Optimizing Various Aspects of the Pull
Executing the Second Stage of the Pull with the Hips Low Versus High
Some lifters perform a portion of the first phase of the pull with their hips in a relatively low position (e.g., with the hips joints at, below or slightly above the level of the knees). Others prepare to lift the bar with their hips significantly higher than the knees. Observers of athletes who begin with their hips low often make the mistake of assuming that the lifter is actually lifting the bar from that position. In fact, the lifter with the low hip preparatory position typically moves his or her hips up considerably as force is applied to the bar, so that at the actual moment of liftoff the hips are well above the bar. In contrast, the lifter who sets his or her body with the hips high typically does not move the hips until the bar moves as well. Therefore, the lifter who executes stage one of the pull with the hips low may actually lift the bar from the platform with his or her hips in a higher position than the athlete who finishes the first stage of the pull with the hips higher; any argument that a lifter is starting with the hips too low is an incorrect one. While this point may obvious, it is often not easy to determine just where a lifter’s hips are as the bar leaves the platform, even if the lifter’s hips are moving slowly. In such a case, a little slow-motion film will prove to be enlightening.
Among lifters with sound technique, differences with respect to starting hip position have to do with anatomical differences. In assuming a correct starting position, different lifters will have their hips in different positions in relation to the bar. These differences are incidental from the standpoint of effective technique as long as the lifter’s balance is over the middle area of the foot, the shoulders are held in a position directly over the bar, the shins are touching the bar, or nearly so, and the proper muscle tensions are maintained (e.g., the back is solidly locked into position).
Actually entering stage two of the pull with the hips low can be a problem if the hips are so low that: a) the weight of the athlete and bar combined are positioned toward the back of the foot as the bar is started from the platform; or b) the back, particularly the lower back, is rounded; or e) the shoulder joints are behind the bar. If one or more of these conditions exists, the bar will almost certainly be directed improperly during some or all of the rest of the lift (e.g., the bar may travel forward from its starting position instead of back during the early phases of the pull, or the bar may be misdirected rearward at later stages in the pull). This is unfortunate, since errors or this type are among the easiest ones for the lifter and coach to correct. The lifter need only be aware of where the weight is distributed on his or her foot to correct the first problem. Immediate feedback from the coach is needed to correct errors in back or shoulder positioning. They tend to arise simply from the athlete having no feedback on his or her position and failing to associate the feelings he or she is experiencing with faulty positioning.
One other issue with regard to hip positioning at the start of the actual liftoff has to do with the trade-off between hip position and torso angle. The lower the hips at the start of the pull, the more upright the torso will tend to be as the bar is lifted from the platform and during the balance of the lift. A more upright torso tends to reduce the strain that is placed on the torso muscles during the pull, but it also reduces the distance over which those muscles can operate to raise the bar.