Training Intensity for Pulls

“Pulls” is collective name for a range of exercises that, depending on experience and ability, enable the athlete to focus on strength development or technique improvement, or both. The range of exercises include pulls from hang, pulls from blocks, pull starts, pull to the knee, pulls with a halt at knee, mid-range pulls, jumping pulls, pulls standing on a block, high pulls, shrugs and of course the typical full pull from starting position to full extension.

The fact that pulls can be broken down into small segments has great value to the coach in teaching skill development. However in this article, the focus is mainly on the use of “Pulls” for strength development.

Pulls are a Necessity

As a weightlifter progresses through their career, pulls will inevitably become an increasingly important part of the training program. In fact, once a lifter has attained stable and effective technique, which usually occurs within 3 years, pulls will constitute around 20-25% of the entire training regimen. The rationale for the inclusion of this volume of snatch pulls and clean pulls in the training program is that the weightlifter must work on all factors of performance i.e. technique, speed, power and force (strength). Whereas technique, speed and power is mostly covered by performing Olympic Lifts, training for the development of force (strength) is far more effective at intensities of greater than 100% i.e. more than the athlete’s personal bests in the Olympic Lifts.

Distribution of Training Volume on Pulls

The following diagram provides the range of training intensities for developing the pull in terms of skill (technique), speed, power and force (strength). The important point is that developing the force component of performance requires intensities of over 100% to be effective. However it should be noted that the spectrum of intensity does not apply to beginners or novices who, in fact, may spend very little time on pulls.

Intensity spectrum for pull exercises in Weightlifting
Pulls with weights more than 100% of personal bests on Olympic Lifts are an important part of the training program for experienced weightlifters

The diagram indicates that the predominate range for pull training is 105-115%. This range is most effective if the technique of the athlete does not degrade or is caused as a result of heaviness of the barbell to be defective. Above 115%, athletes will begin to struggle to keep good body positions throughout the pull. Too much pre-occupation with very heavy pulls i.e. 120% and above, may also lead to injury.

Pulls of 105-115% intensity are not easy and sets of 3 repetitions is recommended. Sets of 5 repetitions at 100-105% intensity is also worthwhile at certain times of the year but at higher intensities 110% and over, the fatigue induced by extra reps is a risk factor that is unwarranted.

Importance of Technique

Pulls, if not performed with good technique, will provide little value to the athlete. Even though the athlete may indeed develop strength as a result of heavy training on pulls, unless the technique is adequate, the athlete will not be able to capitalise on the strength gain. Weightlifting is fundamentally about maximising force in a vertical direction and minimising force in a horizontal direction. Furthermore weightlifting technique is all about being able to apply force in a vertical direction for as long as possible. It is greatly important therefore that weightlifters are coached  to achieve good body positions at all stages of the pull. This will be the subject of another post!

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