The Pulls Broken Down Pt. 3

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT

Welcome to Part 3 of our breakdown of the different pulls of the lifts. In Part 3, we will be talking about the final phase of the pulls. If you haven’t read Part 1 or 2 where I do a deep dive about the first and second pull please go ahead and do so to give everything we talk about in this post context.

To recap, the third pull is measured as the barbell approaches its’ peak height and the lifter begins their descent into the squat position. The reason that this phase is named the “third pull” is that once the barbell exceeds the athlete’s bodyweight, the lifter can now use the barbell’s upward inertia to “pull” themselves quicker into the receiving position. The key components to this phase are as follows:

  • Foot movement
  • Transition Under
  • Fixation height of the barbell

Foot Movement

Foot movement in the lifts are something that is largely confused since a very common cue that many coaches use is “jump” when teaching athletes the full extension. While this may be effective for some athletes to learn to fully extend their bodies athletes should not actually try and jump with the barbell. This can cause the athlete to extend the duration of the pull longer than necessary to complete the lift and while they may get a little more height out of the barbell, the time spent in the air subtracts from the amount of time the athlete has to pull under the barbell and secure it in either the overhead position or the front rack. The “hang time” the athlete gained from jumping could have been spent controlling the barbell. Another downside to unnecessary height and more time spent in the air is the effect of gravitational acceleration. The lifter not only has to deal with less time stabilizing the barbell but now also needs to buffer additional energy from the combined forces of the mass of the lifter, barbell, and gravitational acceleration.

The foot movement observed in Olympic Weightlifting is not so much a jump as it is just a replacement of the feet from a pulling stance to the lifter’s squatting stance. The lifter imparts so much upward force into the ground and the barbell that the lifter actually rises off the floor slightly in which they will then quickly change their stance as they begin their pull under. Here are some exercises that can help bring awareness to a lifter’s feet movement during the lifts:

  • Snatch Balance
  • Tall snatches or cleans
  • Power snatch/cleans + snatch/cleans
  • Power snatch/cleans +overhead/front squats; with as little stance adjustment as possible after the power snatch/clean
  • Snatch or clean onto foot targets, small rubber mats, or 10kg plates

Transition Under the Barbell and Barbell Fixation

Sometimes it’s important to observe when and where the athletes fixate the barbell. When watching the lifts in slow motion, the lifter is actively decelerating the barbell well before they hit the bottom of the squat. The transition under the barbell and the fixation of the barbell (stabilizing in either the overhead or front rack position) are active processes. As the barbell reaches peak height and the feet start to transition the lifter continues to pull on the barbell. With weights that exceed the lifters bodyweight, there is greater inertia of the barbell following the second pull that helps to accelerate the body’s rotation under the barbell. As the lifter moves deeper into the squat the main action of the muscles start to change from force production to now stabilization. The lifter will actually fixate the barbell overhead or in the front rack a few inches above the bottom of the squat and use that time between the two points to stop the barbell’s downward trajectory.

This last concept will largely remain abstract until lifters start to lift more than their bodyweight. This is much less a strength issue and more of a timing issue when lifters are not continuing to control the barbell past the final extension in the second pull. Two main errors that occur with poorly timing the transition under are failing to get under the barbell quick enough despite a technically sound pull, or allowing the barbell to crash onto the lifter. To improve the lifter’s timing, I like to use these exercises:

  • Scarecrow snatches/ cleans
  • Tall power snatches/cleans
  • Hang snatch/cleans + Snatch/clean from above the knee
  • No-foot snatch/cleans
  • Block snatches and cleans from above the knee
  • Snatch Grip Behind the neck power jerk + Snatch balance

I hope this series helps you take a closer look at you or your athlete’s weightlifting technique to identify specific weaknesses and how to address them. If you enjoyed this series and would like more content like this in the future, feel free to leave a comment to let me know! Stay tuned for the next series where I will break down some of the auxiliary exercises and complexes that I detailed in this series.