Improving the Crucial Third Pull

All too often in the strength world we beat a dead horse by talking about the first and second pull of the snatch and clean.

Both of those aspects are important, but I believe the third pull (the pull under the bar) is just as important. Heck – if you are a weightlifter, I’d say the third pull is the most important aspect of the pull. As my father-in-law Rick Taylor always says, “it’s where the rubber meets the road.”

The first and second pull involve a great deal of technique, but the upward pulls are natural to all humans. It’s a natural movement to extend at the hips, knees, and ankles because we do it all the time when we jump and run. However, reversing the motion to rip under a heavy barbell isn’t natural at all. I can’t think of a single example where we produce maximal vertical power, and then immediately change directions underneath. The pattern isn’t natural – and then when you throw in the fact you’re catching a heavy piece of steel either near your throat or over your head, you have a recipe for a very difficult athletic movement.

In this article, I’ll explain the third pull, list some cues and drills for a better third pull, and then provide you with a workout program for even more improvement of the third pull.

PULL MOVEMENT AND TRANSITION

The transition is referring to the transition from the second pull (the most powerful aspect of the pull where the hips and knees extend together at the top of the pull) to the third pull (the ripping underneath of a barbell). There are a lot of opinions about what the transition should look like. I believe mine to be the one most supported by science along with my own research coaching my athletes and watching Hookgrip’s slow motion videos on Youtube.

There are two main goals for the transition:

  • Pull the bar as high as possible
  • Spend as little time at the top as possible

Pulling the bar as high as possible is something most of us understand, and most of us do a pretty good job of this task. However, most of us spend way too much time at the top of the pull. We’ve been taught to do so many extra things while in extension that we waste our golden opportunity to get around the bar. Let’s look a bit deeper.

The goal of the second pull is to remain flat-footed for as long as possible to guarantee maximal force is delivered into the ground. Most athletes will perform the snatch and clean pull with their feet at about hip width. Normally this is where most athletes produce the most power. However, it depends on the anatomy of the hip and the anthropometrics of the individual. I’d also like to point out that relaxed arms with elbows turned out are optimal for the velocity of the barbell leaving one’s hip. If your arms are tensed, you could slow down the trajectory of the barbell. If your elbows are pointed backward, you will run the risk of the barbell drifting in front of the body, increasing the demands of the body to perform the lift.

Once an athlete’s hips and knees extend, the trajectory of the barbell is determined. There is nothing else any of us can do to peak the barbell any higher. Some might ask about extension at the ankles (better known as plantar flexion) – I am not going to turn this into another catapult vs. triple extension (I don’t consider myself either) article. You can check out these articles to find out my thoughts on that topic: HOW SHOULD THE FEET MOVE IN THE OLYMPIC LIFTS or TRIPLE JOINT EXTENSION OR CATAPULT

To make a long story short, personally I believe the amount of plantar flexion is an individual thing. I believe it has a lot to do with where the gastrocnemius originates and inserts. The gastrocnemius is a biarticular muscle – meaning it crosses at two joints (the knee and ankle), and originates at the posterior surface of the femoral condyles – the two knobs at the base of the femur. The tendons of the gastrocnemius and soleus unite to form the Achilles tendon which inserts at the calcaneus or heel. When the knee extends during a vertical leap or at the top of a pull in the snatch or clean, mechanical power is transferred down the gastrocnemius into the insertion at the calcaneus, which causes an unconscious effort of plantar flexion. The degree of plantar flexion would depend on the insertion point of the Achilles tendon on the calcaneus.

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Here’s my point. Every athlete is going to extend his or her hips and knees in one powerful motion. No one is going to purposely slow down as to avoid plantar flexion, and no one is going to perform a calf raise either. Just like jumping, every athlete is going to extend as powerfully as possible, and their degree of plantar flexion will be based upon their own body’s anatomy.

Once the extension takes place, it’s time for the athlete to rip under the bar. The timing between the up and down portions of the pull is a big determining factor of whether an athlete will be good or great. I suggest all of you keep this in mind when practicing the lifts.

At the top of the second pull, the body will extend vertically, and then slightly back. Once the body is slightly back, the path to ripping under the barbell is now a clear one. If an athlete finishes completely vertical, the barbell is somewhat an obstacle for the movement under the bar. Once again, the exact placement of the body at the top of the lift is a debatable subject. I recommend going to Hookgrip’s Youtube page and looking at the first 10-20 videos of the best weightlifters in the world. You will see most lifters finish back rather than vertical. It’s more of a follow-through than anything, and it is something most weightlifters will do naturally.

Once the athlete reaches the top of the pull, they will use the traps and arms to rip under the barbell. You may notice I use the word rip rather than pull. I want to be clear that the third pull is a conscious effort. Most weightlifters will simply fall under the barbell, which is a much slower movement. Learning to actively rip under the barbell is another deciding factor of a good athlete versus becoming a great one.

As the athlete begins the move under the barbell, he or she will lift their knees and jump their feet out to about shoulder-width. Once again, just like the origin of the feet, the degree to which an athlete will jump their feet will ultimately be determined by his or her hip anatomy and anthropometrics. I suggest the athlete should play around with their catch stance and find out where his or her feet need to be to catch the barbell in a stable position, while maintaining a vertical torso, in as low a position as possible, with his or her hips in between the ankles.

I recommend moving the feet for two main reasons:

  1. You can pull under the bar a bit faster with the feet slightly off the ground because there is no resistance for the downward motion of the body.
  2. The feet move from the best power producing position into the most optimal catch position.

Some people are able to keep the feet in the same spot, and that’s fine. However, I am writing this article to the majority. I simply like to make note of the aspects that I consider absolutes (which aren’t many), and the ones that may vary from individual to individual. Everything I am writing in this article is a safe place to begin teaching your athletes. When the athlete starts to advance, the art of coaching comes into play.

The final role of the third pull is the catch of the barbell. We talk a lot about anticipating the catch at Mash Elite. Whether it’s the snatch or clean, the goal needs to be meeting the barbell in a strong position as soon as possible. If the athlete waits until they feel the tension of the barbell, it’s too late to stiffen the torso. He or she will want to prepare their body before the barbell gets there. One thing I would like to add about the catch of the snatch is that we tell our athletes to reach up through the shoulders. This simply means to actively reach up starting with the shoulders. Too many athletes simply catch the snatch with their arms – causing either the arms to bend or a complete miss.

Cues to help overcome deficiencies

At this point we have described the third pull. We’ve mentioned the proper execution of the third pull, and we’ve mentioned a few things that can go wrong. In this section we are going to talk more in depth about the possible flaws, and we will describe some of the verbal cues for fixing those flaws.

FLAWS AT THE TRANSITION

1. Arms bent and shrugging up
We cause this movement flaw in the way we teach the movement to beginners. Too many coaches teach the athletes to shrug up and bring the elbows as high as possible, so the first thing is to stop teaching that. A few great cues which work for the entire pull – including the transition:

  • Shoulders down: Pushing one’s shoulders down will tend to relax the arms.
  • Arms long: The simple reminder that the arms should be long like cables is a great cue.
  • Elbows out: This will help disengage the biceps, which is a big culprit for elbow flexion/bending.

2. Slow around the bar at the top
When athletes are too concerned with pulling the bar high, they can sometimes spend too much time at the top doing extra things to peak the bar. I already explained the trajectory of the barbell is decided the moment the hips and knees extend. Anything extra is effort and time that could be spent getting under the barbell. Let’s look at a few cues which encourage speed around the bar:

  • Open the hips and sit: The second the athlete opens their hips it’s time to rip under.
  • Eyes straight ahead: A lot of lifters have a bad habit of whipping the head back – which not only delays the downward motion, but will also kick the barbell in front of the body.
  • Shrug down: This lets them know the shrug motion is for beginning the downward motion.

SLOW PULLING UNDER THE BARBELL

Once the transition is over, it’s time to rip under the barbell. The faster one can rip under to meet the barbell will ultimately lead to the biggest weights one can lift. There are a few differences for the clean versus the snatch when it comes to the third pull.

The biggest mistake a lifter can make in the clean is letting go of the hook too soon. In a perfect world, you won’t have to let go at all. We have two massive cleaners on our team: Nathan Damron and Morgan McCullough. Nathan has cleaned 220kg/484lb and Morgan has cleaned 190kg/418lb at 15 years old. Both young men keep their hookgrip the entire time. If you can hold the hookgrip the entire time, then you can continue to pull under the bar right up until the moment you meet the bar. If you have to catch the barbell with only two or three fingers on it, then you have had to quit pulling at some point to release your grip. Obviously some people can do really well releasing the hookgrip, but the longer you can pull under the bar will result in a more efficient clean.

In the snatch, almost all athletes can hold the hook the entire time – with some releasing it at the last second for a more comfortable position overhead. It’s imperative that one rips under a snatch catching it at its highest point. If you watch the greatest snatchers in the world, you will see their arms act like whips snapping around, under, and up on the barbell.

Here are some flaws that cause lifters to be slow under the barbell:

1. Slow arms

Like I said above, most athletes pull with all their might during the first and second pulls, and then they simply fall under the weight in either the snatch or clean. When an athlete doesn’t actively pull under the barbell, I totally understand why they are trying to pull the bar so high. Here are some verbal cues we use to get our athletes to pull under more quickly:

  • Rip down and punch up: Using the cue rip helps the athlete understand their job is to actively pull with all their might as they perform the movement under the barbell. The cue punch is one I actually stole from Coach Joe Kenn, Carolina Panthers Head Strength and Conditioning Coach – it works amazingly well to relay to the athlete they need to actively reach up aggressively to receive the barbell, whether we are talking about the snatch or clean.
  • Active arms: Even though I prefer rip down and punch up, a few athletes respond better to a simple active arms. As long as they understand they need to pull under the bar right up until they receive it, I am good with whatever cue works.

2. Feet slowing the pull under the bar

I am not a huge proponent of either moving the feet or not. However, I believe most people pull better with their feet a bit closer and receive the bar in a better position with their feet a bit wider. Another thing I have noticed is most athletes are slower under the bar when they don’t move their feet. I use the word most because some athletes are very fast around and under the bar without moving their feet. It just depends on if they can relax their legs while pulling under the bar. If they can’t, the legs become an antagonist. Simply put, the legs will push up while you are trying to rip under. If you lift your knees to jump your feet out, there will be a moment in space when your feet are off the ground. This allows the arms to rip under the bar without any type of resistance. Here are a few cues:

  • Lift the knees: This one is my favorite because it teaches people to move their feet properly. Too many athletes will donkey-kick, causing the athlete to catch the barbell on his or her toes.
  • Jump the whole feet out: This one teaches the athlete to move their feet out as a whole, getting both feet entirely down when receiving the bar. Catching the barbell with both feet entirely down on the platform is crucial for the receiving position.

DRILLS

So far we’ve talked about the movement, and we’ve given you some cues that might help. Now we are going to talk about some drills we use that seem to help, and then I am going to give you a four-week workout that might help you or your athlete. If a drill can help solve a movement problem, that’s the way to go. Verbal cues work, but sometimes it takes a long time for your athlete to understand and coordinate with their actual full speed movement.

I am going to give you several drills, and I will explain how each of them helps out. I am not going to split them up into transition and speed underneath because most of them overlap. Here goes:

NO HOOK AND NO FEET – This is when an athlete performs the movement without a hookgrip and without moving their feet. I love this drill because it mimics the entire movement, while perfecting timing and speed under the bar. With no hookgrip, an athlete can’t over-emphasize the pull at the top or the bar will come out of their grip. This teaches the athlete to open up at the hips and then immediately rip underneath the bar. The athlete learns to keep the bar close, to open and rip, and to rely on the speed underneath the bar.

HIGH BLOCKS WITH BAR AT POWER POSITION – The bar will be placed on blocks with the bar starting at hip height while in the power position or knees bent four to six inches and a vertical torso. This teaches the athlete to rely on timing at the top, opening the hips and sitting, and speed under the bar. They don’t have the first pull to build momentum so the height of the bar will peak earlier than normal. You have to rip underneath!

HIGH HANGS – You can perform high hangs one of two ways. You can either perform them with a countermovement – which will provide a bit more height to the barbell, or you can perform them starting from the power position paused two to five seconds – to eliminate any stretch reflex or aid from the oscillation of the barbell. Either method will help the athlete understand the importance of the timing at the top and the importance of the rip underneath.

TALL SNATCHES AND CLEANS – I love this drill because it leaves the athlete with only the shrug and rip underneath the bar. The movement begins on the balls of an athlete’s feet with their arms long, elbows turned out, and traps suppressed downward. The athlete will then simultaneously shrug downward and move his or her feet by lifting their knees. I like this one for teaching the athlete to properly use their traps.

HEAVING SNATCH BALANCE – I like this movement for two main reasons. It teaches the athlete to be active with their arms while punching up and receiving the barbell, and also creates stability and confidence in the bottom portion of the snatch. It’s much easier to be confident in the catch of a clean versus catching a very heavy metal object above one’s head.

SNATCH AND CLEAN DECONSTRUCTION – I learned this one from Coach Chris Wilkes. It’s simply breaking down the different aspects of the lift into a series of movements and performing them separately, and then performing the full movement at the end by putting them all back together. I’ve seen this work some miracles for athletes. You will see how I use this method in my workout I have put together for all of you.

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This brings me to the finale of this article. I have now explained the transition and third pull of the snatch and clean. I have given you examples of the different common flaws some athletes demonstrate. I have explained some of the cues I use to correct these flaws. I just rolled out several of the drills we use to overcome movement flaws. Now it’s time to put them all together in a program to defeat the flaws of the transition and third pull.

Let’s take a look, and I will explain at the end!

MASH ELITE THIRD PULL PROGRAM

WEEK ONE

Day 1
Snatch (from high block, bar in the power position): 3RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Clean (from high block, bar in the power position): 3RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Clean Pulls: 4 x 3 (start at 90%, work up heavy)

Day 2
Snatch (no hook and no feet): 65% 2 x 3, then 3RM (8 RPE)
Jerk (2 sec pause in catch): 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 83% x 1
Back Squat: 75% for 5 x 5

Upper Muscular Imbalance
1a. DB Tricep Extensions: 3 x 10 reps
1b. Rows (seated, T-Bar, or DB): 3 x 10 reps
1c. Plate Front Raises: 3 x 12 reps

Day 3: Snatch Deconstruction Day
Heaving Snatch Balance (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Tall Snatch (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Snatch: 2RM (8 RPE)
Snatch: 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 83% x 1
Reverse Hypers or Band Pull-Throughs: 3 x 40 seconds

Day 4
Clean (no hook and no feet): 65% 2 x 3, then 3RM (8 RPE)
Front Squats (with 50lb of chains): 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec, 8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3 (no pause):
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk: 4 x 25 yards (each hand)

Day 5: Max Effort
Snatch Pull + High Hang Snatch: 2 + 2RM, then -10% for 2 + 2
Clean Pull + High Hang Clean + Jerk: 2 + 2 + 1RM, then -10% for 2 + 2 + 1
Snatch Pulls: 4 x 3 (start at 90%, work up heavy)

Day 6
Tall Clean: 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Clean: 2RM (8 RPE)
Clean and Jerk: 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 83% x 1
Back Squats: 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5
Hyper Extensions (with barbell): 3 x 10

WEEK 2

Day 1
Snatch (from high block, bar in the power position): 3RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Clean (from high blocks, bar in the power position): 3RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Clean Pulls: 4 x 3 (start at 93%, work up heavy)

Day 2
Snatch (no hook and no feet): 68% for 2 x 3, then 3RM (9 RPE)
Jerk (2 sec pause in catch): 73% x 2, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 85% x 1
Back Squat: 90% of Saturday’s squat for 5 x 5

Upper Muscular Imbalance
1a. DB Tricep Extensions: 3 x 10 reps
1b. Rows (seated, T-Bar, or DB): 3 x 10 reps
1c. Plate Front Raises: 3 x 12 reps

Day 3: Snatch Deconstruction Day
Heaving Snatch Balance: (pause in the bottom for 3 sec) 3RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Tall Snatch (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Snatch: 2RM (8 RPE)
Snatch: 73% x 2, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 85% x 1
Reverse Hypers or Band Pull-Throughs: 3 x 45 seconds

Day 4
Clean (no hook and no feet): 68% for 2 x 3, then 3RM (8 RPE)
Front Squats (with 50lb of chains): 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec, 9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3 (no pausing)
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk: 4 x 25 yards (each hand)

Day 5
Snatch Pull + High Hang Snatch: 2 + 2RM, then -10% for 2 + 2
Clean Pull + High Hang Clean + Jerk: 2 + 2 + 1RM, then -10% for 2 + 2 + 1
Snatch Pulls: 4 x 3 (start at 93%, work up heavy)

Day 6
Tall Clean: 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Clean: 2RM (8 RPE)
Clean and Jerk: 73% x 2, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 85% x 1
Back Squats: 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5
Hyper Extensions (with barbell): 4 x 10

WEEK 3

Day 1
Snatch (from high block, bar in the power position): 90% of 3RM for 3 x 3
Clean (from high blocks, bar in the power position): 90% of 3RM for 3 x 3
Clean Pulls: 95% for 3 x 3

Day 2
Snatch (no hook and no feet): 65% for 3 x 3
Jerk (2 sec pause in catch): 68% x 2, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 70% x 2, 75% x 1, 80% x 1
Back Squat: 90% of Saturday’s squat for 3 x 5

Upper Muscular Imbalance
1a. DB Tricep Extensions: 3 x 10 reps
1b. Rows (seated, T-Bar, or DB): 3 x 10 reps
1c. Plate Front Raises: 3 x 12 reps

Day 3: Snatch Deconstruction Day
Heaving Snatch Balance (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (8 RPE)
Tall Snatch (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Snatch: 2RM (7 RPE)
Snatch: 68% x 2, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 70% x 2, 75% x 1, 80% x 1
Reverse Hypers or Band Pull-Throughs: 3 x 35 seconds

Day 4
Clean (no hook and no feet): 65% for 3 x 3
Front Squats (with 50lb of chains): 90% of 3RM for 3 x 3 (no pausing)
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk: 3 x 25 yards (each hand)

Day 5
Snatch Pull + High Hang Snatch: 2 + 2RM
Clean Pull + High Hang Clean + Jerk: 2 + 2 + 1RM
Snatch Pulls: 95% for 3 x 3

Day 6
Tall Clean: 3RM (8 RPE)
High Hang Clean: 2RM (7 RPE)
Clean and Jerk: 68% x 2, 73% x 2, 78% x 1, 70% x 2, 75% x 1, 80% x 1
Back Squats: 5RM
Hyper Extensions (with barbell): 3 x 8

WEEK 4

Day 1
Snatch (from high block, bar in the power position): 3RM
Clean (from high blocks, bar in the power position): 3RM
Clean Pulls: 3 x 3 (start at 95%, work up heavy)

Day 2
Snatch (no hook and no feet): 2RM
Jerk (2 sec pause in catch): 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 83% x 1, 85% 3 x 1
Back Squat: 90% of Saturday’s squat for 5 x 5

Upper Muscular Imbalance
1a. DB Tricep Extensions: 3 x 10 reps
1b. Rows (seated, T-Bar, or DB): 3 x 10 reps
1c. Plate Front Raises: 3 x 12 reps

Day 3: Snatch Deconstruction Day
Heaving Snatch Balance (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Tall Snatch (pause in the bottom for 3 sec): 3RM (9 RPE)
High Hang Snatch: 2RM (9 RPE)
Snatch: 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 83% x 1, 85% 3 x 1
Reverse Hypers or Band Pull-Throughs: 3 x 50 sec

Day 4
Clean (no hook and no feet): 2RM
Front Squats (with 50lb of chains): 3RM (first rep paused 3 sec, 9 RPE), then -10% for 3 (no pausing)
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk: 3 x 30yd (each hand)

Day 5
Snatch Pull + High Hang Snatch: 1 + 1 Max
Clean Pull + High Hang Clean + Jerk: 1 + 1 + 1 Max
Snatch Pulls: 3 x 3 (start at 95%, work up heavy)

Day 6
Tall Clean: 3RM (9 RPE)
High Hang Clean: 2RM (9 RPE)
Clean and Jerk: 70% x 2, 75% x 2, 80% x 1, 83% x 1, 85% 3 x 1
Back Squats: 3RM, then -10% for 3 x 3
Hyper Extensions (with barbell): 4 x 5

I have used a lot of rep maxes in this program because I am assuming the athlete isn’t proficient in the third pull. Therefore typical percentages won’t apply. If you aren’t familiar with RPE, check out this article: VELOCITY AND THE RPE SCALE

I wanted to make this program as easy to follow as possible. I used percentages on movements I am assuming the athlete will be semi-proficient at – like the full snatch, the clean, and the jerk. I didn’t want to leave out squats, pulls, or accessory movements, so I put them in the program as well. I couldn’t do as much accessory work as normal because of the increase in volume with the competition lifts. Normally I perform a lot of pressing, push pressing, and even deadlifts, but I figure fatigue would take away from the potential improvement in movement.

I hope all of you enjoyed this article. This program could be used for more than one block, since it is written with rep maxes. When the athlete improves at the third pull and transition, they will inevitably use more weight. Therefore the workout will naturally increase in overall volume requiring the body to adapt and change. Let me know in the comment section if you have any questions or concerns. Let me know on here or message me on any one of my social media platforms with your thoughts and improvements. Now go and get better at the third pull!

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