The Three Pulls: Part 1

We do an EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) every other day (for those of you that haven’t figured it out already) in order to improve your snatch and clean technique. Both are highly technical movements that require lots of detail and attention. More often than not, we practice these lifts with no added weight (just a bar) in order to refine the basics. We do our best to come up with teaching progressions and cues that will help you make the most gains in the least amount of time with minimal experience. While that sort of teaching is necessary during a class, and it has helped each of you to improve leaps and bounds with both movements, it doesn’t mean we can’t get a little more detailed here. It may in fact be that you need extra specifics to help get you over the hump. Well here we go!

The snatch and clean can be broken up into three different sections called “pulls”.  In segmenting them this way, we can focus on perfecting each phase.  It also helps us to better understand how everything works together during such complicated movements.

  • The 1st Pull

More commonly known as the deadlift portion of the lift.

  • The 2nd Pull

The “jump/shrug” portion of the lift. Originates at the mid/upper thigh and ends with a violent extension of the ankles, knees, and hips.

  • The 3rd Pull

Pulling yourself down in order to receive the bar at the shoulders (for a clean) or overhead (for a snatch).

The 1st Pull
We’ll start by spending some time talking about the 1st pull because of it’s grave importance to the rest of the lift.  At our gym, and, I suspect, at every other gym in the world, the first pull is often performed incorrectly.  That’s an absolute shame because we can’t expect to end a lift correctly if we aren’t starting it correctly. No body runs before they walk.

When a weight is moved off the floor incorrectly, the odds of completing the lift go way down. This is because when that first move isn’t right, the middle and top are adversely affected, sometimes to a great extent. -Bill Star, former nationally ranked Olympic Lifter, strength coach

While their are plenty of finer points to the 1st pull, the one I’d like to focus on most is the bar path.  In talking about the proper bar path we’ll also be able to touch on other important points.  The first thing to note is that the path of the bar during the first pull of a snatch or a clean is up and back (towards your body).  It is NOT a completely vertical bar path.  This is different from a standard deadlift where the bar path tends to be nearly straight up and down.  During an olympic lift the weight must stay as close to the body as possible, resulting in a sweeping curve up the legs towards the crease in the hips.  Why?  Remember that for a snatch and a clean the real magic happens during the jump/shrug stage.  Through a proper 1st pull, we give ourselves the best opportunity to hit the “finish” position we always talk about.  If the bar is away from your body during the deadlift a comedy of errors will keep you from “finishing” properly.  And if you don’t “finish”, you won’t move heavy weight.  How do you perform a sweeping pull then?
 

  • Make sure your hips don’t rise at a greater rate than your chest
If they do, the back is sure to round.  If the back rounds out, the hamstring will not be loaded by the time you get to the mid thigh which, in turn, will cause your jump to be extremely weak.  Your back angle must stay the same all the way up past your knees.  This means equal parts hips and chest.  Don’t raise just one. Raise BOTH!

 

  • Stay in your heels
If you aren’t in your heels to start there is no way you’ll be able to raise your butt/hips with your chest.  No heels means it will be impossible to activate your hamstrings, thus leaving the knees bent, causing the barbell to travel out and around them, away from the body.  And remember what we said about the barbell being away from the body.  No bueno!

 

  • Extend the knees
Often you’ll hear me talk about the knees pulling back and in.  If the hips and the chest are rising at the same right this should happen automatically.  The knees will pull back towards your body, creating space for the bar to pass them.  If the knees aren’t extending as you are standing, not only are you not lifting with you legs (a huge no-no), the bar is having to pass around them away from your body!

 

  • pull the back back towards you as you stand

You can do everything you need to with the heels, knees, hips, and chest, but if you don’t actively pull the bar into your body using your lats it will all be for nothing.  The lats are the muscles that sit just below your armpits on the side of your body.  Keep them tight.  You’ll be able to notice right away whether you’re pulling the bar back towards your body if, by the time the bar reaches thigh height, it’s way out in front of you.

Each of these points will lead to a bar path that moves up and back at the same time.  If one of them is missing, the entire first pull will be off.  Notice in the video below the path of the bar.  The yellow line represents the path of the bar, and it isn’t straight, but rather arching back towards the lifter.  Also notice the necessary steps he’s taken to get the bar to travel that way. Every point I made above can be seen in the lifters form.

Tips to get better at the First Pull
No one ever got better at anything by going all out every time.  Take your time during the initial deadlift.  Remind yourself of it’s importance.  I find it incredibly useful for those having trouble with the deadlift to take it slower than normal.  You’ll be able to get away with it for the olympic lifts because most of the real acceleration and power generation happens during the 2nd phase.  Greg Everett, a well known and respected O-lifting coach, points out that “the first pull can remain relatively slow without detriment to the lift, and in fact a more deliberate first pull generally improves the ability of the lifter to enter into a better second pull position” (Olympic Weighlifting).  Until the first pull becomes second nature, fight the urge to go fast.  You’ll only be setting yourself up for greater success in the future.  Remember that no jumping or shrugging occurs during this phase of the lift.  You’re simply deadlifting it to the position where those steps will occur.  Now obviously once you start being able to hit heavier weight, the initial speed from the ground will have to be increased, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there.

A fast start is only helpful to those who have built rock-solid bases and drilled on their form over the course of several years. – Bill Star, former nationally ranked Olympic Lifter, strength coach

Final Words
Stop being so eager to jump right away!

Jake is a Head Trainer at CrossFit Kinnick. He has been CrossFitting for 6 years and has been a Trainer at CrossFit Kinnick for 4 years. His Certifications include: Level I CrossFit Instructor, USAW Sports Performance Coach. He earned his BA in Political Science from Cal Poly Pomona.