How to Bench Press Safely without Spotter

The safest way to Bench Press without spotter is in the Power Rack. The safety pins can catch the bar if you fail reps. The weight can’t drop on your chest or trap you. This increases safety and confidence. You can Bench heavier, go all out and progress faster because you know you’re safe.

You don’t need a spotter if you Bench Press inside the Power Rack. Spotters don’t guarantee safety anyway. They may not pay attention, react too slow and drop the bar on your face. Always Bench Press in the Power Rack on StrongLifts 5×5 for maximum safety. Even if you have a spotter.

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Bench Press in The Power Rack

Bench Press Power Rack
Always Bench Press in the Power Rack so the safety pins can catch the bar if you fail.

Power Racks have four vertical supports with uprights to rack the bar. The bar isn’t attached to rails unlike with the Smith Machine. It moves freely so you can balance it yourself. If you fail a rep, Power Racks have two horizontal safety pins to catch the bar. Quality racks can hold heavier weight than you’ll ever bench. If you Bench Press in the Power Rack as I do, you don’t need a spotter. You can Bench alone, safely and heavy.

Pros Benching in Power Rack

You don’t need a spotter to catch the weight if you fail a rep. The safety pins of your Power Rack will catch it. The bar can’t trap you, drop on your chest or kill you. You can Bench Press safely without asking for a spot. Spotters don’t guarantee safety anyway. They can react too slow or not pay attention. Power Racks are more reliable and give you more freedom. No need to schedule with a trainingpartner if your gym has no spotter.

More safety is more confidence and more gains. You know the safety pins will catch failed weight. No more holding back out of fear of failure. You can go all out and attempt PRs without spotter. And you’ll surprise yourself Benching more reps or weight than you expected. Reps and weight you would never have tried without rack or spotter. You’ll progress faster on Stronglifts 5×5 if you Bench Press in the Power Rack.

I’ve spent more than ten years Bench Pressing mostly alone, in my home gym, without spotter. I’ve failed reps many times but never injured myself. The safety pins of my Power Rack always caught the bar. World Champion Mike Tuchscherer also Benches mostly alone, in his home gym, without spotter. He Benches almost 500lb so fails can kill him. But he’s also always been safe because he Bench Presses inside the Power Rack.

If your gym doesn’t have a Power Rack, switch to a real gym that has one. Or buy your own Power Rack and build a home gym like I’ve done. Note that if you do StrongLifts 5×5, you need a Power Rack for Squats too. You need one to get the bar on and off your upper-back, and to catch it if you fail to Squat the weight. Here are some Power Racks I recommend to Squat and Bench Press safely without spotter.

Squat racks with safety pins also work to Bench Press safely without spotter. They look like a half Power Rack except the pins are often fixed. If they don’t match your arms length and you can’t adjust the safety pins, you’ll hit them on good reps. This throws the bar off balance and causes failed reps. Raise your bench by putting plates flat under it. This puts your torso higher so you don’t hit the safety pins on good reps.

Cons Benching in Power Rack

You may have to unload the bar to get it in the uprights after a fail. This isn’t an issue with lighter weights. But heavier weights will be too heavy to lift from the safety pins into the uprights. You’ll have to remove plates, lift the bar in the uprights and add the plates back. This can be so annoying, some just call it a day. A good spotter will help you lift the bar into the uprights if you fail to Bench it. You never have to remove plates.

Benching without spotter means no hand-off. You have to unrack the bar from the uprights yourself. Your shoulders can come off the bench while you do this. This is less effective for maximum strength because you lose tightness. That’s why almost all powerlifters get a hand-off from a spotter when they compete. It helps them keep their shoulders back and tight. And it saves energy for the actual Bench Pressing of the weight.

Some people think Bench Pressing in the Power Rack is bad gym etiquette. They believe Power Racks are for Squats only. Not the case. Curls in the rack are bad because you don’t need safety pins. You need them for Bench Press. If you bother a Squatter, offer him to Squat inbetween while you rest. Take the bench away and help eachother load the bar. You might find yourself a trainingpartner to do StrongLifts 5×5.

How to Fail Bench Press Safely

Bench Press Fail
How to fail the Bench Press safely: lower the bar back to your chest. Flatten your torso so the bar touches the bar. Then slide under it.

Set your safety pins below the bottom of your Bench Press. The bar shouldn’t hit them on good reps. If it does, it will throw the bar off balance, into a bad bar path, and cause failed reps. The bar must touch your mid-chest without hitting the pins. If this seems too low: proper Bench Press form is chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed and back arched. The bar will touch the pins if you flatten your torso when you fail.

When you fail to Bench Press the weight, lower the bar back to your chest first. Keep your hands on the bar and control it. Flatten your chest and back to lower the bar against the pins. You may have to roll it down your ribcage to your stomach. Once the bar rests on the pins, slide your body up your bench towards the uprights of your Power Rack. When your hips are under the bar, situp on the bench get up from the weight.

Gather yourself for a few seconds. Then getup and turn around so you face the uprights. The bar should be between the uprights and you. Roll the bar close to the uprights so it’s easier to lift. Rack the weight by Deadlifting it first, using a normal Deadlift grip. Then lift the bar into the uprights by bending your arms as if doing upright rows. If the weight is too heavy, remove some plates. Don’t hurt yourself missing the uprights.

Fail the Bench Press on purpose a few times to overcome the fear of failure. Put 80% of your max weight on the bar and set the safety pins. Unrack the bar, lower it to your chest and press it back up. Then fail mid-rep by lowering the bar back to you chest and the pins. This will feel weird. But do it again two-three times and you’ll become comfortable failing the Bench. The fear of the unknown will be gone which boosts confidence.

Always Set The Safety Pins!

Bench Press Safety Pins
You shouldn’t touch your safety pins on good Bench Press reps. Set them slightly lower than your chest. Then when you fail, just flatten your torso to rest the bar on the safety pins.

Set your safety pins before lying on the bench. Check they’re the same height on both sides. If you Bench Press at home like me and your family or friends also use your Power Rack, check your safety pins before each set and workout. They may have lowered the pins to match their build or for some other reason. Always check the safety pins of your Power Rack. Set them even if you think you can Bench Press the weight.

I recently neglected to check the safety pins before I Bench Pressed. I thought the weight was okay. And I got the first reps but then failed mid-rep. The pins were too low. My girlfriend was there but not ready to spot. And the weight was too heavy for her to hold. I got away by rolling the bar to my stomach (the “roll of shame”, see below). But the weight bruised and hurt my stomach. It was stupid and all my fault.

Accidents happen to the most experienced Bench Pressers when they get complacent. I had been lifting for over 15 years when that happened. It would have been a dumb way to die, yet this happens to people every year. You can have a bad day. The bar can get out of groove. Your foot can slip. And you can injure yourself badly. Set the pins on every set, for every weight, as if it’s PR weight. Don’t be lazy about this.

Safety Without Power Rack

Bench Pressing without Power Rack or spotter isn’t safe. If you fail a rep, the bar will trap you and crush you. It can drop on your throat or face and kill you. This is not an exaggeration, people die from Bench Press accidents every year. The only way to get under the bar if you fail is by tilting it to one side or using the roll of shame. But both are less safe than Bench Pressing in the Power Rack. You can die. Get a rack.

Saw Horses

If you have no Squat or Power Rack, get saw horses. Most hardware stores have adjustable-height saw horses. They easily handle 450kg/1000lb for about $30. Use a pair with your upright-support bench at home. Or use Squat Stands and put the saw horses next to your Bench. Set them to the proper height so you don’t hit them on good reps. You only want the saw horses to catch failed weight so you can Bench without spotter.

The Roll of Shame

The roll of shame is like failing the Bench Press in the Power Rack, but without one. Lower the bar to your chest. Roll it down your stomach to your hips. Situp on the bench and get up with the bar as if Deadlifting. Then lower it to the floor. Not that shameful but people often think failing is, thus “roll of shame”. The roll of shame can help you get unstuck if you fail the Bench Press without power rack or spotter to help you.

But the roll of shame only works with weights you can handle. Heavy weight will bruise your ribcage, stomach and hips, which will hurt. If the weight is really heavy, it will smash through your abs before it reaches your hips. If you’re unlucky, the bar can tear a blood vessel inside and you’ll bleed to death. You must be able to hold the weight in the bottom for the roll of shame to work. I don’t use it or recommend it because it’s dangerous.

This guy uses the Roll of Shame successfully with 120kg/265lb. But his maximum Bench Press is probably higher because he can control the weight. He wouldn’t be able to get up if he tried to Bench this PR. Don’t be fooled by how easy he makes it look. Everybody can do this when Bench Pressing submaximal weights. For heavy weights, you need the Power Rack.

Bench Without Collars

Bench Press without collars if you don’t have a Power Rack or spotter to help you. If you fail a rep, lower the bar back to your chest and tilt it to one side. The plates will slide off that side and drop on the floor since there are no collars to hold them. Watch out though: the other, heavier side will rebound. Control the bar and tilt it to the other side to slide plates off it too. You want to make the bar lighter so you can get away from it.

The problem with this solution is that you’ll damage the floor. You’ll piss off the gym manager. And the noise will draw everybody’s attention in your gym. If you were shy asking for a spot, you’ll be really embarrassed now. The other problem is that the plates can move on good reps and distract you. Worse, they can slide off the bar if you Bench Press unevenly. Again, Benching in the Power Rack is better and safer.

This guy got away because he didn’t collar the bar. He had safety pins. But their design was faulty: there was a small gap in the back. The bar slipped inbetween and almost strangled him. The lesson here is don’t buy cheap equipment. You get what you paid for.

Don’t Try to Bench PRs!

If you don’t have a Power Rack or spotter, don’t Bench Press weights you aren’t 100% sure you can do. Don’t attempt Bench Press PRs. Don’t Bench weights you haven’t pressed in a long time. Stay away from failure. This means if you’re doing StrongLifts 5×5, you struggled to Bench Press the first three reps and it doesn’t feel like you could get the last two reps, don’t go for it. Rack the bar instead of risking injuring yourself.

This will hinder your progress. You’ll bench what you think you can do, not what you can actually do. Maybe you could have benched those two last reps. You can’t know because you didn’t try. And you can’t try it safely without spotter or Power Rack. If you’re over-cautious, you’ll Bench at lower intensities. But you must Bench heavy to increase your Bench Press. Power Racks give you the safety and confidence to Bench heavy.

You can also be over-confident instead of over-cautious. It’s tempting to get greedy and go for it anyway. To think you can Bench one more rep. Or 2.5kg/5lb more than the previous easy set. Sometimes it turns out you’re right. But if you’re wrong, and there’s nothing or nobody to catch the bar, this can turn into an expensive mistake. With the Power Rack, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, the pins always catch the bar.

Know what you can Bench. Start light and add weight progressively. StrongLifts 5×5 works this way: you start with the empty bar and add 2.5kg/5lb each workout. If you did 5×5 80kg/175lb last workout, you know you can Bench Press at least one rep with 82.5kg/180lb next times. These small steps also help you grasp the difference between easy and hard reps based on the bar speed.

If You Get Stuck, Yell!

If you fail the Bench Press without Power Rack or spotter, the roll of shame doesn’t work, and you’ve collared the bar, then yell for help. The weight will crush your chest and ribcage. You’ll get weaker every second. This can end badly, people die from Bench Press accidents each year. It’s too late to be shy now. Yell for help. Loud. Louder so they can hear you. Hope somebody notices and reacts fast.

When your savior is there, help him rack the bar. Don’t release your grip and let him do all the work. The weight may be too heavy for him to hold or he may not be strong enough. You don’t want him to fail and drop the bar on your face. Keep your hands on the bar and help him by pressing the weight up with whatever strength you have left. Once the bar is racked in the uprights give him a big thank you for helping you.

I’ve never had to do the above once in 16 years of training. Not even during my first five years Bench Pressing in a commercial gym without Power Rack. I always asked for a spot on my heavy sets. I’ve seen people get trapped by the bar a few times. It happens fast and we react too slow. This is a stupid way to get hurt or die. Ask somebody for a spot. If there’s nobody, don’t Bench Press heavy. Use your head and you’ll be safe.

This guy got lucky…

What Seems Safer But Isn’t

Smith Machine Bench Press

The Smith Machine looks like a Power Rack but with the barbell attached on vertical rails. The bar has hooks to catch the pins on the vertical parts of the machine. To rack the bar you must rotate it so the hooks catch these pins. The machine balances the bar and only let’s it move in a vertical line. This makes the Smith Machine look safer than Benching with free weights. But it’s less safe than people think. Less effective too.

Most Smith Machines don’t have horizontal safety pins. If you fail, you must rotate the bar so the hooks catch the vertical pins. Miss them and the bar will trap and crush you with nothing to stop it. The roll of shame or tilting the bar to one side won’t work. The bar is attached to rails. The Smith blocks non-vertical movement. Fail to hook the bar and it will sandwich you against the bench like a guillotine.

Failing to hook the bar is easy. One, you can’t react slow. Two, you can’t rotate the bar too much to unrack it. But rotate too little and the hooks will hit the pins on good reps. Even if you get it right, rotating your hands to unrack will mess with your Bench grip. The safest and most effective way to Bench Press is with vertical forearms. Straight line bar-wrist-elbow. If you don’t grip the bar low and keep it there, you’ll get wrist pain.

Your shoulders can also hurt. The Smith Machine forces a vertical bar path. But benching in a vertical line over your shoulders isn’t safe. It forces your elbows out which impinges your shoulders. Vertical line over chest doesn’t work either. It puts the bar in front of your shoulders at the top. This is ineffective, like doing front raises. The proper way to Bench Press is in a diagonal line. But you can’t do this in the Smith Machine.

Bench Press Bar Path
Right: benching in a vertical line over your shoulders will injure them. Middle: vertical line over mid-chest is ineffective. Right: the proper diagonal bar path

Smith Machine manufacturers agree. The newest “3D” variations allow horizontal bar movement. But they still balance the weight for you. You want to balance it yourself like any object you lift outside the gym. You want to Bench the weight yourself instead of letting a machine take work away from your muscles. Benching with free weights is harder. But that’s why it’s also more effective for building strength and muscle.

I Bench Pressed in the Smith Machine when I started lifting. It wrecked my shoulders and wrists. When I got smarter and switched to free weights, I couldn’t Bench what I did on the Smith Machine. I had to lower the weight. The Smith Machine develops fake strength. And it’s not safer, it’s bad for your joints. Bench Press with free weights on StrongLifts 5×5. Bench Press in the Power Rack so you can do it safely without spotter.

Dumbbell Bench Press

The Dumbbell Bench Press looks safer because you can’t get stuck under the weight. But if you fail mid rep, the dumbbell can drop on the floor or to your face. The former will piss of the gym manager, the latter can injure you. Bench Pressing in the Power Rack is safer because the safety pins always catch the bar if you fail. The weight can’t drop on the floor or on your face unlike with Dumbbells.

Benching heavy dumbbells without spotter is almost impossible. You need help to get the dumbbells in the starting position over your shoulders. You also need help to get them back to the floor when your set is over. You don’t need help with light dumbbells. But they won’t build maximum strength either. You must go heavy to get stronger. Without spotter, Barbell Bench Press in the Power Rack is the only way to go.

StrongLifts 5×5 doesn’t work with dumbbells. Adding weight each workout is key for results. Small increments work longer than big ones. Adding 5lb to a 200lb Bench is a 2.5% increase. 10lb is 5%. 10lb to a 100lb Bench is 10%. Dumbbells usually go up by 2kg/5lb. Few gyms have dumbbells with smaller increments or that you can adjust. This forces you to take 10lb jumps on StrongLifts 5×5. Your Bench will plateau faster.

Dumbbells aren’t bad. I have a pair of adjustable Dumbbells in my home gym. But I use them to do assistance exercises for the Bench Press. I don’t use them to replace the Barbell Bench Press. Because the best way to increase your Bench Press is to Bench Press and Bench Press heavy. Safety is key to Benching heavy weights with confidence without getting hurt. If you don’t have a spotter, Bench Press in the Power Rack.


Bench Press Spotter
Bench inside the Power Rack even if you have a spotter. Let him help you (un)rack the weight. He shouldn’t touch the bar while you Bench Press.

Some people think you need a spotter to Bench Press. But you can still injure yourself with a spotter. A quick Youtube search will return videos of Bench Pressers who hurt themselves despite having a spotter (or several). Heavy weight drops fast. if you lose the bar, it will usually hit you before the spotter can react. That’s why I recommend Bench Pressing in the Power Rack even with a spotter. Safety pins always catch the bar.

Most people don’t know how to spot. They hold the bar too long. They grab it too soon. They don’t always pay attention. Great spotters give you a proper hand-off so your shoulders stay back on the bench. They only grab the bar if you fail a rep, not struggle. They boost your confidence. Bad spotters can do more harm than good. You’re often better off Bench Pressing alone without a spotter.

If you have a reliable trainingpartner who knows how to spot, use him. If your schedules don’t mix, you can’t find a good spotter or you train alone in your home gym like me, then let your Power Rack be your spotter. Set the safety pins on each set so they can catch failed reps. I set them even if one of my brothers is there to spot me. If he doesn’t pay attention or reacts too slow when I fail, the pins always catch the bar.

Here’s an example. Powerlifter benching 185kg (408lb). This isn’t a beginner and he used the full grip, yet somehow the bar slipped. Weight drops fast, the two spotters didn’t react in time. The Bench Presser got up but the bar tore his diaphragm and broke his ribs. He later died in the hospital. The lesson here is spotters don’t guarantee safety. I always Bench Press in the Power Rack with safety pins and recommend you do the same.

Safe Bench Press Form

The most dangerous way to hurt yourself on the Bench Press is by losing the bar and dropping it on your face, throat or chest. People die each year from this kind of Bench Press accidents. Again, Bench Press in the Power Rack so the safety pins can catch failed reps. Set the pins even if you have a spotter. Then Bench Press with proper form to reduce the risk of losing the bar. Use a full grip, lock your elbows and rack properly.

No Thumbless Grip!

Bench Press Thumbless Grip
Left: thumbless grip, dangerous, don’t use it. Middle: full grip but bar too high, wrists will bend back. Right: correct bulldog grip with bar low in hand.

Never Bench Press with the thumbless grip. The bar can slip out of your hands without your thumbs to secure it. Wrap your thumbs around the bar using the full grip. Squeeze it so it can’t move. Notice you can squeeze harder with thumbs. This increases Bench Press strength because your arms and shoulders contract harder too (hyper radiation). If your wrists hurt, stop bending them by gripping the bar lower in your hands.

Some strong people have Bench Pressed huge weights using the thumbless grip. Others have dropped the bar on their chest despite Benching full grip. But the risk of losing the bar is higher with the thumbless grip. That’s why they call it the suicide grip. It doesn’t matter if someone has used it for years without accidents. Once it all it takes. Thumbless has zero advantage. If full grip feels less comfortable, you’re gripping the bar wrong.

Lock Your Elbows

Start and finish each rep with your elbows locked at the top. Let your skeleton hold the weight above your shoulders. You can hold the bar longer and more easily with locked elbows. This increases safety because you’re less likely to lose the bar if your muscles are tired from the reps you just Bench Pressed. It also increases your Bench Press because your muscles save strength for the actual lifting of the weight.

Don’t Bench Press with unlocked elbows to get more tension. You can lose the bar if your muscles are tired from your last rep. And benching the weight up and down will build muscle. If you want more tension, add plates on the bar. More strength is more muscle. If you’re doing StrongLifts 5×5 and don’t lock your elbows at the top of your Bench, the rep doesn’t count. Same if you ever decide to compete.

Locking your elbows is safe for your joints. What’s bad is forcing them beyond their normal range of motion. This isn’t how I’m recommending you to Bench Press. Don’t hyper-extend your elbows ever. Lock them gently and stay within the normal range of motion of your joints. If you do it right, your elbows won’t hurt when you Bench Press. The lockout will feel more secure and you’ll be less likely to lose the bar.

Rack Properly

Bench Press Unracking
Hold the bar with straight arms over your shoulders. Don’t keep it behind or in front of your shoulders. Don’t hold it with unlocked elbows either, it’s unsafe.

Unrack the bar with locked elbows. Move it over your shoulders before you go down. Don’t drop the bar from the uprights to your mid-chest. The bar must start over your shoulders for proper balance and strength. Lowering the bar from behind your shoulders is unsafe. It makes the weight harder to hold, as if doing pullovers. Take your time to unrack. Move the bar over your shoulders before you lower it. This is safer.

Bench Press Racking
Bench the bar over your shoulders first. Then move it back against your power rack. Once it touches, bend your arms to rack the bar in the uprights.

Finish you rep before racking the bar. Lock your elbows at the top and hold the bar over your shoulders. Don’t bench it in an incline path from your chest into the uprights. You can miss the uprights by pressing under, lose the bar and drop it on your face. Lock the bar over your shoulders first to make it easier to hold. Then move it back against the Power Rack. Bend your arms to rack the bar into the uprights.

Set your uprights to the proper height. Lie on the bench with your eyes under the bar and grab it. Your elbows should be bent. Your arms can’t be straight yet or you’ll miss the uprights when you rack the weight. Your shoulders will also come off the bench. Lower the uprights so your elbows are bent when you grab the bar. Then unrack by straightening your arms. You’re less likely to drop the bar if you do this.

Bench Press Safety Pins
You shouldn’t touch your safety pins on good Bench Press reps. Set them slightly lower than your chest. Then when you fail, just flatten your torso to rest the bar on the safety pins.

Asking For a Spot Is Okay

Don’t be afraid to ask for a spot if people are around. It’s never rude unless you do it mid-set. Choose someone, wait until his set is done, then walk over and ask for a spot. He has nothing to do between sets anyway but rest. If you’re embarrassed by your Bench Press weight, you’d be even more embarrassed if you get trapped by it and have to yell for help. Just ask for as pot. Nobody cares and your strength will increase anyway.

Nobody will refuse to spot you. Everybody needs a spot at one point if the gym has no Power Rack. It’s hard to get a spot if you refuse to give one. Most people will be happy to spot you (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours). I’ve never been refused a spot, not even when I was a newbie, but I’ve heard it happens. If it does to you: don’t take it personally, and don’t worry about it. Turn around and ask someone who isn’t an ass.

When you get a spot, tell them what to expect: how many reps you plan to Bench Press and how many you think you’ll get. Tell them also how to help and when. They should help you unrack the bar and release their grip once it’s balanced over your shoulders. They shouldn’t touch the bar unless you can’t get it up or are done. If all goes well, maybe you’ve found a trainingpartner to do StrongLifts 5×5 with.

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