The First Pull

The Olympic lifts are difficult. I seriously debated ending this post right there. But instead, I figure I'll continue with a basic discussion on the first pull of the Olympic lifts. This topic has been touched on before by sources much more credible than myself, most notably Greg Everett's excellent (and free) article The Olympic Lift Starting Position. I strongly encourage you all to read that because it is excellent and covers more than I possibly could. And while you're at it, subscribe to the Performance Menu Journal - it's an excellent resource well worth every penny.

The first pull itself is not a "pull" per se, as the barbell's movement is initiated by the legs driving against the ground. We're using the hook grip, our hips are just above our knees, our back is straight, and our lats are tight. As the barbell is elevated off the floor, our weight will shift from the balls of our feet to our heels. We will drive our knees back, putting tension into the hamstrings - this tension is dependent on your flexibility as some people will feel less than others. A key point is that our hips and chest rise at the same rate, in unison. If our hips rise early, the weight will shift forward resulting in the bar swinging out. If our chest rises early, the bar will have to travel around our knees. Note the picture below:

Note how the knees travel back and the bar is almost pulled slightly toward the body as it rises. The torso position doesn't change at all until the scoop or transition. Once again, read Everett's article for more on this aspect of the lift. You can see the knees being driven back in the below video of Andrei Aramnau:

You can see how his knees are flaired in order for the barbell to have an uninhibited upwards path. You may also note how his weight is shifted to the outside of his feet. Don't fret on that as it's part of Aramnau's personal technique; it's far more important that you focus on driving the knees backwards. The completion of the first pull should result in a vertical shin position as demonstrated below:

Adrian Zielinski, 173 @ 94

Lu Xiaojun, 174 @ 77

As you can see in both pictures, the torso inclination remains constant, the back rigid. The bar is close to the body, the shins are vertical, and the shoulders are still over the bar. This is all vital to ensuring an appropriate bar path. To see an more in-depth analysis of bar path trajectory, the below video from crackyflipside is excellent.

Many people wonder how fast the first pull should be. As Everett states in his article (which you should have read twice by now), "The sole purpose of the starting position (and first pull) is to allow an optimal second pull. The second pull of the snatch and clean is the source of the overwhelming majority of the upward acceleration of the barbell - it is the heart of the lift. The first pull serves only to optimize the second; the starting position serves to allow that second-pull-optimizing first pull." For this reason, speed is not necessarily the intended purpose. Too many beginners yank the barbell off the floor, pulling their bodies out of position and missing the lift or performing it in some disgusting fashion. Naturally, some might use this kind of evidence for rebuttal:

Let's get something straight: every lifter in that video has been lifting since they were children. Their technique is excellent because they have roughly 23,000 more total reps than any of us do. When first learning the lifts, however, positioning is paramount. Again, don't let your ego hinder your progress. As much as you may want to just throw a shitload of weight on, until proper technique is developed and ingrained, the bar should be lifted relatively slow and controlled. Once my lifters positioning is sound and their technique consistent, I tell them to move the bar "deliberately." I don't even say "fast" at that point because ensuring an appropriate bar path is still more important. True speed actually occurs from the power position, but that's an entirely different discussion.

As you can clearly see, I did not go into excessive depth on this topic because it's been tackled before, but hopefully the pictures, videos, and powerpoints have opened your eyes to the proper execution of the first pull. And seriously, if by the end of all of this, you haven't read Everett's aforementioned (free) article, then you suck. If you're interested in learning more about the Olympic lifts, my class is currently on Saturday afternoons. Feel free to email or leave comments with any questions as well. Lastly, I highly recommend Greg Everett's book Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. Buy it or I won't invite you to my birthday party.


  1. why have I never been invited to your birthday party?

  2. Because you stole my ice scraper.

    And it's been snowing in DC ever since.

  3. To be fair, it's been snowing down here too.