Olympic Weightlifting: Are you doing enough pulls in your training?

When I first started weightlifting via CrossFit, I never did pulls. Being self taught, I had no clue that pulls even existed. Watching YouTube videos, I saw pulls in progressions to learning the snatch and clean, but again, I had no clue what was going on. Even when I started following weightlifting programs on the internet, there were rarely any pulls. It was all about the the classic lifts and squats. But if you think about it, you must lift (pull) the bar off the floor before you even stand it up. So one should pull more than one should squat, yes? This was not the case for me. As of right now, I can squat more than I can pull, and as a result, my snatch/clean and jerk to back squat ratios are way off. This is because I did not put enough emphasis on pulls early on in my weightlifting career.

So my hope is to get you on the right path by teaching you how, when, and what kind of pulls to perform.

How and When to Perform Pulls

When I first started doing pulls, I had no clue what I was doing. I was just yanking the bar off the floor and then hitting the bar up. I looked like an idiot. So how do you perform a pull? The exact same way as if you were going to snatch or clean it, with the exception of the finish. The way the back angle looks and how you lift the bar off the floor should almost be identical to your snatch or clean. Many times, lifters go into their pulls with a different approach, like it’s entirely different. You should treat pulls just like you treat your classic lifts, with technicality and finesse.

Pulls are typically performed immediately after the main lift of your training session. That said, the timing of pulls within your session totally depends on their purpose in your program. A typical rep scheme for pulls might be 5-6 sets of 3-4 reps.

Programming Pulls for Technique Purposes

In some cases, I might program a complex of snatch high pull + snatch for a lifter who needs to work on extending through the lower half and having higher elbows, before their actual snatch training. Or, I might program this after the snatch session to reinforce whatever it is that I need the lifter to do. When doing pulls for technique, keep the weight light. If heavy, technique can be lost sooner, and you go back to old habits. I often have my lifters move slower when working on technique as well, as it can help with awareness and muscle memory.

Programming Pulls for Position Purposes

Let’s say you struggle with a certain position during your lifts. You can perform pulls that can help improve those areas. For example, if my lifter has issues with the bar passing their knees, then I might add a pause at the knee for them to work on getting used to the position and building awareness. If you notice yourself getting out of position in certain areas, try performing pulls with a pause in that area to improve. Pauses are not the only way to strengthen positions. You can perform pulls from the hang, off blocks, or you can mix pause and hang. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure to keep it simple, and go only as heavy as you can while maintaining good technique.

Programming Pulls for Strength Purposes

When a lifter can demonstrate good positions in pulls all the way up to their 100% lifts, then they can potentially go heavier in their pulls. But again, only as heavy as they can with good technique. This is a great way to get used to picking up heavier weights and making lighter weights not feel as heavy. This may also be more common during competitions to stimulate the nervous system.

There are a two types of pulls I have my lifters do for strength: pulls and deadlifts. For pulls, a big pet peeve of mine is finishing the pull with your heels and the bar moving up and down together (watch video below).

I teach my lifters to finish at the top of the pull by squeezing their quads and glutes. This is how I like my lifters to perform pulls because the movement looks much smoother and more connected. For deadlifts, lifters can either stand completely tall or finish with slightly bent knees with the shoulders on top of the bar. The deadlift is just like a pull in that it is meant to be picked up just like a snatch or clean. The word deadlift does not imply that you do a traditional deadlift with a snatch or clean grip).

I hope this helps! If you have any questions or comments, please share them below!

You can get learn more on pulling cues & techniques in my new book 100 Days of Technique: A Simple Guide to Olympic Weightlifting!

Happy Lifting.


- Coach Chris


Be sure to subscribe to our weekly updates to get weightlifting resources straight into your mailbox!