Guidelines for the Snatch and Clean “Pull“
The Importance of the Starting Position in the Snatch and Clean
The importance of the starting position in the snatch and clean cannot be overemphasized. While a good starting position does not assure a successful lift, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to exhibit proper technique without a good starting position, and many lifts have been lost due to a failure to achieve an optimal starting position. This is particularly tragic when you consider that the skill required to assume a functional starting position is minimal and the opportunity to assume it greater than for any other portion of the lift because timing is not necessarily an important issue, particularly if the athlete starts from a static position. (Bar timing is a very important issue in all other phases of the lift.) Even if a lifter uses a “dynamic” start (which will be discussed shortly precision is easier to achieve in the starting position than in any other phase of the lift bec the lifter need only control the movement of his her body, not the bar and the body, as is reg at other stages in the lift.
The starting position can be viewed from tw perspectives: from he position of the various of the body in relation to the bar and one anothe and from the tension of the various muscle gro at the moment of starting the lift (separating the bar from the platform). You can use the position of the joints relative to one another, as described in the Eastern European literature, as a guideline for a good starting position. Ranges for the angles of each of the key joints were given in the description of the six stages of the pull. These ranges will be appropriate for the vast majority of lifters, but occasionally a lifter will find it necessary go outside these ranges in order to find the optimal position. This is reasonable if the positions in the normal range have been given a fair trial and it is obvious that some facet of the lifter’s structure makes a different position more advantageous. However, regardless of the position assumed, certain basie principles should be followed in assuming the starting position in the snatch and clean.
- The lower back should be slightly arched and the upper back should have a minimal curve in the thoracic region of the spine (one that can be sustained throughout the pull). In addition, the chest should be out in the classic military “at attention” kind of position) and the shoulders slightly back, and the latissimus dorsi muscles should be somewhat flexed. This kind of positioning and muscle tension assures that the power of the leg and hip muscles will be transmitted directly to the bar during the most explosive parts of the pull. In addition, they provide the athlete with protection for the spine; when the spine is in the position described, it is relatively strong and stable. The tension in the latissimus dorsi muscles arises from a slight backward pressure on the arms. This pressure continues during the second and third phases of the pull, when it aids in keeping the bar close to the lifter’s body.
Lifters who have trouble achieving a sufficient arch in the back at the start may find it helpful to employ one of three techniques to assure proper back positioning. One approach is for the lifter to begin with the hips higher than they will be when the bar leaves the floor and to align the back properly while in that position. Then the lifter can set the back in the proper position and lower the hips (maintaining that back position) just before commencing the pull. A second option is for the lifter to prepare for the pull by standing fully erect at a position of strict attention. The lifter lowers the body by bending the legs and hips and inclining the torso while maintaining the arched position of the torso. The lifter must guard against looking down for the bar as his or her hands near the bar, since the effort to do so often results in losing the arch. Once the bar has been grasped and the initial arched back position maintained, the lifter can look down, with as little head movement as possible, to assure an even grip. The third option is for the lifter to position the feet and hands properly, then to lower the hips while arching the back, pulling the shoulders back and looking up. This action helps many lifters to achieve a proper position. Then the lifter can raise the hips to their proper starting position for the pull.
- The arms should be straight and the trapezius and related muscles should be relatively relaxed, Premature contraction of the arms makes the pull more difficult, both of the floor and at the point where the bar passes the knees. Premature tension in the traps makes the final explosion in the pull more difficult (the need to keep these muscles relaxed does not contradict the advice given in the prior section to keep the chest out and the shoulders back, because that can be done with the trapezius muscles in a relaxed state).
It should be noted that a very small number of some very high level lifters have extended the concept of relaxing the upper body well beyond what is suggested above. Bob Giordano, a US Olympic Team member in 1980, used to advocate relaxing the thoracic region of the spine and even the lower back somewhat, (i.e., employing a slightly rounded back) during the early stages of the pull. His reasoning was that if the back was held in a relaxed position, it could impart force more effectively at the top of the pull with a powerful contraction of his back muscles. Bob feels his unconventional method helped him to become one of the strongest pullers in the country, if not the world. Bob is not alone. Yordan Mitkov, the Bulgarian Olympic champion and world record holder of the 1970s, used a rounded back style in the pull, (although I do not know if it was intentional in his case). While I would not go so far as to recommend the use of a rounded back during the early stages of the pull (or at any other time while executing the classic lifts or related exercises because I believe it exposes the athlete to an increased risk of a back injury) I must admit that the styles used by these men underscore the value of relaxing the muscles of the upper back during the early stages of the pull.
- The balance of the lifter should be felt in the middle area of the foot. If the weight is felt toward the heels, it means that the overall position of the body in relation to the bar is too far towards the rear. This will almost invariably cause the lifter to have less control of the motion of the bar during the pull and to make the motion of the body and the bar less fluid. It is also likely to cause the lifter to sacrifice some ability to apply force to the bar.
If the weight and the lifter’s balance is toward the front of the lifter’s foot as the bar comes off the floor, there will be a tendency for the hips to rise faster than the shoulders as the bar travels towards the knees. The athlete may also be forced to jump forward to catch the bar as it travels in that overall direction during the pull. Added strain is placed on the knee and ankle joints bar if the bar is somewhat forward when it is “caught by the lifter, and added strain is placed on the back when it is too far forward in the pull the latter because the lifter is in an unfavorable mechanical position in which to exert force on the bar when the bar is unnecessarily forward of the lifter’s body).
When the weight is too far back on the heels from the start, the center of the shoulder joint is behind the bar as the bar comes off the floor and/or the shoulders assume that position during the pull to the knees. In contrast, when the bar, and/or the athlete’s balance, is too far forward as the bar leaves the platform, the shoulders move backward in relation to their starting position as the lifter reaches the end of the second phase of the pull.
The coach and lifter must be careful to distinguish between positions and feelings before the bar clears the platform and while it is being raised from the platform. It matters little where the balance is felt prior to the liftoff, as the lifter adjusts the position of his or her body and its relationship to the bar. What matters is where those positions, balance points and tensions are felt as force is being applied to take the bar off the floor.
Joe Mills (a national champion weightlifter in the 1930s and coach of hundreds, if not thousands, of lifters over the years including world champions) and I were so convinced of the importance of the starting position and the related position of the body during the first and second phase of the pull that we decided one year to conduct an informal experiment at the Philadelphia Open (in its day probably the premier annual open competition in the United States). We observed a lengthy series of lifts to see how accurately we could predict the outcome of snatches and cleans solely by observing the pull from the floor to the knees. We found that our predictions were accurate approximately two thirds of the time. Perhaps we were just lucky that day, but I think not. The early stages of the pull are critical, and the first stage is the foundation for much of what follows.
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