Finish Your Pull

By Tom Sroka - TeamSAW | May 01, 2019, 12 p.m. (ET)
“Finish your pull!” is one of those phrases you’re likely to hear around any weightlifting club alongside “heels!” and “tight!” An unfinished pull is likely to give your coach myocardial infarctions and premature balding. As a new lifter, though, it might not be clear what your coach means by this seemingly simple cue.

            The “pull” is what the collective weightlifting community has used to refer to the time from the barbell leaving the platform until the barbell becomes fixed overhead which might be referred to as the “catch” or “rack.” The pull is then divided into the first pull (when the bar travels from the floor to the knees) and the second pull (when the bar travels from the knees to the hips). A third phase could be inserted in the middle of the lift called the “turnover” which would be that moment of weightlessness when the lifter is actively wrapping themselves under the barbell.

            The murky area of the “pull” comes from this turnover. Most coaches would agree that the athlete needs to actively pull themselves under the bar, not just “hit and catch.” The latter usually results in barbells crashing on lifters and missed lifts.

            So, if we’re pulling the barbell from the time it leaves the floor until we’ve caught it with straight arms or racked it on our shoulders, what does our coach mean when he says we’ve not finished our pull or cut our pull short?

            Generally speaking, an athlete who has not finished their pull has not fully extended their knees and hips at the end of the second pull. These athletes are often trying to improve their speed under the barbell, and unconsciously are not allowing themselves to get fully extended for fear that standing too tall will then take them too long to get under the bar. Usually these lifters will leave the barbell out front. As a result of not fully extending, they’ve taken away their ability to keep the bar close: hips fully extended means the bar can stay nice and close to the torso during the turnover, hips held back means the bar never has the chance.

            Sometimes as a result of athletes trying to “finish their pull” they go to the opposite extreme, pulling their shoulders far behind the bar. This, again, can cause the bar to be bumped away because it’s normally accompanied by a banging of the hips forward. But also this makes the athlete’s fear come true: it will take them longer to get under the bar. With this far leaned back posture, the lifter will have to snap themselves back to an upright posture. Sometimes they will stay too far back (missing behind or having to backpedal to stand) and other times they will bring their torso and head too far forward (as an equal and opposite reaction) and end up running lifts forward or standing up with snatches that look like they’re going to tear their rotator cuffs apart.

            I know there are some lifters that make use of a pronounced lean back during the finish of their pull, most notably Chinese lifters like Liu Hao. In my experience, most of the beginner weightlifters I’ve worked with will not do well with such an exaggerated triple extension. (This article in no way is arguing the benefits of “Chinese style” vs “Russian style.” That’s an argument for r/weightlifting to fight out.)

            Part of the confusion for novice lifters, I believe, comes from the word “pull” altogether. I’m in no way arguing for a change of terminology; “pull” succinctly categorizes the movement and it’s beneficial for the weightlifting community to utilize the same jargon. (We can expend our linguistic energy on the merits of the term “squat snatch.”) I think the issue comes from new lifters whose only experience with “pull” as a command is in situations in which they are going to lean back and pull with the muscles of the upper back, à la tug o’ war.  Explaining to new lifters that the “pull” in weightlifting is a coordinated effort of the legs driving the floor away, while the muscles of the spine stay solid, and the lats work to keep the bar close would help to make it clear that this is a different kind of pull than they’ve ever encountered before. These lifters could then understand that “finishing the pull” doesn’t come from leaning back and rowing the bar like pulling on a rope, but rather through a fully realized extension of the legs and hips with the torso in an upright position. This will keep the bar close. This will get the most height out of the bar. This will get more lifts overhead.

            Next time coach tells you to finish your pull, quit keeping your legs soft. Punch through the platform with your legs. And don’t throw your head and shoulders back like you’re trying to hump the bar into submission, either. Fully extend your body and keep the bar close and you’ll be finishing your pull.