Last week, for the first edition of Ask First Pull Fridays, I talked about the controversy of whether knees should go out or not during a squat. This week, for the second edition, I answer Jon’s question about pulling himself under the bar in the lifts and how to build the required confidence to do so. There is no doubt that to be a successful weightlifter, you have to be able to pull yourself under the bar correctly. I would argue that this skill is the most important skill of weightlifting.
How do you develop this skill and, more importanly, how to you become confident enough to go at it? This is what we will look into. First, let’s start with Jon’s question.
“Hey JP, I have a question about after all the pulls are done and getting ones self “under” the bar. I come from a Crossfit background where the power clean is prevalent. I want to know how would you coach someone to gain confidence when getting from the final pull to dropping under and down into that full squat both in the snatch and the clean. Thanks for your help. ” – Jon
1. You have to accept your faith as a weightlifter
If you are – or if you are gonna be- a weightlifter, you have to understand, accept and embrace what it is you do. What it is you do is lifting heavy weights in a two very specific movements that involves getting a heavy bar from the ground to above your head. This requires you to go under – or pull yourself under- the weight because it simply is the most efficient way to lift heavy loads. You just cannot change this aspect. In regard to this, one thing I often tell the athletes I coach is the following : ”This is weightlifting. This is heavy but you can’t change that, it will always be heavy because this is the whole point of this sport. This is what you train for. Now that you understand it, don’t ever doubt yourself again and make the lifts”.
The point is that you cannot live in doubt and you cannot be thinking during the lift. You have to get a hold of your fears and emotions and give it a go. Pulling yourself under the bar requires skill and a will to go for it. The hardest part in weightlifting, in my opinion, is to develop that skill of pulling yourself under in an efficient way. Consequently, the moment you doubt or think, you have to forget about doing the lift in an efficient way. It is obvious that confidence is key in this regard and confidence has to be built accordingly. I discuss this later.
2. The Pull is not done until you are at the bottom : Keep pulling!
You mentioned that the pull finishes and then one gets under the bar (quote ”getting from the final pull to dropping under and down into that full squat”). To me this is a misconception. The moment the bar leaves the hip and starts moving up, the lifter is already on his way down. The extension of the body continues for sure, but it is the change of direction that happens that determine your ability to go to the bottom of the squat and this happens sooner rather than later. In other words, the real skill in weightlifting is not to pull the bar high but to be able to change direction quickly as the bar is moving up through momentum. The lifter use that momentum to pull himself under the bar.
You don’t need the bar to go to your chin in order to think about getting under the bar. Doing so is inefficient because you cannot use the bar’s momentum to pull yourself under. You will therefore be racing the bar on your way down because anything that gets up will be going down again because of the gravity. Most beginners spend a lot of time at the top part of the lift. I call this taking a hike with the bar. On the other hand, every top lifter, minimizes the amount of time he spends at the top of the pull.
What can we learn from that observation?
Efficient weightlifting is about moving around the bar whereas inefficient weightlifting is about making the bar moves around us. This has to be engraved in your mind if you want to conquer the change of direction that happens in weightlifting.
3. Practice your weakness
Coming from a crossfit background where the full lifts are rather accessory to the power lifts in most cases, you have to be spending more time on the full lifts rather than on the power movements. I believe that in weightlifting you have to always be working on your weaknesses. It looks like you have no trouble pulling the bar up but your ability to go under fast is hindered. Practice that! A power movement is only half of the movement. From a motor learning standpoint, you have have to work the full lift often in order to always refine that motor program/pattern. You don’t get to throwing fast in baseball only by doing shoulder strengthening in the gym. A pitcher has to be pitching often. I believe it is the same for weightlifting.
4. Confidence is built through time, number of repetitions, and successes.
The first thing I do when I have a lifter that is inconsistent is that I lower the weight and up the volume a little bit. Instead of working at 90%+ percent for singles for example, I’ll have that person lift at 75-80% for doubles or triples. According to my belief, confidence is built through successes and through practice. Therefore, it is important (at least, to me) that the trainee makes the lift and has enough volume to be practicing the skill itself so that it improves over time.
5. Uses of drills, blocks and complexes can help a lot to learn the lifts and improve them.
There are many drills that can address the pulling under. When I have a lifter that jump high and don’t pull under efficiently, I will often make them snatch without jumping (feet planted on the ground in the receiving position). Doing so forces the lifter to really uses the momentum to go pull himself under the bar. I will also use blocks that I set up at different height in order to limit the time of the pull so that the lifter has to be moving fast under (he can’t be spending too much time at the top or he will be missing).
For people who are mostly used to power movements, I will often start by asking them to ”catch” the bar at 90 degrees (at the knees). It is a first step towards the full lift and it teaches grossly to flex after the extension of the body in order to catch the bar. In other words, it is a first step towards learning to pull under the bar. Accordingly, I will often uses complexes in order to facilitate learning. One that has helped a lot the athletes I coach is the following : 1 pull to hip (focus on position), 1 lift caught at 90 degrees of knee flexion and 1 full lift.
This complex helps with the positioning (through the pull) and seeks to teaches the lifter to pull under gradually through 2 different catching position. Uses enough weight to make it challenging but the emphasis should be on making the lifts, good technique and on getting used to pulling under. If the weight prevents you from achieving these three things, lower it.
6. Final word
This is it, the 2nd edition of ”Ask First Pull Fridays”. The take home point is that to build confidence, you have to practice the movement often and miss as little as possible. This will also develop constancy and it will translate in future PRs. I would use different drills and complexes too and lower the weights. I would work on my mental game as well. Try and not think during the lifts and just put a lot of focus on pulling yourself under, at least for now.