Previously we established that we’ll label technique simply as either “efficient” or “inefficient.” This is opposed to other adjectives that are singling out individuals with unique limb length proportions (long femurs, short torsos, a giant pinky toe perhaps) or a group of athletes with a certain ethnicity and body type (Chinese, European, etc.). Yes, we are all unique in many ways but in the end we are far more similar than we are different and there are many basics that apply to everyone that are commonly overlooked or the athlete is led away from for whatever reason.

Let’s think about the psychology of all of this for just a moment. We all want to be positively credited for our uniqueness, I get it! The use of the word “style,” or an athlete explaining to someone that they “have to use a special technique because…” can provide this credit and attention. But, these also offer illegitimate excuses that athletes can lean on for their lack of progress or delay in reaching their goals; attempts at justifying common faults, imbalances, or weaknesses (ie, high hips, rounded back, wide feet). I’ve heard the phrase, “you have a unique style” used many times as a way to avoid telling someone that something is off or they’re not doing as well as they think (if that phrase is ever used to describe your technique, perhaps you need to seriously consider going back to the basics!). By all means have “style” and be the individual you are with the clothes you wear, the tattoos that mark you, your set-up routine, in how animated or reserved you are on the platform, etc. But, do not accept your “special technique” or give into the fuzzy feelings that you “having a unique style” can give you if you are straying away from the observed basics that the elites are all using.

Getting back to “efficient” and “inefficient” technique, to distinguish between those two, we’ll start where the lift starts; the start position. Keep in mind as well that within each key position and segment of the 1st Ascent we’re also working to establish the following two points:

  1. What the BASICS are that should be applied by everyone.
  2. What the BY-PRODUCTS of those basics are.

NOTE: With the basics, there can be some slight variation to consider within but with the main principle(s) still intact. With the by-products, there will be variation amongst individuals but they are typically unnecessarily prioritized, sought out, dwelled on, overcomplicated, and varied far more than they should be.

When I think about the start position, I see a bunch of angles (you are no longer a person, you are a geometric figure, a sculpture). Think about the shins, the femurs, and the back. What angles do you see? This is certainly what is most observable and where a lot of distinguishing between different techniques, styles, and body-types takes place as these angles can be a little different for different athletes. We certainly do want to optimize the angles for each individual athlete but these varying angles are simply by-products of 3 other characteristics (BASICS) that are the SAME amongst the elite. We’ll call these the “3 Pillars of Your Start Position”:

  1. Mid-Foot pressure (or rather, tripod foot intact)
  2. Bar touching shins
  3. Shoulders on top of the bar (to be specifically defined in the following blog)

If you apply this combination of characteristics, the angles will be what they need to be. We can of course adjust the angles themselves, but with the purpose of accomplishing one or all of those 3 basic Pillars. These basics do not care about what “morph” you are (ectomorph, mesomorph, endomorph), your ethnicity, your race, what country you’re from, or what allergies you might have (hey, I never know what I’m gonna hear, just trying to stay ahead).

You DO NOT have to set the bar 14.5 inches away from your shins because you’re tall. On a more serious note, your hips DO NOT have to be higher than your knees in the start position of a snatch or clean. This is certainly leading many athletes and coaches astray. If we examine the elites once again, we’ll see that with the snatch in particular most of them are closer to having the hips right in line with the knees. Some lifters will even have their hips BELOW their knees. In fact for certain athletes to place their hips above their knees (with a wide snatch grip especially), their back would be close to parallel to the ground, even potentially with hips higher than their shoulders (meaning they would be somewhat upside down)! Surely we can agree that this would not be optimal? The hips in relation to the knees in the start position DOES NOT MATTER and does not indicate whether you have more or less potential as a lifter since World Records are broken with hips above, in-line, and below knees in the set up. What DOES MATTER is the combination of mid-foot pressure, bar touching the shins, and shoulders on top of the bar.

I’ve found that for many athletes, just cuing them to apply these 3 Pillars is enough for them to show me the complete start position I’m looking for (yes, in both the snatch AND clean). But, we’re not just going to leave it at that. Next, we’ll dissect – and then reconnect – these three Pillars so that you can implement and hone them with greater purpose. Until then, go ahead and play with these specific points of performance with snatch and clean grip (without concern for any other characteristics that it leads you to create being “wrong”) and see how it feels.

Until next time,

Chad Vaughn,
2-Time Olympian, USAW


Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,

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