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Getting 'set up' to start right - part 3

In part 3 of this series, Danny O'Dell looks at the grip width on the bar, the grip on the bar, the angle of the thigh with the torso and the elbow position.

The grip width on the bar

Each lifter will have a favourite grip spot on the bar from which they want to begin the lift. Some go narrow, as the sumo lifters do, and others will have a "wide grip". In the squat, a "wide grip" is often necessary to get the hands-on the bar. The wide grip is the favourite of those with limited shoulder mobility, especially in the squat, but hold greater than shoulder-width will cause grip problems.

Most lifters are better off using the medium to narrow grip positions on the bar. These are, respectively speaking, only outside the knees and just on the inner edge of the knurling on the bar. The Olympic lifters have somewhat of an advantage as their hand spacing is per a formula determined by the width of the shoulders, the length of the arms and the torso. Power-lifters, to my knowledge, have no such formula to guide them in the correct hand placement before the lifts; indeed, this is true for the squat and the dead-lift.

The grip on the bar

Several methods of gripping the bar are in use today. The standard grip positions are alternate-one hand overhand with the other underhand, narrow, overhand, overhand thumbless, underhand, and hook style. All of these can be spaced narrow, medium and wide, and each one has advantages and disadvantages during the different lifts. If the athlete wants a secure grip, one that keeps the bar in the same plane on both sides, then the hook grip is ideal, but it requires getting used to. It hurts initially and many lifters, at least in the power-lifting ranks, do not like it. Olympic lifters use it extensively due to the solid grip it provides. The thumb will tire easily during the first few workouts with the hook grip. It is one of the most, if not the most, reliable grip that can be used to lift heavy weights.

Angle of the thigh with the torso

The thighs have to angle a little outward to remain in line with the knees and feet. The degree will be reflected in the starting position and the arm drop. In other words, the arms should be lightly touching the legs near the thighs and knees during a dead-lift. The squat thigh angle at the beginning will depend on the width of the stance. Ideally, setting up so the lifter's centre of gravity is directly in line with the barbells centre of gravity will be the most advantageous in lifting the weight. This is most efficiently accomplished if the thighs are angled to the same degree as the feet in the starting position. The horizontal alignment of the thigh depends on the relationship between the length of the torso and legs. This can vary a great deal between individual lifters due to the flexibility and mobility of the joints making up the lower body.

The elbow position

Most coaches agree that the arms need to be straight at the beginning of the pull. However, there is a slight difference of opinion as to whether or not they must be rigid. Some practitioners believe the arms should be viewed as if they were ropes or relaxed at the start. Others point out the fact that a relaxed state in the arms fails to transfer instant power to the bar at the precise time it is needed to move it off the floor. An optimum amount of arm tension on the bar, at the start, is a precursor to a solid grip. An additional benefit of maintaining tight arms is the hands can be cocked inward, thus helping to keep the bar closer to the body.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Getting 'set up' to start out right - part 3. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 35/ September), p. 2-3

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 right - part 3 [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.