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Mastering the First Pull in the Clean: Key Techniques and Common Faults

One of the most critical phases of the clean is the first pull, which sets the foundation for a successful lift. The first pull sets the stage for the rest of the lift, so it's essential to execute it with precision and control. In this blog post, we'll explore the proper technique for the first pull, common mistakes to avoid, and key cues to ensure your lift is smooth and controlled.

Setting Up for Success

The setup for the clean closely resembles the setup for a deadlift, and using deadlifts as an accessory lift can help build the necessary pulling strength. Here’s how to set up correctly for the first pull:

1. Foot and Bar Positioning

  • Stable Foot Position: Ensure your weight is balanced through a stable foot position.

  • Barbell Placement: The barbell should start over the mid-foot.

2. Hand and Shoulder Positioning

  • Hand Placement: Place your hands pronated on the bar, just outside of your leg width.

  • Shoulders: Position your shoulders in front of the bar, with your hips in a neutral position or a slight anterior tilt. Avoid any posterior pelvic tilt.

3. Checking Arm Positioning

From a side view, check that your arms are vertical in the set position. This is a great indicator of correct setup. If your shoulders are too far in front and your arms angle back toward the bar, your hips are too high. Conversely, if your shoulders are behind the bar and your arms angle toward the bar, your hips are too low. Adjust the setup position accordingly before lifting to ensure a well-balanced vertical drive off the floor.

Engaging the Lats

Engage your lats by pulling down on the bar and maintain this tension throughout the lift. This helps prevent common setup faults such as a lack of activation through the lats and hips, which can lead to a rounded upper and lower back. If these errors persist, it may be beneficial to explore mobility restrictions and place a greater emphasis on deadlift form in your training.

Executing the First Pull

Once the setup is adjusted, it’s time to execute the first pull with precision and control. Here are the key steps:

1. Controlled Drive

Cue yourself to “drive up with the legs.” Movement speed on the first pull should be controlled. What do I mean by this? The first pull should be performed at a pace that allows you to maintain position. That is your main objective! This will be a different speed for every lifter depending on their experience. Too much explosiveness or speed from the floor can lead to an uncontrolled lift, requiring adjustments in the second and third pull of the lift.

2. Maintain Back Angle

Maintain the same back angle until the bar reaches mid-thigh, with your shoulders still slightly in front of the bar. This ensures that the power generated from the legs is effectively transferred to the barbell when you move into the second and third pull.

Common Faults to Avoid

  1. Hips Rising First: Ensure that your hips and shoulders rise at the same rate to maintain a strong pulling position.

  2. Loss of Tension: Avoid moving through the mid-back and losing tension. This can compromise your lift and lead to poor form.

  3. Looking at the Floor: Keep your head up to maintain a strong, neutral spine.

Key Cues for the First Pull

  1. Don’t Rush: Take your time to ensure each phase of the lift is performed correctly.

  2. Maintain Tension: Keep your lats and core engaged throughout the lift.

  3. Head Up: Keep your gaze forward to maintain a neutral spine and proper alignment.

By focusing on these techniques and cues, you'll build a strong foundation for the clean. Remember, the first pull sets the stage for the rest of the lift, so it's essential to execute it with precision and control.

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Happy lifting!


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