The first time I was told to never step over the weightlifting bar was by my coach Lev Epshteyn.
“Would you ever step over your partner in training, or your opponent at the end of a match?” he asked me, knowing I had a background in wresting. I said I wouldn’t, because it would be disrespectful. “Well in weightlifting, the bar is your partner… sometimes even your opponent,” Epsteyn said. “You should always show it respect.”
Since then, I’ve never stepped on or over the bar.
Weightlifters from the former Soviet States and countries that have adopted the Soviet Weightlifting System do not step on or over a weightlifting bar as a sign of respect both to the sport and to the equipment. It’s a part of their weightlifting culture, tradition, and religion.
Some coaches even say that by respecting the bar, you are showing your respect to the Gods of weightlifting. Your respect, or lack of it, will be reciprocated when it matters. I don’t know if they truly believe this – but why take the chance?
When Mikhail Koklyaev was a young lifter, he didn’t care for the tradition or superstition around respecting the bar. One day, after doing clean pulls, Koklyaev stepped over the bar on his way off the platform, not realizing that the older, stronger lifters were watching. They stopped him in his path and told him there were consequences to his actions:
If you step over the bar, you must go under it.
The offender has a choice of either crawling under the bar, which is considered shameful, or lifting the bar overhead and walking underneath it.
The weight that day was heavier than anything Koklyaev had ever lifted before. To avoid shaming himself, he cleaned the weight, and pushed it high enough so that he was able to sneak under and drop it behind his head.
Since that day, Koklyaev never steps over the bar. And the Gods of weightlifting have been good to him.