One of the most important elements to any exercise is not the equipment you choose or the routine you follow. No, the most vital consideration you have on the gym floor is safety. A spotter is an essential part of many free-weight exercises, and this is especially true of the dumbbell chest press. The use of dumbbells presents a distinct challenge, and to successfully complete the exercise, a spotter provides a safeguard and a second set of eyes to ensure that you maintain proper form. This ensures you're getting the most from each and every rep. However, spotting is only effective if it's done correctly.
Chest Press Form
The basic chest press consists of two phases: the lift and the compression. The exercise begins with the lift phase, as the lifter lies flat on a workout bench, gripping each dumbbell overhand and resting them just above the chest. The lifter presses both dumbbells upward in unison until the arms are fully extended above the lifter's chest with the elbows locked. The lifter holds both dumbbells at the top for a moment, then begins the compression phase by unlocking the elbows and controlling each dumbbell down to the chest.
A spotter helps a lifter maintain form and prevent injury if the lifter reaches muscle failure before completing a repetition. Muscle failure occurs when the stress of the weight is too much for the lifter to handle and the lifter cannot finish the repetition and return the weight to a safe position. The spotter should be prepared to handle the weight instantly if the lifter begins to show signs of fatigue or muscle failure, including shaking or jerking the weight or visible contractions in engaged muscles. The spotter should keep the lifter at a steady rep pace, ensuring that each lift is controlled and smooth. The spotter should not allow the lifter to generate excessive speed to power through the reps. This makes it difficult to spot and cheats the lifter out of significant gains from the exercise.
Spotting dumbbell exercises presents a few challenges that barbell exercises do not. First, the spotter is responsible for monitoring the movement of two independent weights, which doubles the chance of something going wrong. The second is that all available gripping points for the dumbbells in motion will be occupied by the lifter. To spot for dumbbell presses, stand behind the lifter's head and line up your hands with the lifter's wrists. Prepare to grab them instantly if the lifter encounters trouble. Grab both wrists simultaneously, even if the lifter only complains of a problem with one side, and guide both arms slowly to a point below the torso, pointing away from you.
During the lift phase, ensure that the lifter keeps the weight traveling up directly over the chest and watch out for signs of difficulty pressing the weight completely to the top position. Through the compression phase, keep an eye on how controlled the lifter is with lowering the weight back to the chest. Don't let the lifter rely too much on gravity and verify that the weight maintains its course over the middle of the lifter's chest. While muscle failure often occurs during the lift phase, the lifter may lose form composure just as easily during the compression phase.
When spotting any exercise, but especially the dumbbell press, consider your own safety as well as that of the lifter. When spotting someone performing an exercise, make sure you're capable of handling the weight being pressed. If the lifter is pressing far more weight than you can handle, you risk injury to the lifter and to yourself. Keep your feet wider than your shoulders, with your upper body pitched slightly forward. This will help you quickly engage and handle the weight if the lifter needs your help.