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Squat Stance & the Olympic Lifts
Greg Everett  |  Olympic Weightlifting  |  November 13 2012

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Squat Stance & the Olympic Lifts, Greg Everett,
With the Olympic lifts, it’s easy to wander a little too far down the rabbit hole and find yourself lost amid overwhelming detail. There are times when such detail is necessary and helpful, but at other times, the best course of action is to simplify. Sometimes this just means reassessing a problem with a perspective guided by simplicity—that is, returning to the basics to fix the complex.

If you’re struggling to figure out why your snatch and clean receiving positions are unreliable, uncomfortable or otherwise not working well for you, take a look at your back squat and front squat stance and movement. Surprisingly often, athletes use different squat stances for the back squat, front squat and overhead squat—this is usually in response to the different demands on position and flexibility and what they presently can and can’t get away with. Something I try to emphasize is that each athlete should have one squat stance—this stance should be the same in the back squat, front squat, overhead squat, snatch, clean, power snatch, power clean and power jerk. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, yet this creates problems for athletes who have been working around various inflexibilities or habits rather than addressing the source of the issues.

The goal of squatting in the context of the Olympic lifts is straightforward: to achieve maximal depth with the most upright posture possible (it should go without saying that we also need proper spinal extension and balance across the foot). This is what allows the athlete to create the structure necessary to best support weights overhead in the snatch or on the shoulders in the clean.

Every repetition of every exercise you perform is practice—if you want to improve your performance, you better take those repetitions seriously and execute them in a manner that supports your objectives. Applying this to weightlifting and the squat stance, every time you squat, you’re practicing and reinforcing a particular position and movement pattern, along with reinforcing patterns of flexibility. If this position and movement is different than what you need in the snatch and clean, you’re complicating what should be a simple element of these lifts and creating difficulty where it doesn’t need to exist.

This problem is often at the root of large disparities between an athlete’s squat and Olympic lift numbers. When you compare the similar elements of the lifts (i.e. the squat), you see totally different movements and positions. A common example is a lifter who squats with the toes and knees more forward, yet in order to achieve the postures necessary for the snatch and clean to be successful, needs to squat with the toes and knees spread more. There are two potential problems created now: Either the athlete is continually receiving snatches and cleans with this squat stance, which prevents them from executing the lifts successfully, or they’re weak and imbalanced when receiving snatches and cleans with the proper stance because they simply haven’t trained a high enough volume of quality repetition with it. In both cases, a strong athlete misses lifts that should be easy makes, or worse, risks injury for no good reason.

A related problem is the lifter who likes to cheat depth when squatting rather than sitting all the way in. This athlete will often be able to stop short similarly in the snatch and clean up to a certain point, and then beyond this threshold, suddenly falls apart, either getting buried in the bottom of the clean or unable to stabilize a snatch overhead. This is such a silly reason to be missing lifts—watching it happen is one of the things that irritates me most as a coach, especially when that lifter proceeds to whine about missing yet ignores repeated instructions to squat right.

Ultimately, I see this problem as a symptom of being lazy and impatient in a sense. It happens when athletes are more interested in hurrying through their workouts than in ensuring the quality of every rep taken, or in inflating strength numbers by altering the movement. Neither of these is a behavior of an athlete motivated to achieve the best possible results—decide what kind of athlete you want to be and train accordingly.

How do you fix all this? Very simple: Find your correct squat stance and use it for every squat you do, and when you squat, snatch and clean, always—I mean always—sit all the way in. If you’re trying to recover from a long period of bad habits, sit in the bottom of all snatches and overhead squats for 2-3 seconds before standing—and when I say the bottom, I meant the bottom. Pause back squats are a great exercise as well for strengthening the deepest part of the squat. It’s not that fun, but neither is missing lifts you should be making.
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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, head coach of the national-medalist Catalyst Athletics weightlifting team, publisher of The Performance Menu, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, and director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting. Follow him on Facebook here and and sign up for his free newsletter here.
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The Coach's Strength Training Playbook
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Olympic Weightlifting for Sports
Olympic Weightlifting for Sports
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Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches
Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches

26 Comments
Knuckle Dragger 1 | 2012-11-14
Never thought about keeping the same stance across the board... and I've been lifting off and on for 13 years!! Makes so much sense when you stop and think about what you're doing. Thanks for the insight!
Matt Foreman 2 | 2012-11-14
Great article, totally accurate.
Amanda 3 | 2012-11-14
I have been trying to work on depth the last two weeks, funny the timing of this article. I have had problems getting out of the bottom on heavy snatches and cleans after catching it perfectly and know this was the reason. Have been backing off the weight a bit so I could get deeper and hope it will help in the long run.
Zach 4 | 2012-11-14
Greg, What are your thoughts on the knees tracking over the toes?
LeRoy 5 | 2012-11-14
@Zach - Unsure if you mean tracking over the toes as in line with, or tracking over as in knees past toes. If the former, knees should generally track in line with the feet for a number of reasons that have been covered by others better than I could do justice. If the latter, this position often elicits much questioning among folks (or maybe just the folks that I train) but if in fact someone has achieved veritcal torso, wieght distributed through mid-foot and heel with the barbell over their midline, then knees over the toes is more a function of individual anatomy i.e. femur length than poor position. I generally have folks focus more on all the characteristics of a good squat outlined above (in Greg's article) and those I've indicated than whether one's knee has tracked beyond the foot because only those with relatively short femurs can maintain that good quality squat position and keep their knee behind their toes absolutely. I this is a topic that has been used by people outside of olympic lifting to bemoan reasons to not Oly lift, so I have been keen to respond when I hear this topic come up.
Greg Everett 6 | 2012-11-14
Zach - Yes, the knees should move over the toes, that is, the thighs should be approximately parallel with the feet. There will be some variance here due to a number of factors, but this is a good guideline. And as LeRoy said, unless you're extremely short-legged or have huge feet, your knees will have to move forward of the toes in order to sit into a full depth, upright squat.
Shawn 7 | 2012-11-21
My stance seems consistent in the lifts mentioned, depth on the other hand is a problem. Early lifts are good in the hole as the work continues I start to try to recieve the bar higher which is messing with an already tweaky shoulder inpingment issue I'm working on. I'm sure some of this is because of my novice skill level but would love some feed back. Coach as always informative article. Thank you,
Greg Everett 8 | 2012-11-22
Shawn - That's most likely a mental issue - a lack of confidence in that deep receiving position with heavy weights. I would suggest more overhead work like OHS and snatch balance variations along with high-hang or high block snatches to force you to work on pulling down into a low receiving position. Also hold the bottom of all your snatches for a couple seconds. And of course - more snatching will always help.
OCD Lifter 9 | 2012-11-26
That could be the sexiest photo I've ever seen ... but dammit, the plates are all out of order!?
Jeremy Jones - DCF 10 | 2012-11-29
"In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance." - Miyamoto Musashi -jj
Voycieq 11 | 2012-12-09
Greg, First I would say sorry for my english, I hope everyone will understand what I would say:) . I can not find (in your book and in other comments) explanation about some detail (or not details:) ) in back squat (to improve OlimpicLifts) I even argue with couple "coaches" about bottom position of back squat. First as you say back squat must be perform with upper body as upright as its possible. What if the pelvic rotates (upper part of pelvic to backward), in bottom position of squat (the spite, thigh are far below parallel to the ground) and this move of pelvic stretching, earlier straighten lumbar spine) and makes curve in this part of spine. Some of the coaches who I argue with, say it's wrong to stretch earlier straighten lumbar spine and thats means, the back squat is to low and first that person should doing higher squats and doing day by day this possition lower. But it's ridiculous.. back squat as most functional movement should be perform in full range. (of course without wrong knees, heel on the ground and upright position with straight spine in chest section) please write me your suggestions about any move of pelvic in bottom position of back squat. I hope this description is understandable
Greg Everett 12 | 2012-12-10
Voyieq - If an athlete cannot maintain proper spinal extension in the lowest position, he needs to work on flexbility until he can. Until then, he should be careful to not lift very heavy weights to this depth if this loss of extension is significant.
Ryan 13 | 2012-12-19
Greg, When I sit all the way in on a squat, my spine starts to round. Should I be stopping before that? My current coach has me going just to parallel b/c of that.
Steve Pan 14 | 2012-12-19
Ryan - You should only go as low as you can while maintaining that back arch. Keep working on strengthening your lower back and stretching your hips and hamstrings. Keep working on sitting as low as you can into the squat while keeping that back in good position, and over time you should improve your depth. -Steve
Ryan 15 | 2012-12-20
Thanks for the feedback Steve.
james 16 | 2013-01-25
Which athlete is that in the main picture?
Steve Pan 17 | 2013-01-25
That is Jessica in the main picture here.
Austin 18 | 2013-01-29
Hello everyone, i would just like to say thank you Greg for this article. I also have one question, when i perform squats my spotter tells me that I have gone slightly beyond parallel and yells "up!" yet it only feels as if i had placed the bar in position and bent my knees slightly, I don't even feel as if i am doing a squat! I go beyond parallel becasue I was told that it was "olympic depth" and when I do just parallel squats its very diffacult to hold it there... I need help! i feel that if this whole "olympic depth" was total BS i am worried about my back, because i have been doing these for 3 years know. Sorry for the length, or if it seemed i went off topic at all. Austin
Greg Everett 19 | 2013-01-29
Austin - If you do a true Olympic squat, there will be no question whether or not you've reached full depth, and certainly no need for a spotter to tell you so - if your hamstrings are on your calves and you can't sit any deeper, you're there. Your back will be fine as long as you're flexible enough to sit into this depth while maintaining a proper spinal position, which you may not be if you've been squatting shallow only. Work on your flexibility and practice full depth squats with an empty bar or very light weights until you can reach full depth properly.
Babsie 20 | 2013-02-08
On tempo/ While I generally hold pause back squats for 5 count (3 + seconds) I'm wondering if you advocate stretch reflex squatting for a pure squat. I've been using it and lost a few singles just before parallel in the past week. I'm looking for quality not quantity weight wise and any suggestions as far as tempo goes are appreciated.
Greg Everett 21 | 2013-02-08
Babsie- A normal tempo squat should use a stretch reflex in the bottom.
David 22 | 2013-11-18
How would I reach full depth if my knees are bad from previous injuries. Should I just continue to go as low as I can without pain or is there something else I can do?
Veronica Carpenter 23 | 2013-11-19
Good stuff as always Greg. Have you written anything addressing the main flexibility issues that limit a person's squat depth?
Greg Everett 24 | 2013-11-19
David - In your case, full-depth has to take into consideration whatever limitations you have from the injuries. Do what you can to safely improve your ROM, but don't push into the range of re-injury.
Greg Everett 25 | 2013-11-19
Veronica- Kind of. Here are a few- Sample Weightlifting Flexibilty Program The Superhero Complex: Stretch & Activate Easily For Squats Flexibility For The Overhead Squat
Manuel 26 | 2013-11-20
Your argument about the stance makes sense. The counter argument I have heard may also make sense: the back squat is to be strong in the first pull, so the stance should reflect that postion (starting width). The front squat is to be strong standing up from the clean, and should be in that stance (a bit wider than the back squat). I tend to follow more your argument.
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