Concepts of the Pull in Olympic Weightlifting
Developing pull effectiveness
Although many will consider that Clean Pulls are a strength training exercise, the Specificity Principle must prevail. Unless training methodology is very strict when performing pulls, the value of the exercise greatly diminishes and may even have negative value. In Olympic Weightlifting, the focus on achieving excellence of technique never subsides and should be never set aside. Every set of Clean Pulls, even as a strength development exercise, is effectively a rehearsal of technique, and this includes body positions, movement characteristics and timing.
Practising Clean Pulls is therefore not simply a matter of pulling heavy weights from the ground to develop “strength”. It is wise to stay within the 90-110% band of one’s personal best in the Clean. If athletes seek to overload to 115% or greater on a frequent basis, it is highly likely that the technical qualities of their pull will suffer.
Strength – a poorly understood term
It is natural for an Olympic Weightlifter to be preoccupied with developing “strength” but what does that actually mean? Strength is a simplistic term that hides the truth. It is better to think about the pull in terms of acceleration and force characteristics and this is highly dependent on the athlete’s body position and ability to transmit force through the body (the kinetic chain). Developing an effective pull is also not simply about the ability produce a high peak of force. It is also important to be aware that timing is a critical component of good pull technique. The essential term to understand is Impulse, which is a measurement of force over time (the shaded area in the force-time charts below). If the athlete can add a tiny fraction of extra time to the finish of the pull, the effect on total impulse, bar momentum and height gain will be very significant. Charts A and B below are almost exactly similar but in chart B, the finish of the pull is extended by perhaps 5/100th sec. Such a short time interval does not register in the human mind but that should not stop the motivated athlete from pursuing this improvement.
Strength and technique are all about coordination
Whereas the term “strength” is commonly used in Olympic Weightlifting, it does not accurately portray what the athlete needs. It is time to stop thinking about strength in terms of muscular size. There are plenty of muscular people out there who cannot lift much.
To exert force throughout the pull requires the athlete to be in mechanically advantageous body positions at all stages, and this requires highly sophisticated coordination of muscle contraction across the whole body. Just think for a moment of how amazing this is. The brain and nervous system of the body must control the amount of contraction in every muscle of the body, in perfect synchrony of timing. To exert force on the bar then, it isn’t just a matter of being strong but more especially to be highly skilled/coordinated. It is for this reason why the Specificity Principle rules. There is little point in doing heavy deadlifts with hips rising high before the shoulders to get the bar off the ground. Stay within the 90-110% band and really work on the technique and timing of the pull.