In weightlifting, the first pull is defined as the moment where the bar leaves the floor until it reaches the knees. This small window of time allows the lifter to set himself up in a good – and previously learned- mechanical position in order to initiate the second pull. This position is defined as a position that offers the best leverage for maximal power output as well as the best bar trajectory. The second pull is where the explosive power of the hip, back and knee joints propels the bar upward to allow the lifter to pull himself under. The speed of the first pull is extremely important if you want to achieve maximal power output in the second pull. Here is why your first pull should be relatively slower than the rest of the lift.
Before we get into the speed aspect of the First Pull (and why it matters), I have to mention a few words about the biomechanical advantages of a good pull, and especially of a good First Pull. I have said it so many times that Weightlifting is a sport of positions. The positioning is crucial because, as mentioned in the first paragraph, it allows the lifter to work with the best leverage the body of the lifter has to offer. In other words, good positioning means good mechanical advantages which means great technical efficiency. The moment that these positions are not optimal, the body has to compensate (read: work harder). Another way to put it is that positioning is one of the many factors that dictates if a heavy lift is going to be a hit or a miss. One does not have the time and power to work harder than it is necessary during a maximal lift.
If positioning is important, – and it is especially important to set up the second pull correctly- it is therefore important to be able to pull in a way that allows you to get to the right position every time you lift. This is exactly what the goal of the first pull is. That’s where the speed element of the First Pull becomes important to be aware of. Some have argued that you should pull very fast off the ground. My opinion is that it should not try and reach maximal acceleration right from the ground. Here are some important considerations :
Allow me to quote a great sport scientist. Zatsiorsky wrote : ”A good weightlifter imparts the greatest effort to a barbell, trying to accelerate it maximally, when the bar is approximately at knee-joint height. There are two reasons for this. First, at this position, the highest forces can be generated. Second, the force decreases when the movement velocity increases. The barbell must approach the most favored body position for force generation at a relatively low velocity to impart maximal force to the bar. ”
To put in loosely terms, the first pull is a moment of ”Force” and the second pull is a moment of ”Velocity”. Said another way, a relatively slower first pull allows for a faster/more powerful second pull given that the proper positions are achieved. According to this paradigm, if you try to lift as rapidly as you can off the ground, you sabotage your chance at reaching maximal velocity (acceleration) in the second pull. You may also have trouble getting in the right positions, as will be seen later on. Lifting too fast off the ground is a mistake most beginners do and it explains why they have many problems keeping the bar close and making the bar touch the thighs once it passes the knees.
Along with the mechanical and physical advantages of a slower First Pull, there are also neural benefits to executing it this way. Slower movements, by nature, allow for a very a high degree of accuracy as it allows correction and error detection. Now given the nature of weightlifting, in that both lifts take less than 1 second to complete, correction and error detection are greatly limited. However, since practice make perfect, errors should already be limited and it is the accuracy of the first pull that matters for us, which can only happen if it’s executed relatively slower according to this principle. If your First Pull is accurate – and if the second pull by nature is very fast although harder to have control over – then the chances of making the lift are high.
This brief article seeked to demonstrate that a relatively slower pull off the ground is necessary in order to be at maximal mechanical and neural advantages. Now, how relatively slower the first pull should be? It is my opinion that as long as you keep control over the bar, it is relatively slow enough. The moment there is yanking on the bar, one has to forget about controlling efficiently the bar trajectory. There is such a thing as too slow of a pull, too. Slow in the context of weightlifting is still relatively fast. Thus, we define the first pull as slow in comparison to the rest of the lift. A rule of thumb this : If you can’t see the acceleration of the bar during the pull (the lift is done at ”one speed”), then chances are that your first pull is too fast. If you keep missing your positions, then your first pull is too fast.
Disclaimer : If you use this article (or any other article on this website) for promotion of weightlifting, please credit me. If possible, also mention it to me. I will be more than glad to know about it. I encourage you to share the articles that are published on First Pull as well as discussing them. Thanks for reading, sharing and commenting. Jean-Patrick Millette