The effect of ‘toes out’ on knees during the Olympic lifts

I was always taught that my toes should be straight forward in the snatch and clean starting positions. I recently had a one-off coaching session with a coach because I was a bit concerned with the movement of my knees during the snatch and the clean. I wanted someone to check that my technique was OK.

The coach made an interesting comment. He said that many people find it beneficial to start their lifts with their toes pointing outwards rather than straight forward (the degree to which they point outward dependent on the individual’s body structure, what feels comfortable, and the effect on the lift).

When I snatch and clean, I have what you might call “a very aggressive double knee bend”. How this looks is that my legs almost completely straighten when the bar is at my knees, before my knees re-bend:

What happens when toes are out and how does that influence the movement of the knees?

When toes are pointed outward, it changes the rest of your set up position, namely:

  • The hips are set higher
  • The torso is more vertical
  • The knees are outward and further back

From this starting position a lifter may find it easier for the bar to transition around the knees as the knees are already far more ‘out the way’ and further back. If the knees are further back already then the double knee bend will most likely not be as “aggressive” compared to if the knees are already very forward (as in a toes forward starting position). If the knees are forward then they have to travel back a lot more to clear the bar.

Another benefit that some people say is that when their toes are out, their knees are out rather than forward and this means they are less likely to cave in during the first pull (if you want to see an extreme example of knees caving during the first pull, have a look at┬áHysen Pulaku’s snatch!):

When knees are out (set because toes are out), it tends to mean better gluteal power too.

Toes out vs toes forward is an individual thing. Often toes out is used for people who have mobility limitations and a feeling of discomfort or “tight hips” when the toes are forward.

Many lifters however start with toes out just because they prefer it and it has a positive effect on their technique.

If you are considering ‘toes out’ for your starting position, be aware that it will change the angle of your back and therefore it may take some time to adjust to this new positioning in the first pull! Minor changes in technique in Olympic lifting can have big, positive effects but can also take time to get used to. The goal is to get yourself into a comfortable position that will create maximal force. Experiment and find out what works best for you. Film yourself, think about how it feels, and observe how it looks!

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