Matt and Scott revisit a concept explored thoroughly in the Blue Book (Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition) but, until now, not given the full treatment at Barbell Logic. This concept is known as the Master Cue, and refers to the importance of keeping the barbell positioned over the middle of the foot, or simply “midfoot”, during the squat and deadlift. The Master Cue is a reminder to the lifter to make the bar travel perfectly vertical, as if moving in a vertical slot.
As described back in Episode 8: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Barbell Physics, the primary force pulling on the barbell seated on the lifter’s back (in a squat) or in his hands (in a deadlift) is gravity, which pulls toward the center of the earth or, in other words, downward. Thus the most efficient path against gravity — the path in which the most work is performed — is vertical, or up. Any deviation from a vertical path requires effort, but does not contribute to vertical motion and therefore does not constitute work. The Master Cue focuses the lifters attention on this critical aspect of physics while drawing his attention away from minutia and micromanagement of individual body parts. If a lifter has been taught how to perform a squat correctly, the Master Cue often fixes a multitude of problems with one simple thought.
Scott recounts how he personally struggled with the Master Cue, grasping the concept intellectually but unable to put it into practice under the bar. Then he made a key realization: under sufficient load, the bottom of the foot acts as a pressure gauge, and if he fixed his attention on where he felt the pressure in his foot he could control the position of the bar over the foot. The “diagnostic foot,” as Hambrick dubs it, is a useful tool for coaches. If a coach observes air under the toe or heel of the lifter’s shoe during a lift, that lifter is certainly NOT staying balanced on his midfoot, and corrective cues are necessary. Even if you don’t see air, you can usually see movement within the shoe which may indicate a problem with the midfoot relationship.
One last thing since we’re talking physics… although Starting Strength often equates “midfoot” and “vertical bar path,” it’s important to understand that the bar should be positioned over the middle of the lifter-barbell system, that is, the center of mass (COM) comprising the bar and the mass of the lifter behind the bar. Practically, this means the bar will actually be in frontof the midfoot during light warm-up sets with the empty bar, because the mass of the lifter significantly outweighs the bar. Nevertheless the combined COM will still be over the midfoot. At sufficiently heavy weights the combined COM is close enough to the bar that the bar will travel over the middle of the foot.
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