Weightlifting Questions – Straight Pull? Knees Back?

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I believe there are many ways to perform the competition lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk), with much of the deviation in individual weightlifting styles coming from body type. But, with this individualization, there are also a few things that I believe are necessary to be successful in the sport of weightlifting.

These questions came from current collegiate track & field coach. He also competes in the sport of weightlifting and has been around a few other weightlifting coaches in his travels.

These questions also seem to be questions that are always up for debate – largely due to inconsistent – not necessarily wrong or right, just inconsistent – teaching methods from coach to coach. Here’s my two cents on the following questions:

Is a straighter pull always better?

Always is strong word – so to that I’d say no. I will assume what [the coach]means when he says this is what we all learned in grade school – if you’re wanting to get from Point A (floor) to Point B (catch) a straight line is the fastest, most efficient way possible. With this concept, it would make sense that you would want a straight pull from a speed and efficiency standpoint. But, an absolute straight pull is almost impossible and probably not desirable considering kinematics of the elite. If the bar travels in a vertical line off the floor and continues to do so after it passes the knee (and not slightly rearward), the bar will ultimately shift the athlete’s weight forward too soon which is undesirable.

Here’s an kinematic analysis of elite female weightlifters during the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship:

snatch kinematics

Akkus, 2012

Rather than thinking straight pull, think that you don’t want the barbell to travel significantly away from the center line (zero on the x-axis) in either direction. You almost never want the barbell to travel forward of the center line – this typically creates a hop forward, while too much behind is just inefficient. Even then, there is a lot of deviation from this notion from weight class to weight class.

When you consider that a straight line up is a shorter distance than any of these pulls, I can understand why coaches strive for a straighter pull, but I don’t believe it should be an end result.

How far is too far when pushing the knees back?  [Coach] talks a lot about keeping the shoulders really far in front of the bar until about mid thigh…

This is where I believe body type comes into play greatly. The only thing that shouldn’t happen when the knees are moving back is for them to fully extend to lock out – this would essentially take the all-important legs out of play. Other than that, I believe anything from vertical shins to slightly behind vertical are viable options. Many lifters with longer lower limbs tend to shift the knees back to a greater extent.

The notion of the shoulders being in front of the bar is nothing new and it should happen, but the reason I believe many coaches try to make this happen for a longer period of time during the lift is that it can create a greater pre-strech on the hamstrings and glutes, which can create a snappier more powerful double knee bend. The problem then occurs with artificially trying to prolong the double knee bend or scoop. When you artificially try to produce a double knee bend whether early or late, it typically takes the athletes natural stretch shortning cycle out of the equation which may reduce the bar velocity and power produced. Or worse create many other errors during the pull and catch.

first pull - tatiana

Tatiana Kashirina keeping the shoulders on top of the bar – Credit: Hookgrip

first pull - lu

Lu Xiaojun keeping the shoulders over the bar. Credit: Hookgrip

Yes, the shoulders should be over (or at the very least on top of) the bar – this is something that I believe is a necessity to be fairly successful. But to the extent in which the shoulders stay over the bar should be addressed on a fairly individual basis. How long the shoulders stay over the bar is determined by their torso length and when the lifter starts their double knee bend – this is highly individualized when you look at elite lifters – see Tatiana Kashirina and Lu Xiajun above. I don’t believe an individual should actively think about the double knee bend UNLESS they aren’t actually doing it. Even then, I’ll try to put them in positions for it to happen naturally.

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace

@john_r_grace

Orlando City SC | S&C | Sport Sci | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
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