3 Pulls 1 Lift: The Basic Breakdown of an Olympic Lift

For those intrigued by Olympic Weightlifting, and inspired to add it to the training regimen, often the first exposure is watching on TV. Followed of course by gawking on YouTube about how freakishly strong and fluid they are. Because all lifter bros are basically wired the same, no matter what discipline of lifting we choose, we get pumped up and excited for our next gym session where we can immediately leap into something head first and give it a rip, without proper coaching, or without even doing our own homework. Yes, coaching is preferred. But if you were to do your homework, there are some surprising nuggets to be found in Olympic movements.

Despite what appears to be fluid and fast lifts when performed by well trained weightlifters, both the snatch and the clean and jerk begin as the composition of 3 separate phases. We can creatively refer to them as the First, Second and Third pulls. I briefly mentioned this concept last week in The Intro to the Intro the the Snatch, but today a little more detail and learnedness. Understanding the purpose of each pull, as well as body positioning for each pull, will give you the right groundwork to begin performing these lifts better.

This article will not include anything regarding the “jerk” phase of a clean and jerk. This article is really focused on the span of events starting with the weight on the floor, and the weight being received after the third pull. Snatch and Clean and Jerk are different lifts, but for all intents and purposes the 3 pulls serve the same function. The obvious difference in grip width between a Snatch and a Clean results in a negligible differences in the mechanics of each pull.

The First Pull

The First Pull can be described as the movement that brings the bar off the floor, ending at the point where the bar is in position for the second pull. This ending position can be referred to as the “power position” and will be, depending on limb proportions, at knee level or a hair above the knee.

The First Pull serves 2 main purposes, and that is 1) to generate some velocity on the bar, and 2) to maintain good balance and position to prepare for the second pull, where the bar will be accelerated more vigorously. To hone in on concept 1) the bar does not need to be moving exceptionally fast, just fast enough. And there is no real rule as to the “proper” speed, but a good rule of thumb is you don’t need to impart maximal speed on right off the floor.

A preferred method of mine for focusing on the aspects of the first pull is pause pulls. While pause pulls are not limited to just the first pull, and often incorporate the second pull, it is highly effective at bringing awareness to the fact that your body is actually moving through 2 motions, and not just one monster rip off the floor.

Tips for the First Pull

  • Set up over the bar, with the bar positioned over mid foot, and the shoulders over the bar or slightly in front of the bar
  • Pull with a solid and consistent (not a “yank”) leg drive combined with a hip hinge, similar to a deadlift
  • Allow the knees to transition into a “power position,” without slowing down or losing bar speed as you transition
  • Avoid the urge to rip the bar off the floor. Maintaining balance and position is prioritized over generating maximal speed

The Second Pull

The second pull begins in the previously mentioned “power position” and is completed at the moment of triple extension. Triple extension is the point where hips, knees and ankles work together to extend and exert maximal explosive force. The second pull is where the bar receives maximal acceleration, as the body is in a more advantageous position to exert force. This phase is sometimes referred to as a “jump and bump,” as the triple extension is the same mechanism that creates a jumping motion, and the forceful extension of the body causes the upper thigh/hip crease to “bump” into the bar.

This phase of the lift is the simplest phase of either lift, in a technical sense. It really boils down to rapid straightening of the body. As with the completion of the first pull, the second pull has an element of transition. The activation of the upper back, shrugging upward of the shoulders, is the final piece that will prime the body to pull under the bar, which is the third pull. The most basic method to focus on this motion is with hang high pulls. The level of “hang” involved can vary, but the focus on this drill is to bring the bar from the power position and apply as much upward force on the bar as possible through an aggressive triple extension.

Tips for the Second Pull

  • Continue to drive the feet through the floor, as you aggressively extend your body
  • Complete the full second pull, allow full extension of the body. Do not cut it short and attempt to drop your hips under the bar and enter the third pull too early, before you have achieved the triple extension
  • Complete the full second pull v2.0, allow your upper back to complete its transition and shrug before you begin to pull upwards on the bar

The Third Pull

The third pull is a combination of two major factors, the ability to move the bar as far upwards as possible, and the ability for a weightlifter to drop as far under the bar as possible. This can loosely be interpreted as the maximal power that a lifter can apply to the bar, as well as maximal hamstring and hip flexibility. A very “minor” afterthought, which is sometimes overlooked, is the ability to also stand up with the weight once the bar has been received, either in the front rack in the case of the clean, or overhead in the case of the snatch.

The first factor, the ability to move the bar vertically will inevitably be a result of weight, and the lifters ability to generate force. A weightlifter will be able to move a bar higher with 60% of maximal effort than he or she will with 95% of maximal effort. The second and third factors, getting low(er) under the bar as well as getting back up will depend greatly on mobility and strength. For the clean, front squatting ability, and for the snatch, overhead squatting ability, will factor in greatly in the performance of this concept. Due to this, I would recommend resisting the urge to practicing right off the bat at receiving the bar in a full squat. It would be best to practice and the power snatch and power clean variations, and build strength in the front squat and overhead squat. Drills such as hang snatches or hang cleans, performed light and received in a squat will help drill in the motion.

Additionally, full squat Klokov presses will greatly help stability of the snatch.

One overarching concept for both lifts, is that this is a PULL. It is referred to as “the third pull” and not “the third let gravity do the work” or “the third lazily collapse under the weight.” A lifter will need to aggressively pull against the bar, aggressively pull the hamstrings towards the heels. Even if you are just learning the power variety of the lift, begin practicing the idea of pulling yourself down, and fast.

Tips for the Third Pull

  • Pull yourself under the bar fast and aggressively
  • Pull your elbows up and out to ensure a good pull against the bar
  • Spend the time to develop the mobility and strength to stand up with the weight BEFORE you try putting yourself under it

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