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Barbell Training Basics: Good Form

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Barbell training is a great way to improve your athletic performance, but it's more complex than it looks. People new to weightlifting may jump straight into it without considering the details, which can lead to an ineffective workout. Having the correct form is essential to barbell training, including your stance, grip, and position.

Step 1. Stance

The best starting stance when lifting a barbell should be feet about hip to shoulder width apart. I like to start slightly narrow and adjust out with the feet as needed. This will help us see mobility compensations and how we can adjust and improve our starting position later. This can ring true for much taller and much shorter athletes as adjustments will be needed for comfortability.

Step 2. Grip

Take a big belly breath in before bending over to establish your grip to create core tension. From there, we establish the starting position of the grip. A good starting place is when holding a barbell at hip height, thumbs should be able to touch the outside of your thighs. Some athletes may need to grip wider depending on their mobility and mechanics. We also want to teach the hook grip. I am a huge fan of teaching the hook grip right away as this can become tougher to introduce later. With the thumb wrapped around the bar, take your middle and index finger and wrap them around your thumb. The goal is to get the base of the middle finger over the top of the thumbnail and the index finger wrapped over the knuckle as much as possible. This may be uncomfortable for some athletes and that’s okay, however, it shouldn’t be painful in any way.

Step 3. Position

When gripping the bar, tighten your back to help establish your grip while staying upright. Create as much tension in your back and body before initiating any lift of the bar off the floor. You can take the bar up from the ground or off the rack into a hang position for the next teaching phase.

Step 4. Top-Down Approach: Front Rack/Squat

Why do we like to teach most athletes a top-down approach? We start with the big picture and work our way down to the details, the goal is to make sure the receiving position is safe and efficient. We don’t want the bar crashing down on the wrists or shoulder in a bad position as this can further risk injury. We test athletes in the front squat to test range of motion (ROM) and how well they can receive a bar in an upright power position down into the hole, where we identify struggles or compensation in a bottom position that may lead to plateaus or even injury.

With the established grip and stance, it’s time to teach rack position. We start by having athletes put the bar in a front rack position to perform a front squat. Hips and knees should bend and descend at the same time. Remember to keep your back upright and your elbows as high as possible!

Some people struggle in this position due to immobility or poor body mechanics. We want to work on techniques and mobility to constantly improve the front rack. Here we focus on lats, triceps, and thoracic extension stretches and mobility techniques to help hit our major points of performance (POP) so we can improve on a lift over time.

Step 5. Bar Path

Lastly, we want the bar to travel in a straight line as it transitions up and down the body through the movement. A great technique teaching bar path also continues our top-down approach. Transition the bar out of a front rack by driving the elbows outward to the sides allowing the bar to drop down to the hip into the hang position. We want to try and keep the bar as close to the body as possible. The bar path should be the same bringing the bar from the hips to the shoulders.

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Scott Ryan, BS, CSCS, CF-L1, CF-W, BFRC is a professional coach who specializes in Applied Functional Science, Strength and Conditioning, CrossFit L1, and Olympic Lifting. He attended New England College in New Hampshire obtaining a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis on Biomechanics. He has a passion for injury prevention and coaching, as he was a collegiate athlete who suffered sports injuries. His goal is to get athletes back to optimal shape as well as prevent future injuries.

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