It’s all you Bro…..or is it?
Well simply put, no, I’m afraid to say that if your spotter on the bench press is touching the bar (however seemingly lightly) they are still affecting your ability to make the lift.
You may argue that the lightest of touches and just loosely touching the bar with their finger tips wouldn’t make a significant difference but thats just not the case.
The spotter does not need to be actively pulling upwards on the bar to be helping. The sheer act of touching the bar at all affects the bar path. Half the challenge with the bench press is just keeping the bar on the correct bar line.
This is especially important with equipped bench pressing. If a lifter can keep the bar ‘on the correct line’ then they have a much greater chance of making the lift. Equipped benching becomes very simple if someone is guiding the bar for you and not letting it come off the ideal line.
The reality is that as soon as a spotters hands touch the bar, they will (intentionally or unintentionally) guide the bar to some extent. Now whilst this may not in all cases take ALL necessary bar path control out of the hands of the lifter, (think of how a smith machine works compared to a barbell bench) it does impact it and lessen the likelihood of the lifter letting the bar fall out of the ‘groove’.
A good spotter / spotting team will understand this and know that even a fingertip on the bar will have an impact (however unlikely this may seem by comparison to the forces necessary to lift the weight). If you are lifting to test your maxes or compete and want an honest reflection of what you are capable of then do not allow your spotter / coach to (knowingly or unknowingly) assist you.
So how much of a difference can it really make, i hear you ask? Well, I have seen lifters during training with their spotters telling them they aren’t helping at all (but maintaining a lose grip on the bar when spotting) lose as much as 20% or more off their training lifts when they come to compete and no longer have this safety net. For an equipped lifter I’ve seen them lose 40-50kg off a lift because their usual spotter didn’t have their hands loosely touching the bar with fingertips.
I do not believe that many coaches or training partners do this intentionally to purposefully build a false sense of confidence in their lifters however this is the result regardless. It’s worth assessing this yourself whether you are actually lifting without assistance. Do you recognise any patterns in your training that every time you bench with a certain training partner or coach spotting you, you always seem to have highly successful sessions hitting bigger numbers than you can hit when not training with that person or when in competition and you are on your own with the weight.
If you want your training lifts to be reflected by what you hit on the platform then don’t let this happen to you. Whilst its great to have training partners who care enough to try and protect your ego and want to see you progress, those same people won’t have an honest answer for you when you can’t work out why you have lifted so much less in competition than you thought your training suggested you might.
If, as a coach and spotter, you insist on holding on to the bar, just be honest with your clients/training partners what you are doing. Partially assisted reps to help someone learn the correct bar path can be a useful tool, so long as both the lifter and spotter/coach both have their eyes open and are on the same page understanding the difference between this and actually performing the rep alone on the platform without hands on the bar. The two can be a world apart and having a good honest understanding of what you are actually capable of is vital when setting expectations and goals for a competition or max test.