Exercise, Strength & Conditioning, Technique, The Training Geek

Weightlifting Pulls VS Deadlifts

Sorry for the long silence. I had alot of writing in other forms to be done and I am slowly getting those out of the way. So I am back with something which is of my area of interest (Olympic Weightlifting and Strength Training).

Today I am going to make a comparison between two forms of exercises: the traditional deadlift and the weightlifting pull. Basically they are almost the same exercises but one is a more strength-oriented movement while the other has a power element added onto it.

Start Position

Both the weightlifting pull (be it snatch grip or clean grip) and the traditional deadlift have a similar start position:

  1. Feet should be hip width or shoulder width apart and set with mid-foot in line with the barbell.
  2. Hips and knees are flexed to adopt the start position.
  3. Back should be kept flat.
  4. Eyes should focus ahead.
  5. Shoulders should be over the bar.

Execution of Movement (Ground to Knee)

This is where it would be taught differently by different coaches. The explanation for the movement of the deadlift can be found here. So this is more for the weightlifting pull. This is how I learnt it and how I teach it:

  1. Back should remain flat while bar gets lifted off the ground.
  2. Trunk angle in relation to the ground while bar gets lifted off the ground should remain similar through the movement.
  3. Shoulders should still be over the barbell as much as possible.
  4. Legs should be initiating the movement and knee extension should be greater than hip extension especially at the point when the bar gets lifted off from the ground to knee level.
  5. Barbell should be traveling straight up in a vertical directon.

Movement (Knee to Completion)

This is where the differences in the movements occur. For both movements, this portion is important because it determines the ability to put force or power out in the lift.

In the deadlift:

  1. The bar carries on travelling close to the body.
  2. The hips are brought forward and extended along with the knees.
  3. KEY POINT: The knees do not shift forward while the hips are extending to engage hamstring and glute activation.

In the weightlifting pull:

  1. The bar also carries on travelling close to the body.
  2. As the hips extend, shoulders are still kept over the bar.
  3. KEY POINT: Without actively flexing the knees, the knees actually shift forward while the torso of the lifter begins to get more upright with hip extension.
  4. Position at this point should be similar to that of the bottom of a countermovement jump.
  5. To complete the movement, triple extension of the joints (namely the hips, knees and ankles) should mimick a jump without leaving the ground.
  6. Coming up onto your toes, a forceful shrug is added to extend the movement of the second pull.

Position to be in to complete the weightlifting pull. Picture from Ironmind.

So in terms of the two movements, the point after the bar reaches the knees, the emphasis on adaptation changes. The amount of force output after the knees is going to be high for both movements. However, the key points of the movements would be different because of the position of the joints. In the deadlift, it is predominatly hip extension to complete the movement while in the weightlifting pull, the lifter adopts the power position which then allows for all three lower limb joints to be involved in generating the force. Thus, in terms of movement speed, the deadlift is going to be slower past the knees but the weightlifting pull has the element of power production particularly after the knees.

Picture from Ironmind.

Hope this makes a clearer definition between the traditional deadlift and the weightlifting pull.

Stay Strong and Keep Pulling,

The Training Geek.

Exercise, Gym/Equipment, Strength & Conditioning, Technique

Wrap Your Knees for A More Powerful Squat.

Knee wraps. Most of us would use them to support the ligaments and tendons around the knee joint particularly in the lower-body movements we perform such as the squat. The typical knee wrap is made of cotton and elastic material which allows for comfort and support by providing some compression around the knee joint and usually come in the form of a sleeve. The heavier duty ones (i.e. used by powerlifters and weightlifters) include those that come in a roll and manual wrapping around the knee allows for a better compressive form of wrapping for support. Another type used would be the sleeve ones but these are made of stronger elastic material (probably something along the lines of neoprene). Both ways, they help strengthen the integrity of your knees when moving in deep flexion (or that’s what’s said).

Donny Shankle using knee wraps in a 210kg clean. Picture by Rob Macklem.

Today, I present to you this article by the guys in the UK where they explored some of the performance benefits you could get from using knee wraps in your training, particularly in squats so that you could decide for yourself whether you should be using knee wraps or not. In this study, the wraps they use actually are actually the one that come as a long piece and you or someone else manually wraps it around your knees.

Subjects involved were ten guys relatively familiar with the back squat (mean of 4.4 years experience of resistance training, including back squats) and a pretty high one-repetition max (1RM) average of 160.5kg among them (alot higher than most people in my opinion). They were required to perform 15 single repetitions at 80% 1RM and that load was selected because it was heavy enough to get good data from it and it would not make sense to put them under the risk of injury.

In simple terms, the results of the study showed that main variables such as peak power and lifting vertical impulse (the amount of force developed over the upward duration of the squat) were significant or had a difference with knee wraps on. This suggested that by having knee wraps on, it gave the subjects a slight edge in terms of power and force produced over a period of time when lifting their 80% 1RM in the back squat. They suggested the mechanism of elastic energy created by the knee wrap at the bottom position contributing to the increased force and power produced. In other words, it contributed to the stretch-shortening cycle at the bottom of the squat to enhance force development during the upward phase.

Another interesting note brought up by the researchers was that the bar was moving more in a straight line vertically with knee wraps on. They went on to suggest that technique could be altered with knee wraps on, causing the posture of the lifter to be more upright during the squat. To me, this is very relevant as you would be able to develop more force through the knee joint before allowing the hip joint to kick in. Also, as a weightlifter, at the bottom of any squat position (back squat, front squat, bottom of snatch, bottom of clean), it is better to maintain an more upright torso to allow you to have the weight in stability before squatting it back up.

So what do I think about knee wraps? They do provide an advantage in terms of mechanical work in the squat as shown by this study. But I have yet to try it out on my own (though I have already ordered a pair for myself to play around with) and till then, I will keep my judgment open on the use of knee wraps and until I have tried them out, then I will provide my own experience on using them!  If you have used them before, feel free to share how you feel about them!

And the Chinese would tell you.. “Who needs knee wraps?!” Lu Xiaojun with a 175kg snatch. POW! Picture by Rob Macklem.

Stay Strong and Keep Squatting (With or Without Knee Wraps),

The Training Geek.

Exercise, Strength & Conditioning, The Training Geek, Workout

Training Thoughts: Needs vs Wants.

Was reading up on a book and it brought about a reflection on the concept of your needs vs your wants. Prompted me to think about it in the lines of training. When we think of putting our training programs together or how we intend to achieve what we intend to achieve, the concept of “need vs want” brings me to think of training with a clearer focus.

When we train, there are so many things we can do. We can use Olympic lifts, powerlifting movements, gymnastic or bodyweight movements, rehab/prehab movements. So much research is out there to justify so many things and it makes you think “Maybe I should include this in my training. It will help me be better at ________”. So to give you a clearer focus in your training, it’s better to break it down to a “need vs want” notion.

WANT: Things You Wish You Were Doing.

When thinking of your own program or gathering ideas for your own program, you look at what others have done to achieve similar goals to your own. For example, your goal is to increase maximum strength in the deadlift. So you google “deadlift program” or you hop onto elitefts.com and look for one of the programs to increase your deadlift numbers. The reality is you will have 10’000 ideas or exercises which appear in front of you which you think you can use for your specific goal of pulling more weight off the ground. However, fitting these 10’000 exercises or ideas into an hour’s session is definitely not possible. But you want to do hyper-extensions to strengthen the lower back, you want to do pull-throughs to increase the speed of the hips coming through, you want to add in Kelley Starrett’s mobility drills to give you a better start position which would definitely increase your strength in the deadlift tremendously. So many things you want to do in your program. If you put all of them in, you will probably have to train 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So basically, a “want” in training is what you wish you were doing in your program or the things you think would benefit you because you read it somewhere or heard it from someone that it would do you real good. But is it really necessary?

NEED: Things You Should Be Doing. 

This then brings me to the point of the “need” in training. As mentioned, so many things have been said to be beneficial in training for specific goals or increasing certain components of fitness but if we included all of them in our training, we would continuously be training. So this leads us to prioritize. This also allows to simplify things than complicate it with the various fads in the industry. Understanding the basics of program design and specificity to the activities you engage is is all you need to help with making sure that you have a sound program that allows you to progress in attaining your training goals. Doing too much because you heard that a certain exercise may be useful in preventing injury or might enhance your performance could be detrimental as you are wasting time doing something you may not need to be doing.

Hence, knowing what you need to do allows you to clarify your program and have better focus in your training. Only with that can you progress and achieve your goals. For example, if your goal is to run faster, you want to make sure your legs are stronger and able to put out more force and power. So your program requires a focus on lower body exercises. Then it’s about weighing out which exercise gives you the most bang for your buck. Is it better to do a squat where you can build tremendous amounts of muscle or the lunge which would be more specific to running mechanics.

So by understanding what you need to be doing, you can focus better in your training and do the things that would benefit you the most and weed out the unnecessary things that waste your time. Also, by knowing what you need to do, you are able to keep your training simple and effective to allow to attain your goals.

Keep Training and Stay Strong,

The Training Geek.