How To Workout Safely And Effectively Alone In The Gym
May 26th 2019
Can you train in the gym without a spotter? Exercises, like the bench press, are one of the most common exercises to rely on a spotter. You get at least one buddy to go to the gym with you. This is a mission… to not die in the gym. So, what is it that makes people gain confidence in order to go to the gym alone and to train without spotters.
I have been strength training for over 6 years now. For about 99% of my gym sessions, I have gone on to train without a spotter. Perhaps subconsciously, I knew that the only person I could rely on was myself and I was determined to not let anything stand in my way. By trusting a spotter, you add another training variable in vision. This is fine if you both are going in the same direction. Teams, clans, and groups are much stronger together than separated. But when things get tough, you know that you can rely on and trust yourself enough to get through many difficult gym sessions without any help.
How to workout without a spotter
You can implement one or more of the training strategies mentioned in order to workout safely without a spotter:
- Use a power rack or squat rack
- Do not train to failure
- Work on building your courage
- Use dumbbells instead of barbells
- Use lower weights with higher reps
Use a power rack or squat rack
Depending on your squat rack or power rack, you may be able to do all your exercises inside. You are able to do squats and bench presses with peace of mind since you have safety pins. For some budget lifters, you will probably use a moderately priced power cage, where you have pullup and dip attachments. Because of the cage-like structure, it is much more stable than a half rack set-up. If you bolt either structure into the ground, the stability of your equipment improves tremendously.
Because I am strength training, I constantly do a lot of compound barbell movements. Squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and overhead presses are my bread and butter for all my strength programs. It is very efficient to have a power cage. For my garage gym, I use this power cage. I had it for about 3 years now and it has been a very good purchase. I have dumped 350+lbs on the safety bars and they did not bend (yet). The paint does scrape off the hooks easily but that was never really a concern for me. My main objective was to find a good power cage in order to train in and so far, I am alive and strong.
Don’t train to failure
With a spotter, you can have someone to bail you out. However, if you are going to the gym solo, this can be a recipe for disaster.
You may have read that training to failure is one of the best training methods out there. There could be some validity to that statement but the honest truth is that there is more than one path to gain maximal strength. While I do not doubt the powerful effects of training close to failure, it may not be the most optimal if you are increasingly more anxious because you are afraid of crushing yourself with the barbell.
Another common method that many strength coaches implement is to train sub-maximally, meaning that you are purposely lifting weights below your 1 rep max in order to build up strength. Programming using this framework forces you to think critically and analytically about your numbers and how much you should do each week. You are definitely not trying to aim for failure but you are giving your body enough stimulus to challenge itself to induce growth.
Build your courage
Ideally, you should stop reading about the first two bullets. As strength athletes, you know that the road of strength will help you grow in many areas of your life. But the bottom line is this -
You know it is dangerous to lift weights. If you want to be awesome and stronger than others, you will need to do more. You will need to embrace more discomfort and sacrifice more than others. You will need to develop your courage in order to take risks in the gym to help you become stronger.
Yes, it will be scary at first. Everything someone experiences for the first time may be a bit daunting at first.
Did the first European sailors know what they were getting into when they sailed the unknown oceans? Definitely not.
Did the first architects and engineers know what they were getting into when they built their first skyscrapers? Definitely not.
But there is something uniquely similar among you lifting weights in the gym or you are an explorer in the past - you needed courage in order to continue to grow. You would not be here today if your ancestors did not have the courage in order to lead a stable life in the chaotic world. You would not be reading or even acknowledging the feats of strength possible if it were not for our strength brothers and sisters that constantly push themselves in order to hit another huge PR.
But what if you are not training for strength? It may not be your primary goal but you would like to know how to train safely without increasing your risk of injury. That is no issue here; I also have some invitations for you to consider with regards to your own personal goals:
Using dumbbells instead of barbells
With dumbbells, you can be a lot safer. They are easier to control and you have more flexibility in varying the degree of difficulty for each exercise. You do not physically have the capability of lifting 200+lbs in one hand (unless you already train that way). It would be tough for most lifters even with training experience.
Use lower weights with higher reps
Instead of doing your usual rep scheme (I would highly suggest that you never go against what your program says), you can substitute it for something a bit easier. Instead of doing 3x10, you can maybe do 3x6-8. Instead of doing 3x5, do maybe 3x3-4.
To be quite honest, you really can do whatever you want when it comes to lifting weights. There is no secret formula or magic trick that will get your shredded or strong. It will take consistent discipline and hard work. While it may be okay to take a “light” day occasionally (I said may), you need to understand that you should try to do every workout to the best of your ability if you want the results in the end.
Strength training is fun and challenging. If you cannot enjoy the process, it may feel like a long journey that never seems to end. However, training should not be a burden to you. You can train without a spotter, especially with the bench press. By making sure you implement some or all of the methodologies above, you greatly minimize your risk of dying in the gym today! So, train hard, have fun and remember to make the world stronger every day by working on yourself first.