The statement or command of "finishing the pull" reinforces an incorrect habit which can lead to a negative transfer to the squat snatch and the squat clean.


The Relative Value of Pulling Exercises in the Training of Weightlifters - part 2

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Do not reproduce or republish in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. © 2003

Conclusion of part 1

The Formation of the Correct Motor Habits with Training Exercises

In his book, A Multi - Year System of Training in Weightlifting, A.S. Medvedyev (7) lists some 28 different variants of pulls (snatch and clean pulls together). However, many other variations not listed are possible. In virtually all of the variations listed in the text, the pulling exercises involve fully straightening the legs and trunk, rising onto the toes and shrugging the shoulders.

An athlete forms a particular motor habit from the practice of deliberately straightening the legs and trunk, rising onto the toes and shrugging the shoulders in the snatch pull or the clean pull. The biomechanical inefficiency of this particular action for the squat snatch and the squat clean concerns the second major reservation for including pulls in training of weightlifters.

The statement or command of "finishing the pull" reinforces an incorrect habit which can lead to a negative transfer to the squat snatch and the squat clean. The correct skill to develop for the snatch and the clean does not involve "pulling" the barbell up to full extension of the legs and trunk and then "dropping" down to receive the barbell, but it does involve effectively using, at least, part of the effort in the explosion phase to actively begin switching directions and to prepare to jump down before the legs and trunk have straightened (20).

The importance of forming the correct motor habits in training so that this learning leads to a successful performance of the snatch and the clean and jerk with weights of 92 to 100+% at competitions cannot be overstated. "It is important to understand that it is easier to avoid mistakes than it is to eliminate them; since the elimination of established errors is connected with the restructuring of a definite motor program. And, this is a very complex task" (20).

So, any argument in support or against the use of snatch and clean pulls must address the need to establish and reinforce the correct motor habits in training exercises to ensure a positive transfer to the snatch and the clean.

The Snatch Pull

The snatch pull involves the same stance and hand spacing as the classic snatch. Typically this exercise is performed lifting the barbell at least up to the point where the trunk and legs are fully straightened and the heels and the shoulders are raised. The idea is to practice the technique of the pull phase of the lift and to strengthen the muscle groups involved in the pull phase just as they would be used in the classic snatch.

Although it would seem this movement is very specific to the snatch, "A lifter is unable to generate a comparable maximum force against the support in the explosion phase of the high pull as he can in the snatch" (12); "The speed of the barbell is also slower in the high pull, at the bordering parts of the pull phase, than in the snatch" (12). The forces applied to the barbell with weights in excess of 90% and the resulting speed of the barbell in the snatch pull are not comparable to a classic snatch.

As far as the kinematics (the movement of the body's links) of the snatch pull are concerned, the knees shift under the bar faster in a snatch than with a snatch pull (with weights in excess of 90%), i.e., the muscles of the thighs are stretched faster (12). Furthermore, the shins shift away from the vertical to a larger degree in the snatch when the knees move under the barbell. The reverse is true for a snatch pull. The knees bend to a larger degree than the ankles in a snatch pull. As a result, the athlete's posture is not in a mechanically efficient position at the bordering instant between the 3rd and 4th phases of the snatch pull (12).

The use of weights in snatch pulls in excess of 90% of the best snatch has "a negative affect on the coordination structure of the classic snatch" (12). The aforementioned negative associations to heavy snatch pulls concern only the pull phase of the lift.

The "Catch up" Speed (20)

It has been established that one has to achieve a specific descent speed in the squat under phase of the classic snatch and the clean in order to successfully execute these exercises. The "catch - up" speed is the speed of the athlete's body as it moves under the barbell at the instant the barbell reaches its maximum vertical speed (20).

In fact, "it is possible for the lifter to cease trying to lift the barbell and to begin the squat under, 0.1 seconds earlier than the barbell begins to descend" (20). The technically - proficient - lifter has already achieved some "catch up" speed while the barbell is still moving in a vertical direction, for the most part, under its own inertia.

The athlete should begin preparing to descend under the barbell before it has even reached its maximum vertical speed. This is not possible if the lifter were to consciously "wait" until he has fully straightened the legs and trunk, shrugged his shoulders and rose up onto the toes before beginning the descent because the barbell reaches its greatest speed during the snatch and clean before the legs have fully straightened and while the trunk is still tilted at 10 to 15 degrees from the vertical (20).

Consequently, teaching oneself to consciously straighten the legs and trunk, raise the heels, shrug in order to "finish the pull" is learning to keep "pulling" past the point of diminishing returns in respect to the correct technique of the snatch or clean. This, in turn, involves the formation of an incorrect motor habit. Instead of a timely, "active" descent under the barbell, the athlete learns to drop and pull himself under the barbell. For lack of a better term, the "pull and drop" method of executing the snatch or clean is an inefficient technique.

The "Braking" Effect of the Antagonist Muscles

Another apparent contradiction to forcefully straightening the legs at the "end" of the pull phase is that the muscles which bend the knees (the antagonist muscle groups of the quadriceps) must be activated at some point prior to full extension of the knees to "brake" the straightening of the legs by the quadriceps which are in this case the agonists (1,9). This innate mechanism is present to prevent injury to the joints.

In this instance, the quadriceps must relax in order for the knee flexors to actively begin "braking" the straightening knee joints. "This exclusion/inclusion of muscle groups, apparently, must take place in the second half of the explosion, which also contributes to reducing the vertical speed of the barbell" (1).

The "exclusion/inclusion" of these key muscles involved in lifting the barbell (the quadriceps and the flexors of the knees) creates another problem if the lifter tries to consciously straighten the legs at the end of pull.

This effort to consciously straighten the legs at the end of the pull, by its very nature, must have a negative affect on the lifter's ability to reutilize the quadriceps in the descent under the barbell. The purpose of this reutilization of the strongest muscles is two fold: 1) to generate a vertical force on the barbell by "jumping into the floor" while actively pulling on the barbell with the arms and shoulders and 2) to begin "braking" the downward path of the barbell as early as possible during the descent.

The so called "finishing the pull" limits the effectiveness of the lifter's ability to efficiently move under, "lift" and "brake" the barbell at what is essentially one and the same instant.

The Trapezius Myth

"The muscles of the legs and torso are primarily employed to lift a maximum weight" (20). It is necessary to take into consideration the precise actions required to successfully lift a heavy weight in the snatch or clean in order to determine the value of training with high pulls. Of particular concern is the conscious effort by lifters to fully extend the legs and trunk and, in particular, to "shrug" the shoulders, i.e., the importance of the role of the trapezius muscles in lifting the barbell.

The trapezius muscles should come into play during the snatch and the clean from the shrugging of the shoulders only when the trunk is in a vertical position. This is to assure that when the lifter shrugs his shoulders, the effect on the barbell will, for the most part, be strictly vertical.

If, for instance, a lifter shrugs his shoulders even a small amount before the trunk is in a vertical position, the actual effect on the barbell will be the resulting vector of the horizontal and vertical components of the shoulder elevation, i.e., because the trunk is leaning forward away from the vertical (see illustration).

Furthermore, "The premature inclusion into the dynamic work of the weaker muscles creates the so called weak link in the biomechanical chain which results in a sharp drop in the force generated by the key muscles and the effectiveness of the entire movement system" (2). This, of course, refers to flexing the arms and shrugging the shoulders while the legs and trunk are still working to generate vertical force on the barbell in the pull phase.

So, in order to effectively utilize the trapezius muscles in the snatch or the clean, the trunk has to be pretty much in a vertical position or tilted backwards a little from the vertical.

It has already been pointed - out that the most significant work in lifting the barbell has already been accomplished before the trunk has even reached a vertical position. And, unlike the muscles of the legs which "during the course of the formation of technique, the lifter will find ways to increase the speed of the barbell by making repeated use of the 'already working' thigh extensor muscles" (20), the trapezius muscles, for all intent and purpose, can only be called upon once during the execution of a snatch or a clean.

You can only use these muscles once, and to do so the trunk really must be in a vertical position before one "shrugs" the shoulders. So, what is it going to be; do you "shrug" the barbell to lift it, or "shrug" to help move the body under it?

There is only one logical solution. The lifter should not wait until the legs and trunk are pretty much straightened to "shrug" in order to add that additional lifting impetus and height to the barbell. Instead, the trapezius muscles, along with those of the arms, should be employed to actively "pull" the lifter under the barbell. However, by training with high pulls, the lifter learns to "lift" the barbell with the trapezius muscles.

The myth surrounding the importance of the trapezius muscles in weightlifting is that the technically - proficient - lifter does not employ these muscles to lift the barbell but, in actuality, to shift the body under it.

"Finishing the Pull" and the "Toppling Over" Effect

In the starting position of the snatch or the clean, the vertical projection of the bar is either directly over or some small distance from the meta - tarsal phalangeal joints of the big toe. This places the barbell away from and in front of the ankle joints so that the lifter's shins are able to tilt forward from the vertical. This disposition of the barbell relative to the ankle joints is a biomechanical advantageous arrangement because it allows the lifter to more effectively lift with the key lifting muscles of the legs and trunk.

If the bar is positioned over the feet too close to the ankle joints, an excessive loading is placed on the trunk or the legs, depending on the disposition of the trunk at the start. Therefore, the so - called "normal" starting position is associated with the biomechanical efficient distribution of work over the key muscle groups of the legs and the muscles which straighten the trunk.

However mechanically correct the "normal" starting disposition of the barbell relative to the ankle joints, it nonetheless, increases the so - called "toppling over" effect. At the instant the lifter separates the barbell from the platform, the barbell's force of gravity tries to "pull" the lifter forward. This "pulling" force is greater the heavier the barbell, relative to the lifter's bodyweight (1,2,16).

Once the barbell is separated from the platform, the lifter and the barbell form the so - called "athlete/barbell system. Prior to barbell separation, the lifter has only to balance his center of mass. After the separation of the barbell from the platform, the lifter has to balance the common center of mass of his body and that of the barbell.

It has been established that "the best conditions for equilibrium is to position the common center of gravity of the athlete/barbell system over the middle of the foot" (2). {See figure 2}.

Therefore, the lifter must begin shifting the barbell towards his ankle joints from the instant of separation from the platform. The shifting of the barbell towards the shins from the instant of separation: 1) "improves the biomechanics of the working muscles, because the barbell's line of gravity is closer to the working joints" (2); 2) creates the best conditions to balance the "athlete barbell" system by reducing the "teeter totter" effect of the barbell pulling the athlete forward (2).

So, when the lifter shifts the barbell backwards towards the shins, the muscles of the legs and the muscles which straighten the trunk can work more efficiently and the lifter is able to establish equilibrium for the "athlete barbell" system.

According to Roman, when the knee and hip joints move forward and down at the beginning of the explosion phase, "the bending of the knees and their shifting forward under the bar reduces the 'toppling over' of the moment force of gravity of the barbell and increases the effectiveness of the muscles extending the hip joints" (16). The shifting of the barbell towards the body from the start and the shifting of the knees under the bar during the explosion phase diminishes the "toppling over " effect; this improves technical efficiency.

Therefore, it is puzzling as to why many coaches and lifters believe one should consciously attempt to straighten the legs and trunk and rise onto the toes to complete the pull phase (the technique one teaches oneself in the high pull exercise). Because "the barbell shifts away from the athlete in the explosion phase due to raising onto the toes, which shifts the center of support of the athlete barbell system, which in turn, requires the entire system to shift in that direction in order to maintain equilibrium" (2).

So, if it is necessary to finish the pull by consciously straightening the legs and rising onto the toes, this means that after shifting the barbell close to the body to enhance the mechanical efficiency of the lift up to this point of full extension, the lifter is to, in effect, give up this advantage by consciously straightening the legs and trunk, shrug the shoulders and rise onto the toes; ostensibly to lift the barbell higher.

This "finishing the pull" exacerbates the 'toppling over" effect by shifting the barbell forward and away from the working joints. This adds to the fact that the time and effort of "finishing the pull" is a bio-mechanical, ineffective movement.

The lifter who attempts to fully extend the legs and trunk risks creating a situation where he must "chase" and, at the same time, try to maintain a vertical force on the barbell which is shifting forward away from him. As a result, the lifter usually has to jump forward to shift his center of mass under the barbell in order to establish equilibrium for the entire system in the squat position; some authorities even recommend this (1,2).

The Clean Pull

The same reservations which have been presented concerning the use of snatch pulls in training apply to the clean pull as well; especially in regards to the use of weights of 100% and beyond. For instance, "Sportsmen are unable to develop the same force against the support in the explosion for the clean pull as they are able to attain in the clean; the velocity of the barbell in the clean pull is significantly lower as well; a different rhythm is employed with 100 to 110% clean pulls due to the different force and speeds attained" (19).

Be that as it may, according to Roman, "there is a weak correlation between the training weight of snatch pulls and achievements in the snatch and the biathlon total; the correlation is greater with the results of the clean pull; the more lifts with 100% weights and beyond, the greater the improvements in the clean and jerk results and the biathlon total" (16).

However, according to Frolov, et al, "A significant number of lifts with limit weights in pulls does not promote the perfection of the so called 'explosive strength' and at the same time leads to significant deviations from the optimal technique characteristics" (19). Frolov goes on to suggest one need not exclude the heavy clean pulls altogether. The lifter can do them in parts: from the floor to the knees, with the bar at knee height or from mid thigh (19).

But how does one reinforce the correct motor habit to do a squat clean by practicing all of these "parts" of the pull phase? It also is unclear as to how the lifter goes about integrating the practicing of all of these parts into some cohesive motor pattern to successfully lift a maximum weight in the clean and jerk at the precise moment of competition.

The following statement seems to further cloud the picture as to what the lifter should practice in training. "Training with 100% weights in clean pulls is only appropriate for qualified athletes who do not have technique flaws in the clean" (30). Apparently, technically proficient athletes are able to form motor habits in the clean and the high pull exercises to a point that when these athletes do a clean, there is no negative transfer of the habits created from heavy clean pulls.

In our opinion, what is of greater significance regarding the training on clean pulls is the difference between the squat under phases of the snatch and the clean. Research shows that "the distance the barbell descends from the highest point of the lift into the squat position (to the point of fixation) is significantly greater in the clean than in the snatch" (20,21). The reason for this is "the heavier weight lifted in the clean and jerk compels the athlete to increase the amortization part of the squat under because it impossible to instantaneously stop such a big weight" (21).

Therefore, the importance of timely switching directions (from the pull to the squat under) in order to be able to effectively "brake" the downward path of the heavier weight has additional significance for the clean.

The "delay" (caused by the "finishing of the pull") in ceasing the effort to lift and beginning the effort to descend and amortize the descending barbell is more detrimental to technical efficiency for the clean than the snatch. First, there is an obvious mechanical advantage to be gained from correctly "braking" the downward path of the barbell as far as the recovery part of the clean is concerned. Second, effectively "braking" of the barbell in this phase of the clean may have other implications in terms of preventing injury to the knees, back or other parts of the body. With the "pull and drop" technique, the "falling" barbell has to inflict soft tissue damage over time.


There are distinct differences between the pull phases of the snatch, the clean and the phases of the snatch pull and the clean pull. These differences involve the force against the support, the forces applied to the barbell, the speed of the barbell, the overall rhythm of the movements and the disposition of the shins and trunk.

The coordination structure of the squat snatch and the squat clean involve a motor pattern with close similarities to the snatch and the clean pull but with one big difference. The snatch and the clean are in effect a "throw" and a "catching" of the barbell, whereas the high pull is only a "throwing" of the barbell. There is no preparation for and no explosive "switching" of directions in high pull exercises (a critical skill to develop) as there is in the snatch and the clean.

A weightlifter can form a technically inefficient motor habit through long term training on high pulls. And, according to Roman, the lifter risks creating a situation where, "This habit then appears at a competition during the lifting of 95 and 100% weights" (17).

When all is said and done concerning the training exercises, repetitions per set and other aspects employed for weightlifting training, there must be some guiding philosophy as to the effectiveness of the selections. The great soviet era lifter and coach A.I. Bozhko used to say that, "I am not interested in what exercises you do or how much you have lifted in training, because all that matters are the numbers that appear after your name in the competition results." The main thing the lifter has to keep in mind is that the fundamental purpose of training is to educate the body to be ready to lift a maximum weight at a precise moment of competition.

Vorobeyev (1,2,3,4), Zhekov (20) and others have written that the introduction of new ideas and concepts, which seem to fly in the face of contemporary thinking, receive, at best, a cool reception; they are often ignored, even though these "new" ideas and concepts, subsequently, are based on scientific corroboration. Much of the material presented is not new, but it, nonetheless, is still ignored.


  1. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tyazhelaya Atletika, Fizkultura I Sport, P ublishers, Moscow 1972, pp: 63; 93 - 111.
  2. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tyazhelaya Atletika, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers,Moscow 1981
  3. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tyazheloatletichskii Sport, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers, Moscow 1971 PP 8- 23
  4. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tyazheloatletichskii Sport, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers, Moscow 1977 PP 34 - 35
  5. Matveyev, L.P., Fundamentals of Sport Trainng, Progress Publishers , 1981:pp - 25 - 26
  6. Medvedyev, A.A., Lukashov, A.A., " The Technique of World Holders V. Alexeev and G. Bonk", Tyazhelaya Atletika, , Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers, Moscow, 1977:60
  7. Medvedyev,A.A., Tyazhelaya Atletika I Metodika Prepodavania, Fizkultura I Sport, publishers, Moscow,1986:PP - 16 - 17
  8. Medvdyev, A.A., A System of Multi - Year Training in Weightlifting, Sportivny Press, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  9. Charniga, A., "Key Muscles for Weightlifting", Sportivny Press, ,2002
  10. From Sovietsky Sport Publishers, Publication #239:1988
  11. Ermakov, A.D., "The Training Load of Weightlifters in Pulls and Squats", 1980 Weightlifting Yearbook, p 34 - 38 Sportivny Press, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  12. Frolov, V. I., Efimov, N.M., Vanagas, M.P., "The Training Weights in the Snatch Pull", Tyazhelaya Atletika, Fizkultura I Sport publishers, Moscow, 1977:65 - 67
  13. Frolov, V.I., "Analysis of Kinematic and Dynamic Parameters of the Movement of the Athlete and the Barbell", Published by the Lenin State Central Institute of Physical Culture, 1980. P. 6
  14. Barton, J., "Are There General Rules in Snatch Kinematics", Procedings of the Weightlifting Symposium 1997, Olympia, Greece, Published by the International Weightlifting Federation
  15. Trufanov, I.N., "Some Peculiarities of the Training Load of Heavyweights in the Competition Period", Tyazhelaya Atletika, 26 - 28:1977, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers, Moscow
  16. Roman, R.A., The Training of the Weightlifter, Sportivny Press, Livonia, Michigan, Publishers, 1988; pp: 39 - 40
  17. Roman, R.A., Personal Communication
  1. Medvedyev, A.S. Frolov, V.I. Lukashev, A.A., Krasov, E.A., "A Comparative Analysis of Clean Technique and Clean Pulls with Various Weights, 1981 Weightlifting Yearbook PP 61 - 64, Sportivny press, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  2. Zhekov, I. P.: Biomechanics of the Weightlifting Exercises, Sportivny Press. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  3. Livanov, O. I., Falameyev, A. I., "Some Biomechanical Characteristics of the Movement of the Barbell in the Snatch and the Clean", Tyazhelaya Atletika Ezhegodnik, 1979, pp 22 - 25
  4. Abajiev, I., "The Preparation of International Class Weightlifters", Proceedings of the IWF Coaching - Medical Seminar, Varna, 1983:57 - 63.
  5. Martyanov, S.S., Popov, G.I., Roman, R.A., "Peculiarities of Modern Clean Technique", Weightlifting Training & Technique, Sportivny Press. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  6. Medvedyev,A.S., Lukashev, A.A., Sivokin, I.P., "A Biomechanical Analysis of the Special Assistance Exercises for Snatch Technique", Weightlifting Training & Technique, Sportivny Press. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  7. Ivanov, A.T., Roman, R.A., "The Components of the Jerk from the Chest", Russian Weightlifting Yearbook, English Translation by Bernd W. Scheithauer, 1975:24 - 29.
  8. Frolov, V.I., "The Optimal Phasic Structure of the Snatch of Highly Qualified Weightlifters", Tyazhelaya Atletika, 1977:52 - 55, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  9. Frolov, V.I., Lukashev, A.A., "Comparative Analysis of the Technique of the Snatch and the Clean", Tyazhelaya Atletika, 1978:26 - 28, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  10. Frolov, V.I., Levshunov, N.P., "The Phasic Structure of the Jerk", Tyazhelaya Atletika, 1979:25 - 28, Fizkultura I Sport, Publishers. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  11. Frolov, V.I.: "Interdependence of Results in the Snatch, Technical Mastery and Some Physical Qualities of Weightlifters", 1981 Weightlifting Yearbook, pp 83-87 Sportivny Press, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  12. Medvedyev, A.S., Marchenko, V.V., "Programming the Training Loads of Qualified Weightlifters", 1985 Weightlifting Yearbook, pp 77 - 84, Sportivny Press, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.