This is the final part of my essay on the second pull where I ultimately challenge some of the conventional thoughts on pulling mechanics. In part one, I explained the relations between the second and third pull and I explained the muscle sequencing of the extension during the second pull in part 2. It would be a complete mistake to go over the pulling mechanics of the second pull without at least touching on the famous double knee bend. The double knee bend is the flexion of the knees in the second pull after they have straightened in the first pull. Thus, it is a pattern of knee action that we see in various degree in lifters. Should it be coached? Should this double knee bend be intentional? We shall explore this further. I want to give credit to Bruce Klemens for I used many of his pictures in this post.
Double knee bends according to different leverage or why it may be a mistake to actively coach textbook double knee bend
Some defend that the double knee bend should be coached actively and in everybody. Defenders of this idea say that the aggressive re-bending of the knees allows for the re-use of the knee extensors to further impart a vertical and upward force on the bar. Ultimately, this is true but one has to consider the impact it can have on the system of leverage . The back and hip action have to be well coordinated with the upward force generated by the knee extensor if we want a great bar trajectory.
In most cases (and there are different coaching styles), people who coach the double knee bend stress that the knee should be shifted forward or under the bar as soon as the bar passes the knee. The bar will then travel towards the hips through the uses of the legs but also trough the use of the back or when bringing the hips forward.
In lifters that shift the knees under the bar very early, you will see a rapid extension of the back to bring the bar to the hips. At that point, the back is straight, the lifter looks like he is sitting on an invisible chair, and the knees are still bent. From there, according to conventional textbook descriptions of the lifts, the cue is to ”jump” or finish the leg drive and move the feet. Take a look at the following picture as it depicts this position perfectly (Frame 3) :
Ultimately, one has to consider the levers of the lifter. More often than not, a very aggressive knee bend strategy (as in pushing the knees forward by a lot) is better suited for lifters with longer torso and shorter legs. For one, as they pass the knee and push the knees forward, they will still be over the bar (shifting the knees forward = hips move forward = the angle of the back changes towards a more vertical line = the shoulders travel backward).
The shorter legged athlete benefit a lot more from aggressive rebending of the knee because the lifter will be able to keep the legs under tension for a longer period of time as ”shorter legs” extend much quicker (less ROM). I hate to make the comparison of a clean/snatch with a deadlift, but it is generally accepted that shorter legged athletes have a harder time with deadlifts than longer legged athletes (the opposite is true for the squat). Thus the rebending of the knees will often be seen in shorter legged athletes as their leverage has a tendency of being pretty good for it. This is why the Colombian lifter above, who doesn’t have said body type, does not shove the knees forward exactly like Hui (see below). This and further descriptions are generalization and I can’t stress individualization enough.
On the opposite side, you have to consider the impact such strategy has on longer legged/shorter torso lifters. The same strategy is challenged by the anatomy of the lifter. A very aggressive rebending of the knee has the potential of putting the shoulders of the lifter behind the bar very early in the pull which ultimately will result in more hip and incorrect leg drive. The lifter may well be efficient as long as the hip drive is controlled. It has been done with great success.
It is however much easier to not force the DKB on lifters of this morphology. It may still happen, but taller athletes have the tendency of rebending later in the lift around the power position. In all fairness, longer legged lifters are better able to extend their knee over a longer period of time which means that the bar moves over a longer period of time without needing to rebend to keep on going (notice how the back angle is also much different than in the case of shorter legged athletes). The best example of this is Yurik Vardanyan who had little rebending action going on.
Some lifters will not really rebend the knees but they won’t change the angle at the knee joint once they pass the knee. In other words, they extend at the knee until they reach the knees, after that they bring the bar to the hip using mostly their back while holding the knees in place and they can then finish with their bent knees. Again, this has to do with pulling styles and morphology of the lifter. Here is Dimas demonstrating it. Notice how his knees don’t move much between frame 1 and 2 (there is minimal movement and notice how the angle of the back changed a lot. Dimas liked to use his back a lot which was always evidenced by his head movement (see head orientation between all frames).
Suleymanoglu had a similar style as well. He may be rebending a bit in frame 2 due to changing the back angle.
NOTE : all photo sequences are missing frames in between positions. They might have used different pulls or level of knee rebending that are not depicted here.
The double knee bend may or may not happen due to pulling styles and morphology : Rules
I just showed you that the double knee bend may happen and that it could be due to different pulling styles and different ratio of torso and legs. What we are seeing here is of extreme importance as it relates to pulling mechanics, coaching technique and developping efficient lifters. So what exactly did we see :
1) No matter their styles and amount of knee bend, all lifters have the shoulders over bar through out the whole second pull.
2) No matter their styles and amount of knee bend, all lifters have the bar over the base of support. It is not forward.
3) No matter their styles and amount of knee bend, all lifters have the bar traveling horizontally towards them.
4) Most of these lifters don’t change their back angle. Those that do change it stay over the bar.
5) All of these lifters are successful with their given technique which suggest that individualization of technique is extremely important.
6) At the time of contact with the hips, all lifters have different amount of back extension.
7) Morphology change the amount of rebending of the knees.
Having talked with athletes from different countries, including some of ex-soviet nations, the double knee bend is either coached or not. Some reject the idea completely and some don’t even have the DKB in their weightlifting lexicon. One thing for sure, it is actively coached in Canada and in USA. Anyhow, these 7 rules are much more important to coach and teach than the textbook double knee bend is.
Do I coach the double knee bend? Simplicity and the triangle method
We have seen that everybody approach the second pull differently but all of the presented athletes follow the 7 rules I listed above. When I am asked if I coach the standard textbook double knee bend, I am always quick to say no. That is, I don’t believe in textbook positions for all systems of leverage or for individual of different strength and weaknesses. I am not against the double knee bend, quite the contrary. I think there is a high variability in how it is displayed and I prefer to spend time refining things that are universal.
I use what I call the triangle method. This method offer great flexibility and allows for the individualization of technique. It is a terrific method to get the athlete to move correctly quickly by removing big chunks of unwanted technicalities and exposes finer points of technique to be refined such as arriving at the hip with flexed knees (which can be done with and without a DKB).
I used Aukhadov as an example here because I like his pulling style quite a bit. His back angle does not change much and he stays over the bar. His knee rebending is minimal too. His style is all about getting under quickly. Let’s go over what this teaches us.
The back, arm and leg angles form a triangle which I have darkened for clarity sake. In frame 1 and 2, that triangle is pretty much the same, meaning that the area of the triangle is similar. This is not surprising given that these pictures depict the first pull and we really don’t want any change in back angle to be happening there.
From frame 2 to frame 3, the said triangle has gotten smaller but we could say that it is still somewhat similar. The biggest changes we see here is for the leg angle (yellow) and to a lesser extent the back angle (blue). This is because the lifter is now at knee level and about to start the second pull. Mechanics at that moment change drastically.
From frame 3 to frame 4, the triangle is noticeably smaller due to the contribution of all three segments (back, leg and arm) although we are only about 1 inch over the knees. Again this suggest a differential muscle sequencing in the second pull compared to the first pull.
From frame 4 to frame 5, The triangle is pretty much gone. The bar is at the power position (or may be just a little bit above). The back and arm angle changed the most, and only here did we see a very small amount of knee re-bending which, in all fairness, may be due to the back and arm action. Notice how the hips are still behind the vertical line over the midfoot.
Only in frame 6 do we see the hips go over the mid foot. That is, his hip extension does not go forward of his center of gravity. Such action would push the bar away from him. Notice how throughout the whole lift, the green line (arms) gets closer to the hips/the lifter. This is Aukhadov keeping the bar over the base. The bar travels towards him and we want that.
So how I coach the second pull with this?
I give 3 rules to my lifters when they approach the second pull. The first one is to stay over the bar (don’t change the back angle drastically) which we can see Aukhadov do in the picture above. This is very important. The second one is to push with legs and arrive at the hip with some kind of knee flexion. That is because all actions taken are in the context of the leg drive and the vertical force developed. The third one is to close the triangle formed by all 3 segments of the body. What we see in the picture above is that once the lifter pass the knees, the triangle is getting closed. The bar travels towards the lifter. We want that no matter your pulling style.
While there is a lot of variety in how people rebend their knees and we cannot objectively make a rule out of it as it is related to morphology, there is little variety about the use of the knee ex tensor (everybody push, although some push differently), everybody stays over the bar and everybody is bringing the bar in.
People will close the triangle in different ways and different timing. Some will use more lats and back and some will intentionally push the knees forward. Once they learn how to close it, you can play with the angles a bit (”a bit more of this or that”). I never coach the standard double knee bend but all my lifters rebend at some point in the lifts all in the context of staying over the bar, pushing with the legs and bringing the bar in. We make adjustments accordingly to maximize efficiency. I know from great sources that many ex-soviet countries don’t teach the double knee bend as well and I know of coaches that do coach the double knee bend. Many pulling styles are used to succeed in the sport but it has to suit your morphology and leverage.