muscle failure.
- Results showed that 11 out of 12 study participants managed to perform an average of 1.5 more repetitions with spotters present, even though the spotters did not provide any physical assistance. One participant achieved the same performance in both sessions.
- Interestingly, participants reported feeling more exertion in the absence of spotters, despite performing fewer repetitions.
- The visible presence of spotters appeared to improve training performance, possibly due to social effects.
Deception Leads to Results
Here’s how it was tested: 12 recreational athletes, averaging around 21 years old and with at least 12 months of training several times a week, participated in the study. They had to bench press in the multi-press until failure at 60 percent of their one-rep max (1 RM).
The training was done in two different ways: with two visible or with two hidden spotters. In both cases, the spotters remained silent.
To conceal the spotters, a visual barrier was added to the multi-press – which was also why the exercise was performed in the multi-press. The barrier and rigid barbell guidance allowed the two spotters to be placed unnoticed on both sides of the machine to secure the barbell.
However, the subjects were told that the visual barrier was there to test whether distraction-free training affected exercise performance. They believed the barrier was meant to reduce surrounding distractions. In reality, the study was testing if the clear presence of spotters impacted bench press performance.
More Performance with Spotters
Indeed, just having spotters around positively influenced bench press performance. On average, the subjects managed an impressive 1.5 more repetitions when the spotters were visible. This was consistent: 11 out of 12 trainees performed better with the spotters. The only exception did equally well in both tests.
Even though the perceived exertion with higher repetitions was lower with visible spotters, it’s important to note that the spotters didn’t help at all.
The study authors speculate that the presence of observers boosts performance through social support effects. When you have a spotter with you at the gym, they often encourage you to do more repetitions. This observed support effect could be even greater than with the silent spotters in the study.
Although the study specifically refers to spotters because of the study design, the positive effect seems not to be due to the spotters’ activity, i.e., providing help and safety. Instead, the social component is considered relevant. This suggests that going to the gym with training partners may be better (not just for bench press) than going alone.