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Weightlifting Key Positions - Part One

Floor, Knees and the Transition Between the Two

Many lifters lose lifts right off the floor! The optimal start position from the floor and the transition as the bar goes from the floor to the optimal position at the knees is why many lifts are missed. There are several reasons for this and we will delve into the how and why of getting set and then getting to that all important position at the knees.

FLOOR (“set” position)

The positioning of the body’s levers are crucial to a good start position. We are looking for shoulders in front of the bar, with a tight, flat back, shoulders above the hips, and hips above the knees. How far the shoulders are in front of the bar is determined by the lifters individual limb lengths so, contrary to popular belief, there is not one correct answer that works for everyone. The key, though, is to make sure the lifters position puts them in a biomechanically sound position to use the legs on the lift off and not the back. The back has to be strong and tight and should serve as a stabilizer with the legs as the prime mover. In order for this to happen, the correct position for each individual lifter is important to determine.

The bar will be pretty much above the base of the big toe on setup so that when the lifter bends the knees to grab the bar, the knees will have bent, pushing the shins forward. The bar will be relatively close to the shins and some larger lifters or those with longer legs might find it more comfortable to have the bar a bit farther from the shins on the start, but basically we are looking at having the shins about ½” or so from the bar on setup.

Ideally, we want the bar to get back to the middle of the foot (or even toward the heels) as it is pulled from the floor to the knees, but more about this later when we discuss bar path and the transition from floor to knees.


Like the “start” or “set” position off the floor, we are looking for the shoulders to be in front of the bar with a tight, flat back. The angle of the back (relationship of the shoulders and hips to each other) should stay the same as it was at the start of the pull. Remember, the pull from the floor uses the legs as the prime mover and the back functions as a stabilizer. If the shoulders are in front of the bar as they should be and the bar is now over the middle of the foot as it should be, the lifter should feel it in the hamstrings.

Many lifters tend to be very weak in the posterior chain (the erectors, glutes and hamstrings), so the natural tendency is to avoid using that posterior chain and rely on the stronger quads by pulling the shoulders back instead of keeping them in front of the bar. The lifter is often more “comfortable” using the quads, but this is an example of the athlete needing to “become comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

Pulling the shoulders back is a common mistake as now that also pushes the bar forward so it is by the toes or even in front of the toes. This makes it very difficult to get into the proper power position farther up the body. Instead of being in the best position for that strong vertical, explosive movement at the power position, the finish of the pull will most likely swing out forward causing the miss. Even if the lift is completed, chances are that this swing of the bar has made the athlete jump, causing that old “reverse curl” syndrome and maybe even causing some wrist issues.

Bottom line, get strong in that knee position and you will see a significant difference in that top pull!

TRANSITION BETWEEN THE TWO (getting the bar from the floor to the knees)

I understand the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so it would make sense that we would want the bar to go in a straight line from floor to knees. Well, if we were to stop the lift at the knees, then that would work. However, the goal of the pull from the floor to the knees is to make sure that the bar ends up in the best “power” position for that explosive finish.

Instead of a straight line from the floor, the bar should come back toward the lifter as the knees straighten out. We want the bar to be at the middle of the foot or slightly toward the heels as soon as possible since that is where the best balance is on the feet and the prelude to the strong power position. If the shoulders and hips rise together as they should, the knees will come back as the legs straighten and the bar path follows the knees.

Did you ever see a lifter with scraped up or bloody shins? That is a tell-tale sign that the lifter is leading with the shoulders instead of the hips and shoulders coming up together. By doing that, the shins are literally being pushed forward into the bar instead of getting out of the way as the knees straighten.

To make sure the bar path is what I want from an athlete, I coach from the direct side. That way, I can see if the bar ends up over the middle of the foot and if the shoulders are in front enough. If not, the athlete most likely needs to just get the knees back a bit more. Then, I ask the lifter – “can you feel it in the hamstrings?” The answer should be – “oh, yeah!” (usually with a grimace or two if that posterior chain is a weak area for him/her!)

Getting from point A to point B is easy if you know how to do it and strong enough to maintain those key positions!!

Watch the full video with Leo coaching below.

Next week we will be reviewing the next Key Position!

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