How close should my bar be in the starting position?

When I first started Olympic lifting I was taught that the barbell should start approximately over the balls of the feet. If you read around on the internet, you’ll see that this is the preferred position for most people.

For some reason, I got into a different habit. You know sometimes how we might slightly change our technique without realising? This is what happened to me. At one point I was doing my snatches (and probably my cleans – but the effect wasn’t as bad!) with the bar over my toes. Of course, in Olympic lifting – especially snatches – a change even as small as that can have enormous consequences on the rest of the lift!

I will say though, that I’m glad this happened as it led me to quite a positive outcome in the end. Read on.

With the bar starting over my toes, it meant it was more difficult for me to keep the bar close to my body throughout the lift. I could see that I was using my arms and upper back to ‘row’ the bar towards me somewhere at or just above the knees.

This is definitely not optimal technique at all. We should not be using our arms to move the bar during our lifts.

With some thinking and some investigation, I suspected that one reason why I might be rowing the bar towards me was because the bar path was not optimal. To me it looked like the bar was too far away from my body so I was using my arms to pull it back in line. This made complete logical sense.

Olympic lifting is not about moving the bar around your body but it’s about moving your body around the bar. So with this idea in mind, as well as my observation that the bar path was not correct for me, I did an experiment:

First, I went back to basics and did some reading about the Olympic lift starting positions. This is how I discovered that I was probably not setting up with the bar at the correct distance – I had it over my toes, rather than over the balls of my feet. Sure enough, when I went back into the gym the next time and set up like this instead, the ‘row’ of the bar was significantly less. I decided that the bar path must’ve been more optimal for me,  the bar must’ve been closer to me, and other technical aspects of the lift had improved in addition to this small change without me even doing anything.

There was still a bit of arm pulling going on at the knees however. In most of my time spent lifting, I’ve had a tendency to do this. It’s a bad habit of mine and I have to monitor this particular portion of the lift (mainly the snatch) all the time.

I decided to try something else – I thought to myself, why not try starting with the bar even closer to my shins? The bar being over the balls of my feet still has it far away from my legs/body. What would happen if I started with it even closer (even if it’s not the general or most common advice and instruction given)?

Something else that prompted this idea was watching a couple of videos. I was looking at Lydia Valentin’s snatch and I noticed that the bar was scraping her shins at the start of the lift:

I also watched a snatch tutorial by Jack Oliver, in which he instructs that the bar is to touch the shins at the start:

I’ve also noticed now that some lifters chalk their shins. I used to be a bit confused by this because I thought, well the bar doesn’t touch the legs in the Oly lifts, so why do they need to do this? Now I’m a bit clearer. After all my research, I notice that some lifters do have the bar that close to their legs and occasionally the bar will touch their legs at the start.

I’ve now tried snatching with the bar very close to my shins at the start of the lift. After several weeks doing this, the results have been superb! I believe my bar path is better than ever, that rowing/arm pulling I’ve been doing is minimal (and mostly not there at all(!!!)), and I have a lot more mental confidence in my legs to do the lifting rather than my arms now. I feel that the bar is in a better position for my legs to be able to do the work, which is how it should be!

So my conclusion is that the bar does not have to start over the balls of your feet and that you could try it being very close to your shins instead (more like a deadlift setup perhaps?).