We now know that there are 4 Types of bar paths expressed on the international level, and contrary to what would seem most likely and more efficient, Type 3 is most prevalent. Let’s discuss why this might be, how much it matters, and what it means for you. Before we get started, take another look at the examples of the 4 Types of bar paths below as a refresher:
First of all, let me confirm up front here that this initial ‘away’ phase is typically only a very small amount. I can just see many jumping to a “worse case scenario” and assuming an extreme, overexaggerated horizontal displacement after hearing that the bar is moving away from the body and seeing the diagram (I know I did which is why I am saying something). Remember, the diagrams are there to help understand the movement and to categorize the athletes, NOT express the exact amount of ‘toward’ and ‘away’, or length of each phase for every athlete that falls under each category. With that in mind, the Type 3 example very justifiably needs to show a clear and apparent ‘away’ movement coming off the ground as it does to fulfill its purpose. For many athletes I’ve observed that I assume are being considered as Type 3, there is a very slight and short lived nudge forward (ie, a centimeter forward and for a centimeter up) and then the rest of the lift proceeds more like a good Type 1. For some others there is a slight nudge forward that is maintained longer (ie, an initial 1-2 centimeters then the bar moves straight up to about the knee), then into movement the rest of the way through that looks like a good Type 1. In any case, there are a number of theories as to why any amount of initial forward movement is happening, of which we’ll list below and build on from there:
- Type 3, as well as the current distribution of all 4 types throughout the elite, is a product of changes in coaching philosophy, teaching methods, and/or training methods.
- Those exhibiting Type 3 have a high level of absolute strength and are overcoming a technique/start position/bar path that is inefficient.
- Not being sufficiently engaged, specifically in the lats (pushing back on the bar), coming out of the start position.
- The lifter is starting with the bar too close to the shins.
- Anatomy. Taller lifters, or rather those with longer tibias (which are usually the taller, bigger athletes), have a longer distance to travel to get the bar to the knee and then the hip and may require an ‘away’ phase to get to a height and to a position to then be able to move it ‘toward’.
The first theory is a good one as I do believe that Type 2 is being seen to the extent that it is from some athletes and coaches aiming for the best version of Type 1 (so, perhaps an over exaggeration of it). I’m not saying that Type 2 is a wrong or bad bar path. It’s obviously proving to be a very effective one as well, but just making the point that it is a more extreme version of Type 1 in how much displacement of the bar there is (that is compared to a “good” Type 1). On the other hand, I wouldn’t think that any system or coach is teaching/telling the lifter to make the bar travel away from their body upon initiation from the ground as in Type 3. So, Type 3 is more likely just happening. Just happening within a few scenarios: 1) With little to no concern for any specific bar path, but rather a by-product of the body positions and movement they are emphasizing. 2) IN SPITE of an aiming for and intention to execute Type 1 or Type 2. The second scenario there is pretty powerful and presents a strong argument for Type 3 “just happening” and perhaps the unavoidableness of it for some athletes.
As an example of the 2nd scenario above, in my research on bar path I came across a high level coach that indicated he tried for years to get one of his high level lifters to move the bar as in Type 1 or Type 2 but he would always default back to Type 3 no matter what. After seeing this research and the results from these 2 International competitions, the coach became ok with allowing the Type 3 path with this specific athlete (and others moving forward), especially since he was moving his body well and there wasn’t anything else seemingly detrimental going on with the bar path. My understanding is that this coach learned to de-emphasize bar path, at least when it comes to teaching and believing that everyone should fall into Type 1 or Type 2, and re-emphasize/prioritize the basics of body positions and movement. Under these standards, perhaps Type 3 should at least be allowed/left alone?
As for Type 3 being a fault, deficiency, or bad habit that lifters are overcoming with absolute strength, I cannot wrap my mind around this happening with the percentage of the best that are exhibiting the path. Now, we are talking about athletes that ARE very physically talented and strong. These athletes are THE BEST at compensating and still lifting extremely heavy loads and undoubtedly most of them are “overcoming” at least 1 or 2 little inefficiencies or blemishes in their technique. But, this can only happen so much and your absolute strength can only take you so far. MOST of the best of the best will need to have an elite level of strength AND technique. So, to say that over 50% of the athletes that are lifting the most weight in the world are wrong or are faulting in this one area in the same way is quite a bit of a stretch in my opinion. This large percentage is leading me to believe that perhaps they are lifting the amount of weight that they are BECAUSE of this specific action, not in spite of it. Hopefully by the end of our discussion here we can determine whether we should generally fight to change it, or allow it and hone it?
The under-engagement of the 3rd theory is a very possible deficiency or bad habit that would lead to this and is something to keep in mind for sure. But again, not likely the culprit for the entire percentage of those expressing Type 3. Remember at least some of them are aiming for Type 1 or Type 2 which is A LOT of lats and pushing back. Also, I can tell you that it is very tough to initiate a lot of weight from the ground without this specific engagement (that goes really for ANY missing tension through the whole body that makes up the best coordination of overall engagement for the start and initiation, and “lats” and “pushing back” are big ones).
Additionally, remember the 2nd essential start position step of connecting the bar and the shins that by and far most of the elites are implementing. THIS requires some push back to keep the bar snug and completely into the shins, and this is a part of the basic overall engagement we’ll talk more about later (in addition to it being essential to getting your body and the bar positioned and aligned appropriately). With the bar being away from the shins in the start position, there is a greater chance of softness/less engagement there or even some holding back in the other direction. When I think of the difference between these 2 and how they feel different to me, my mind goes to a “closed” versus an “open” electrical circuit. An open circuit being one where there is a break or a disconnect somewhere in the circuit and electricity cannot flow through (ie, a light switch that is “off” and there is no light in the room). A closed circuit being one where electricity flows along a continuous path (everything is connected; a light switch that is “on” and the room is illuminated). I’m not saying that one cannot be or is absolutely not engaged in this area with the bar away from the shins, but it is not a guaranteed, “closed circuit” that will produce light. So, with this “closed circuit” intact it would seem like the elites would be covered in reference to the bar going away due to lacking engagement.
The bar being TOO close to the shins is another theory for the Type 3 path. I can see some relenting of the push back as the weight is initiated from the floor to keep the bar from scraping the shins, but again, not with the entire percentage of Type 3. Also, in observing many athletes that obviously fall into the Type 3 category and looking at their lifts from different angles, I do not see obvious separation of the bar and the shins in this area. Rather, I see a bar that is following and riding up the shins. NOT scraping and no longer touching, but so close it looks like it is touching. In any case, it is not indicating the amount of ‘away’ the bar is moving through this phase in general.
Now, it would make sense that by simply moving the bar away from the shins in the start position you could limit or eliminate the initial ‘away’ phase of Type 3. I know this has been the attempted “fix” for many, even moving the bar out far enough in the set up to be able to move it ‘toward’ initially to mimic the “correct” paths of Type 1 or Type 2. But, BEWARE of this adjustment. Along with leaving the “circuit” open, think about where this is sitting the bar in relation to the foot and how this might create difficulty or even a disadvantage through initiating the load from the floor. I can tell you that the combination of the 3 essential steps sets the bar circa in-line with the ball of the foot. Anyone exhibiting Type 3 with the 3 essential steps intact would then have to roll the bar forward of that to get the bar away from the shins. Though the body could still be balanced in the start position (mid-foot pressure), this would change where the bar is in relation to the shoulder and therefore the rest of the body in the start position and coming out of it. The load would be interacting with the body differently as soon as it leaves the floor, and balance between the body and bar would be more difficult to find. This would be especially true for a Type 3 athlete trying to move the bar out far enough to execute Type 2. So, “fixing” your bar path or trying to mimic the path you think you need to accomplish by placing the bar away from the shins doesn’t really work the way that it seems it would (you “fix” one “issue” and then create other issues). Remember, with all of the varying body-types on the elite level, none of them are using this “adjustment” to dictate bar path.
Typically those exhibiting the Type 2 path do have the bar starting further forward in general (ie, closer to the front of the ball of the foot), BUT NOT by rolling the bar away from the shins (the bar and shins are still connected). These are the athletes starting with the bar in-line with the middle delt and therefore have hips lower with shins further forward which pushes the bar in that direction. They are more effectively able to overcome the further forward bar because the shoulders and body as a whole are further back in relation to it. They are in more of a squatting position (torso is more upright and more quads are being used) and though the body immediately adjusts away from this (hips rise faster than shoulders at least slightly), it is enough to initiate the load from the floor and get it moving back.
That leaves us with anatomy. As much as you all know I hate to credit anatomy for anything, this one to me is the most likely culprit. Specifically I will credit anatomy with it being responsible for the many different shapes and sizes we see through the by-products, and bar path is one of those by-products where we see variation. One major constant to pick out and confirm here amongst the variation between each type (at least the good examples of each) is that the bar is moving ‘toward’ the body at some point before it gets to the hip. It does this to align with circa midfoot by the time the bar reaches the hip. If the bar goes any further behind this point, balance will be lost (consider the bar traveling all the way back to in-line with the back edges of the heels and how much of a miracle it would be if the athlete didn’t just continue in that direction and fall down; the closer we get to that and from midfoot, the more likely we will be imbalanced). So, since taller lifters or those with long tibias have a greater distance to travel to get the bar to the knees, this ‘toward’ movement may need to be delayed. If they were to move the bar back immediately from the ground and continued to move it back all the way to the hip, especially the amount typically seen in a Type 2 path, it would surely cause excess ‘toward’ movement.
Take a look at the examples below and compare how much lower the bar is on the shins of the bigger lifter (Lasha Talakhadze who is a super heavyweight and stands 6’6” or 1.97 meters tall) versus the smaller lifter (Naim Suleymanoglu who was in one of the smallest weight classes and stood 4’10” or 1.47 meters tall). Can you reason how the bigger lifter might need to delay any ‘toward’ movement, and the shorter lifter is more able to move the bar ‘toward’ immediately?
Further evidence to support this theory is seen when comparing the percentages of Type 2 and Type 3 throughout the different weight classes within the study. When you look at the smallest weight classes for both men and women we see MORE Type 2 than Type 3. Then we see a transition into a short lived more even distribution, then into a pretty large takeover of the Type 3 by the time we get to the heaviest weight classes. There is also something to be said for WHERE this takeover takes place within the women’s classes compared to the men’s. The 75 kilogram weight class is the clear separator for the women (there was at the time of the study only one other weight class beyond that), and the 85 kilogram weight class is the line for the men (there were 3 other weight classes beyond that at the time of the study). Just interesting to me that it is circa the same body weight where Type 3 takes off regardless of gender. So, perhaps not just height to consider, but MASS is seeming to as well be a legitimate factor as to how one will most effectively move the barbell.
To better understand the prevalence of Type 3 and bar path in general, I got very intimate with this study (as you can probably see) and took the info to heart as I watched as many videos of as many different lifters as I could (NOT the videos used in the study; I WISH I had access to those). Through this process I began to wonder and then reason exactly what was being determined as Type 3 by the human that was observing the video that could have led to these percentages. For example, Lu Xiaojun starts with mid-deltoid and bar alignment and moves the bar in a very Type 1/Type 2 characteristic way. BUT there is the tiniest of a nudge forward as the weight breaks from the floor (at least with the videos of him I’ve been studying). Would he and others starting and moving the bar in a similar fashion be labeled as Type 3?
My personal “bar print” is one that moves VERY straight through most of the leg drive (up to just below the knee) at which point it starts to move toward the body and looks like a good Type 1 path from that point. So, without the immediate movement toward, would this be considered Type 3? Or, would it be labeled as Type 1 since there is no immediate ‘away’ movement and the first sign of horizontal displacement is ‘toward’? I could see either of these going either way depending on the observer but I would assume at minimum that Lu’s example and others like him are being considered Type 3. Seeing his nudge forward and realizing that HE is likely a Type 3 was surprising to me as I’m sure it would be to most in the community. But, this and the unavoidable objective observation could help explain the large prevalence of that type amongst the elite.
Whether it is “right” or “wrong” to let or make the bar go ‘away’ from the body as it leaves the ground, OR for it to NOT move ‘toward’ the body immediately, Type 3 is what is happening MOST of the time with the best in the world. Remember, we have 2 objects of which we WANT to work together and there has to be some give and take. For Type 3’s perhaps this initial ‘away’ phase is some necessary “give” from the bar to ultimately help find balance and harmony between the 2 objects. Additionally, this seems to help keep the bar close to the vertical reference line throughout the remainder of the lift. For those that cross the reference line the bar goes forward but then it goes back behind the line so there will be less chance for excess in either direction. For those few elites that I’ve seen stay forward of the reference line, the bar still remains in very close proximity. In either case, it’s almost as if the body is stabilizing the bar along the line. With this in mind, let’s go back to one of the initial points on Type 3 which is that the amount of initial ‘away’ movement is typically only very slight. “Slight” to me in general is really the most important factor in what should be considered an efficient bar path no matter the type. There is going to be some horizontal movement, but let’s keep it close to that vertical reference line.
If you are “Type 1” then just make sure that the bar is not looping too far in front of the reference line during the ‘away’ phase and that it is coming back behind the line during the final ‘toward’ phase (an inefficient Type 1 would be with the lifter jumping forward). If you are “Type 2” make sure that the initial ‘toward’ phase is not excessive (ie, moving from front of the ball of the foot to behind midfoot), that the bar returns close to the reference line during the ‘away’ phase, and that it does not end too far from where it started front to back on the final ‘toward’ phase (a sign of this would be with the athlete jumping back more than 2 inches in my opinion). If you are Type 3, watch out for excessive initial ‘away’ movement (reason that if you can get the bar to go behind the reference line and specifically to midfoot by the time you get to the hip FROM a good start position, you are probably ok) and that the bar is ultimately behind the reference line. If you are Type 4, you really seem to be doing pretty good to me staying close to the line, BUT let’s try to iron your path out a little by taking out one of the phases (I would say this is taking you too long, or too many tries rather, to find balance and harmony with the bar).
A big lesson with all of this is that a Type 3 bar path is not necessarily indicating a faulty path that needs to be fixed or adjusted to Type 1 or Type 2. We are simply trying to stay away from excess, either in the amount of displacement or in the amount of phases (as in Type 4). Now, how realistic is it to be able to change or improve your bar path or technique once you have accumulated enough reps to engrain it. The perception I get from the article on this study is an over-emphasis on how challenging and almost impossible this task is. Of course the longer you lift a certain way, the harder any adjustments at all will be to make, BUT it IS possible. So, if you as well read through the article I encourage you to let those few phrases go in one ear and out the other. I’ve seen changes in others happen that have been lifting for many years and don’t understand WHY one would allow ANY known inefficiencies, deficiencies, or faults to continue when there are so many tricks of the trade that can be applied to help clean things up. I’m not saying it is at all ever easy and for some it may take years, but worth it in the end for many reasons.
I, myself, have changed and improved my bar path through the years! Toward the end of my high level career I began to recognize and admit that my technique was not near as good as I thought it was. This was shortly after I started coaching and through observing and teaching others and trying to use myself as a “good” reference I noticed a few portions of my own lifts that needed some repair. I believe that these inefficiencies were at the root of why I had been stalled at the same weights for over 5 years. Ultimately for me competing at the highest level, working on these adjustments came a little too late. But, I WAS able to change from what would have likely been considered an inefficient Type 2 (with an inconsistent and excessive jump back to receive; literally 6-12 inches on any given rep) to now what would likely be considered a very efficient Type 1 (which is the personal “barprint” example I gave earlier; NOW consistently only jumping back 1-2 inches). Keep in mind that we’re talking about technique and movement that had been deeply ingrained for OVER a decade. Of course, it took a few years before I started to see some maintenance of less jump back with my heaviest weights. Plus even now over a decade since I started working on it I could not guarantee that my body would not revert back if I wasn’t still continually drilling against it (ATTENTION and never-ending work is required NOT ONLY to change/improve, but to maintain one’s best movement).
So, were the changes and the continual maintenance of them worth it? Yes! First of all and most importantly, I am a better example and reference to use when I am teaching. I am extremely driven to “practice what I preach” in all areas. Believing that change is possible, the willingness to change, and the dedication and resolve to change are a few of those areas that I want to exemplify. Also, I still compete in the Masters division (age 35 and up) and I’ve been able to use my new and improved technique/bar path to WIN on the National and World level and even breaking many National and World Records in the process! WHEREVER you are at this point in your own journey, it IS NOT too late to change and then continually strive toward “perfection”!
Now, I did all of this WITHOUT knowing or caring what my bar path was. I noticed the jump back and considered what I was doing in my movement and with my body that was leading to that. I made changes with my positions and movement that I now know improved my bar path (or at least that has led to something I believe is more efficient and effective). Like me, many and maybe even most lifters at least while they are in the trenches of training and trying to lift as much weight as they can, I would say do not know or care what their bar path is. Many of us were never told specifically in the first place to move the bar in any certain path or in any certain way, just what to do with our body to move the bar in general. But, I now think there is an optimal benefit in applying the best from both worlds (bar movement and body movement). Study bar path in general and know what is acceptable (ie, Type 3 is not only ok, but likely optimal for more athletes than not), what is efficient and inefficient, what Type of bar path you have, and what your personal “barprint” is. This will provide you with general knowledge and “just in case” information on yourself.
For example, if I would have had a better understanding of “bar path” and what the best of the best in the world were doing and compared it to my own “barprint”, I believe this would have been enough motivation to work on change sooner. I would have recognized that in general mine was a little less efficient and that I was making it harder than it needed to be. I would have been frustrated with all of the work I was putting in to lift as much weight as possible, that was not as meaningful as it could have been. So, if you are reading this blog, especially if you are still reading after I’ve rambled on about my take on bar path and the study, you are certainly interested enough in weightlifting that YOU should as well take a look at the published article on this study (here is the link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7552656/pdf/sports-08-00118.pdf).
When you come out on the other side, especially in combination with the information in these blogs, you should be able to see the WHY behind the current “barprint” you express, which are your positions and movement. That first position that is the catalyst to your movement as a whole IS YOUR START POSITION. What I’m continuing to try and establish with this point is that midfoot, bar touching the shins, and the small range of shoulder and bar alignment that the elites are showing us lead them to their TYPE of bar path, and within that their specific “bar print”. Getting more specific with the shoulders and aligning the bar with the back of them can help you limit horizontal displacement and at very minimum be a good starting point in this final of the 3 essential steps. Next, we’ll talk more about how this combination of actions can lend to the best movement of YOUR body up from that point and therefore your best bar path.
Until then, here is a summary of the few major points you should take away from the last few blogs:
- The snatch and clean “barprint” of a given lifter should look extremely similar and therefore fall under the same bar path type (1, 2, 3, or 4). A consistent pattern between the 2 is desirable and necessary for overall Olympic lifting optimization and potential. One should not be executing 2 completely different, conflicting actions.
- No 2 lifter’s bar paths are the same and bar path in general should be looked at as a by-product of the positioning and movement of your body, and addressed as such.
- A Type 3 bar path is not one that needs to be “fixed” or adjusted to a Type 1 or Type 2.
- An efficient bar path will have some horizontal displacement/curvature, but in general should remain in close proximity to the vertical reference line and ultimately end behind it. No matter the type of path, the bar should come ‘toward’ the body at some point before it reaches the hips/makes contact, then go ‘away’ from the body slightly and back ‘toward’ to land over the top. Additionally, it is preferable to have 4 phases or less (Types 1 and 2 have 3 phases, Type 3 has 4, and Type 4 has 5 or more).
- Using our “3 Essential Steps to Your World Class Start Position” can help you limit horizontal displacement of the bar and set the stage for YOUR World Class Bar Path!
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW