martedì 27 settembre 2011

Controversy and Responses: Low Hip Start Article


My Low Hip Start article that went up on Bret Contreras’s website last week was far more controversial than I’d anticipated – I’d expected some, but not at the level I got.  I’ve been getting many emails, some in support, others not so much.  I’d like to share some of the main points of disagreement people had with me, and my own attempts at response here.

I’d also like to make clear from the get-go that I actually really appreciate that so many people reached out to engage me in a conversation about this stuff.  I find the process of trying to figure out the most efficient ways to coach people very exciting (it’s why I’m a coach!).  I’m not one of those guys who thinks he knows everything already. 

Let’s get this out of the way first:

I gave the article a tongue-in-cheek title, and the intro was meant to be humorous.  For instance, this paragraph:

The Low Hip Start is a method that makes getting the bar from the ground to the hip – the hardest part of a Snatch or Clean – FAR easier for the Average Jane weightlifter.  And I think you have a right to know about it.   But be warned, my friend. If you use it here in America, you are a renegade weightlifter!

Welcome to the revolution.

The amount of hyperbole in the last few sentences could open up a wormhole to another galaxy!  I expected it to be taken as such.  Most people knew I was joking around.  But, some folk didn’t.

Now, I like over-the-top statements once in a while because of their comic value.  In “real life” I like to joke around and laugh a lot (a lot).  But, on the internet, I understand that the tone most people use is both hyperbolic AND pissy.  That is, they overstate points and act far more rude than they should – or that they EVER would in person.

If you thought that was what I was trying to do, then I apologize.  As most of you who read this blog know, I go out of my way to keep things positive and fun.  There is so much negativity on the internet that I just can’t bring myself to be a part of it.  However, sometimes when you try to write something down that YOU think is funny … the reader doesn’t find it funny!  This is why emoticons and “LOL” are so prominent in texting and Facebook! 


My article was about ONE way to start a new lifter off the floor.  I was in no way trying to say that a high hip start doesn’t work, nor that it hasn’t been used by many world champion lifters.  That would be strange.

A more relevant argument that some made was that ones own biomechanics will determine whether you should have a high hip or a low hip start.  Clearly there is some reasonableness to this.  The bar on the ground with bumpers on it is the same height no matter who you are.  Getting into a comfortable position to lift it off the ground is not going to look the same for everyone.  True.

That said, I have NOT found it to be the case that I can look at a persons physiology and tell them whether starting high or low is going to work best for them.  In my experience, with the demographic I work with most (Adults, CrossFitters, etc), starting someone off with a lower hip and on the heels – no matter what their body looks like – will get them hitting the right positions in the rest of the pull better, faster.   

Yes, most lifters will end up eventually with hips higher than rock bottom in their start position, and some will be using a full-on high hip start. But starting them low and working up has been much more successful for me in teaching than starting high and working down. 

Also, while a person who is inflexible will obviously be incapable of hitting the low position I am calling for, that doesn’t excuse them.  It just means they need to follow K-Starr’s mobility WOD’s more aggressively!!  There is never an excuse for that kind of immobility. 


Some coaches and lifters who agree with me that the low hip start is useful still wondered why I would imply that American’s don’t already do this.  Their reasoning is that so many of America’s best Oly lifters use some sort of start position that is roughly around parallel already.  They are right.  Many of the lifters in the country that get coached by serious Olympic lifting coaches in serious Olympic lifting clubs are exposed to this style of start position and they use it in competition at the highest levels.

Great …

I wasn’t writing to them.

The majority of CrossFit coaches, local club coaches, high school strength coaches, and college strength coaches still teach a higher hip start – and they believe it is the only way to do things.  The last point is the most important. 

Given that the vast majority of the people who snatch and clean and jerk on a regular basis in this country are doing so in a CrossFit club, and the rest are doing so in a Strength and Conditioning context in high school or college, it seemed reasonable to frame it in that context and write directly to that audience – my audience.

Yes, in the serious Olympic lifting clubs, the low hip start is nothing new.  But, let us be honest, how many of you are currently in one of those clubs training everyday?  Not many.


The low hip (on the heels) start is a part of a larger argument about whether or not there is any such thing as “Triple Extension” in Olympic Weightlifting.  (By Triple Extension we mean the full extension of the hip, the knee, and the ankle.)

One group says, Yes, Weightlifters intentionally triple extend (in part to add more height on the bar).  The other group says, NO, what looks like triple extension is really just momentum – you should focus on driving through the heels at the top. 

I personally don’t have a strong opinion either way.  There are great coaches on either side who I respect greatly, each with tons of experience, who make great points.  I think it would be inappropriate for me to get too caught up with one side or the other. 

That said, I TEACH the lifts as though there is no triple extension.  I like the results I get when I drill a Heels-Centric Pull. But, as for what is really happening to the body of a great lifter in maximal extension … I dunno.  I’ll leave that argument to the coaches who have been in the trenches for far longer than I have and have WAY more experience than me. 

What I DO know is that if I tell someone to be on their heels at all times no matter what, the bar ends up in the right places.  I like that, so I’m sticking to it until something better comes along.

Now, if you want to get a solid grasp on the methodology behind the flat-footed approach, the book to read is Don McCauley’s “Power Trip”.  It is a remarkable book.  My own take on his book (my take, NOT necessarily his intensions) is that it is (primarily) a work of Pedagogy not Analysis.   That is, it is about how you should teach these lifts to people, not so much about the underlying biomechanics at play during a successful lift. 

In a similar way, my article is my own take on some ideas being espoused by guys like Coach McCauley – some might call it a bastardization! – and should be taken as such.  We all take ideas, try them out, and stick with those things that work for us, and discard those things that don’t.  (Unfortunately, this is only a marginally scientific process – read here about my opinion on the coach as scientist.  Think: Confirmation bias; induction is a lie; and no control groups.)

People disagree, and sometimes there are good reasons for it.  I’m a guy who got his degrees in Mathematics because I like trying to figure stuff out, and I don’t mind being wrong sometimes if being wrong now will help me be right later.  And, I encourage those who think I’m wrong to tell me so.

I happen to think what I wrote in the article is a good way to learn and teach the Olympic lifts to beginners.  It may or may not be the BEST way, or as some have argued, it might be flat out wrong to do it this way.  If in the future I can be convinced of that, I’ll write an article contradicting it. 

Until then, I suggest you go back and read it with an open mind, give it a try, and see if the technique helps you.  Many lifters in my gym, after being exposed to a lower hipped start, make a PR within just a few workouts for the sole reason that they stop throwing the bar so far forward. 


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