The 3 Most Important Positions in Weightlifting

by coachdanbell

In all the debate (bitter feuding) over technique in the interwebs, rarely have I read a reference to the position of the bar over the base in relation to the pull. For me it is the most relevant point in the entire discussion. People talk about flat-footed pulling versus driving through the ball of your foot and the effect on bar speed a lot, but in all the caterwauling about catapult, triple extend, jump & shrug, yada yada yada, few have mentioned the effect of a particular technique on the position of the bar over your base of balance–your feet, between the ball of your foot and your heel.

It does not matter how high the bar is driven if it is out of position. If you can’t meet the bar in balance and act on it, you’re just treating the barbell like a shot, throwing it up and watching helplessly as it falls. The biggest factor in putting the barbell in the right place to do something with it is the position of the bar over your base of balance, getting it there and keeping it there as long as possible.

You might think the starting position would be big on my list of three, and while I do think there are better starting positions, several variations of the start have been successful, from Norik Vardanian’s high hip start (favored by current USA national team coach Zygmunt Smalcerz) to a standard start to a hip position so low that the shoulders start behind the bar. As long as you can effectively sweep the bar in and over the base, the start works. But you have to hit that first vital position, at the knees. . . .

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I’ve used this sequence before because Darrel Barnes has one of the best pulls of any American lifter–or any lifter anywhere for that matter. Look at the third photo in the sequence. Darrel is able to sweep the bar deep over his base because he got his shins to vertical. His weight is shifted slightly to his heels and he has used his lats to push the bar very close, almost touching skin. That shins-vertical part is essential; the bar is positioned directly over the middle of the base. It cannot go deeper than that as you’d have to go through flesh and bone to get the bar over the heel. Most lifters find that undesirable. Darrel has the bar as far back over his base as it can go.

Okay, the bar is over the middle of the base. It is crucial to keep it there. Even if you got to this point perfectly, you can still screw up. We have to keep the bar over the middle of the base. If at this point you leave your shoulders forward and attempt to drive the hips to the bar, you will drive the bar forward, either to the front of the base (ball of the foot) or beyond it. The effort here must be to raise the torso and get the torso vertical behind the bar. This brings the bar right back to the hips in the snatch or top of the thighs in the clean & jerk; most important is that this movement keeps the bar right over the middle of the base or, for some lifters, gets it even a bit deeper over the base. The knees will be re-bent and in front of the bar. The torso will be vertical and behind the bar.

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Cameron Swart (above) and Caine Wilkes (below) both hit the second vital position pretty much perfectly, Cameron in pic 4 and Caine in pic 6. Their heels are down, although many lifters can hit this position on the balls of their feet. What is critical is that the bar is still over the middle of the base or deeper, and the torso is vertical behind the bar, heels down or not.

From here the lifter’s legs are employed to drive the torso/bar up. Driving up from position 2 will have the lifter finishing the pull in more or less a straight line, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints a lining up and leaning back about 5 to 10 degrees–vital position number 3. This angle, too, is vital. The backward lean clears the hips from over the middle of the base so the bar can move more or less straight up, rather than being driven forward. This makes the task of keeping the bar close much easier.

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In pic 5 above (and in all the sequence shots) you will see that same slight lean backwards, all the big joints–shoulder, hip, knee and ankle–lining up in a straight line. The slight backward lean has another positive side effect: it leaves the lifter slightly out of balance backwards, forcing the lifter to reflexively withdraw the hips and begin the descent under the bar in perfect timing, while the bar is still going up.

This backward lean creates a bar path unlike the classic Soviet S-pull of the 70s and 80s. Rather than the bar being momentarily driven forward of the base at the top of the pull, the lean back allows the bar to stay over the base of balance. Forgive my poor art skills, but the drawing below should help illustrate what I mean.

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The net effect of this pull is that the lifter’s feet will move back an inch or two to re-establish the base of balance where he/she has sent the bar. I consider this to be ideal.

I have employed the back-half drill extensively to get my lifters to this kind of pull. Getting a lifter to position 2 with the balls of the feet on the ground is very difficult to achieve, so I take the balls of the feet away. Will that make them “jump” from their heels when they get back to the floor? No, not in my experience. Many still drive through the ball of the foot, or at least have the heels pop up off of the floor at the end of the pull.

Look at each photo sequence and compare your positions to these three. If you aren’t hitting them, I believe you are falling short of your potential.