Push Don't Pull
Updated: May 15
There is no denying that Olympic Weightlifting has grown in popularity over the last decade. We have seen an influx in memberships for USA Weightlifting (USAW) as well as a spike in barbell clubs growing inside of CrossFit gyms. The rise of CrossFit has brought more interest to the sport of weightlifting and many teams that have been around for decades, prior to the rise of CrossFit, are seeing the benefit as much as local facilities.
However, there is a dramatic difference in the way CrossFit teaches the Olympic lifts and the way USAW does. That begins top down with the difference in certifications and the concepts taught at those certifications. Now, I am not about to go on a rant on how CrossFit teaches the lifts and what is good or bad about the way they do it, despite my personal opinions. I will say that I believe this is a big reason as to why we have seen so many “hip cleaners” or what some may refer to as “humping” the bar. I’ve never sat through a CrossFit certification, but I have had many conversations with some of the coaches in our gym about the methods they use to teach the lifts and a big one we often hear is “hips through the bar”.
You can always tell when a CrossFit athlete first comes over to the weightlifting side. There is a lot of rolling into the toes and in an effort to make the all coveted contact with the bar, they are slamming their hips into the bar. Aside from the obvious bruises you’re giving your body, the greater problem is that by slamming the hips into the bar, you are sending the line of force and the barbell horizontally out in front of you and away from your center of gravity. Instead, we want everything to drive vertically up into triple extension.
Fun fact: If you swing your hips forward it becomes nearly impossible for the knees and ankles to reach full extension without hyperextending your lumbar spine, too!
USA Weightlifting breaks down the snatch and the clean into 3 pulls, first pull, second pull, and third pull.
The First Pull:
The first pull occurs as the bar leaves the floor. It continues through the point where you begin to initiate into triple extension. Your torso begins to transition vertically and the knees scoop under the bar. This should happen once the bar passes the knees and moves into the power position. Your power position is right about mid-to-upper in the clean
and upper-to-top of the thigh in the snatch.
Slow Motion First Pull
A great way to train this movement pattern is through lift-off’s, both in the snatch and clean-grip. The lift-off allows the athlete to focus on controlling the bar off of the floor while keeping the hips and shoulders moving as one. This is where the idea of pushing begins!
The Second Pull:
The second pull is also known as triple extension. It is the source of upward acceleration of the barbell giving it the momentum and elevation to allow you to time and space for the third pull. At triple extension, you should be vertical, and the hips, knees, and ankles should be fully extended.
Slow Motion Second Pull
Snatch pulls and clean pulls all emphasize the triple extension needed in the snatch and clean. Check out an old article I posted, "To Bend or Not to Bend?" about the technique of this accessory movement. This movement can be done in a variety of ways such as adding pauses or beginning the movement from various positions such as above the knee or below the knee etc.
Clean Pull from Above the Knee
The Third Pull:
The third pull is the transition under the bar into the catch position. The athlete is actively pulling themselves down under the bar. This is the first time the arms become involved as the elbows pull upward to stay in control of the bar and keep it close to the body.
Slow Motion Third Pull (Snatch)
Slow Motion Third Pull (Clean)
There are two exercises that help to focus on the transition of the bar. The first is a shrug, shrug, pull under in either the snatch or clean-grip. The focuses on getting the traps and elbows involved in the transition under the bar.
Shrug, Shrug, Pull Under (Clean)
Snatch (Dead Hang)
The second is a snatch or clean from the dead hang position. In both of these exercises the focus is on the upper body and the ability to be aggressive with the elbows as the hips pull down into the catch position. You want to start at the very top of the push with the bar slightly off the legs, chest over, and arms hanging straight down.
By breaking the lifts down into these three phases, coaches are better able to articulate what the body should be doing at certain points of the lift. It allows the coach to see where the technique starts to deteriorate and give his or her proper drills and variations of the lifts to fix those issues.
The problem is that by calling it a “pull” the idea behind the movement can get lost in translation. When we hear the word pull, we instinctually think about using the arms to pull something off the ground. If an athlete sets up in their start position and hears the word pull more often than not you might see their neck and shoulders pull back to bring their torso vertical. This will pull the athlete out of position and back behind the bar, causing a myriad of issues as the lift continues.
Pyrros Dimas, a world-renowned Greek Weightlifter and Olympic three-time gold medalist, is considered one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. He is currently the technical director for USAW and works directly with the athletes of Team USA. He has been talking a lot about the common occurrence that he sees with Americans and their weightlifting technique. He believes that they aren’t usin g their legs enough to stay over the bar and drive the bar upward and this is what is causing the grossly unpopular but all too common “humping” of the bar.
At East Coast Gold Weightlifting, we couldn’t agree more with Pyrros’s ideas and concerns. Which is why we have been working to correct this technique for quite some time. The best result we have seen our athlete’s take to, is the idea of pushing vs. pulling. When you think about pushing up from the floor vs pulling off of the floor, the relationship the athlete has with the barbell instantly changes. The first time Phil told me to push the floor away, was an immediate game changer. There are two ways I like to cue this idea of pushing to better explain what the athlete needs to do.
First, your feet push the floor away. Think about activating your feet and push down into the floor. It immediately forces the legs to do all of the work in lifting the bar off of the floor. Second cue, your quads push your chest up. From the start position your back is tight and the shoulders and chest should be slightly over the bar. As you set yourself into position the quadriceps will push the chest upward to keep your shoulders and hips rising at the same time.
If the shoulders and hips rise at the same time you eliminate the issue of the hips shooting back off the floor, you have the ability to use more momentum and drive with your quads all the way into the top of the first pull, and you avoid your hips having to move horizontally to make contact because your center of gravity isn’t back behind the bar.
We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we are simply providing a different way for our athletes to understand the movement through a common analogy that they have utilized throughout their lives. It provides context for what should be happening within the lift itself rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.