The Most Important Part of Any Lift: The Set-Up
I can tell you before you start to swing a bell or pickup a bar whether or not you’re likely to have a good rep.
What is it that determines a successful, strong, powerful rep from an unsuccessful, weak, and disoriented one?
The strongest and most athletic do it naturally. The eager and impatient miss it altogether; yet, it has perhaps the most profound impact on your results.
The set-up! Is the absolute most important part of any set you’ll ever do.
There’s no cure mid rep for a poor set-up, your only option is to put the weight down, shake it off, and reset.
We all have habits we’re familiar with, those we’re aware of:
- Brushing your teeth
- Making coffee while half asleep
- Humming while cooking – no, that’s just me?
As well as those we’re not aware of:
- Shifting our weight to one side versus the other
- Holding your breath when you’re stressed
- Sticking your tongue out when in deep thought…
Much like these habits, your set-up likely has some good aspects peppered with some not-so-good aspects.
Today my goal is to help you become more aware of some of the more common problems I see in people’s set-up so that you can in turn fine tune your own set-up – after all, we can only correct that which we are aware of.
The goal with any set-up is to put yourself in the most optimal position possible for the ensuing rep.
- Foot placement
- The decent
- Tension, again
All of these factors, and more, will influence your ability to move the load off the ground, swing it overhead, or simply push it down the track.
Unless the load you’re attempting to move is purely too much, honing in on a perfect set-up should all but ensure that you have a great set.
Everyone’s set-up is unique, however regardless of the individual the fact remains that you want to be in the most optimal position possible for the lift.
Again, remember that individuals will have different stance-width, but in general it’s a good idea to think of deadlifting within your frame and squatting outside your frame. This could require some tinkering.
The best way I instruct my clients is to cue tension. The most optimal position should be one that you can create the most tension. If you move your feet closer and lose tension, move them back out, if you move them too far and you again lose tension, move them slightly back in.
The goal again is maximal tension. Your body will tell you where that is specifically to you.
Let’s talk about the swing in general. I’ve coached a lot of students in the swing. Without fail, almost every time when we progress from the hike, or even the dead-stop swing, to the traditional 2-hand swing, technique falls apart. It’s as if the brain just can’t handle the excitement about to take place!
Because of this, I instruct the swing the same way I instruct the deadlift; forget the bell is under you, or in the case of the swing in front of you. Set-up with maximal tension reaching down towards the floor, not outward toward the bell.
So many times when I place a bell in front of someone they automatically begin their set by reaching forward towards the bell, throwing their hinge off as well as their ability to create tension at the bottom – start position – of the swing. No bueno.
Your breath is a very powerful tool and can be used in a variety of ways to help increase your recovery and help you move heavy weight.
Holding your breath is useful at times, but in the swing specifically that is not one of them. I instruct a hard, short sniff through the nose on the hike, followed by a hard tsss! At the top of the swing (the lockout). Some may think this sounds/looks funny, but I can assure you there are reasons as to why it’s a necessity in your lift. Tension.
There’s that word again. When you take a hard, short sniff through the nose you should undoubtedly feel your midsection light up. On the flip side when you breathe out with a tss! You should also feel your midsection tighten.
This tension not only protects you from injury, but also aids in your ability to move heavy weight. Practice breathing; hard sniff through the nose, hard tss! Out. It should be cyclical – the same comes in as goes out. It’ll take some practice but you’ll get the hang of it.
Not Paying Attention
This is just plain lack of focus, but is very common especially among novices. The environment plays a huge role in your ability to focus. The more going on in the background the more it’s on you to tune it out and focus on your set. Not a hard thing to do for seasoned vets, but near impossible for someone new to this style of training.
When you lose your focus, you lose:
- Your tension, and
- You become too eager
This approach triggers a hurried mind. A hurried mind is an unsettled mind.
The only advice I have here is this; if you drop into your setup and feel something just isn’t right:
- Stand up
- Shake it off – fast and loose
- Take some deep breaths
- And re-approach for another attempt
Remember, once your set, you’re set. The only way to correct your set-up is to stand up, shake it off, and start over. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Create a Routine and Repeat It Every time
The only way to break an old habit is to form a new one
It’s unrealistic to attempt to change things all at once, rather focus on one aspect at a time
- Pull yourself down
- Create tension
- Channel the right mindset
Once you have your position down repeat it, over, and over, and over again –Regardless of the weight!
In fact this is where most people go wrong – they only take their heavy weights seriously
Any weight demands respect, when attempting to develop a new habit, that aspect becomes even more important – the body prefers the path of least resistance, developing a new habit is certainly not that.
Focus, repetition, and more repetition will be the recipe for success and creating a more optimal set-up.
The Set’s Not Over Till It’s Over
This last part has little to do with the set-up and rather everything to do with how you finish.
StrongFirst likes to remind its students that “the rep isn’t over until the bell is on the ground.”
In other words, until you’ve reached a stopping point on the ground, the set requires your undivided attention and continual application of habits/skills discussed in this article.
Too often I see clients perform a great-looking set of swings, only to collapse like a collapsible thumb toy after the top of their last rep.
Understand that, that’s where most people get hurt!
Take your time and re-pattern the notion of the set not being over until the bell/bar is on the ground safely.
While I talk primarily about bells and barbells, this should go for any movement. The more focus and attention you pay to the set-up, the more likely you are to have a great set.
Great sets lead to stronger bodies, stronger bodies enjoy life more…