Foot Placement and Movement in Olympic Weightlifting: How to Create the Most Power
Those new to the Olympic lifts sometimes are confused about foot positioning in the execution of the snatch and clean. When I started lifting many years ago the squat style of catching the weight was still in growth mode. Many athletes still split under the bar. Your feet were placed around shoulder width apart and then displaced one foot straight forward, the other straight back. Often the lifter would "tightrope"- moving both feet to an imaginary center line as if he (no "she's" then) was one of the Flying Wallendas. Like many lifting moves, this was natural, but wrong.
Coaches back then all knew the split style, but many did not know much about the squat style. Due to their ignorance many resisted the change but in a few years the squat inherited the earth. Track people can liken this to the advent of the Fosbury Flop style of high jump over the old Western Roll, or the introduction of the shot put spin. Much resistance, then total capitulation.
Those of us who insisted on squatting were told that the best foot position was one where the feet did not change position during the lift. You just pulled on the bar and then sat down under it. The trick was to find that position that felt good and worked for you. That made sense to the coaches of the day, even when most pulling widths were subsequently too wide. Less movement = less energy = more weight, right? Wrong!
What coaches and athletes didn't yet comprehend was that the best position for pulling was not the best when it came to catching the weight in the squat. Some did, but since the no-foot-movement idea had been raised to the level of dogma it was thought best to find some sort of compromise position and learn to live with that.
Thankfully some sanity eventually emerged and with it the delightful realization that the displacement of the feet would actually help our strength as well as our technique. Today, except for many Masters, some eccentrics, and un-reconstituted or tight old timers, we all use the squat and all use two different foot positions. During the first pull, off the platform, we use a position that we would use if we were trying to do our best vertical jump, because, well, that is what we are trying to do. A snatch or clean is much more jump than pull. So our feet will be closer together, usually a bit inside shoulder width.
But when it comes to receiving the weight the feet have to go wider since with most of us our most comfortable squat position will be wider. Our feet will be parallel to our thigh bones with no shearing forces on the knees. (If there is you can plan on having many more years as a "former lifter.") The shift of the feet is made just as the second pull transitions into the third pull. The feet move sideways and ideally do not move forward or backward.
This shift is made quickly and with a minimum of separation from the platform. A skim is all that is necessary. But even to do this, it will still require some extra push-off force that is vital, as we shall see.
It is impossible to lift the feet off of the platform when under heavy load without doing a bit of a jump in the process. There is one thing about this state of affairs that many coaches forget but is very important - it is that jump that also adds some to the pulling height. According to Robert Roman in his seminal work The Training of the Weightlifter:
"During this thrusting an additional acceleration is created, as a result of which barbell velocity increases. After the feet leave the platform, barbell velocity in the snatch is an average of 1.36 m/s, i.e., higher than before the thrusting of the feet."
You may get more push-off if you try to jump several inches off the platform, but any advantage gained will be offset by other disadvantages. There will be a loss of bar elevation as the athlete-barbell system will be fulcrum-less longer. You will also have problems with stability when you finally land.
This thrusting works in the jerk as well. Since most of you use the split jerk, the thrust will occur when splitting. But what about the power jerk style that some lifters use (especially CrossFitters)? In this style the feet do not move very far, if at all. Are these lifters at a disadvantage? Before we answer this we have to distinguish between the push jerk and the power jerk. The former uses no foot displacement, just like the old coaches suggested in the pulls. The latter version displaces the feet slightly to the side.
So the answer is that if you use a push jerk you are at a disadvantage. This jerk version has no foot movement, therefore no extra push. And since the slight squat position cannot get you as low as a split jerk can, the bar must be driven higher in order to lock out. This is fine at lighter weights but becomes a problem at the margins of strength. In addition, your fore-aft area of balance is more precarious. So there is indeed some disadvantage to this style.
If you use a power jerk a few more kilos can be squeezed out of the style. And you guessed it - you do it by displacing the feet sideways when dropping under the jerk. This will utilize the extra push of the jump. In addition, moving the feet sideways will cut the required catching height by an inch or two. It will also be a bit more stable as the lateral area of balance increases. Not much but it will make a difference at the margins.
1. Robert A. Roman, "The Training of the Weightlifter", 2nd Edition, Fizkulture i Sport, 1986 Moscow (translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press, Livonia, Michigan 1988)