Pistol
Source: Joe Nimble

Perfecting Foot Positioning in The Snatch, Deadlift and Pistol Squat

"The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." Leonardo Da Vinci

With any lift or exercise, if you start badly with poor foot positioning, then it will make the entire movement even harder to execute properly. Your feet help to generate power for the lift and provide a stable and responsive foundation. They relay feedback about balance, force and proprioceptive signals to the rest of your body.

Understanding how our feet work is the first step to comprehending how to improve your abilities as an athlete in regards to foot positioning in the exercises below. The right footwear is also tremendously important to help you stay strong and nimble throughout every training session.

OHS

Your feet are vital for optimal performance

© Joe Nimble

THE HUMAN FOOT – A MASTERPIECE OF ENGINEERING

Our feet are made up of 26 bones with over 33 joints arranged into columns and arches. This all vary in the way that they move, and in their flexibility and stiffness. 

Hindfoot (the back)

Side to side movement – The hindfoot consists of the heel bone (calcaneus) and ankle (talus), joined together by the subtalar joint which allows for lateral movement

Dorsiflexion – The lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) are attached to the ankle bone with tendons that act like a hinge. Good mobility here is vital for many movements such as pistol squats for example. 

Mid-foot (the middle)

Shock absorbers – The mid-foot is made up of five tarsal bones that create the arch of the foot. The arch ligament (plantar fascia) helps create tension that acts like a shock absorber when walking or running.

Forefoot (the front)

Five long metatarsals connect the toe bones (phalanges) to the tarsals of the mid-foot. Your forefoot supports half of your body’s weight. To feel this support, stand up and lift your heels off the ground, now your weight is held and balanced by the forefoot. This is especially important in explosive exercises such as the snatch. 

JOE NIMBLE SHOES AND THE NATURAL MOVEMENT REVOLUTION

The natural movement revolution works on the principle that the equipment we use should support the movements of the human body in a natural way. They should augment rather than inhibit, because these movements have been honed by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Think paleo, but for the natural movements of your body rather than your nutrition.

Shoe

Stay functional

© Joe Nimble

Joe Nimble shoes are designed to optimise the natural engineering of the foot and are an excellent. They allow you to:

  • Spread your toes out (toe freedom from the wider toe box and zero heel)
  • Create greater force production from the flat sole and zero heel
  • Make it easier to feel the ground because of the minimal 4mm sole

These qualities are especially important when it comes to performing the following movements well. Remember that these guidelines are exactly that, and as such there will always be slight differentiation in technique according to the physiology of each athlete. But they are a great place to start. 

FOOT PLACEMENT IN THE SNATCH

Snatch

Stay nimble, strong and stable in the snatch!

© Joe Nimble

When it comes to the set up position for the snatch, your feet should be close together and underneath the hips, normally slightly narrower. This helps to generate more force against the ground. 90% of missed lifts can be attributed to the feet and set up prior to the first pull. 

Firstly, start with your toes under the bar, if the bar starts far away, it stays far away. Pressure should be distributed on the balls of your feet to allow your legs to drive through the floor. Point your feet and knees slightly out, this will help the bar stay close without smashing into your knees.

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Speak with your coach and experiment with different starting positions for your feet as this is also dependent on other factors such as the strength of your back or the length of your femurs. 

FOOT PLACEMENT IN THE DEADLIFT

Andy Bolton was the first man in history to deadlift over 1000lbs. Eddie Hall was the first man in history to deadlift 500kg. They both did this without shoes (in deadlifting socks) because that gave them an even greater ability to generate the necessary explosive power to shift such massive amounts of weight. Joe Nimble shoes operate in much the same way because of the high level of sensory feedback that is available through the thin and flexible 4mm Vibram sole. They work effectively for this important compound exercise. 

Deadlift Setup

Most people setup with the bar almost over their toes to avoid hitting their shins. But this puts the bar in front of your balance point and further from your centre of mass. The weight will pull you forward when it leaves the floor. It will make you lose balance and feel harder on your lower back. The more consistent your setup, the more consistent your form will be.

  • Setup with the bar over the middle of your foot. Your mid-foot is your balance point. If you pull the bar over your mid-foot, you’ll have better balance. This makes the weight easier to Deadlift.
  • Make sure not to setup with the bar too close. Your shins should only touch the bar during your setup.
  • If they touch it when you stand, the bar will block your shins from coming forward when you setup. This means that they will have to stay almost vertical during the lift and cause a loss of balance.
  • When you stand in front of the bar and look down, you won’t see the mid-foot under your legs in your line of sight, because it will be blocked by the barbell.

Toes

Setup with your toes pointing about 15° out. This makes it easier to push your knees out on the way up. Knees out also keeps them out of the way on the way up and help to ensure a straight bar path. The bar path should be a completely vertical line, as that makes it a shorter distance to pull. 

Keep your feet completely flat on the floor. No part of your foot should come up when you Deadlift because this will result in a loss of balance. Ideally, you want the greatest surface are in contact with the floor. Keep your heels, mid-foot and toes down. A narrow sole and a wide toe box are highly functional here because they will allow you to splay your toes out and drive hard into the ground. imagine that you are pushing the ground away with your feet and legs and use that momentum to drive the weight upwards.

FOOT PLACEMENT IN THE PISTOL SQUAT

A good pistol squat requires strength, balance, coordination and mobility to execute well.

Firstly, you need to find the foot position that works for you. To locate this you need to practice in the bottom position. This will also help you to determine what feels right for you when it comes to foot positioning.

Squat down on two feet, stick one leg out and try staying there. Forget about Oly lifting shoes, all they do is prevent your feet from getting information about how to adjust themselves for balance. Go barefoot or use nimbleToes training shoes, the latter these are an excellent way to gain feedback from your feet. 

You need to place each foot (as you alternate) under your body so that it can support your weight effectively. But make sure that your knee doesn’t cave inwards as this will cause you to lose strength and power.

If you find that you are tipping backwards at the bottom of the pistol, it could be due to inadequate leg strength or poor dorsiflexion. Try counterbalancing the movement by holding a kettlebell and adjusting this weight in order to keep yourself balanced throughout the entire movement. Also work on your ankle mobility until you are able to perform the full range of motion.

Try grabbing your toe of the raised foot prior to the eccentric portion (way down) of the pistol squat. This can help with controlling your balance as well. Concentrate on spreading your toes wide and trying to grip the floor with your other foot. 

OPTIMISING YOUR HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE

“The foundation of performance is health, and the foundation of movement health is foot function”. Lee Saxby

Squat movement

Move naturally and effectively

© Joe Nimble

Good movement and great technique is vital for performance excellence. You need to be able to move well before you load weight onto any exercise, and you also need to make sure that you perform the exercise correctly. Make sure that you use the right technique and choose equipment that will support and enhance the natural movements of your body.

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