Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weightlifting 101: The Setup

Setup Position for a Snatch
In weightlifting, the setup an athlete adopts before the initiation of the lift will drastically affect how the rest of the lift goes. Each individual will have a slightly different setup based on their body structure and technique, but here I will lay out some general principles to adhere to while setting up to lift.


Most athletes will benefit from taking a stance somewhere between a hip width to shoulder width stance. Taking a wider(shoulder width) stance, may help taller athletes, or those with relatively long femurs, adopt a more comfortable position with a more vertical torso, and help keep their shins more vertical in the setup (keeping the knees back makes it easier to keep from looping the bar out around the knees during the first pull). 

The feet may be straight, or slightly turned out, but not more than about 30⁰degrees from straight forward as this can lead to less stability and power. Athletes will less flexibility may find a turned out position to be more comfortable as it allows the knees to move out, creating space for the hips to drop into, helping to maintain a more ‘chest-up’ torso position , and bringing the lifter's hips closer to the bar.

Feet Parallel

Feet - Turned out slightly

Feet - turned out significantly

Athletes and coaches may need to experiment with foot positions to find the one that allows the athlete to assume a good setup position and maximal strength in the 1st and 2nd pulls.


In general, the hips should be placed somewhere above the knees, and below the shoulders. There are athletes that vary from this range, but for most this will be where they will perform the best.

A good way to establish proper hip position is to have an athlete assume a top-of-knee position with PVC pipe with a snatch grip. At this position the shins should be approximately vertical, with the weight balanced in the feet. Maintaining this back angle, have the athlete squat down until the PVC is approximately mid-shin. This should be a decent starting position, though the hips may be adjusted up or down to find each athlete’s optimal position. (Caveat: some high level olympic lifters will start with their hips relatively low and seemingly drop their chest as they pull. If you pay attention to the moment the bar actually leaves the floor however, their hips are usually between shoulders and knees)

Hips too high; chest low

Hips too low; knees forward
Hips about midway between shoulder and hip height


The bar must be kept close to an athlete throughout the lift, and thus the bar should start close to (no further than the front of the foot) or touching the athlete’s shins. 

Some athletes may find it useful to start with the bar an inch or two away from the shins, then sweep the bar back as the bar leaves the ground. This can also aid athletes who drag the bar against their shins, which can lead to bleeding and a tendency to keep the bar too far forward.


The knee should track out over the toes, similar to a squat, though some athletes may find it useful to drive them out even further. Pushing the knees apart activates many muscles of the hip, aiding in stabilization. Driving the knees out can also help an athlete to achieve a more vertical torso, especially helpful for athletes with long femurs/torso.
Knees driving out

Knees directly forward - note the slightly higher hip position, more forward inclination of the chest, and slightly less tight back arch.


An athlete's setup position is a very individual thing, and coaches and athletes need to work together to figure out what works best for each athlete. Using these guidelines will help you dial in your optimal position. Consistency is key, once an athlete has found a comfortable and technically sound setup position, they should use that same exact position every time they lift.

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