What Does It Mean When Athletes Maintain Three Points of Contact in Lifting?

The idea of maintaining three points of contact for an athlete’s stance in lifts, also called a tripod position, is focused around the concept of displacing pressure evenly across the foot in three places when performing exercises.

The term three points of contact isn’t a new terminology, or limited to lifting by any means, and you’ll commonly see it in safety manuals for construction and other industries. Although, for lifting specifically, three points of contact (tripod) generally refers to how an athlete is using their feet in lifts and how they’re displacing pressure on them. Keep in mind, some coaches use the idea of three points of contact for individual lifts and it isn’t limited to the foot alone.

In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to maintain three points of contact, or a tripod foot position. This cue and idea is similar to the concept of screwing the feet into the floor, but doesn’t necessarily refer to the act of externally rotating the hips by creating three points, but often results in doing so, which makes these almost synonymous in practice and lifting.

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How should you grip the ground with your feet when you squat?🤔 . One cue that works great for many is “screw your feet into the ground.” This motion starts as the hips externally rotate. The knees move out to the side a bit and the feet move into an arched position. The second most common cue is “spread the floor.” This promotes a similar motion as the 1st cue, and puts the entire lower body into a good position. If yopu're doing either of these corretcly, you'll likely feel your lateral glutes kicking on a bit and your foot start to grab the ground.✅ . For both make sure to keep your toes jammed into the grond to limit your foot rolling on its side.👈🏼👉🏼 . By doing both of these actions, you create a tripod foot. Your weight should be evenly spread across all 3 of these points. Jamming your big toe down again keeps the foot from rolling on its side and pressure on the base of the 1st toe.👇🏼 . Gripping the ground correctly sets a firm foundation for you to perform a perfect squat. Let me know if you have any other questions on this part of the squat!🙌🏼 . Thank you to @3d4Medical and their app Complete Anatomy for the visual today! 🙏🏼 _____________________________________________ #Squat #Powerlifting #weightlifting #crossfit #training #wod #workout #gym #fit #fitness #mobility #lifting #crossfitter #crossfitcommunity #recovery #prehab #oly

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Three Points of Contact/Tripod Foot Positioning

  • Creates the idea of “gripping” the floor for the athlete, as opposed to letting their arch drop and go flat footed due to one point becoming unstable.
  • Entails maintaining equal pressure across the lateral (base of 5th toe) and medial metatarsal (base of big toe), along with the heel.
  • Can help sequence the knee and hip joints by creating a firmer base for the lifter to lift from and drive through.

The way an athlete and coach will interpret and teach this concept can vary, but the idea always stands that there’s three consistent points of contact, along with an arch that’s maintained.

In terms of lifting, think of humans like trees, the feet and the three points of contact are the roots in which we sit upon. Without a firm base, everything else can get thrown off and sequencing could be maligned. The Joint By Joint Concept discusses how important it is to maintain mobility or stability through each joint to ensure the body moves optimally, and it only makes sense that this concept starts with the ankle, aka the foot playing a major part in the ankle’s success.

In my opinion, that’s why the simple concept of maintaining a strong tripod position is so important for every athlete. If the foot is unstable, then more than likely you’re going to experience some form of poor positioning in different movements. Plus, this concept can at times help lifters create hip external rotation and create better tension throughout the posterior chain without having to think about.

Do You Need to Work On Your Three Points of Contact?

If you’re unsure if your foot positioning is off or not, then you can use the tips below to help you analyze your foot positioning. Below are a few starting points to consider when deciding to spend a little more time on your feet. 

  • During compound movements you notice that your foot is turning or moving under you during your lifts. For example, the foot is physically turning in or out during squats/deadlifts. This is a sign you’re not maintaining three points.
  • Your knees are experiencing valgus (act of caving in), or wavering through different positions in exercises. This could be an indicator that you’re losing your arch and the medial/lateral point of contact is unstable.
  • There’s instability in the hip and knee joints, or the heel is coming off the ground.

Obviously, if you’re experiencing any of the points mentioned above in lifts, then there’s more than likely other things going (at other joints), and analyzing the feet is only piece of the puzzle. Regardless if it’s only your foot position or not, if you’re trying to figure out what could be causing an issue during one of your lifts, then starting with the feet is a great place to start.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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