A Fast Versus a Slow Pull From the Floor
Lifting circles have probably debated the relative advantages of a slow and fast pull from the floor as long as there have been lifters, and that debate is likely to continue for many years to come. The controversy stems from the failure by each side see the full arguments of the other side and to acknowledge that individual differences influence the value of each technique and that trade-offs in
both styles tend to cancel each other out so that the issue is not one of “night and day.” However, there are some relevant principles that should help each lifter and coach decide what is best for the individual lifter.
Physics tells us that the longer a net force is applied to an object, the greater will be the acceleration imparted to that object. Taken at face value, this principle suggests that a lifter should pull as long and as hard as possible in order to impart maximum acceleration to the bar (i.e., tear the bar off the floor with maximum force and continue to increase the force with each passing split second). However, before you reach such a conclusion, it is important to reexamine precise meaning of force as it applies to acceleration. Acceleration is a change in the speed of an object. Acceleration only occurs when an unbalanced force (a force that is greater than any other counter forces that it encounters, such as friction or an opposing force like gravity) acts on an object. When a force is applied in a way that only involves the movement of a single lever or series of levers in a given direction (such as a vertical jump of the drive in the jerk), the athlete need think only of applying maximum force to the ground throughout the movement. Since the object is traveling in a straight line, the only acceleration arises out of a change in the speed of the object.
In pulling a bar from the floor, the situation is different. The body does not simply straighten; first the legs straighten, then the back straightens and the legs rebend, then both the back and legs straighten. This is, needless to say, a very complex motion. Some lifters who attempt to move too fast, particularly when they are learning the motion, will tend to omit certain parts of necessary movement or to time their movements improperly (e.g., to straighten the torso prematurely). In addition, no matter how much acceleration the lifter achieves during the first part of the pull, a deceleration will occur during the amortization phase of the pull (.e., the body will apply no net force). Then the application of force will resume during the final explosion. This is not because the lifter is not trying to apply force, but rather because some of that force is being used to reposition the body during the amortization phase of the pull. If a fast second stage of the pull leads to a greater reduction of speed during the adjustment phase, such a style is probably not very efficient for the lifter; the lifter either needs to move faster during the adjustment phase or to perform the second phase of the pull a little more slowly, so that the combined second and third phases of the pull are better coordinated
One problem that often arises in connection with a fast pull as opposed to a slow pull from the floor (really an 80% to 90% effort versus an all out effort) is that when the lifter exerts maximum force during the first stage of the pull, there is a greater
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tendency for the athlete to lose the rigidity of his her body links or the proper positioning of those links (e.g., for the spine to lose its arched position or the shoulders to be pulled forward or to contra the arms or traps prematurely). Another reason 1 not pulling with 100% effort during the second phase of the pull is that some athletes have a greater tendency to misdirect the movement of the body and the bar or to contract certain muscle groups when maximum force is applied as the bar leaves the platform prematurely than when the effort expended is more moderate during this stag Still another reason for exerting less than maximum speed off the platform is that such an effort may fatigue the pulling muscles somewhat, thereby making them less able to exert maximum force during the crucial fourth phase of the pull. Finally, the joints of the body are at their most acute angles as the bar comes off the platform and thereby are most vulnerable to injury. Exploding off the platform places great stress on these joints at their weakest positions. Injuries from this kind of effort are rare, but if the explosive technique off the platform is applied over a period of many years its effects may accumulate and eventually cause overuse injuries to the athlete.
Because a relatively greater weight is used in the clean than in the snatch, the effort that the lifter must exert during the second phase of the pull for the clean is greater than in the snatch. However, this does not necessarily translate into a proportional increase in the difficulties faced by the lifter during the second phase of the pull in the clean. Because the athlete grips the bar with the hands closer together in the clean than in the snatch, the lifter’s torso tends to be in a somewhat more upright position and the legs are a little straighter in the starting position. This is a more favorable mechanical position for the athlete so the effort required is smaller than it would be if the athlete lifted the same weight with the snatch grip. Misdirection of the bar is also a little less of a problem in the clean as a heavier bar is harder to misdirect. However, it is more difficult to accelerate the bar in the clean, due both to the greater weight that is on the bar in the clean and the shorter distance that the lifter has to accomplish any acceleration. (A lesser degree of acceleration is acceptable because the athlete does not need to raise the bar as high in the clean as in the snatch.)
Given all the aforementioned considerations, it is generally preferable to exert a low to medium degree of force in the snatch during the second phase of the pull and then to exert maximum force during the fourth phase. In the clean, a medium or even greater effort in the second phase of the pull and then a maximum effort in the fourth phase are the most appropriate tempo for most lifters. Nevertheless, it should be noted that certain lifters make every effort to exert maximum force throughout the pull. Many of the Bulgarians
appear to be doing this. Certainly there are many World Champions who seem to have pulled with a maximal effort all of the way.
Why are different tempos in the pull effective? One reason may be the bodily proportions of the lifter (e.g., athletes whose proportions enable them to apply force to bar for a longer period of time may be able to increase the force they apply more gradually than athletes who do not have the same ability). Another reason may lie in the trade-off between lifters who have a longer adjustment phase in the pull and those who have a shorter one; the former may lose so much speed during that phase that a rapid second phase of the pull is not very helpful overall. Still another reason may be that lifters have different compositions of muscle (e.g., fast twitch vs. slow twitch) and different abilities to activate those muscles explosively. A lifter who can reach a maximum level of force quickly may be better able to pull smoothly and then accelerate the bar suddenly. The lifter who does not have such a capacity may have to begin applying maximum effort earlier in order to achieve maximum force output at the desired stage in the pull.
All of these issues should be considered in determining the best style for a given lifter, at least at a given stage of his or her career. Often, experimentation is the only way for the lifter to determine what is best for him or her. If such experimentation suggests that a lifter can achieve maximum results with more than one tempo, the one that leads to the greatest consistency in performance and causes least strain on the joints is to be preferred.
Whether the lifter begins the pull slowly or as rapidly as possible, it must be remembered that several things should be occurring during the second phase of the pull. First, the knee joints straighten and go backward, out of the way of the bar. Second, the angle of the torso in relation to the floor should not change significantly during the second phase of the pull (the torso may straighten somewhat during the end of this stage). Third, the shoulders should move forward to a position in front of the bar as the second phase of the pull progresses. Fourth, the bar should move rearward toward the lifter’s body from its initial position on the platform (this process continues during the third phase of the pull).