Improving Your Clean: The First Pull
Is one of your goals to increase your Olympic lifting totals? The clean and the snatch are complicated beasts, and the most progress happens when you dial in the technique.
Today we're looking at the clean and, more specifically, the first pull. When you're working on technique, we've found it helps to break down the lift into the component parts. When you do this, you start to realise how much is going on when you pick that bar up!
So, if you want a heavier clean, keep reading to find out why you should focus on your first pull.
What is the First Pull, and Why Does It Matter?
The first pull is exactly what it sounds like! It's the "first pull" - from the floor, to somewhere around the knee.
Sounds easy, right? Well, there's a lot more happening here than meets the eye. It's the first part of the movement, and arguably the most important.
Unlike the deadlift, where the end goal is to stand up with the bar, the first part of your clean is setting you up for the rest of the lift.
Get it right, and you're more likely to have a good lift. If you make a mistake here, though, one of two things can happen:
- You make the lift, but make it harder for yourself,
- You miss the lift.
If you're serious about making gains with your Olympic lifting, you need to dial in your movement. Here are a few things to focus on:
1. Know What It Should Look Like
The first thing you should do is find out what the first pull should look like. It's almost too easy!
It's easy to dismiss this part of the movement. After all, you just need to get it to the knee - then you're onto the second pull, right?
If you're not sure what the first pull actually involves, ask your coach. There are plenty of resources online too - YouTube is your friend!
This video from Barbell Shrugged is a good place to start:
2. Set Up Correctly
Most lifts go wrong before they've even started. Getting your starting position right is so important.
The exact position you need to be in will depend on your body. You might need to make some variations, allowing for your mobility and positioning constraints. Again, your coach should be able to help with this.
Here are some general pointers, though:
- Create tension in the hamstrings and abductor muscles,
- Angle your shins slightly towards the bar,
- Your shoulders should be over the bar (not behind it, as you would in the deadlift),
- Keep your lats tight.
3. Take It Slow
Once you start moving, don't be tempted to rush this part of the movement. The second pull needs to be as fast as possible, but the goal of the first pull is to get the bar into the right position.
Ideally, you need to strike a balance between the two. You don't want to go too slow, as you won't generate enough momentum. However, you don't want to be too fast either. When you rush this part of the movement, you'll use unnecessary energy and risk compromising your technique.
4. Keep Your Chest Up
As you move the bar, you should be consciously trying to keep your chest up. You need everything to move up in sync. In particular, your hips and shoulders should move up at the same rate.
If you let your chest drop, this becomes much harder, and you won't get into the right position ready for the second pull.
5. Keep the Bar Close
Another way to mess up the first pull is by letting the bar get too far away from you.
You need to keep the bar close to the body, so you can start the explosive movement that gets it up over your hips.
If you struggle to do this, practice drilling the movement with a light bar or a PVC pipe. Keep repeating it without too much weight, until you've programmed the movement.
6. Remember: It's Not a Deadlift
Although there are many similarities between the first pull and the deadlift, the subtle differences matter!
Most people simply try to deadlift the barbell up to the knee. You are not "just picking the bar up". If this is where you've been going wrong, take some time to develop an appreciation of what makes the lifts different.
For example, the bar path is different. In the deadlift, the goal is to get the bar up. However, in the clean, the bar needs to follow a very specific path to get the most efficient lift.
7. Listen to Your Coach
There's only so much you can learn about Olympic lifting from the Internet. You can read all you want, but you still need to be able to translate that knowledge into action.
Stand by the golden rule: always listen to your coach! If you're unsure about any aspect of the first pull, or you just need some feedback on your current technique, ask! It's what they're there for.