Bench Press Fail: Stuck & Pinned By The Bar Without A Spotter

Do you bench press? Cool. With a barbell? Also cool.

Here’s another question for you… do you always have a spotter?

I don’t mean only sometimes, or just when you’re going extra heavy. I’m talking about ALWAYS, as in every single time you bench press? If so, awesome. You’re smart.

But if not, there’s something that can happen, and it’s something that I’ve seen happen first hand dozens and dozens of times over the years. In fact, it’s even happened to me on more than one occasion.

You Might Get Stuck

Now, if you’ve been training in a typical public gym long enough, you’re probably seen it happen before. Hell, it may have even happened to you at some point too. And if it hasn’t, I can almost guarantee that the possibility of it happening has crossed your mind at least once.

And let me tell ya… getting pinned by a heavy barbell on the bench press when you have no strength left to push it back up AND no spotter standing by to pull it off you sure as hell ain’t fun.

That second when you lower that bar and realize you can’t press it back up and rack it feels like an hour. And other than the uncomfortably scary feeling it causes and the fact that everyone in your gym will laugh at you behind your back for a while, it’s also potentially quite dangerous.

But you probably knew that already. What you may not know however is what you can do about…

The First Solution Is Obvious: Prevention

Now the first, smartest, safest and all around best thing you can do when you find yourself stuck on the bench press is to just avoid ever actually finding yourself in that position in the first place.

So how do you prevent this from happening? Three methods come to mind:

  • Get a spotter.
    Find a friend, ask the person benching on the bench next to you, or just politely ask some random gym goer who you’ve never even spoken to before. Don’t feel stupid, everyone does it all the time. (More here: Spotting 101)
  • Put the bench in a rack.
    This is easier said than done in some gyms, but if you can make it happen, it’s just as good (if not better) than having someone spot you. Just drag an empty bench over to a power rack (or squat rack) and adjust the safety bars to a height that A) will allow you to lower the bar as low as you need to without banging into them, and B) is just high enough to catch the barbell on and allow you to squeeze yourself out from underneath if you had to dump it off. Here’s an example.
  • Know your limits.
    Meaning, know when you’re truly capable of attempting that final rep or adding that extra weight to the bar. This is the worst option of the 3 for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to become over cautious to the point of it hindering your progress. And second, most people will never be able to hold back and accurately gauge what they can or can’t do. We’re just stupid like that.

So, that’s how you can avoid ever getting stuck bench pressing. Pretty simple and straight forward, right?

But let’s just say you don’t take that advice. Let’s just say that for whatever reason, you find yourself in the precarious position of having a heavy barbell coming back down towards you with no chance of it ever coming back up. What the hell do you do then?

Worst Case Scenario: You Get Pinned… Now What?

Like I mentioned before, I’ve actually been in this position more than once. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe 5 times in my life, all of which took place during my first couple of years of training.

It’s a scary, helpless position to be in, and it sucks.

To this day, I still get semi-nervous watching someone out of the corner of my eye get a little too close to failure with no spotter standing by. You see them complete a rep and you just know they have no chance of getting another one.

But yet, they attempt it anyway… struggle with it for a few seconds… and then… they’re stuck. Ah yes, the memories.

So, what do you do if this happens to you? There are a few options:

  • Call for help.
    If you’re at a public gym with other people around you, just call out for help. Someone will usually be close enough to hear you and pull the bar off within seconds. I’ve been that life-saving person many times. And yes, you’ll look like an idiot when this happens, but at least you’ll be alive. That’s always a plus, right?
  • Hope a life guard is on duty.
    If you’re too shy/stupid to call out for help, you can always hold out hope that someone will just happen to notice you’re stuck on the bench press with a barbell on top of you. I’ve been the guy who notices the stuck person a surprisingly high number of times too. And if you’re wondering if I hum the Baywatch theme song and pretend to move in slow motion as I run over to save their life… you bet your sweet ass I do!
  • Dump the weights off the side.
    This can only be done if you’re NOT using clips/collars. In that case, you’ll be able to dump the weights off of one side of the bar, at which point a fat-kid-on-a-see-saw effect will take place and the other side of the bar will tip right off of you. In case it’s not obvious from my description, this method is super dangerous (and super loud). Not only to you, but to everyone else within 15 feet of you. But I’ve seen it happen successfully a bunch of times, and when no one gets killed in the process, it’s a workable life saving option.
  • Tuck and roll.
    And finally, this is the method I instinctively used the few times I’ve gotten stuck. The second I realized that bar wasn’t going to make it back up, I stopped trying. Rather than waste any additional energy struggling to complete a rep that I knew had no chance of being completed, I just slowly lowered the bar down to my chest and used whatever remaining strength I had to roll that thing towards my legs while simultaneously sitting up. So, I basically end up seated upright on the end of the bench with the bar resting on my thighs as if I’m about to do a set of wrist curls. And from there, I just drop it to the floor in front of me. Taaadaaa! You can see an example of this here. Now you might notice I called this method the “tuck and roll.” You may be wondering what gets “tucked.” Well, I had to roll a heavy barbell over my body from my chest down to my thighs. And… I’m a dude. Do the math. I should also mention that at the time I couldn’t have been benching more than 190-205lbs. Rolling a heavier weight across my chest and stomach might not have worked out so well.

And That’s How To Save Yourself

So, there’s 4 methods of getting out of a position you most definitely don’t want to be in without a spotter. Especially with anything remotely close to heavy weight.

Trust me, I’ve been there and done that. It’s probably been 10 years since the last time it happened, but I still remember it pretty well. I guess it’s hard to forget almost dying via bench press decapitation.

But again, the best method of all is prevention. Instead of thinking about how to get yourself out from under the bar, you should just be safe/smart enough to not let it happen in the first place.

Has It Ever Happened To You?

If so, let’s hear about it. As long as you got out of it okay, these stories are usually highly entertaining.

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