It’s another Friday night. The week has finally come to an end and the work day is over. I head home, snag a quick bite to eat, and then I’m off to the same place I spend every Friday night with my friends. The gym.
Fridays are always fun because it’s the end of the week and we usually go to some kind of maximal effort lift. Whether it’s a traditional max effort or a max set, its always exciting and the energy is usually a couple notches higher than it is throughout the week. Everyone I train with has a good idea of everyone else’s PR’s and the place will start to quiet down when a lifter gets near a maximal lift.
After spending a good 10 -15 minutes warming up with the bar and working up from 60% all the way up to above 95% its finally time to take my first attempt at a new potential clean PR. I hear myself in my head repeating the same thing over and over again. “Faster! Be faster. Move Faster. Faster!” I walk up to the bar, lower myself into position and grip the iron. The knurling digs deeper into my skin as I squeeze the bar. I maneuver my shoulders first into position followed by my hips. Finally, I start to shift my weight back from the very font of my foot back until I find the sweet spot where my whole foot feels connected to the floor. I Push my hips up and sink them back into position and start to pull on the bar. While pulling I can still hear my thoughts screaming in my head “Faster, faster, F@#$ing Faster!” the bar finally rises above the knee and I make the decision to shift from pulling into jumping. I feel the bar dig into my legs only an inch or two above the knee and a cold reality hits me. “I’m out of position.” I still fight to pull myself under the bar. The iron crashes on the front edge of my shoulder and I feel my elbows collapse down to my hips as the bar spits me out violently back toward the bench and all I can think is “what the hell happened.”
This use to be such a very common occurrence for me for quite a long time until one day things finally clicked. My whole approach was wrong. What I was telling myself throughout the lift was wrong. I was trying to move faster as the load on the bar became heavier. The more I thought about it the sillier it sounded to me.
Lets come back to that thought here in a bit and take a look at some important principles of weightlifting. The sport of weightlifting is built around the power position. The power position is the final position you end up in before finishing your pull. Your feet are flat and connected to the floor. Your knees are directly in line with you toes. The hips are slightly hinged back. Your chest is over the bar and right on top of your knees. The bar is in line with the arm pit and somewhere between the upper half of you quad and your hips depending on hold long your arms are and how wide your grip is. The whole purpose of the pull is to end up in this position.
Alright, now let’s get back to this whole “Be faster” crap. For a long time, I would approach heavy weights thinking that the solution to getting under the bar was to increase the tempo of my pull. Its funny because the solution was quite the opposite. The weight has increased. If gravity’s pull on the bar has increased how can I pull faster? you can’t. You have to pull longer. The time it takes for the bar to come into power position is going to increase as the weight increases. It is important to stay calm and continue to pull on the bar. Think about hitting your checkmarks along the way instead of focusing on just getting to the final extension at the top.
From the floor to the knee focus on pushing your knees out of the way of the bar as your chest stays over the bar. Focus on driving your shoulders up and making sure that they are rising at the same rate as your hips. Once the bar is above the knees, focus on allowing your hips to start to shift forward bringing your knees over the toes while still driving your shoulders upward while still keeping your chest over the bar. As the bar makes contact with the legs, focus on extending upward violently. Shrug the shoulders to the ears as you allow yourself to let the feet leave the ground and move outside the hips preparing to receive the weight. Focus on driving your elbows through bar while keeping your chest vertical and on top of your hips. Receive the weight and stay tight as the bar forces itself onto you and pushes you down to the bottom of your squat. At that point the only question is whether your legs and back are strong enough to stand up with the weight.
If you can remain patient throughout the pull and think about hitting these check marks (pulling the bar to the above knee position, bringing it into power, extending upward, and pulling through to receive the bar) more often than not, you will be able to at least pull yourself under the bar. At that point the only question left is, am I strong enough to stand up?