First, Second and Third Pulls of Olympic Weightlifting
Updated: Sep 3, 2018
The first pull removes the bar from the floor and takes it to just above knee level.
The aim of the first pull is to begin the upward acceleration of the barbell and set the lifter up for a successful second pull.
This is achieved by re-balancing the combined weight of the lifter and the barbell over the middle of the foot whilst moving the barbell upwards towards the body until it is just above knee level.
Balance the System
As soon as the bar leaves the floor the barbell and the lifter become one system (one combined mass).
It’s important for the weight of the entire system (the lifter + the weight of the barbell) to be centred (balanced) over the middle of the foot.
If it isn’t, the lift will become much more difficult and all kinds of problems will present themselves later in the lift.
In order to achieve a balanced system, the barbell needs to be pulled back slightly towards the body, and the lifter needs to maintain whole foot contact with the floor whilst shifting their weight slightly towards the back half of their foot.
If, during the first pull, the bar is lifted straight upwards, the athlete-barbell system will be off balance and the weight of the barbell can cause the lifter’s weight to shift forward towards the front of their foot.
So, a key aspect of a successful first pull is being aware that the knees need to get out of the way so the barbell can be pulled back slightly.
Weight Distribution and Knee Extension
In the starting position (immediately prior to the initiation of the first pull) a lifter’s weight is distributed evenly across their feet, and their knees will be flexed (bent).
To remove the barbell from the floor and accelerate it upwards, a lifter is required to generate force with their legs by extending their knees. This is achieved by pushing into the floor with the legs and feet.
At the same time, the lifter needs to begin shifting their weight slightly towards the back of the foot. This will re-balance the athlete-barbell system.
The bar path will be slightly backwards and as such it’s important to keep the knees out of the way so the barbell doesn't have to move around the knees.
This is achieved by driving the knees out, which also creates stability in the hips, knees and ankles, and moving them slightly backwards. At the end of the first pull the lifter’s shins will be approximately vertical.
The angle of your torso relative to the floor will remain roughly the same until the bar reaches just above your knees and the transition into the second pull begins.
The majority of the first pull is caused by knee extension and this motion will not cause any significant change in torso angle relative to the floor.
This does not mean the torso won’t move at all or that the lifter should shoot the knees as far back and the hips as high up as possible — these are common errors and put you in a poor position (hips high but barbell still on floor).
Instead, the barbell will move upwards, the knees will extend and the torso will remain in approximately the same position; everything happens together in a smooth and controlled movement.
Key Points of First Pull
Push with the legs to separate the barbell from the floor
Shift your weight towards your heels
Pull the bar slightly back towards your body (keep the barbell as close to your body as possible without grinding it against your shins)
Back angle relative to the floor will remain pretty much the same (no significant or immediately obvious change)
Shoulders are over the bar at the end of the first pull
The second pull takes the lifter from the hang position (barbell just above the knees) through the power position, into triple extension and sets up the third pull where the lifter will relocate themselves under the bar.
The second pull is the really explosive part of the lift. The hips, knees and ankles extend and contact is made with the bar in an attempt to contribute to, and continue, the upward acceleration of the barbell to make it easier to relocate under in the third pull (the higher the barbell goes up, the easier it is for the lifter to get underneath it).
Scoop/Double Knee Bend/Re-bending of Knees/Transition
The knees will ‘re-bend’ or ‘scoop under’ the bar. In other words, after the first pull, and before the triple extension, the knees will shift forward and be positioned underneath the bar.
This is part of the ‘power position’ and will happen naturally — it’s best to not to think about it happening or to try to actively ‘scoop’ under the bar as this will inevitably feel awkward and cause problems.
As such, a ‘scoop’ or re-bending of the knees isn’t something I’d coach during technique sessions, unless there was a good reason to, but, an awareness of what’s going on can be useful for the lifter, particularly when they train on their own and review video footage of themselves.
Contact Between the Bar and the Body
In the second pull, contact is made between the bar and the body (upper thighs during the clean and hip crease during the snatch).
Whether this contact should be a light brush or a thumping collision is open to debate and will vary from lifter to lifter and coach to coach. What isn’t up for debate is that the reason for making contact with the bar is to help continue the upward acceleration of the barbell, making it easier for the lifter to relocate underneath the barbell in the third pull.
So, if the contact between body and barbell is causing a horizontal (forward) movement of the barbell then there is something going wrong. This is a common error made by beginners, who actively try to make contact with the bar and end up ‘bumping’ the bar forward, this excessive horizontal movement is a violation of one of the key principles of Olympic lifting: keep the bar close to your body.
Ideally, bar-body contact will be brief and snappy and will occur at a point when the torso is approximately vertical to help continue the upward momentum of the barbell.
During the second pull, the weight shifts from the back of the foot towards the ball of the foot. This occurs during the aggressive triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. The second pull finishes with the weight on the balls of the feet and the heels elevated as the lifter is now ready to lose their connection with the floor and begin the third pull.
Key Points of Second Pull
Knees re-bend under the barbell
Weight shifts from heels to the balls of the feet
Aggressive extension of the hips, knees and ankles (triple extension)
Contact is made between the barbell and the body
The third pull is an explosive relocation of the lifter underneath the barbell.
The first and second pulls have generated lots of upward momentum that has moved the barbell as high up off the floor as possible, the lifter now has to pull themselves down underneath the bar to receive it in a front squat (clean) or overhead squat (snatch).
Doing this requires the lifter to actively and aggressively pull themselves under the bar. The third pull is different from the first and second pulls in that upward acceleration of the barbell is no longer the priority; in the third pull, downward acceleration of the lifter is the objective.
In the first and second pulls the lifter uses their legs to push into the floor and applies force to the ground that produces upward motion of the athlete-barbell system.
In the third pull, the lifter’s connection with the ground is removed as the feet rise up off the floor. As such, the lifter cannot now apply force to the ground. The upward acceleration of the barbell has been completed in the second pull and the lifter must now use their upper body to apply a pulling force to the barbell that leads to the lifter being pulled down underneath it.
This is achieved by aggressively pulling the elbows up and out and keeping the bar as close to the body as possible.
Key Points of the Third Pull
Elbows up and out
Keep the bar close to the body
Aggressively pull yourself under the bar
Aggressively punch elbows forward and upwards (clean) or upwards (snatch)
The first, second and third pulls of the clean/snatch take the barbell from the floor to the receiving position. There are endless technical nuances that can be applied at each point of the lift, but, as with most training, the simpler things are kept the better.
Understanding what’s going on is helpful and can aid in the learning process. Taking time on each repetition to ensure you’re getting quality reps in is the key to improving technique. Enjoy!
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