Leg strength is critical in weightlifting movements. During the first pull of both the snatch and clean, knee extension takes place to bring the bar path up and into the lifter. In the event a lifter exhibits poor balance in the midfoot and/or weakness in the quads and legs to stay aligned properly during the first pull, the hips may rise, often leading to a slew of technical faults later in the lift.
While clean pulls, snatch pulls, and squats are staple strengthening exercises for most weightlifters, coaches and athletes can employ certain variations to pulling exercises to better isolate specific weaknesses or technical deficiencies.
Below, are five simple and highly challenging pulling variations to improve balance, leg drive, and starting strength in the snatch, clean, and even, deadlift.
Why Do Clean and Snatch Pulls?
At the start of the snatch and/or clean, the barbell has zero momentum, making it necessary for a lifter to generate enough force to overcome a dead load. In an earlier article, I discussed the importance of NOT performing clean pulls like deadlifts, but rather to think of them more as a leg drive exercise. Because of the increased knee flexion in the start (accompanied with a more vertical torso angle than conventional deadlifting), the first pull is highly dependent upon leg strength (quads and hips), similarity to a high bar squat and/or trap bar deadlift.
While performing clean and snatch pulls regularly can have a positive effect on leg drive in the first pull, lifters may also want to experiment with these pulling variations to fully maximize their starting strength potentials in the first pull.
Triphasic training, developed by Cal Dietz, is similar to tempo training in a sense of controlled eccentric components (lowering of the barbell), with isometric and concentric phases. Unlike tempo training, which highlights time-under-tension (TUT), Triphasic training works to maximize power production, specifically in the concentric aspects of a movement (such as separating the barbell from the floor in a clean, snatch, deadlift, etc).
These pulls are done very similar to eccentric pulls, however immediately followed by a fast as possible transition through the isometric and into the concentric phase. The ability to decelerate in the eccentric component, and spend as little time in the change of direction phase (isometric phase), transitioning into the explosive concentric finish of the lift. Through training in this system, the nervous system, muscles, and connective tissues will be more apt to generate and react to force/energy, ultimately creating more power.
Isometric (similiar to pause pulls, just highly eggagerated pauses to maximally recuirt muscle fibers) pulls are any pull variation that includes a pause at a specific point (segment) during the pulling movement. Often, we may see lifters perform various segmented pulls to isolate specific aspects of the pull that may cause positional strength limitations. The added TUT can increase neural activity, barbell patterning, and muscular development, similar to that or tempo and floating pulls.
Riser pulls (or deficit pulls) are nearly identical to regular clean and snatch pulls, with the only difference is the lifter is standing on a riser/platform/plate that is anywhere from 1-4” tall. The added depth needed to pull the weight from a deficit increases the amount of knee flexion, therefore increasing the necessity from leg drive (quads and hips) while maintaining a more vertical torso. It is important to note that too high of a riser height (often anything past 4”) can do more harm than good when looking at the transferability of the pull to a formal lift. Too high of a start point may manipulate one’s natural pulling mechanics, and therefore minimizing the specificity of this pull variation.
Floating pulls are a great way to promote bar patterning, hypertrophy (time under tension) and overall strength. To perform, simply “float” the weight as close as possible to the floor (without touching) to keep tension in the bottom position. Perform these with pauses, on a riser (combined benefits from above variation) or without stopping, all to challenge bar path control, balance, and leg drive strength.
Eccentric training is highly effective at increasing strength and explosive capacities. While these pull variations are highly taxing on the body, they do offer lifters a great stimulus to promote neural adaptations, increased muscle mass, and explosiveness. Upon the concentric aspect of the pull, the lifter should slowly lower the bar on at least a 5 second eccentric, with at least 3 seconds of the 5 spend with the barbell below knee level. The barbell can be returned to the floor and repeated, or simply combined with an above method above (floating, segment, Triphasic pulls, etc).
While these are not end all exercises to improve leg drive in the first pull (squatting, pause squats, etc will always help to), coaches and athletes can manipulate pulling movements within training programs to better develop well rounded and stronger and more explosive athletes.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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