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Getting 'set up' to start right - part 2

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

The approach

One may think the approach would not be that big of a deal when lifting the bar off the floor or performing any specific lift, but it is the beginning of the start. Consider:

  • Is the lifter mentally and physically prepared to lift the weight?
  • Are they just physically going through the motions, or are they mentally engaged?
  • Have they visually, i.e. mentally lifted this in their mind in the past?
  • Do they believe this weight can be lifted at this time and under these specific conditions?

It all adds up to either negatively or positively affect the outcome of the lift.

The width of the stance at the start

The measurement of stance width is fraught with uncertainty as there is no commonly recognized point of reference. It would seem to be a simple matter of measuring between the heels of each foot, inside to inside. But it is not accepted practice, so the best advice unless one is using the sumo stance in the dead-lift is to place the feet pelvic width or narrower. Some coaches even say this foot placement should be the width of the palms. Have the athlete get into the recommended position and see how it feels. Slight adjustments may be necessary, but unless the sumo is being used, it's best to keep the feet closer together as this will maximize the force applied to the barbell. This is particularly true for the Olympic lifts as the reduction in the vertical component will be evident during the movement.

Foot position

Early on, many coaches believed that the shins should be touching the bar. It was thought that by doing so, the bar would cover the least amount of ground coming up, i.e. in a straight line from floor to finish. But starting like this tends to crowd the other links in the body, so they are not set up into an efficient pulling position. Especially affected is the back. Beginning so close to the bar makes it unlikely the lifter will be able to straighten it out to start lifting.

Current thinking has the bar positioned on the shins with the exact distance determined by the relative experience of the lifter and their particular body type. For example, a novice should be placing their feet, so the shins are 5cm from the bar. The shoulders should be situated in a vertical line with the toes. Advanced lifters will vary slightly from this placement. Positioning the feet here places the barbell at the centre of gravity within the support platform of the body. In other words, the bar is being lifted from a powerful starting point by being balanced and supported at the centre of gravity, within the athletes' physical structure.

All of the research data was used to calculate the most advantageous movement of arms with the athlete's kinematic chain links. For example, he concluded that an athlete with a long torso and short legs would be better off in setting up with their feet 2 to 3 centimetres behind the centre of the line dropping down from their shoulders. Further studies placed a person with normal proportions behind the bar by 0 to 1 centimetre. The last body style examined was one with a short torso and long legs. These athletes were best-positioned 0 to 1 centimetre in front of the bar. Observation of the latter lifter reveals the fact that because of the long legs the lifter will not be able to get into a favourable position behind the bar due to the inclination of the shins towards the platform. This forces the bar a slight, but noticeable, amount further away.

The stance

There are two standard positions used by the majority of lifters, with tremendous variations applied to each one. The first is with a narrow stance. The lifter places the feet parallel to one another and points straight ahead. The second position seen is with the feet angled outward at least 10 to 15 degrees.

If an athlete is setting up in a sumo stance for the dead-lift, the feet will be spaced much wider apart to where they are nearly touching the plates on the bar. The toes in this instance will then be pointing out at an angle approaching 45 degrees. It has been noticed that at the wider angles, the support for the bar is diminished and balance is easily lost either to the front or to the rear.

Determining the angle of the feet to the bar is made by measuring between the long axis of the feet, perpendicular to the bar. In each case of finding the best foot placement angle, the position needs to feel natural and comfortable to the lifter. In some cases, this will be determined by the joint mobility of the lifter.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Getting 'set up' to start right - part 2. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 34/ July-August), p. 3-4

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 - part 2 [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 several 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 a healthy fitness lifestyle.