Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast! Part 2 – Drills to Master the Pull

Justin pull drills

By Justin Thacker MS, RD, LD, ACSM-HFS, CES, USAW, CSCS

Last time we discussed why you should not initially think of the lifts as a grip it and rip it approach (see article here). Now, what can we do to fix it?

As you master your pull and personal style it will BECOME merely a matter of millimeters and centimeters of making or missing a lift. Once your technique is optimized and consistent it will be simply a matter of how much power you can generate on the barbell. You know those hard to define snatches where you did everything right (at least it felt that way, looked that way, or your coach even said so), yes, that is a mystery miss, which is better described as, you probably didn’t get enough bar height to properly receive the bar. And you may have only been a millimeter way of making it.  Solution? Many times people obsess here and think of alllllll the technical drills, cues, programming, and minutiae to obsess over when then all they need to do is keep their positions, pull stronger, and faster to get that last millimeter. PERIOD! Do not become a head case over it, it will slow you down, make you hesitate, and even worse… stress you out and distract focus and enthusiasm for other lifts (squats) and even worse… delay your recovery.  If you did all of these things right, then no sweat, it is what it is, don’t turn it into a 2 hour snatch thrashing.  Learn what you can and come back to fight another day.
To review the main take home point: in the world where positions, timing, and technique are consistent AND proficient yes, SPEED IS KING.  But until you get your stroke down, speed kills and you will lift a life of sadness, depression, and orthopedic pains. Side note: when watching the best in the world you will see variances in pull speed.  Some are very fast from start to finish (Vanev).

Some are slow and smooth all the way (Vardanian/Kolecki). “This is the great Urik Vardarian’s son, Norik. Notice the similarities and low key approach /demeanor from lightest to heaviest sets”.

Whatever works for that lifter.  World records have been made either way. Whichever way you go, you have to develop that consistency and mastery so you can give each rep the 100% it needs.

Now let’s cover some solutions and drills to help you develop that consistent pull and eventually earn your speed:

4..3..2..1.. Lift! (snatch/clean): Cue a tempo of a 4 count to the knees, as the bar reaches the knees, TAKE OFF! Sometimes it is still good here to pull slow-ish after the knees but just a bit faster. Once that feels right, you have my permission to add speed as soon as you clear the knees.  Much of the difficulty and error when learning is simply correctly clearing the knees off the floor and then getting the bar back into the power position/hips vs. missing them all together and performing the ever dreaded 1 pull lift (floor to receive with no hip/thigh action or contact).

Slow Lift (snatch, clean, jerk): literally performing the lift as slow as possible while maintaining the perfect bar path and sequence. Not so slow that you can’t develop any momentum, but slow enough to keep the bar close and tight with you as well as hitting all the right spots on your pull and then pulling under perfectly. The the only spot you should feel any speed is literally pulling yourself  into the perfect receiving position under the bar.

Here is a great example:

Another way to use this would be: rep 1: 50% speed, rep 2: 75% speed, rep 3: 100% speed (if you’ve earned it).  Here is world champion Szymon Kolecki snatching with a smooth/slow tempo (first lift is real time, he does TONS of training lifts this way)

3 Part Pause, 2 Part Pause, No Pause Lifts (snatch, clean, jerk): (from floor up, not top down) Our teaching progression for the lifts at The Lab include the 3 part and 2 part sequences as a staple that are performed until the lifter develops technical proficiency and consistency with the correct bar path and their style. As competency and mastery ensues, the pauses are removed one at a time and layers of difficulty are added (ie.speed).

Looking from the side of the lifter, if there is no deviation from the pausing sequences to full speed, the lifter is consistent with their bar control and it is a sign they may be ready for the next progression. The pauses are 1) start position (as 90% or more of the errors seem to be from not starting correctly, tightly enough, or not being able to maintain the proper positions. This is a matter o flexibility and simply endurance getting into such a low start: an extreme example:

Look how long he can stay in that low awkward position, not that you should stay down this long as it can exhaust the legs and fry out ATP, but most folks can’t bear it for 3 seconds  so pull too quickly from the floor in poor positions. Pause 2: is at the knees. A crucial transition point where the second most errors occur. Keeping the bar tight, not humping/slouching, and transition the bar with a backwards horizontal direction vs ethical at this point to sweep the bar into the power position/hips. Yes, bar in vs up here (note: the bar is going up at all times regardless, but most don’t bring it into the hips well when clearing the knees.  Think pull back, or magnet on your thighs/belt buckle for the barbell). Pause 3 is the power position/thigh/hips for clean and snatch respectively (the point at which the bar is in your scoop or where they will relieve the hip power for t boost and the torso is vertical! Chest and shoulders are not exactly over the bar here (you already cleared that portion of the lift on this drill, and that is good). Here you will remain flat footed/weight back toward the heels. Chest, eyes up, back tight, and ready to finally/jump under the bar/jump down…

Now that you know the positions, the utilization would typically be: 1). 3 part pauses on all reps (can be power, power to squat or full lifts). Ready for next progression? Rep 1) 3 part pause rep 2) 2 part pause (start poison and knee only, fast from kee to finish). Rep 3 full speed lift (again, don’t pull too fast here, most get excited and want to kill. Smooth to the knees, fast from knees to finish. Or, strong to the knees, fast from knees to finish). Simply think instead of ‘full speed’, on this rep there will be no pauses. Finally, on these pausing sequences some still like to go to fast from pause to pause and miss the point. Strong, smooth/slow-ish, and tight from position to position showing mastery of bar path, body, and total combined rhythm of the lift…and when you get to the final portion of the pull (pause 3) no you may release alllll of that hold up into one big explosion;)

3 Part Pauses:

3 Part Pause, 2 Part Pause, Full Speed:


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