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Bodybuilding is a solitary pursuit. In fact, many bodybuilders chose to get into bodybuilding instead of other team sports because, win or lose, the outcome is solely dependent on the performance of the individual. That being said, it is known that when it comes to training, the presence of an audience can have an effect. Studies have shown that people will self-select easier weight loads and cardio settings when their training partner isn’t with them. But what about spotters? Could the presence of a spotter actually influence how strong you are?
A team of researchers from the U.K. attempted to find out if the presence of a spotter affected strength, rating of perceived exertion, and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s own ability to accomplish a task. They had a group of recreationally trained subjects perform bench presses; three sets to failure using 60% of their 1RM on a Smith machine on two separate occasions; one where spotters were clearly visible, and another three to seven days later where the subjects could not see a spotter and believed no one was present. The spotters did not assist the subjects, nor did they verbally encourage the subjects.
The visible presence of a spotter significantly increased the number of reps the subjects could complete for all sets. Remember, on a Smith machine, subjects can “hook” the weight at any time, so a spotter is not necessary to prevent the weight from pinning them to the bench. Subjects rated the reps to be easier when they knew a spotter was present as well. Finally, even their self-efficacy was increased by the visible presence of a spotter.
These findings demonstrate that performance, and therefore the “training impulse,” may be enhanced with the presence of close observers such as a spotter. Furthermore, the perceived absence of an observer has a negative impact on total work done.
Training with a partner is a smart thing to do. It not only decreases the risk of an accident but also may significantly increase your training drive and training loads, ultimately contributing to better and more consistent gains.