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Keep Your Feet Off the Bar!

Published: 2021-07-19
Keep Your Feet Off the Bar!
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Honestly, to my friends at British Weight Lifting, it was only in looking for an appropriate picture for this blog that I discovered your piece on the very same subject. It is interesting to see how common this issue has become with mostly new weightlifters. Cheers, mates!

Appearing under Incorrect Movements (2.5) in the 2020 edition of the International Weightlifting Federation’s Technical and Competition Rules and Regulations is a rather odd listing. Rule applies to all lifts and states the lifter cannot “Touch the barbell with his/her footwear.” No further explanation is provided.

Spinning the bar with one’s foot prior to lifting is an old practice, one especially useful when earlier, less sophisticated bars were known to sometimes “stick,” especially after being dropped unevenly. Realize this was before today’s bumper plates. At the time, no one thought much about this occasional practice.

A Little History

For some time, the IWF has conducted a quadrennial international meeting for coaches, referees, and medical officials in the year after an Olympic Games. In 1981 a US official who had attended the recent IWF conference provided detailed information on new rules and/or their interpretation. Here’s an exchange that took place during a follow-up clinic at the USA Nationals:

USA official: You can no longer spin the bar with your foot.

Newton: Why?

USA official: If you’ve stepped in the rosin box prior to lifting, a piece of rosin might fly up into your eye.

Newton (incredulous): And, if a lifter spins the bar with their foot, what is the outcome?

USA official: Red lights are immediately activated, the attempt is negated.

Later that year, the American Championships were held during the same period that I served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Championships in Lille, France. Upon my return to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, I learned one of my lifters had spun the bar with his foot at that meet and had the attempt immediately red-lighted. Fortunately, the lifter managed to end up in first place despite having this lift turned down.

The following year I attended the first few days of the IWF World Junior Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil where I served as an official during the 52kg category. Prior to the competition, then-IWF General Secretary Tamas Ajan conducted a brief technical rules clinic for the gathered officials. The USA official that had declared, “No feet on the bar” the year before was seated directly in front of me. Here is that exchange:

Dr. Ajan: Any questions?

Newton: Yes, one, please. We in the US have been told that the lifter cannot spin the bar with his (no female lifters at the time) foot.

Dr. Ajan (incredulous): What? This sounds something like football (soccer) where the athlete cannot touch the ball with his hands. No, there is no such rule!

Never again, or at least until just recently, did we see a lift turned down due placement of a foot on the bar.

Why the Change?

Recently, I heard that the “no foot on the bar” rule was back in the rulebook. Inquiring of those that have a closer connection to today’s rules, I was told that this regulation has a more present-day explanation than the unlikely placement of rosin in the eye.

I was told the current concern relates to the probable unsanitary conditions often encountered in a men’s restroom, particularly on the floor around a urinal. It seems that a lifter that has been in the restroom, relieved himself while standing, is likely to have other than sanitary conditions on the soles of his shoes.

OK, I can accept that. Whether one’s shoes remain increasingly unsanitary after walking back to the warm-up room (where spinning the bar with the foot is evidently not enforced), mounting the platform, perhaps stepping in the rosin box, and attempting a lift is a question for others with more knowledge in the field of infectious disease than do I.

We know that the bar must be occasionally cleaned by the loaders, especially when blood appears on it. Blood on the bar results from torn callouses, scraping the shins during the first pull, or other possible incidents.

In the case of blood on the bar (or other events likely to disrupt the flow of the meet), no lifter is penalized. The clock stops, cleaning occurs, and then the meet continues.

The current rules do not directly spell out the consequences of placing a foot on the barbell. But if this results in a canceled attempt as has been done before, all lifters certainly need to avoid the practice.

Maybe a reader with more knowledge about this rule can provide some greater details.