Sunday, September 28, 2008

Commencing The Pull - Charles A. Smith

1. In this stage of the first pull the lifter is shown out of correct position. Head dropped forward and down will tend to a swing of the bar away from the body. Head should be up and held back.
2. Both the back and head are in a good position here and will be able to exert maximum power. Position of head will add to the pull of the arms and back, and also keep the bar swinging along one line.
3. At this final stage of the pull, the third pull, the arms are in a good position and the scapulae or shoulder blades can easily rotate. Thus the bar is locked out firmly in the snatch. Note the lifter has come up on toes.

4. Swinging the bar out and away from the body is WRONG. Such an action lessens the power of the pull and will make it necessary to pull the bar back into position, or use a back bend to fix the bar at arm's length in the snatch. This can lead to serious back strain.
5. Bar should be pulled in as straight a line as possible and reasonably close to the body. The lifter should then drip immediately under the bar, thus wasting no energy or motion through misdirection of force.

Some of Egypt's top lifters of the era in their training quarters at The Tramway Sports Club, Alexandria.

Commencing the Pull by Charles A. Smith (1953)

Back in the early war years I had a very graphic illustration of that old proverb . . . “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.” While my service in the Navy occasioned some tragic incidents and hair breadth escapes, there are many things it brought me for which I am truly grateful and one of these was the chance to see almost every country on earth. The other was the time I spent with the great Egyptian lifters.

We were pretty badly damaged in the Battle for Crete and were put into dry dock in Alexandria for temporary repairs. This gave me an opportunity I did not intend to miss – to resume my barbell training during the docking period. Under certain circumstances which have been told before, I managed to get in a lot of workouts with Ibrahim Shams, the budding Fayad, and the Olympic champion, Wasif Ibrahim. These sessions I look back on with happiness, and long for them again, but since this cannot be, I at least have my memories. My thirst for weightlifting knowledge and my training enthusiasm are still as great as ever they were, although the flesh has weakened considerably, but I still remember the lessons of Wasif, who was more or less the official coach, as if they were repeated yesterday . . . “PULL . . . STRONG . . . PULL . . . STRONG . . . DON’T STOP PULLING WHATEVER YOU DO! And the last words he said on the last workout before I left were these. “Don’t forget to pull all the time and don’t stop, sackbi,” which is about as close as I can approximate in the English, the Arabic word for “buddy.” There are lots of things about my Navy service I’m sorry for, but the thrill of meeting and training with these great athletes and seeing the world cancels out every cause for regret.

Which kind of brings me to the subject for this sermon. There’s been a lot of talk about first and second, and even third pulls, but there ain’t no such animals. Actually, these phrases are used to describe phases of the “passage” or “flight” of the bar from the floor to the point where the lifter splits under the weight to bring it to arm’s length.

But the important point I want to make is this – that at NO TIME from the moment the lifter starts his pull until the weight is locked at arm’s length should he cease pulling. One of the many misconceptions about the snatch, in my opinion, is that the pull ceases as soon as the lifter starts his split, or ceases WHEN the athlete is splitting. Take a look at the physiques of the Egyptian lifters. When it comes to back development they have some of the heaviest and most pronounced in the world. The trapezius muscles of the great Touni defy description and look as if they are about to push his ears off. An addict of hang cleans and snatches, Khadr el Touni obtained his great pulling power and titanic upper and lower back musculature from these hang cleans and snatches and the habit of “continuous effort” during the clean. I am not concerned entirely with basic power, but more with the technical implications of the pull and the DIRECTION of the pull. So when I speak of first and second pulls please remember that I speak of them as not as actions, but as “AREAS” – spots passed through during the flight of the bar.

Up to this stage in my articles I have dealt with assuming the best mechanical position at the bar and the width of hand spacing and angle of thighs and back that will enable you to put the utmost into your pull and get the most of out it by allowing a COORDINATED effort of the arms, back and thighs. In other words, your muscles are in the best possible position to make a concerted effort.

As I previously told you, the pull has been divided into two parts by some authorities but I prefer to think it has three “PULLS” or phases through which it moves. This first phase or pull is in taking the weight from the floor to the region of the knees. Some lifters find that they can begin with a fast pull and maintain speed, while others have to take the weight off the ground steadily and increase speed and power of the pull as the bar gains height.

In some lifters, possibly due to skeletal structure, bone lengths, leverages, etc. the muscles cannot give a full output at the time the pull is commenced. This is perhaps best illustrated by performing an ordinary deadlift from boxes, and in the latter case the lift is easier. In the first instance I have observed that a man who uses a fast pull at the start usually has to split much sooner under the bar, while the man who uses a slow, steady first pull can usually manage to pull it higher before he splits under the weight. I may be wrong of course, but these have been my observations.]

With most lifters the bar increases in speed as it approaches the knees, the region of the second phase or pull, and it is here that the greatest power is applied. As the bar passes the waist it moves into the third phase or pull and is further boosted by the muscles of the arms and upper and lower back.

And here occurs one of the most common faults in lifting during the two hands clean or snatch. Most lifters do not alter the position of the head but keep looking straight ahead. You will notice that as the bar passes the waist the lifter raises on his toes (the successful lifter, that is), and flings his head back. And BOTH these actions add considerably to the POWER OF THE PULL and allow the arms to function more efficiently.

You will find a considerable difference in the ease with which the elbows and upper arms turn down and partially rotate. Try this experiment for yourself. Perform a fairly heavy clean or snatch without rising on the toes (adding “lift” to the bar) and flinging the head back (helping the humerus and scapulae to partially rotate). You will see that the shoulders appear “tight” or “stiff” and there is apparent difficulty in locking out the weight in the snatch.

Remember at this point – at the end of the third phase or pull – that the bar is almost chin high and moving higher, and you are all ready to start your split. If you have maintained the power of the pull up to this point you will find that as you start your split the bar not only “turns over” more readily, but your lockout is also surer. Now, you might easily be tempted to say, “Why, that’s obvious.” But it is a point that so many lifters lose sight of. Naturally I don’t refer to seasoned strength athletes, but to beginners. And since this series is mainly for beginners, they are the ones who will benefit most from them. And it is a fact that an Olympic lifting novice tends to “relax” his pulling power as the bar is chin high, and rely on his speed of split to get under it. NEVER AT ANY TIME DURING THE FLIGHT OF THE BAR STOP PULLING. CONTINUE THE PULL UNTIL THE BAR IS AT ARM’S LENGTH IN THE SNATCH OR RACKED IN THE CLEAN.

Now we come to the problem of DIRECTION OF PULL. “Well,” you will say, “there’s only one possible direction of the pull and that’s up.” Not so, my friends! You not only have to pull the bar up but you should, if you share the popular belief that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, pull the bar STRAIGHT UP.

In the immediate preceding article in this series, I showed you how the hand spacing could affect the direction of the bar – the narrower the hand spacing, up to a point, the more powerful the pull, but the greater difficulty experienced in partially rotating the shoulder blades and humerus, the upper arm bone. The outcome of this “tightness” in the shoulders was the reaction of the lifter performing the snatch – he usually bent away from the bar to “fix” it at arm’s length (back bend under the bar), or else swung it OUT and AWAY from the body. And both these actions necessitated reactions, following Newton’s Natural law that every action has a reaction. For in bending back to get the bar fixed, he very often lost control of it. And in taking it out and away from the body he had to compensate by either pulling the weight back into line (lost motion and needless expenditure of energy) and then possibly go into a back bend with the results mentioned here.

Making due allowances for the lifters skeletal structure the direction of the pull should ALWAYS be straight up the front of the body. The lifter should never under any circumstances swing the bar out and away from the trunk. All such motion is incorrect and should be eliminated as far as possible.

Swing the bar away from the body, whether by intent, or because of faulty position at the bar or incorrect hand spacing, makes it necessary to pull the bar back into line, or else swing the trunk forward under the bar and this cannot only lead to a bad balance and wasted motion, but also back injury.

If the weight DOES travel away from the lifter, I grant that the lifter’s position can be corrected by dropping into a back bend and thrusting the hips forward as the bar travels to arm’s length. But I do not advise this because of the danger of strains of the lower and upper back.

There was only one man I knew of who could correct a body position with a heavy weight in this manner, and that was the late Ronald Walker, a lifter of phenomenal power, and a man who would have set world records in the snatch and clean and jerk that would have stood a long while, if he only had American food. Ron used a distinct back bend in his snatches, and once I saw him drop back until his trunk was at an angle to the thighs in order to hold a 404 jerk overhead. The weight banged down across the collar bones with an audible thud, but Ron simply stood as firm as a rock and recovered to an upright position with ease.

There isn’t a lifter alive today who has the back strength that poor Ron had. So the best course to follow is to keep pulling and pull straight. This way you have a reasonable certainty of hitting your limit and avoiding back injuries.

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