One of the most difficult things for beginning weightlifters to do is also one of the most important – pulling themselves under the barbell.
This problem is particularly apparent in the snatch. Most beginning lifters are uncomfortable receiving the barbell in the bottom of an overhead squat position. That is why you see so many athletes landing with their feet twice as wide as their typical squatting position. This normally happens in conjunction them pulling the bar up from the waist to overhead. This “technique” might be easy with light weight because your arms alone can still handle the load, but if you watch athletes who move heavy weight, you will see something very different happening.
Athletes that move big weight do something fundamentally different . . . they pull themselves UNDER the barbell.
Take a look at the picture below. The bar isn’t getting any higher than where it’s at in that photo because I am pulling myself down to meet the bar rather than pulling it up into the rack position. If I had hair in this picture, my hair would be sticking straight up because I am quickly descending – just like it would if I were skydiving.
Picture this (and give me a little time to explain):
You and a 500 lb. barbell are jumping out of a plane and falling at the same speed. While you’re falling, and before you hit the ground, you have to do what anyone would do . . . get that bar from the high hang (hips) to overhead squat position. Now, let’s take this step by step, you will have to shrug the bar up, then drive/pull yourself down underneath the bar. You can’t yank the bar up with your arms because it’s impossible to pull 500 lbs. over your head with just your arms. Your only option is to drive/pull yourself underneath the bar into the overhead squat position. Once you land (receive the bar), make sure you keep the body tight . . . after all, you need to brace for the impact of receiving the weight – and maybe the impact of the fall from the airplane.
Just because I want you to focus on pulling yourself under the barbell does not mean I don’t want you to finish your second pull. I still want you finish tall – which will give you more time to get yourself underneath the barbell, and THEN pull yourself down explosively. The transition from the finish to driving yourself under the barbell needs to be quicker than the blink of an eye.
Tall snatches and tall cleans are excellent exercises to teach you what it should feel like to drive yourself under the barbell. Once you master that pull under with tall snatches and tall cleans, make sure you quickly begin to practice doing full snatches and cleans. Avoid power snatches and power cleans for a few weeks until you feel comfortable with the mechanics of an aggressive pull under the barbell.
I hope this helps you out. If you would like some more instruction on the lifts, please inquire about the Invictus Olympic Weightlifting Club. We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it’s a great opportunity for me to help you with skills and drills tailored to your specific needs.