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Olympic Lifts vs. Olympic Pulls??

Hi Patrick,

I read your blog entry regarding the Olympic lifts. I do like to use the Olympic lifts in my training. I was wondering what your thoughts were on just using clean pulls or snatch pulls? Some strength coaches say that they use pulls instead of the full lift because they are easier to teach. What do you think about that?

-Jeff



Hi Jeff, thanks for the question. You are correct, some coaches only use pulling movements (clean pulls, snatch pulls or pulls from the hang position, what some coaches call “jump shrugs”). Most of them advocate pulls only, reasoning that “all the power comes during the second pull, so the catch is kind of moot. And, the full lift is harder to teach.” I don’t know that there is a clear cut answer to your question. A lot of it is very conjecture based. So, I will give you my reasoning on why I like the full lift and you can decide for yourself.

1)Yes, the second pull is where the all the power is generated. However, high amounts of power are only generated when the pull is performed correctly. I can’t remember the exact number, but if you bend your arms during the pull, you lose something like 60% of the power coming from your hips (might have been lower than 60%. I can’t remember for sure). When you are only doing pulls, how are you gauging the pull? If you are doing it by height (eg, pulling to the sternum), then how do we know the athlete is not using their arms to get the bar up there? If we are doing pulls with straight arms, and not allowing the elbows to bend, then how do we know how much the athlete is actually accelerating the bar? By that I mean, how do we know it is not a deadlift with a toe raise and a shrug? So, even though some claim that the pulls are easier to teach, there is still a good deal of coaching that needs to take place there. However, if you are going to take the time to coach the pull, why not coach the full lift? At least that way you know that the athlete is accelerating the bar and moving quickly. There is no way they can’t do those things if they are doing a power clean or power snatch. Have you ever seen a slow power clean?

2)The catch portion of the lift allows us work on deceleration of force. Deceleration is extremely important in sports performance and I believe that movements such as the Olympic lifts help to teach it. As well, interacting with the bar and making the catch help us work on muscle synchronization/timing and body awareness. These are qualities that are critical for athletic success.

3)As with any lift done for speed or acceleration, if you are performing the movement with just the bar, you spend half the time decelerating the bar. This prevents you from displaying optimal power and working on acceleration. I never understood the speed bench press, the speed deadlift or the speed squat with 60% of your 1RM on the bar. You spend more time slowing yourself down with these movements than you do speeding up. Now, if we use something like bands or chains, this allows us to accelerate over a greater portion of the lift because as we move through the concentric portion of the lift the weight gets heavier. If you want to truly display power, plyometrics and medicine ball throws are helpful because you actually release the implement and accelerate it all the way (medicine ball) or you accelerate yourself enough to leave the ground (plyometrics). I believe the same holds true for the Olympic lifts. If you are performing only pulls, again, how much of that lift are we going to spend decelerating? Even though we are pulling all the way to triple extension in the lower body and shrugging the weight violently, at some point we need to slow down the bar and end the lift! With the full power clean or power snatch, you have to develop power through the entire range of motion, all the way up to the point where you need to snap yourself under the bar and make the catch.

4)Finally, psychologically I think something is lost when you know that you don’t have to pull the bar hard enough to get it up onto your shoulders (clean) or overhead (snatch). When you know that you need to really pull that bar so that you can catch it, there is a different feeling and a different level of emotion and intensity that goes into the lift. I really believe this is lost when you tell an athlete that they don’t need to do that.

So, there are some of my views on why I like the Olympic lifts over just doing pulls. Not that I think pulls are bad or that I think they are worthless. I think everything needs to be in the tool box and you have to figure out what works best for you and at what time in the training program. There are a lot of coaches that don’t use the Olympic lifts at all, opting to do heavy strength work and plyometric work. This is fine and they get good results with it. As stated in my previous blog entry on Olympic lifts, there are times when I may use the Olympic lifts and there are times when I may not. Again, you have to have a lot of things in the tool box and know when to use them. Hope that helps answer your question.

If all you have is a hammer in your tool box, you aren’t going to be able to fix a whole lot,
Patrick