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Getting 'set up' to start out right

Danny O'Dell explains how to correctly position your body and hold the bar when weight training

The start of any movement always sets up the sequence of the kinematic system for the remainder of the lift. There are no exceptions. The beginning predetermines, to a great extent the end result; especially in short duration lifts.

Body positioning

The amount of time spent on establishing the start varies from lift to lift. The shorter (measured in time) lifts demand that more attention is devoted to the exact and very precise positioning of the body before even starting the pull from the floor. Longer time events do not seem to require as much concentration on the body positions. However, if the positioning of the feet, limbs and torso are too far out of the proper start posture then the lift will in all likelihood be lost or an injury may result. It can also be said that the longer time that is spent in the exercise, the less the strength component is actually displayed during the lift and the less significance the starting position plays in the final outcome.

V. I Rodionov (cited in Kanyevsky 1992)[1] stated that the starting position will affect the barbell trajectory, the force produced by the athlete, the degree to which the muscles are included in the work of moving the weight, the amplitude through which the bar moves and the speed and the execution perfection of the lift. The start, obviously, is an important part of the lift. The start position is a separate phase of every lift and developing the perfect start takes time to perform correctly. It has been noted that normally once the basics of the lift are learned then the athlete will disregard any further start technique improvements. Eventually, this particular aspect of the lift is set aside and neglected, leading to the development of what may be an imperfect beginning. Smart coaches and athletes will set up specific times in the strength program to address the techniques of the start.

Two starts are evident in the lifting world, static and dynamic. In the static start, the lifter remains in a motionless position for several seconds before actually pulling on the bar. Active movement before the pull represents the athlete utilizing the dynamic pull. A dynamic start position establishes a state of equilibrium between the athlete and the bar. Included in this sequence of events will be the placement of the feet in relationship to the bar, the grip, the width of the grip, the torso angle compared to the floor, the degree of flexion in the back, hips, knees and ankles, and finally the position of the shoulder joint as it relates to the barbell on the floor. Body type will have a bearing on determining the best start position for each lifter.

Checking on the various beginning positions leads to five variations:

  1. The upper torso is tipped backwards with the shoulders behind the bar as the athlete assumes the start position
  2. The athlete lowers into the position by dropping down to where the hamstrings are touching the calf muscles. After making contact the hips are then raised up in a crisp manner until the athlete reaches a comfortable level at which point the lift begins in earnest
  3. The athlete raises and then lowers the hips several times while getting set up and then lifts the bar
  4. The athlete addresses the bar by taking a hold of it without bending the knees. After a moment or two the athlete dives to the bar by bending at the knees and while taking advantage of the short, or anticipated short, amortization phase begins to lift the weight
  5. The dive style, which is seldom used by elite lifters, involves approaching the barbell and while taking in a deep breath, quickly bending at the knees and literally 'diving at the bar', and grabbing hold then lifting upward. This is seldom used because the grip or position of the grip is not always as precise as it needs to be.

Experienced lifters use the first or the third style to get the bar moving off the floor. The start can be broken down into seventeen parts.

  1. The initial approach to the bar
  2. The width of the stance at the start
  3. Feet position under the bar
  4. Stance at the bar
  5. The grip width on the bar
  6. The grip on the bar
  7. The angle of the thigh in relationship the torso
  8. The elbow position
  9. The torso position
  10. Head position
  11. Preparing to move the bar
  12. Interaction with the bar
  13. Shifting of the body links prior to movement of the bar
  14. Shoulder and hip joint interaction with the bar
  15. The alignment of the shoulder joint to maximize the pull
  16. The alignment of the hip joint to maximize the pull
  17. The initial pull off the floor

Most novice lifters encounter a number of difficulties when it comes to mastering the elements of the start. Beginning with the mobility of the joints, flexibility issues, problems with keeping the proper arch or a straight back, trying to lift the bar with the arms and not the rest of the body, and trying to accelerate the bar at the immediate instant it breaks from the floor. These are just a few of the reasons one would concentrate on the start variations and each of the attending elements. Each body is built differently, neuromuscularly, psychologically and physiologically. Additional points to be considered are the habits that have previously been formed in earlier training situations and in other sports. These differences have to be considered when deciding on the start position.


  1. KANYEVSKY, V. B. (1992) Weightlifting training and technique, Sportivny press

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Getting 'set up' to start out right. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 33/ June), p. 9-10

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Getting 'set up' to start out right [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of a number of training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living the healthy fitness lifestyle.

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