The First Pull In Weightlifting: Go Fast Or Slow?
By David Kavanagh
First Pull In Weightlifting (Fwiw) – A weightlifter’s main strength and power comes from their legs. They need to have strong legs to lift heavy weights off the ground and they need to be able to generate force quickly enough so that when they land, it doesn’t bounce them into the air.
Athletes are often told to focus on their feet or even their hips, but this isn’t always the case. Some athletes have good hip flexibility which allows them to generate power through a full range of motion with minimal effort. Others may not have great hip mobility and will still be able to produce powerful force if they use proper technique.
There are many different ways of generating force in weightlifting, some require less energy than others. For example, a lifter could simply try to accelerate the barbell up and over their head. However, this requires tremendous speed and explosive strength, both of which are usually lacking in most weightlifters.
Another way of generating force is to generate force while keeping your body rigidly upright at all times. This type of training involves using a variety of exercises such as pushups, sit ups and crunches to build up your core strength. This will help to ensure you keep your body rigid during the clean. If you are not strong enough to lift the bar off the ground, you can still win by using a weightlifting belt to tightly secure your core and prevent you from bending over.
The third way of generating force is probably the most common and it involves lifting an increasingly heavy barbell over your head by bending at the knees and using this bend to move the bar up and over your head.
As you can see, using a weightlifting belt can give you a real advantage over your competition, especially if you are lacking in the hip flexibility department. If you are not flexible enough to lift a heavy barbell, you may want to wear one to help prevent injury. If you have any injuries or niggling pains, then you should definitely wear one to ensure that you can continue training and performing well in competitions.
Clean: First Pull
The first pull is the part of the clean that brings the bar off the floor and to just above your knees where you will make a transition into the second pull. The first pull should be explosive and relatively fast but should not be attempted at the expense of form. You should still try to keep your spine as straight as possible without using your legs. This can be very difficult for some people and sometimes requires a degree of flexibility that not everyone has.
Most lifters will bend their legs a little and push up on their feet to get more leverage when they are trying to pull the bar off the floor. This is fine and you shouldn’t try to fight this instinct but you should try to make sure you keep your back as straight as possible while doing it.
Another common mistake made at this point is to throw the elbows back and around behind you as you pull the bar off the floor. This takes a lot of strain off the muscles you are trying to target and can cause back pain if done improperly. Your elbows should stay out to your sides as you pull the bar and they will end up around your hips in the bottom position of the first pull.
The last common mistake made during the first pull is bending at the waist, which causes your back to bend significantly and can lead to serious injury over time.
Clean: Second Pull
The second pull of the clean is the part where you pull the bar up to your thighs and prepare to push with your legs. The second pull should begin as the bar reaches your mid-thigh and will end when you are in a position to thrust with your legs.
The key thing to keep in mind during this phase of the lift is to keep your back as straight as possible. Many lifters have the tendency to bend forward at the waist during this part of the lift which greatly reduces the amount of weight they can lift.
You also need to keep your elbows tight by your sides and try not to let them move around too much. The tighter your elbows are to your sides, the easier it will be to keep your back straight. If your elbows move around a lot as you pull the bar up, then you will tend to lean forward and use your arms to complete the lift.
Again, as with the first pull, you may find that you need to bend your knees slightly and push up on your toes in order to get the leverage you need to complete this part of the movement. As long as you are keeping your back as straight as possible and not leaning too far forward you should be fine. You don’t want to completely lock your knees or straighten them out completely either, you will want to keep a slight bend in your knees throughout the lift.
As the bar reaches your thighs you will make another transition into the third and final pull of the clean.
Clean: Third Pull
The third pull of the clean is very similar to the first pull except that you will now be pushing with your legs instead of pulling with your arms. The main goal of this part of the lift is to stand up as fast as you can and try to use the power of your leg muscles to bring the bar in front of you so that it is right below your chin (or as close to this position as possible).
You will most likely find that you will end up in a partial lunge type position at the top of the movement where one leg is behind you and your other leg is in front (with the ball of your foot touching the floor). You will be bent over at the waist with your back straight and your shoulders pulled well back. Ideally the bar will be right below your chin or at least near it.
The third pull is the most difficult part of the clean to master and it usually takes a lot of practice to get the hang of it. In addition to learning proper pulling technique you also have to work on your leg strength so that you can get the power you need to stand up out of the bottom position of the clean.
A full range of motion for the third pull should have your knee joints fully extended (locked out) at the top of the movement. If you lack the leg strength to lock your knees then you will have to stop your knees from extending completely and instead simply push with the muscles of your quads to move your body and the bar upward. You can also complete the lift with your knees partially locked out, which is what most lifters do.
In any case it is important to try to extend your knees completely at the top of the movement regardless of how strong your legs are. If your legs are very weak then you may need to wear weightlifting straps on your knees in order to prevent injury and help push your knees forward.
Again, as with the first and second pulls, the third pull is also rapid but controlled. Don’t try to pull the bar up with your arms fast and then jerk your legs to get the bar moving upward, this type of pulling style will cause the bar to move in an arc and put it out of position. It is critical that you keep the bar close to your body at all times during the clean.
When learning to do cleans you should start out only doing a couple of repetitions and working on your form before adding weight. As you get stronger you can add more repetitions and then add more weight once you are confident in your ability to do the exercise with good form.
Fourth Part of the Clean: Stacking The Bar
Once the bar is in front of you, you will quickly turn your wrists so that your palms face the floor and the bar moves from your thighs upward slightly and sits on your thighs just above your knees. At this point you will quickly bend forward at the waist and touch the bar to your knees. There is then one more quick movement where you will simultaneously straighten your body, swing the bar back between your legs and then backwards around to the front again in one fluid movement. This final part of the lift brings the bar into position to be caught or “stacked” on your clavicles.
This final movement can take some time to learn. You should practice this part of the lift without any weight on the bar until you have it perfected. Make sure to move the bar in a straight line and don’t let it move too far past your knees before you turn it back toward your body. The bar should finish the movement right across your collar bones, mid chest. This position is the start of the second motion of the jerk, which will be explained later.
Common Errors In The Clean
Many new lifters try to lift the bar from the floor using their arms and shoulders to pull it upward instead of doing what needs to be done, which is to drive their legs into the floor and elevate the bar from there. This can also lead to jerking the bar upward instead of using a smooth transition through the first pull, second pull and third pull.
Common Mistakes In The Jerk
The jerk is arguably the most difficult part of the Olympic lifts to master. It requires coordination and balance as well as flexibility and strength. Most people have trouble elevating the bar off their shoulders because they lack flexibility or core strength. This can be overcome with practice. The Jerk is broken down into three distinct parts, the split, driving the bar up off the shoulders and clasping your hands.
The first part of the jerk is called “the split”. This is when you split your legs wide apart to get your body into a position so that the bar can be elevated most efficiently. Your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart and then you simply push back with one leg and drag the other back. In theory you end up in a sort of lunge position with one leg straight back and one leg straight forward, but your foot should be turned outwards slightly. This is called “sitting back” and is different to a typical lunge in that you don’t move your front foot at all, just your back foot.
Your torso should be roughly parallel to the floor at the bottom of the lift.
Sources & references used in this article:
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The role of objects in active, distributed meaning-making by S Rowe – Perspectives on object-centered learning in museums, 2002 – books.google.com
The effects of task duration on psychophysically-determined maximum acceptable weights and forces by VM Ciriello, SH Snook, AC Buck, PL Wilkinson – Ergonomics, 1990 – Taylor & Francis