Pyrros Dimas: Stop Humping the Bar

During the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba, I had the chance to sit down with Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone to discuss technique.

In case you don’t know, Pyrros and Mike are basically USAW’s head coaches at international events. Pyrros’s official title is Technical Director, and Mike’s is Senior Director of Sport Performance. Pyrros is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Mike has been coaching for thirty years. Mike coached the Tara Nott – Olympic Gold Medalist. What I am trying to explain is that between the two, they possess a wealth of knowledge. You would have to be a fool not to at least listen to these wise men.

AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

We ended up discussing all of my individual Team USA athletes, and then the conversation turned to Pyrros’s observations of America in general. Over the last few years under the leadership of Phil Andrews (USAW’s CEO), American weightlifting has exploded. During the last Olympic quad, Americans talked about “making the world team at the Olympics.” Now we are medaling at every international competition. Heck, now our teams are winning the big events. For example, at the Youth Worlds, the men’s and women’s teams both won the team competition. That was a first in American weightlifting history.

With all the “new normal” happening, Pyrros explained a couple of things that still have to happen before American weightlifting can truly dominate:

  1. Identify and recruit younger ages to create pure weightlifters.
  2. Stop humping the bar.

As far as identifying and recruiting younger athletes, I totally agree. It’s so much easier to develop athletes when you get them young. I have two incredible youth athletes, Ryan Grimsland and Morgan McCullough. I have several others who have the ability to become incredible. It’s simply easier to teach athletes at a young age. They don’t have faulty movement patterns to unlearn. For the most part, they aren’t distracted by life events like college, work, and relationships.

Morgan Snatch

I have found the earlier you can get an athlete, the better. The goal early on is development regarding technique, strengthening positions, and work capacity. Competition at an early age is also very important to prepare the athletes mentally to excel on the platform where it counts. Proper development during these younger years prepares the athletes to explode when they are prime for international competition – usually between the ages of 18-28 (this is just an average with some athletes peaking much later).

USA Weightlifting has a grassroots and recruitment specialist, Suzy Sanchez, who is working hard to recruit new athletes to ensure the success of USA Weightlifting for years to come. It’s my belief we need to focus in this area for stage two of “make America unbeatable forever.” I’d like to see some of the top American coaches form a committee to brainstorm this area, giving positive feedback to the folks at USA Weightlifting. However, this article isn’t about this goal. (I will write more about that in a later article.)

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“Humping the Bar”

This article is in reference to Pyrros’s second observation of American weightlifting and how lifters “hump the bar.” Let me explain this deficiency a little more clearly. He’s talking about the athlete beginning the second pull too early and reaching for the bar with his or her hips – pushing the bar on a more horizontal course. The goal is to use one’s legs as long as possible during the initial pull while squeezing the bar close to the body. Any horizontal displacement of the bar’s path will lead to a missed lift.

I am going to explain the first and second pull briefly. Then I am going to tell you a few mistakes Pyrros pointed out. Finally, I am going to explain how I am trying to counter those mistakes with my own team.

First and Second Pull

Let’s look at bar path first:

  • Off the floor the bar should travel either straight up or preferably a bit toward the body
  • The bar bath should continue to travel straight up or slightly back toward the body – with the athlete extending their legs, sweeping the bar into the body with their lats, maintaining an angle of the torso with the shoulders well above the hips, and keeping the shoulders over and slightly in front of the bar.
  • The first pull should last until the bar is as far above the knees as possible with the knees having cleared the road for the barbell. Don McCauley used to say “pretend the legs are longer than they really are.”
  • The second pull begins when the legs have extended. At that point, the hips begin the move to create the power position with the feet staying flat and pressing forcefully into the ground. The weight should be centered now in the middle of the feet.
  • The power position is formed when the feet are preferably flat, knees bent four to six inches, shoulders on top of the bar, arms long, and elbows out. Of course there are examples of athletes being successful with slight variances of each, but this is the optimal position.
  • The completion of the second pull happens when the hips and knees extend violently with the shoulders extending vertical and then slightly back.

View this post on Instagram

After a long talk with @pyrrospyrros and @mgattone64 I have implemented a whole new system for our accumulation and preparation phases. The goal is to correct what @pyrrospyrros believes is the number one issue with American weightlifting and that’s humping the bar. He explained that we needed to focus on using our legs even more during the pull while exemplifying patience with staying over the bar. I’m also working on consistency with getting the bar in towards the body off the floor. In this video, I am demonstrating a few of the ways that we are working to fix these three issues (using our legs, staying over the bar, and sweeping the bar in off the floor. I am going to finish a longer video and article tonight for you guys. Enjoy this clip. FYI it’s pretty cool to see 17-year-old @ryangrimsland totaling 250kg with this complex. Lots of progress in only two weeks with lots more to do. This is one of many examples of @usa_weightlifting working together on the one solitary goal of making American Weightlifting dominant. I appreciate this so much @a.phil . =================== www.mashelite.com <link in bio> for: . – Mash Mafia Online Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 22 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -Online Video Seminar . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw

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Problems Pyrros Identified

The three mistakes that Pyrros pointed out in several American weightlifters are as follows:

  • The bar traveling away from the body during the initial pull
  • Pushing the hips past vertical to meet the bar, causing horizontal displacement
  • Beginning the second pull way too early

I let his comments resonate for several days while looking at the pull of my athletes. As a whole we are great at the clean and jerk, but several of my athletes are slightly lacking in the snatch. Even though a few of my athletes are incredible in the snatch – such as Hunter Elam – we aren’t as consistent in the snatch as compared to the clean and jerk.

As a coach, the only way to ensure your team is improving is to objectively analyze the performances of your athletes. If you want to believe your training program and technique are superior to the entire world with no room for improvement, then you are doomed to never improve. I have no pride when it comes to my abilities as a coach. I only have a desire to be the best coach, and therefore giving my athletes the best possible chance for success.

Implementing Solutions

After pondering Mike’s and Pyrros’s advice and analyzing my own team, here is what I set out to improve with my team:

  • Bar traveling back off the floor
  • Pushing with the legs longer while staying out over the bar
  • Strengthening the optimal pulling position

These are the exercises and cues we are using:

1. Lift off to knees – We are using lift off to the knees with both the snatch and clean. The goal is to focus on the initial pull coming in toward the body off the floor. We are thinking about pushing with the legs versus pulling, sweeping, or squeezing the bar in with the lats, setting the back tight by tucking the scapula together and down, bracing at the core with the valsalva maneuver, and lifting the chest. The main cues I am using are: push, squeeze, and lift.

In case you don’t know, a “lift off” is simply pulling the bar to slightly above the knees working on that initial pull. A lift off is followed by the full lift with a snatch or clean. I tell all of my athletes to perform the pull of the full movement slowly during warm ups to ensure the proper bar path is being used. We’ve only been doing this plan for two weeks, and so far the difference has been quantifiably excellent. We still have room for improvement, but I’ll take bar path improvements of any degree.

2. Hang Snatch Pulls hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – Pyrros gave me the idea of slower eccentric hang snatches and hang cleans, but I added this variation with just the pulls. The main reason is the ability to add more repetitions without the threat of decreased technical proficiency. I wanted more repetitions to further ingrain the better movement pattern into the athletes’ CNS, and I wanted to take things to the 5RM range for optimal hypertrophy. For a lot of my younger athletes, it’s simply a matter of strength. They aren’t able to hold those positions out over the bar for as long as is required for best results.

The hang assures constant tension along with the hovering two inches from the ground. Too many athletes set the bar down, and then take 30 seconds between repetitions. It becomes another whole repetition prescription with that much rest between repetitions. The whole goal for this exercise is to strengthen the pull of the snatch with a more optimal position. Therefore if you can’t maintain the position I discussed earlier, you should cut the weight or stop the exercise. This entire block is designed to perfect our athletes’ pull, so precision is everything.

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3. Hang Snatch hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – This movement is the same as the preceding one except the athlete is actually snatching. This movement is performed lighter with more sets to ensure the precise technique is being used. We are literally using something pull-related every day during this accumulation block to ingrain the optimal pattern into the brains of our athletes.

This movement starts from the hang (bar at the crease of the hip with the athlete standing erect). The athlete takes five seconds to lower the weight to around two inches from the floor before exploding upward into a hang snatch. During the snatch, the athlete should make sure to extend their legs and sweep the bar in with the lats – while keeping their shoulders over the bar for as long as possible, maintaining the angle of their torso for as long as possible.

4. Snatch Pulls off four-inch blocks – Here’s one all of you are probably familiar with. I like to use this exercise to overload the pull in the snatch and the clean. However the key is maintaining the proper position. This is a good exercise to push past 100% of an athlete’s maximum, but only if proper positions can be maintained. If there is any breakdown in movement, the exercise ends. In this case, we are really emphasizing using the extension of the legs, sweeping the bar close off of the floor, and maintaining a good angle at the torso with the athletes’ shoulders out over the bar.

5. Snatch Pull to hip paused at hip three seconds + Snatch – This is one of my favorite exercises we are using right now to improve the positions of our athletes. This is an exaggerated pull where the emphasis is completely extending the legs while staying out over the bar. If an athlete completely extends their legs while maintaining a good angle of the torso (shoulders well above the hips), the bar will be somewhere around the hip crease with their legs extended. The three-second pause is our way of using an isometric contraction to stabilize the proper position. An isometric contraction is the best way to strengthen a joint at a specific angle – in this case the knee joint, hip joint, and all of the intervertebral joints. Isometric contractions are also great for strengthening the joint slightly below and above the specific joint.

Since the goal is to practice the improved pull and to strengthen the specific joint angles, we are using more repetitions for the pull than the actual snatch. For example – in week one, we performed three snatch pulls with a three-second pause and one snatch. During the snatch, the goal is to really focus on maintaining the drive in the legs to further ingrain the proper movement in the athlete’s brain. I recommend my athletes perform the pull during the snatch slowly during the warm up sets to perfect our emphasis during this stage of training.

6. Clean Pull to hip paused at upper thigh/hip three seconds + Clean + Jerk – This is of course the exact same thing as the snatch pull to hip + snatch, except we are focusing on the clean. With most athletes, when their legs are extended, the bar will be somewhere around the upper thigh – give or take a few inches due to arm length.

7. Lasha Snatch Pulls – I’ve had several people ask me about this movement. This is where the conversation started with Pyrros and Mike. Pyrros showed me a video of the famous Georgian heavyweight Lasha Talaxadze performing pulls while completely staying over the bar, violently extending his legs, and remaining flat footed the entire pull. There’s a shrug that happens from the momentum caused by his awesome extension. He keeps his arms long and loose, which allows them to move quickly after extension. Here’s the video on Instagram brought to you by “All Things Gym.”

This type of pull will lead to a more powerful pull, a better bar path, and a faster turnover with an athlete’s arms. Overall this pull will help my athletes emphasize a better technique and a stronger position. Right now we are using it once per week, but I will probably take this to two times per week after this first block. We are simply doing so many pull-emphasis movements that I thought adding one more day of Lasha Pulls might be too much.

8. No-Hook-No-Feet Snatch + Hang Snatch below knee with five-second eccentric – No hook and no feet snatches are great for emphasizing a better bar path without the athlete having to think too much about the movement. Without a hookgrip, most athletes will keep the bar close to them naturally to avoid losing their grip. Of course it will also emphasize better timing at the top of the lift as well, since the athlete will have to rely on the pull under versus up. Once again, we are using a five-second eccentric during the hang snatch to further strengthen the proper movement and position.

9. Clean Deadlifts with mini-Bands – eccentric slower than concentric – If you want to strengthen your pull in a way that recruits more fibers throughout the pull, this is the exercise for you. I just performed this movement recently – and man, did I get sore. The bands are great, but the slow eccentric portion is the key to strengthening the pull with perfect positions. Of course the athlete should be cut off if they can’t maintain a good position throughout the pull. I prescribe taking this movement heavier as long as they can maintain proper movement and positions.

If you are a strength and conditioning coach, this movement is great for getting any athlete as strong as possible. This is one of the movements that helped me personally obtain an 800-pound deadlift. If you are a weightlifting coach, this will strengthen your athletes in a way that will transfer to the sport. Accommodating resistance will teach the body to recruit fibers throughout the pull, leading to an explosive second pull. As the band lengthens, it adds more and more resistance to the pull with maximal load at the top.

10. Barbell Hyperextensions, Reverse Hypers, and Rows – All of our accessory movements are designed to strengthen the posterior chain, so the athletes can gain the strength required to maintain a solid position during the pull. The spinal extensors should be the key muscles targeted, so the athlete can gain the strength to stay out over the bar for as long as possible. Of course, we are trying to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and the entire back. Personally, my favorite movement to strengthen the spinal extensors is the goodmorning. However, during this phase we are performing so many pull exercises that adding the goodmorning might be a bit too much on the back. We will probably add the goodmorning in to our program during the next block.

I hope this article gives you all the ideas necessary to improve the pull of your athletes or yourself for that matter. I am grateful for men like Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone. We have an amazing family at USA Weightlifting thanks to the leadership of Phil Andrews. I am proud to be a part of this family.

These movements will be great for athletes as well, since the focus is strengthening the posterior chain. If you want strong, explosive, and durable athletes, you might want to try a few of these exercises.

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