by Coach Jake Sterny
1. Foot Placement in Relation to the Bar
Whether attempting to place a new athlete in a proper start position for the first time or simply trying to readjust an already experienced athlete, the first area a coach should look is where the foot is placed in relation to the bar.
When we see an athlete pull the bar from the floor efficiently we should notice a slight sweep of the bar back toward the body instead of a straight pull or the bar moving in the opposite direction. This is essential in creating a more efficient movement pattern (using force effectively to lift more weight).
How does an athlete achieve this? In order to set their pull up correctly an athlete should place their feet underneath the bar with it falling somewhere over the break of toes (where the toes meet the foot) and their ball of foot. Making sure the bar is in this spot is essential to what was mentioned above. Too often the bar will be placed too far back over the foot, much like in a conventional Deadlift setup, resulting in an altered set up and incorrect bar path during the lifts. As a result of this before an athlete pulls you might notice a few things.
First, the athlete’s shins will be too vertical resulting in a limited ability to drive the bar off of the floor properly with their legs placing most of the load during this portion of the lift in the mid to lower back. Second, the athlete will often be,“tipped over”, meaning that their shoulders are too far over the bar, their chest is down and their hips are too high resulting in the same issues mentioned above.
Lastly, setting up with the bar too far over the foot often results in a bubbled bar path at the beginning of the lift. With the shins being set up near vertical at the beginning, leg drive is limited as the knees can not be pushed back much further resulting in a need for the bar to move out and around the knees. When altering an athlete’s set up always begin from the ground up as it is one of the most overlooked and easiest areas to fix.
2. Positions to the Bar
When we teach how we want our athletes to pull to a new group we break the pull down from the floor to the hip using three different positions.
In “Position 1,” also known as power position, an athlete should have the knees bent with the torso vertical, shoulders slightly behind the bar, chest up, knuckles down, arms relaxed with the majority of their weight between mid-foot to heel and if snatching the bar in their hip crease.
In “Position 2,” the athlete transitions to this position by keeping the bar in contact with the thigh and their chest up, sliding the bar down until they reach just below their knee cap. Here the athlete’s chest should still be up, shoulders in front of the bar, knuckles down with weight focused behind ball of foot to mid foot. Their should be a generous amount of tension in the quadriceps here as well as in the hamstrings.
Lastly in “Position 3,” mid shin, the athlete shoves their knees out over their toes to transition into this final position. Here the athlete is closest to mimicking a proper start position with their chests up, shoulders in line with or slightly in front of the bar, knuckles down, knees slightly through their elbows and their weight centered just behind ball of foot. Here the athlete’s hips should be slightly higher than their knees.
3. Positions Used In Set Up
The second area to look after foot placement is how the athlete works their way down to the bar just prior to pulling into their final start position. The reason the positions we used were mentioned above is because it is a valuable guide that can be used by the coach and athlete to: 1). Review and reinforce proper pulling positions, and 2). Create consistency in the set up routine. When working with athletes for the first time we will teach the athlete to find each position on their way down to the bar 1, 2 and 3 so that every time before they complete set up they will have a greater chance of being in the correct position once their hands meet the bar. Once you’ve examined the athlete’s foot placement, work on having them hit each of the positions mentioned above to create consistency in their set up as well as ensure they will be close to their proper start position.
4. From the Floor
Once the athlete has their feet placed in the proper position and they’ve descended to the bar by hitting each position on the way down, the final area to check is where their body is in relation to the bar and the body angles of the athlete prior to pulling from the floor. The thing to keep in mind here is that every athlete is shaped differently, some with longer limbs and some with shorter limbs so don’t get caught up in the, “the athlete must be this, this and this…”, nonsense. What works for one person may not work for another. There are however a few rules that hold true. The first one being that the athlete’s chest must be up and their shoulders must be in line with or slightly in front of the bar. If the athlete attempts to start a lift with their shoulders behind the bar the bubbled bar path mentioned above has a greater chance of resulting and the bar will typically move away from the athlete’s body, requiring more effort to correct this mistake and thus, expending more of their energy. The second rule is that an athlete’s chest angle should differ between the set up for the snatch and clean and jerk. In the snatch, with the athlete’s hands in a wider position on the bar, their chest will be less upright than if they were set-up to perform a clean and jerk. One way to get the athlete to feel this is to have them set up for a snatch and have them practice sliding their hands from a Snatch to a Clean grip. Thirdly, the final rule that holds true is that for as useful as a diagnostic tool as how far an athlete’s knees are through the elbows in setup to determine whether or not an athlete’s hips are too high, it usually falls short. One reason being that each athlete has differing limb lengths from others. One with longer femurs may have their knees shown way past their elbows while another with shorter femurs might be slightly in front of or even with the elbows in set up. It pays more as a coach to pay attention to the areas mentioned above to create a more successful setup for the athlete.
Starting from the ground up with an athlete’s feet and their position in relation to the bar is the first key to putting them in a proper start position. Second creating consistency with positions in set up and looking for body angles will ensure that the athlete will raise the bar from the floor more efficiently and effectively. Setting an athlete up from their habits to their base prior to pulling from the floor will allow them the opportunity to hit correct positioning during their pull and eventually lead to more personal records. Start from the bottom.