Measure and improve bar path

Small changes in your bar path can boost personal records in the weight room. In this article, we cover 2 apps that measure barbell trajectory. We also talk about the ideal bar path according to science, and how to fix yours in training. Let’s start:

By Loek Vossen

Bar path (trajectory) Olympic Snatch

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What is a bar path

A bar path is a line that shows how a barbell moves during the exercise. It’s the barbell route from start (e.g. deep squat) to finish (e.g. straight legs).

Knowing your bar path is important, because it shows whether you’re lifting the bar in an effective way. It also answers questions like: Should I keep the bar closer to my body during a snatch? and Does my bar path cause shoulder injuries during the bench press?

How to measure bar path

Let’s look at two bar path apps, available on iOS and Android. Both systems are highly accurate and trusted by World Champions, Olympians, Pro athletes – and those who prepare them to win.

The first bar path app (FLEX Stronger) is popular among individual athletes and personal trainers. The second bar path app (GymAware iPad app) is popular among elite coaches, performance facilities and high school teams.

FLEX Stronger – bar path app (Android & iOS)

The FLEX Stronger app helps to learn more about your barbell path. It is available on Android and iOS.

Here’s an example of how a snatch bar path looks in the FLEX Stronger app:

Bar path (trajectory) Olympic Snatch in FLEX app
Snatch barbell path in the FLEX Stronger app.

The app shows your live barbell trajectory in 2D. It also shows a vertical shaded target zone, in which the ideal bar path takes place. The colors of the bar path line show whether you remained within the target zone (green) or not (red).

The app also allows you to look at the bar path (position) over several repetitions. For instance during a bench press:

Barbell position bench press in FLEX app
Bench press barbell path (position) over several repetitions in the FLEX Stronger app.

This graph shows differences in height and depth between several (bench press) repetitions.

Last but not least, you can do a bar path video analysis with the FLEX Stronger app. Here’s a user video:

Bar path video analysis Olympic power snatch in FLEX app
Power snatch bar path video analysis, using the FLEX Stronger app.

The app saves your bar path data, so you can track bar path improvements over time.

Important: to get this wealth of accurate data, you need to connect a laser-based piece of hardware to the barbell. This unlocks all the features required to start with velocity based training (bar velocity, bar power, PBs and many more).

Attach FLEX VBT sensor to barbell
Attach the GymAwareFLEX unit i.e. laser-based hardware to the barbell to measure the bar path.

Learn more about the FLEX Stronger app and laser-based hardware via the button:

GymAware – bar path app (iOS)

The GymAware iPad app is probably the best bar path app for coaches and (high school) teams. It’s available on iOS.

Besides a bar path, it can also track the lift path of other objects like dumbbells.

Here’s an example of how a power clean bar path looks in the GymAware app:

The beauty of the GymAware app is that there’s an entire GymAware cloud ecosystem behind the app. This enables you to take bar path analysis to a whole new level.

Here you can see the GymAware cloud, which not only shows a power clean bar path (right), but also the position of the bar (blue) and the power generated by the athlete (red), over time.

GymAware power clean: position, power and lift path (bar path)
After measuring the bar path with the GymAware app, you can dive into the bar path analysis in the GymAware cloud.

Here’s another example of the bar path analysis in the software. This time it shows a bench press bar path (right), the bar position (blue) and power generated by the athlete (red).

GymAware cloud
Bench press bar path analysis in the GymAware cloud

Important: to get this wealth of accurate data, you need to use a linear position transducer (LPT). This is a string that you can attach to the barbell, to unlock all the features required to start with velocity based training (bar velocity, bar power, PBs and many more).

GymAware RS linear position transducer, overhead squat
Attach the GymAware hardware to the barbell to measure the bar path

Learn more about the GymAware hardware via the button:

Bar path analysis

When analyzing your barbell trajectory, you might wonder what the perfect bar path is. The perfect bar path depends on the exercise and is not per definition a straight vertical path.

Let’s look at some specific exercises and their ideal bar path.

Bar path olympic lifts: Snatch

What is the perfect bar path for the snatch? The most successful snatch bar path turns out to be an ‘away-toward-away-toward’ bar path. Let’s dive deeper into the bar path of the very best weightlifters.

A recent study looked at the barbell trajectory of the snatch, during the World and Pan-American weightlifting Championships. They determined 4 barbell trajectory types:

  1. Type 1: ‘toward-away-toward’ bar path, crossing the vertical line twice
  2. Type 2: ‘toward-away-toward’ bar path, not crossing the vertical line at all
  3. Type 3: ‘away-toward-away-toward’ bar path
  4. Type 4: ‘(away)-toward-away-toward-away-toward’ bar path
Bar path (trajectory) Olympic snatch.
Snatch barbell trajectory types. Source link.

The type 3 bar path was most prevalent among all lifters at the World Weightlifting Championship (WWC, 53%) and Pan-American Weightlifting Championship (PAWC, 59%). It was also the most common barbell trajectory among top-three finishers.

The type 2 barbell trajectory was used by roughly 30% of women and men at both WWC and PAWC. Type 1 barbell trajectory accounted for 13% (WWC) and 8% (PAWC). Type 4 occurred least frequently at both WWC (6%) and PAWC (3%).

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean that a type 3 bar path is the perfect bar path for your snatch. Looking at how the very best weightlifters lift during a snatch is just one way to learn more about the ideal snatch bar path.

Bar path olympic lifts: Clean

The perfect bar path for the clean is believed to consist of three factors:

  1. An initial rearward movement of the bar during the first pull (Image below, Dx2)
  2. A catch position no more than 20 cm behind the most forward bar position (Image below, DxL)
  3. An amount of looping (DxL) less than the net rearward horizontal displacement (Image below, DxT)
Bar path (trajectory) Olympic clean.
Description of bar-path kinematic variables for the clean. Source link.

Rearward movement of the bar from the first to the second pull (factor 1, Dx2 in image above) is an important indicator of the likelihood of success of the lift.

Things to keep in mind:

  • A good starting position: with the knees in front of the bar
  • Hips directly over or a little behind the ankles
  • Start with knee extension, not hip extension

The vertical displacement of the bar (factor 2 and 3) is also important. According to this study most successful attempts (76%) had a rearward displacement of the bar. Most failed attempts (64%) on the other hand, had no horizontal displacement or the lifter caught the bar in front of the starting position. Things to keep in mind:

  • Prevent “hipping” the bar forward, which results in catching the bar in front of the starting position.

These factors are important in all clean exercises, regardless of whether you’re performing a clean and jerk or a power clean or a squat clean.

You can expect significant bar path improvements for the clean within 4 weeks, using visual bar path feedback. Even better: peak force and peak power (both metrics are visible in the GymAware and FLEX bar path app) also increased in a 4 week bar path training program, without increasing training loads.

Bar path bench press

The ideal barbell trajectory of a bench press is not a straight vertical line. While novice powerlifters tend to push the bar straight to the ceiling, more experienced powerlifters have a bar path that is quite different.

Notice how the ascent and descent trajectory switches between novice (left) and World Champion Bill Kazmaier (right):

Bar path bench press: novice vs world champion
The bench press bar path differs between novice powerlifters (left) and World Champion Bill Kazmaier (right). *The bench press graphic (orange) is not at scale with the trajectory.

It’s important to note that athletes dramatically change their bar path when they start to fatigue. That’s why this scientific paper suggests first emphasizing proper technique before starting to train (close to) failure. Moreover, the same research publication shows that besides bar path, the time to lift the bar also changes when fatiguing. In fact, it can easily double during one set.

Both the GymAware iPad app and FLEX Stronger app (iOS and Android) are able to show the barbell speed as a metric or in a graph.

No significant bar path changes were noticed when comparing an arched bench press with a flat bench press technique. You can assume similar findings for other bench press techniques like the close grip bench press, incline bench press or decline bench press.

How to improve your bar path

Improving your bar path comes down to measuring and adjusting your barbell trajectory over time. To get a full picture, it’s important to measure your bar path and barbell velocity in all kinds of circumstances: at the beginning of your set, when close to failure, with light weights or during your 1RM.

Start with analyzing the differences in trajectories of those reps. Then compare them with more experienced Olympic- and power lifters. You can also use the literature and scientific recommendations mentioned in this article.

Wrap up

“You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” So why not start with measuring your bar path right now?

Get accurate measurements with our laser-based GymAwareFLEX or linear position transducer GymAware RS.

Got a question? Feel free to reach out! We are here to help.

Loek Vossen

Loek Vossen

Human Movement Scientist | Content Marketing and Education