Your Instep, your heel, and pulling to the knee

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 3:42 PM
One of the constants in my lifting since 1993 has been focusing on driving through the midline of my foot; I remember lifting in the Bob at the University of Delaware and putting my foot on the line in the platform and trying to always push through that line.   In 2010, I heard Mark Cameron describe that line as "where the heel meets your instep", and that's exactly, in my opinion, the line through which all force must be directed on the pull.  Now, I understand that as the bar changes position, the lifters weight shifts forward.  But we, as lifters, want to keep our weight over that line of force as long as we can.  

Why that point of the body, you ask?  That line is sort of the midline of your body in the vertical plane as soon as you bend at the hips.  When you stand up straight, your shoulders are right behind that line of your foot, and therefore the bar in lifting will be, at the top of the pull, right over that line.  If the bar is right over that line at the top of the pull, you are able to get yourself under the bar better.  And, usually , when you catch the bar in a front squat the bar will be over that line, and when you snatch and jerk well, the overhead position of that bar is over that line between your feet where the heel meets the instep.  Check out Anatomy Bob, as I call him, and look at the heel/instep line and how it intersects the hip and is just in front of the shoulder joint (the point where the instep meets the heel is right in front of where the leg bone meets the foot bone, or the ankle).  Now, go to and check out some pictures of the lifters at the Olympics and see where the bar is when they pull and finish their lifts.  Always for the best lifters that bar is right above, or damn near, that spot- over the CENTER OF BASE.  

In order to get that bar to the center of base, we need to start with the bar in the right spot, which is the first metotarsal-phalangeal joint, or where the big toe meets the foot.  In some folks, you'll be sightly in front, some will be behind, but that' spot is more or less where the bar should go. 

Wait- hold on- some people say to start with perpendicular shins, some say to start with the bar in front of the toes, some people say to eat Froot Loops every day because Mickey Tettleton did and said he hit home runs because he did.

I don't really give a bunch of ducks where you are when you grab the bar.  Just grab it. When that bar breaks contact with the ground-- at the point where you, the organism, must break the inertia of the bar-- the most effective place for that bar to be is right over that toe joint.  Check out Lu Yong over here; the bar is off the floor a bit and it's right over his big toe joint!  Holy Crap!  He's about to snatch as much as I've cleaned!  Maybe I should do more burpees. 

When we break the bar off the floor, our body will naturally put us in the strongest position, which is like Lu Yong above.  Your body finds it when you're highly trained, or when you simply breathe. But for many of us, we cannot use a dynamic start, we cannot start with our hips low and let our body bring us into this position off the floor.  So we start in this position and try to maintain it as we lift.  Some of us can start with low hips and get the bar in this position as we pull from the ground; that's my preferred start, in fact.  

So, let's review, sum up, and move along:  You put the bar right above your big toe joint, your feet are comfortably pointed outwards, and you grab the bar.  I prefer your hips to be low, how low depends on your levers and strength.  Your back must be arched and tight.  A tight arched back is more important than low hips.  if your hips are lower, as you get into position to break the bar from the floor, your shoulders move toward the bar and you drive through that line.  DRIVE through it, push on it as if it's the only point under your feet.  

Okay, now we're good.  We've all got the bar off the floor, and at some later point I'll talk about dynamic starts, high vs. low hips, and why you should just read my old blogs because I already did talk about all this stuff.  

What do we do with our body as we break the bar off the floor?  Well, that depends on where you want the bar to go.  

I want the bar to end up in the snatch at your patella tendon (knee or just below) with your shins perpendicular to the ground (more or less), but they can be flared out at an angle (check out the pictures of Zelyx Rivera and her 90 kg snatch in my multi media section, or the picture above of Lu Yong).  In the clean, I want the bar just above your knee when your shins are perpendicular to the ground.  Let's simplify this desire, though:  shins perpendicular to the ground when the bar is around your knee.  We're going to end today's blog at the knee, so let's focus on how the bar gets there and where else it might go.

To get the bar to the position I want:  shins perpendicular to the ground, bar at the knee, and directly OVER the midline of your foot (yep, where the heel and instep meet), you must BRING THE BAR TOWARD YOU WHEN IT BREAKS FROM THE FLOOR.  


I'm glad you heard me that time.  Never did a coach say to the lifter "Let that bar get really far away from you off the floor, it'll be okay when you can't receive it and drop the lift."  Well, I may have said that, but only because I'm a smart ass.  

Sometimes a coach says to keep the bar close; sometimes they say to sweep it in, sometimes I say create tension, sometimes I say to push your knees out and back, your butt out, and keep your chest up (I need to talk about the triangles of tension in a blog, too).  No matter what the coach says, the idea is for the bar to move toward the lifter and toward the point over the midline of the foot.  The lifter moves the bar there in an incredibly efficient movement called standing up safely.  Seriously people, this is lifting.  Lift the bar efficiently and you'll do it right.  Don't confuse your body.  So, here we are again to debate the start position and why the bar shouldn't move in a vertical line off the floor.  

The bar can move in a vertical line off the floor and be a great pull IF the lifter is flexible enough and fast enough to get their ass back out of the way and pop their hips through the bar before falling.  In this case, the lifter can start with the bar closer to her shins.  

If the lifter is like most of us, though, the pull must bring the bar towards us.  I don't care if it's a straight line, or a curved line, or whatever, but the bar is going to come toward the lifter.   Here's a video Glenn Pendlay posted of Jon North bringing the bar toward him in the snatch:  (I would like you to notice where the bar is located when Jon snaps his hips into it; it's right over the midline of his foot, the center of his base, the line through which we must push).  Here's Jared Fleming snatching 160 at the 2012 Nationals.  (I've known Jared since he was 10, which is why I showed his 160 and not Jon's).  Notice that, as he pulls from the floor, the bar is over his big toe joint, it comes into him (no, his shins aren't perpendicular to the ground when the bar is at his knees, but hey, it's a guideline and not a rule) and he finishes his pull with the bar right over the midline of his foot.  I think if his shins were perp to the floor at the knee he would have had a smoother finish.  But this is 160, under pressure, and the kid did well.

One point of discussion in the initial phase of pulling the bar from the floor is if the bar should move up in a straight line.  This point is only for discussion because good lifters know the bar, which starts over your toes, shouldn't go straight up; the bar should move into you off the floor.  

But why not?  

If the bar starts over your toes, and rises in a vertical line, it will be in front of your center of base when it reaches the knee, causing you to chase after the bar, to lose your balance, and causing the bar to finish in front of your body and causing you to drop the bar.

If the bar starts against your shins and rises in a vertical line, the bar could reach the center of base as it passes the knee; but what most people do if the bar starts against their shins is to move the bar away from their center of base as they lift it, causing it to move away from the body past the knee rather than towards the body.  If the bar moves away past the knee, the bar has a big loop when you finish the lift, and you lose the lift or work way too hard to finish it and squat up.  

The third option is to start the bar over your center of base and have your knees over the bar.  This might be okay, it all depends on your levers.  But what happens in this case is that either the bar moves forward continuously off the floor, or the bar goes forward than comes back even for those with the most advantageous of levers.  You want to lift the bar as efficiently as possible; the bar moving forward then back means the lift is harder than it has to be.  

I'd like to address one major flaw in people's online discussion of the pull.  That flaw is that the bar position is often dissociated from the center of base.  The bar doesn't just have to end up at a specific point above the thigh or on the thigh; it has to be above the midline of the foot when on the hips'high on the thigh.  Many times people will say that the bar "hits them" in the correct spot, but I then tell them that their correct spot isn't in the right place.  

My cues to my lifters off the floor are as follows:  spread the bar with your hands to create tension (spreading the bar will ensure that all the strength from you pushing with your feet is transferred to the bar), squeeze your back tight, push through your heel (midline of the foot), push your knees out and butt back at the same time, and keep your chest up.  I often simplify all these cues into "knees out, create tension off the floor".  Or, even better, "Stay Tight, sweep the bar in". 

In a future blog, maybe the next one or maybe not, we'll talk about what happens to the bar after it goes past your knees.  

Michael McKennaComment