The Deadlift vs. The Weightlifting Pull

Anyone that’s trained in the weight room for performance has probably deadlifted before. If you haven’t, you’re either living under a rock or have neglected one of the basic strength training movements (meaning do it!). That being said, most people come to us with at least some deadlifting experience. Having a good deadlift doesn’t necessarily translate into a good snatch or clean pull, however.

When people deadlift to lift the most weight possible, there are going to be variations in the position of the body throughout the lift. These slight variations in position are going to differentiate between a powerlifting style deadlift and a weightlifting style deadlift. Believe it or not, we specifically write “Snatch/Clean Deadlift” or “Snatch/Clean Pull” on our weightlifters programs to remind them of the difference.

When we look at a powerlifting deadlift, we typically set up far over the bar with the bar touching the shins. The angle of the torso will be at a smaller angle in relation to the ground (meaning closer to parallel). When we lift, the bar slides (or near slide) up the shins and thighs. These are the biggest things that are different between the two types of pulling.

If we look at a weightlifting pull we see these factors change. The bar will (usually) start off the shins, more near the mid-foot or even close to the ball of the toe and the bar won’t slide up the shins. The bar will be off the shins during the pull to the knee. The angle of the torso will also be more upright in the start position. Depending on the lifter, the bar might or might not slide up the thighs. The biggest difference will be in the starting position of the bar and the pull to the knee.

So why the difference? Why does the start position matter? Or where the bar is when you’re pulling to the knee? Look at the picture below.

The circle at the end of the arms signifies the bar. The vertical dotted line represents the mid-foot of the lifter and the center of gravity.

Ignoring my poor drawing skills and the fact that the lifter’s head changes size, we can still take a few things away from these drawings.

On the top half of the paper, we see that the lifter starts with the bar on the shins. If we look at what typically happens from the start position to the position at the knee when the lifter drags the bar up the shins and doesn’t get over the bar far enough, we see that the bar travels forward in relation to the lifter’s center of gravity. This is the second picture.

Going to the next picture, we see the lifter starting to extend. This is what happens when the bar gets too far forward at the knee. Since the bar was too far forward at the knee, it stays too far forward through the second pull. The other thing we can see with a bar that is too far forward at the knee is that the lifter will shift his whole body and weight forward onto the toes during the second pull. This feels like the bar is being brought to the hips, but the lifters weight is being shifted too far forward and the hips are still being brought to the bar.

The next picture is the lifter at the finish of their extension. This is the lifter bringing the hips to the bar, instead of the bar to the hips. The end result is a bar that loops out. The bar path of a lift like this can be seen in the last picture.

A bar that loops this much isn’t something we want. Rather than producing upward momentum and transferring it to the bar, we produce some upward momentum as well as forward momentum (from bringing the hips to the bar). To limit this, we need to keep the bar over the center of gravity and mid-foot, as in the bottom half of the picture above.

To do this, we need to make sure the bar is off the shins during the pull to the knee. I've found that with most lifters with the previously stated problem, having them start with the bar off the shins as in the first picture (and pull to the knee without bringing it to the shins) gives the bar some space to travel straight up (or backward slightly). At this point, the bar is right over the lifter’s center of gravity and mid-foot with the bar at the knee and is in a good position at the start of the second pull, which is seen in the second picture.

If we go on to the third picture, we see that the lifter has increased his torso angle while sweeping the bar back into the thighs, keeping it very close or even touching the thighs. This keeps the bar over the center of gravity.

In the fourth picture, we see the lifter at full extension. Unlike the first example where the bar was in front of the lifter’s center of gravity, the bar is right over the mid-foot.

This leads to a bar path that looks like the final picture. We can see how much straighter the bar path is with much less looping of the bar. This means we transferred more upward momentum into the bar, leading to a better lift. This is all because we were at a better position at the knee due to the bar starting off the shins instead of dragging up them.

Remember that weightlifting is all about positions. Positions in a powerlifting style deadlift are different than a weightlifting style deadlift or pull. If we are in a bad position to start with, it will affect things that happen later in the lift such as the extension and bar path.

As a side note: there are successful lifters that start with the bar on their shins. Usually these lifter's don't drag the bar up the shins. After breaking the ground, the bar hangs over the mid-foot and off the shins where it's supposed to be. Having a lifter start with the bar off the shins has been a good cue to help our lifters improve their first pull and end up in the correct position at the knee.

This good position at the knee leads to a correct second pull and finish of the extension. To read more about finishing the pull, go here.


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