by Dave Webster (1965)
Having trouble with your form on the Snatch and Clean & Jerk? Let your feet tell you what's wrong.
There are many ways to detect technical flaws in a lifter's form. One of the best and easiest means is by marking the position of the feet at both the start and the finish of the lift. By so doing, you can often save yourself many a trying workout by quickly isolating the cause of your trouble. In the discussion below, I have attempted to relate to you how to detect and correct technical faults on the fast lifts by analyzing the position of your feet at the start and finish of a lift.
Starting Position Correct - See Figure A.
The feet should point to the front and should be approximately hip-breadth apart. In this position the feet will be set at the strongest place in which to pull.
Starting Position Incorrect - See Figure B.
When the feet are turned severely outward, this causes the knees to pull inward as the pull is started and, therefore, places them in a bad mechanical position. When the feet are placed too wide apart and the toes turned out, it is possible that when the lifter completes the pull and leaps into the split, the front foot may go forward and too far to the side. As the lifter lands under the bar, his base will be diagonal and as he pushes his front knee over the toes of the front foot, the body will travel forward and sideways as it is lowered. This will disturb the barbell to one side and the lifter will automatically stop lowering the body under the bar in an effort to check the bar from travelling sideways and out of control. Therefore, concentrate on starting with the feet in the correct position.
Split Technique Correct - See Figure C
The arrival of the lifter in this position depends on the correct direction of the pull. The bar should be lifted vertically from the floor to the knees by raising the head, shoulders, and hips simultaneously. As the bar passes the knees, the hips are swung vigorously forward and upward toward the bar and great effort is made to keep the head and shoulders a little in advance of the bar as the hips are swung forward. It is well to note that the natural tendency is to swing the head and shoulders backward as the bar passes the knees. This must be fought at all costs. At the completion of the pull, if executed properly, the hip joints should be in a position the starting position of the toes. The bar will have the added impetus from the vertical pull continued by the arms and shoulders. When the lifter has reached the completion of the pull, the forward and upward drive of the hips earlier in the pull will cause the body to travel forward and downward when the lifter leaps into the split position. As the feet land, the knee of the forward leg should be pushed over the toes of the foot travelling to the front. The body must be kept vertical throughout the split movement. This will bring you to the position shown in Figure C. The bar, shoulders, and hip joints should be approximately over the starting point of the toes.
Split Technique Incorrect - Figure D
Figure D shows a typically bad position caused mainly by a bad backward movement of the head and shoulders as the bar passes the knees. The center of the balance travels backward over the heels and self-preservation makes the lifter step backward too soon. The pull is therefore continued on one leg and the weight now naturally swings over toward this leg. Body and bar will now be travelling to the same side as the front foot and backward. Once more the lifter will check his body from sinking lower under the bar in an effort to regain control ofthe bar which is being lost to one side. This is, without a doubt, the most common mistake in lifting and of course has varying degrees of severity.
When the barbell and bodyweight are transferred earlier in the pull over onto the leg which will later travel to the front, the bar will be pulled severely to that side and backward. Therefore, when the feet land in the split, the bar will continue to travel sideways; the lifter will then be forced to step out to the side with the front foot in order to check the bar and re-establish a new base. Once more this will prevent the lifter from sinking deep under the bar and may cause him to lose the lift due to the weight being forward. The result of this technical fault is illustrated in Figure E.
When the lifter is striving hard to correct a one-legged backward pull (as in Figure D) and manages to stay longer on both legs during the pull, he will find that the rear leg will still come off the floor if he persists in pulling backward due to incorrect head and shoulder position. When the leg that is to split to the rear comes off the floor first, the barbell will have dipped toward the side of the missing prop, causing the barbell to travel in that direction. Once more the hips will have travelled backward and when the feet land the barbell will drag the center of gravity with it and cause the lifter to step out sideways with the rear foot -- this time in an effort to check the bar, re-establish a new base, and regain control. the result of this technical fault on the lifter's foot position is illustrated in Figure F.
There is a certain confusion among squat-style lifters -- TO JUMP OR NOT TO JUMP. Some athletes who are extremely mobile in the ankles and hips assume the starting position illustrated in Figure A and then drop into the low squat position asthey merely turn the knees severely outward by pivoting on the heels as in Figure G. You will note that this is done by the toes moving outward and backward. This means that the center of gravity is inclined to have moved backward. When this technique is used the lifter is often forced to poke his head downward and forward (in a snatch) to get his body under the bar. This, of course, largely depends on the mobility of the lifter. The average lifter when dropping under the bar into the low squat position will find that if he keeps his feet in the short-astride position as discussed above, he will have great difficulty in maintaining a good position of the trunk when he reaches the full depth of his squat. The knees will tend to be too close together. This in turn sets the hips too far back, compensated by the head and trunk being forward.
Squat Technique Correct - Figure H
You will see that the lifter, after completing his pull, has jumped astride and turned his toes outward. You will also note that the toes are slightly in advance of the starting position as the center of the foot has moved forward. The feet are in a position whererby the knees can be spread apart widely -- bringing the hips forward and close to the heels -- at the same time permitting the upper two-thirds of the trunk to be nearly vertical.
Squat Technique Incorrect - Figure I
You will note that the athlete has jumped too far astride which causes the knees to come inwards. The hips will automatically go to the rear, causing the trunk to lean forward.
Figure J shows the lifter jumping too far forward. This disturbs the upward pathway of the bar. The fact that the bar is now travelling backward will cause the normal compenstory movement of poking the head forward and downward to counteract the backward pull on the bar (in the snatch). Conflicting forces between these two movements often cause the shoulders and chest muscles to contract so forcibly that the head and shoulders rebound from this forward position backward, causing the lifter to sit down. Or, in the case of a squat clean, cause the lifter to lose his balance backward.
To sum up, the main points one should concentrate on in order to producde a correct pull and, therefore, a correct foot position in either the squat or split position, are as follows:
1.) Feet pointing in the correct directionand spaced so that the legs can exert their greatest force.
2.) The bar should be lifted vertically from the floor to the knees by raising the head, shoulders, and hips simultaneously.
3.) As the bar passes the knees the hips must be swung vigorously forward and upward toward the bar.
4.) The head and shoulders must be kept slightly in advance of the bar during the major part of the pull.
5.) At the completion of the pull, both feet must be taken off the floor simultaneously while maintaining an erect position of the trunk.
6.) In the split technique, when the feet land, the forward knee must be pushed forward over the toes of the front foot and the feet should be in the position illustrated in Figure C.
7.) In the squat technique, the feet should be jumped slightly forward and to the side with the toes pointing outward as in Figure H.
If the previous points are developed as a mental pattern, it will not be long before you have eradicated most of the major mistakes. The next time you re having trouble with your form, instead of asking your training partner what is wrong, check your foot position and decide for yourself. Your feet won't lie but your training partner might due to his inability to correctly analyze your form.
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