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Getting 'set up' to start right - part 4

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

In part 4 of this article, we will look at the torso position, head position, preparing to move the bar and interaction with the bar.

The torso position

This is the most crucial aspect of the entire start process. The overriding consensus is the lower back must be arched or at the very least kept straight. It has been noticed that although keeping your back in this arched position is most common, some high-level athletes have a slight rounding to their back as they begin the pull.

A rounded back will diminish the force applied to the bar by as much as 15%, according to Verkhovsky (cited in Kanyevsky 1992)[1]. It is further postulated that a rounded back transfers less force from the legs to the barbell due to the 'spongy' nature of the alignment. The vertebrae form the natural link between the upper and lower body parts, and if it is not kept rigid, the movement loses energy. The requirement of a rigid torso and arched back requires strong tense erector muscles. Keeping an arch in the back is difficult for some trainees to do. According to some literature, this is because an arched back is not a requirement for everyday living so non-lifters or those with little prior experience do not know how it feels. Lack of mobility in the hips can also lead to an inadequate arch.

If that is the case, then a few of these exercises may help you develop this area. Before looking over the list, it may be best to remind you that some lifters will not be able to get into this favourable back arched position due to their physical peculiarities. If you are one of these (or a coach to one), then keep the back as flat as possible.

  • Start with a straight back while standing up
  • Now squat into the starting position while maintaining the arch
  • After the regular session is over add in one to four sets of static hold "good mornings" with a weighted barbell on the back
  • Keep a tightly arched back for five to fifteen seconds
  • Develop the sense of keeping the centre of gravity over the toes to derive the utmost effect from these movements. In doing so the major portion of the load will be on the erector spinae in the lumbar area
  • After several sessions of following this sequence, the lifter will know what an arch feels like and will keep it intact as they lift

Head position

Studies have been conducted on the position of the head, at the start. Photo analysis at the Olympics found the athletes tilting their heads upwards an average of 30° at the beginning of their lifts. One was even tilted up 42°. Beginners should NOT be looking at the ceiling as it throws off their balance. Look instead at the recommended 30° angle. By doing so, the shoulder girdle is placed in a stable anatomical position. The scapula is pulled back and drawn together, and the chest is pushed outward or forward to the shoulder blades.

Preparing to move the bar

Setting up is not just a simple 'grab the bar and lift' sort of an affair. Instead, each element contributes to the successful lift. In this case, the essential technique is one of moving the hips down then up into the final static lifting position. Moving the pelvis in the opposite direction, i.e. up and then down, forces the muscles to change focus from yielding to an overcoming effort (Kanyevsky 1992)[1]. The result is a lower maximum muscular output. It may be easier to remember if you squat into position.

Interaction with the bar

The lifter will be in a static stance at the very instance of putting vertical force to the bar. At the same time, this is taking place, it is also necessary to make sure optimal tension is present in the muscles and that each of the joints has enough flexibility and mobility to perform the lift.

Being too tense in the muscles or relaxed in any of the kinematic links will be cause lower power output. The hips will be lower at the static beginning point than during the actual instant of the pull. Keeping the thighs at about ten to twenty degrees above horizontal seems to be the most advantageous. This, however, depends on the body type mentioned earlier.

Next month in the final part of this article we will look at the shifting of the body links before movement of the bar, shoulder and hip joint interaction with the bar, the alignment of the shoulder joint to maximize the pull, the alignment of the hip joint to maximize the lift and the initial pull off the floor.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Getting 'set up' to start right - part 4. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 36/ October), p. 2-3


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

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 4 [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.