The start position is arguably the most important position to get right in weightlifting. Just like you want to be in a good position when you finish the pull to have a fast transition under the bar or a good position at the knee to set you up for a good second pull, you want to start the whole lift in a good position to set you up for success in the rest of the lift. Here are the four cues we commonly use to get you in a good start position.
Note: Even though your setup will look different for the Snatch and the Clean, the cues remain the same. The hip height, angle of your back, etc. will be different between the two, but as long as you follow these four cues, your setup will be correct.
Start With the Bar Over the Last Shoelace
This is the cue we use for beginners to teach them where to place the bar over their foot. This will be different from a conventional deadlift for a few reasons, the biggest one being that the bar will be a decent ways away from the shins. How far from the shins will be determined by the next cue.
By starting with the bar over the last shoelace, we ensure that the bar is over the midfoot and base of support (from the ball of the foot to the heel). This can be changed based on individual preference, but the important thing here is that the bar is over the base of support and is not touching the shins.
Line the Elbow Up with the Outside of the Knee
If you look at any high level weightlifter, the start of each lift might look a little bit different. Some use a rolling start, some use a static start, most have their own ritual before a lift. One thing they all have in common is when they break the bar off the ground. If you pay attention to the relationship between their elbow and knee, they are lined up in the frontal plane. This means that if we look at them directly from the side, their elbow is going to be covering their knee.
Using this cue to find hip position in the start is extremely useful. I get asked very often about how high or low the hips should be at the start. My response is always the same. If you line their elbow and knee up, the hips will take care of themselves.
This helps account for longer and shorter limb athletes so you don’t have to ‘’eyeball’’ it and say,
‘’This guy’s got longer limbs, his start should look something like this.’’
But why line these up? It sets us up to easily hit a correct position at the knee.
If we look at the picture below, we’ll see the start position of four different lifters from the side.
We can see that each lifter's back angles and hip heights are a bit different, but all their elbows are lined up with the side of their knees. If we can imagine these athletes‘’Pushing through the ground’’ and raising the hips and shoulders at the same rate until the bar is at the knee, the knees will move back just far enough for the bar to pass the knees without the bar having to move excessively forward to get around the knees or backwards to stay close to the lifter.
No matter what type of athlete you look at, long or short limbed, if you set them up with the elbows and knees in line, the process for getting the bar to the knees will be the same.
No more worrying about how far the knees need to travel back which might be dependent on height, limb length and start position. Set them up the same way and the cues for getting to the knee remain the same for a 6’5 lifter as a they are for a 4’11 one.
Get Your Back Flat
Go look at some more high level weightlifters. See if you can find anyone that starts with their back rounded. You won’t. A strong back that can start in a good position is a must for a weightlifter. If it doesn’t start flat, you can bet it won’t be getting flat during the pull. If your back is rounded, it leads you to reduce the power you transfer into the bar from putting your body in the best position to use it’s muscles.
The most common cues we use to get a lifter to flatten out their back are ‘’Get your chest up’’ and
‘’Stick your butt out’’. After this, they’ll usually respond well when we say ‘’Get your back Flat’’.
From time to time, we’ll get a lifter that simply doesn’t have the mobility, stability or strength to get their back flat. If it’s a mobility issue, we’ll typically do a lot of work on the hips. If it’s a stability or strength issue, we’ll prescribe the appropriate exercises to help fix the problem.
If a lifter can’t quite get their back flat, it doesn’t mean that they can slack on their start position.
Attempting to get into the correct position over and over is also going to play a huge role in gaining the mobility, stability and strength in order to get in the correct position. We also don’t want to engrain the wrong habits by staying ‘’loose’’ in the start just because we can’t get in the perfect position yet.
Get Your Lats On
This last cue can also be called ‘’Get your upper back tight’’. The lats are a huge stabilizer of the back and can assist in helping keep the back flat. The lats will also help keep the bar close during the whole pull.
If I have an athlete in person, teaching the person to use the lats is easy. I’ll have them stand with their arms at their side, put my hand on the back of their arm and have them push my hand backwards. They’ll feel the lats and other upper back muscles engage and I’ll tell them they need to activate those muscles before breaking the bar off the ground.
With people that have relatively good body awareness, this is usually enough. For someone that I don’t have in person or that doesn’t respond to that cue very well, I’ll tell them to ‘’Bend the bar around your body’’ or ‘’Push your shoulder blades in your back pockets’’ to get their lats and upper back muscles working.
These are the four most common cues for the start position that we use at Lift Lab. The first two are the most important, but following these two will only get you close to where you need to be.
The flatness of your back and activating your lats and upper back muscles will change the position of your knees and elbows, thus changing the position of your hips. For a truly correct start position, you need to follow all four of these cues.
There are more intricate starting position cues that we could mention such as pointing the knuckles to the ground and the position of the head, but following these four basic cues will help set you up for a successful lift.