In Olympic Weightlifting we often say "go back to base” when addressing our athletes in a technique session.
This base (aka area of base) specifically is the area of balance the athlete has when combined with the barbell (Barbell-Athlete combination). Base is where the unit, also known as the barbell + athlete together (BA unit since that's fun to remember), is balanced and best setup to actually stay in its own “field” as well.
As an athlete moves through time and space the base adjusts with them. This is why coaches stress “straight up and straight down”-- basically cueing their athletes to minimalize and reduce horizontal movement.
Q: Why do we want to reduce horizontal movement?
A: Horizontal movement changes the area of base and makes it harder to correctly and efficiently lift the weight.
So, knowing where we are now, what we want to do and not want to do, how do we setup or “area of base”? Well, it all begins in the feet. The athlete's foot pressure must be evenly distributed across the foot and pressure balanced in the feet. I personally like to tell my athletes this:
their heels should be down,
their big toe down, and
their little toe on the ground lastly as well.
This will give the greatest chance for the athlete to equally apply even pressure into the ground through the liftoff phase of the lift. It will also allow them to maintain balance while moving during the pulling phase and into extension.
So if this is such an easy thing to do why would it always become an issue to our athletes (both skilled and new)? Well that’s easy to see when you add in the outside variable - the barbell!
The weight of the barbell usually is what causes even the most skilled of athletes to lose their base. The athlete gets pulled forward by the weight and loses their heels. Or they crank back into the heels too soon and lose the front of the foot. Either way the problem is the same - the athlete lost the base!
Good news though, is that the fixes are easy to train and the athlete can practice most of it on their own without much supervision! Here's a few things I use to help the athlete re-train or re-connect with their base:
“Lift offs” are a great way to have an athlete focus only on the setup and disconnecting the bar (but not their feet) from earth. This trains both their movement patterns and their confidence in making sure THEY are in control of the bar and their balance.
“Segmented” movements where the athlete has to come up and actually stop dead in their pull. This movement is great for making sure the athlete “checks position” before they continue on and to feel if they came off the ground nice and even.
Ensuring the base of the barbell-athlete unit stays balanced and even will allow you to do what is most important. In most cases, in my athlete's ideal world this means a straight propulsion up through a balanced midfoot coupled with a land most likely in a balanced midfoot. Easy as that.
Happy lifting y’all!
- Coach Matt