Whole Foot, Whole Time: Balance in Weightlifting Movements
Here I am teaching a course on weightlifting looking across the room at a giant poster on the wall with depictions of how the athlete should snatch and clean and jerk. Nothing overtly wrong with it, until I look at the little diagram on the poster of with an infographic of how the athlete should balance their weight during the pull.
Much to my utter horror, this giant poster teaches the athlete to rock back and forth from their heels to their toes throughout the movement. If you asked me to explain it to you, I couldn’t, because it didn’t make any sense.
When I talk about weightlifting or teach weightlifting there are a couple guiding light principles that make everything else function more smoothly.
One of those principles is:
Whole Foot Whole Time
I actually could end the article right here. Keep your weight across your whole foot the whole time you lift (with one exception) and you’re all good. End of story, but I’ll give you a little more expansion.
By using the idea of “whole foot, whole time” I am actually giving my athletes, myself, and you a way to check to see if you did everything else right. If you maintain whole foot whole time then the bar is likely ending up in the right position, you’re not jumping forward 3 feet, and you’re probably not missing a bunch of lifts.
It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation though. Does balance come from doing it right or does doing it right come from being on balance? I believe it is a way to make sure you are doing everything correctly throughout the pull and receiving portions of the lift.
Throughout the lift, when the balance is across your entire foot you will see much better technical execution of the lift. Thinking about the lift globally, the entire premise is to move the bar (nearly) vertically throughout, deviations forward mean we have something that is less than ideal and will lead to inefficiencies.
When your weight shifts to your toes, the bar goes forward. A bar moving forward is pulling you forward even more leading to a magnifying effect.
When your weight is too far on your heels, your body is smart and will likely counter act this by slamming the toes down hard, again leading to the bar moving forward.
Whole foot, whole time.
Let’s figure out how that goes into practice at the three main positions from which I coach.
Little caveat before we go to far:
Yes, if you were to put a Dr. Scholl’s foot mapper under your feet you might see small deviations from this whole foot thing, but they are likely individual. Also I am certain you will be able to find photos or videos of elite lifters deviating from this. We’re not perfect all the time. Moving on.
The start position is the only time the system is not moving dynamically, so you better get this part correct. Get your balance off at the start and you are likely screwed. While being a technique judge at the USA youth nationals this year I got to sit alongside Pyrros Dimas. Basically we spent the day giving kids a score of 1-10 at youth nationals based on their technique. Dimas was so in tune that he would give every athlete a 7 or more if they set up their feet on balance before the lift. His comment would be, “he/she is on balance, give them a 7.”
If you can do something simple recommended by a 3 time gold medalist, and give yourself a shot at a good lift then do it.
Picture this idea with tripod foot. Imagine 3 points on your foot, one in front of your heel, one behind your big toe, and one behind your small toe. Your weight should be balanced equally across all three points. Pay attention to those 3 points, if you feel your weight heavier on one or two of them, then you’re out of balance.
The common pitfalls are setting too far back to the heels. You can spot that when you can see toes moving in an athlete’s shoes. Balanced weight won’t allow the toes to move.
If an athlete rolls the bar forward or back before starting they are playing with fire, there is very little likelihood that all lifts will be the same. Sometimes the bar will end up over the toes and sometimes back by the shin. Set up around the bar, not the bar around you.
Above The Knee
Here’s where things can get a little dicey for most people, and the spot in which small errors early can really get magnified. In the first pull we want the weight to remain balanced over the entire/whole/tripod foot. To do so, and get the knees out of the way in the first pull the athlete will need to let their chest be over the bar.
The job of the torso in the first pull is to remain stable, keeping a nearly identical angle from the floor to above the knee. Weaker athletes will let the bar pull them forward in this position, sending them to their toes early. Below is a comparison of my initial pull from the ground to my position above the knee on a 155kg clean. Note the torso angle remaining the same, and my balance remaining across my entire foot throughout that transition.
When the athlete keeps their chest up too much as they pass the knees their weight becomes shifted over their heels in the above the knee position. Leading to throwing the head and chest back, catapulting the bar forward into a looping path.
Again at the hip we want the weight to remain balanced across the entire foot. Drifting to the toes early at this stage will lead to the bar heading forward as you try to move under.
We talk about patience and driving your whole foot through the platform late into the pull. At the ultimate extension, let the power generated from hip and knee extension drive you through your toes at the finish.
Our final check of position for balance during the lift, is actually in the receiving position. At this point it is not necessarily something you are thinking about, but will be indicative of what you did through the pulling portion of the lift. Like the runny nose being a symptom of a cold and not the problem itself, landing towards your toes or your heels in this position is an indicator of a problematic pull. Landing with balance across the entire foot is indicative of a successful pull. I
At all 3 of our main positions the goal is simple, whole foot whole time. When receiving use the feedback from how you land to improve your next lifts. This principle, whole foot, whole time, will give you a chance at making a successful lift.
If you want to train with our team online, and compete with a group that has produced, youth, junior, university and master’s national champions (who knows maybe you can be our first Senior national champ?). Just email me.