I almost died recently.
Yep, I was attempting to find a 2-rep max box squat, training alone. I got a little over-confident, the weight got a little too heavy, and things got a bit dicey.
In celebration of NOT dying, I’d like to share a few ways you can be safe when training alone.
Of course, I’ll start with: TRAIN WITH A SPOTTER AND SAFETY EQUIPMENT!
Anyway, let’s get back to my near-death squat experience before I give you a few safety options.
So, I hit 465 lb for two reps on the box squat rather easily, so I decided,
“What’s another 20 lb?”
…famous last words.
I loaded to bar to 485 lb and nailed my first rep. The ease of the first rep shocked me. That’s a lot of weight for me.
I lost concentration as my mind now thought the second rep was a guarantee. It wasn’t. I started upward from the box with 485 lb, and I rocked forward ever so slightly, and I found out the hard way that:
- 485 lb goes where it wants to go and…
- I was not strong enough to tell it otherwise.
Even though the weight (and I) started to go forward rapidly, I had a lot of thoughts. Almost like that life flashing before your eyes effect, but for training. All I could think about was, why don’t you have a spotter, why don’t you have any safety bars, and lastly why are you so stupid!?
I had made it off the box but was too aggressive with my lean to attempt a traditional “bail”. I was going up and forward at the same time. Unfortunately forward was going faster than upward.
The weight was folding me in half and was about to pin me to the floor. I acted quickly, bent forward faster than 485 lb can fall and recoiled back as fast as I could, jumping backwards. In this biz, that’s what we call a “suicide bail”.
The bar crashed to the ground. I was on my back assessing potential injuries.
Luckily, I wasn’t injured.
Now, there are a lot of issues with that failure:
- Training max effort without a spotter
- No safety equipment
- Going too heavy
- Over-confidence in my strength
- Lack of concentration in the lift, etc.
Yet, let’s focus on how the situation could have been better. If everything were the same, and I couldn’t have gotten out from underneath the bar, what were my options?
Let’s go in order of cost. But I will say there should be little cost concern when it comes to safety.
In other words, come with me if you want to not die.
Not-Die-Squatting-Alone Option #1: Bail
Now, bailing isn’t rocket science.
It can be scary to bail, and I think bailing is reserved for those with more lifting experience. It’s a decent option if, and only if, you are already under a heavy load and have no way out, no spotter, and no safety equipment.
But in my box squat example I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I ended up in a position where a “normal bail” was not an option. Technically I bailed, but it would be deemed a “suicide bail” where I dumped the bar over my head. Don’t do that.
How to Bail:
- Step 1: Get to a sticking point and realize…you won’t lift it
- Step 2: Throw bar backwards while you jump forwards
*More on Step 1: The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem. If you try for 2-3 more seconds on a heavy back squat, you will most likely get crushed. If you know you aren’t going to get it, or even if you kind of think you won’t get it…BAIL! If you have a spotter and safety equipment, let them help you out while you try to prove you are superman. If you are alone or don’t have safety equipment…Get out as soon as you can.
*More on Step 2: “Throwing the bar backwards” isn’t throwing. When you decide to bail you need to release your hands and bring them to your front rapidly. I’ve heard some coaches suggest clapping. That’s how fast you should move out with your arms. Bring them off the bar and in front of you as fast as you can. Once your arms are released, this gives you the chance to jump or throw yourself forward to get out from under the bar. Some people suggest dropping to your knees. It works. But you better be damn sure that bar got far enough away from your back.
That’s bailing 101, and it’s kind of like the safety instructions you get at the beginning of a flight. You’ll want to know how to do all that stuff when the time comes, but you are betting that it won’t happen to you.
I suggest practicing with a light weight where the first time you bail isn’t under really heavy loads.
Now, let’s get to the safer options.
Not-Die-Squatting-Alone Option #2: Sawhorse
Next option? Spend $60.
A simple $60-spend ($30 per sawhorse) on brand new saw horses will have you rated at 1,200 lb (per horse).
Lowes and Home Depot will have these heavy duty sawhorses. There are other cheaper sawhorses too, but why skimp here?
Now, the $60 option isn’t perfect, and even though they are rated to HOLD 1,200 lb. I don’t want to DROP nearly 500 lb on it and see what happens. But it works and would have taken the pressure off the lift if they were high enough. I could have slowed it to the saw horses and been much safer.
Saw horses can also work as a sort of jerk box too. Not for dropping the weight, but if you want to practice Oly lifts at different heights it will work since the legs are adjustable. They don’t go super low, but it is good for pulls, especially rack pulls.
They’re cheap, easy to use and can hold a lot of weight.
A great investment!
Not-Die-Squatting-Alone Option #3: DIY Squat Rack
If you hang around EO3, you know we love some DIY!
This is one of the first projects I did for End of Three Fitness, and people often ask if I am still using this project.
The answer: No
Two reasons I am no longer using the DIY squat rack (click link for tutorial):
- Reason 1: I moved, while in the military, to a house with super low ceilings in the garage and could not fit my rack.
- Reason 2: My parents and wife chipped in to buy me a Rogue Yoke as a birthday present. They saw me squat and rack 400 lb to my DIY squat stand project…I think the wobble scared them.
However, I didn’t get the Yoke right away, so I was using the DIY squat stands for well over a year.
Anyway, the DIY squat rack has built in safety bars via vertical 2×4 board. And if that doesn’t seem sturdy enough for you, use bigger boards or double them up, but I will say this…
Completely dropping a barbell to safety bars, when squatting, is the same as a seat belt in your car. You’re glad you have it, and you trust it works…but you don’t want to find out if it works every day by getting into a car accident.
Safety bars are for when things go wrong, not a daily or weekly event.
And that’s it!
Of course, the safest and sturdiest option would be to buy a rack or rig from somewhere like Rogue Fitness, and I am sure there are other great equipment companies out there but I’ve ever only bought from Rogue.
But that option can be expensive! I get it. Now, you have plenty of other options, and no excuses, I might add.
Good luck in your squatting journey!
Here’s to not dying!
I know I didn’t cover it all! What tips and suggestions do you have? Add it to the comments.