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Principles In Pulling

No, this article isn't about getting dates at the local bar. Trust me, if there's any type of pulling I know about, it's not the pop-culture kind. But if you know me, and have talked to me at any point on cues or principles surrounding lifting heavy weights off the ground, you probably know I'm talking about the process of pulling Snatches, Cleans, and Deadlifts off the ground.

A few months ago I published an article about principles of strength, and what it takes to get really strong. But with the principles of strength revolving around a mindset and approach to getting strong, we should also take a look at some principles around common exercises one might do to achieve this.

If there are any lifts which have a high benefit to developing strength, it's the exercises which require you to move heavy weight off the floor. These are movements such as the Snatch, Clean, and Deadlift. Due to the total muscle fiber recruitment of these lifts, these have a really large impact on building strength over time. But in them, there are principles we can utilize to make these movements more effective, and make sure we stay injury free in the process.

Regardless of the lift from the floor, I find the following three principles aid in lifting the most amount of weight and also increase safety of the lift:

  1. Pull the Slack out of the bar: This refers to the small gap between the barbell sleeve and weights, as well as the tensile strength of the barbell itself. Barbells bend, and weights have tiny spaces between them and the bar. If we can limit the initial moment of deceleration where the bar closes the space between the collar and weights, and minimize the initial whip of the bar, we avoid getting pulled out of position by the weight. If we get pulled out of position, we run the risk of changing the lift mechanics and bar path, creating more opportunities to miss the lift or get hurt.

  2. Slow off the floor, and fast past the knees: This is true for both Olympic Lifts and Deadlifts. We want to break the floor under control. This ties into Pulling the Slack out of the bar, but as weights get even heavier, bars will take a brief moment to start accelerating. If we rush off the floor, the hips are more likely to shift up, and we lose bar path and position. Especially for the Olympic Lifts, staying in position is key, and the battle is often won or lost between the knees in the hips. The better positions we can set ourselves up for during the initial pull from the floor, the better.

  3. Keep the bar close the body: I think everyone knows this about the Olympic Lifts, but it also really matter for the deadlift. This is why we often see high level powerlifters putting baby powder on their legs before max deadlift attempts. They want the bar to slide up the legs in order to keep the weight distributed as close to the base of support (their feet) as possible. In the Olympic Lifts, this allows us a better bar path to pull under after the final extension. The closer we have a bar path to the body, the more balanced and optimal position we pull from.

Now, I could have talked about tight lats, or driving through heels, or balancing foot pressures. But when we look at the big three markers of performance which are equally applicable to the pulling movements, I find these three things to be among the most I have to coach people up on. They can be challenging to grasp. Especially when the Olympic Lifts are a very explosive or fast movement, and I tell people to pull the bar slowly off the floor. But, if we can apply these principles to our lifting, we give ourselves a better opportunity to succeed.

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