The "archangel" position has been glorified on the internets for quite some time now. As I get more and more questions about the position I wanted to share a few thoughts on why I do not think this is the ideal position to teach new lifters.
First off, I don't think the original discussion points about the position were intended to detract from ones technique, but aiming for said position can cause more problems than it can solve.
One point of clarity-- the "archangel" position I am referring too, is an overly extended position at the top of the pull where the shoulder "arcs" away from the bar. Usually it is accompanied by throwing the head back and looking at the ceiling.
Can you guess the trajectory of the bar for the average athlete who attempts this top position?
The bar went out in front and the lifter landed with the weight in the toes. Just look at picture four for confirmation.
Why would this happen?
The hip is extended so the "finish your pull" bullshit does not fly here. Clearly the athlete finished the hips, BUT they also took their shoulder way behind the bar at the top. You can see this in the above photo?
When you are at the top of your lift and you purposefully and aggressively arch backward you loose the integrity of your lift in the vertical direction. Notice that when the athletes shoulders move too far behind the bar the bar will swing outside the base of the foot. Weightlifting is a change of direction sport, where you are aggressively trying to extend then rapidly flex under the bar as fast as possible. Moving up and down as fast as possible in the name of the game. Any movement forward or backwards only detracts from that speed.
Lets Take 2 minutes and check out this video for a little more detail.
Look, I know these lifts are not going to be done in a completely vertical manner, but limiting horizontal movement is key to efficiency.
In addition to adding horizontal movement aggressively throwing the head back affects the athletes proprioception or spatial awareness. The athletes are loosing their main focal point, a key part of spatial awareness, if they take their eyes from a focused point and change that focal point mid lift.
This is essentially the same as closing your eyes during the lift. Have you ever tried to snatch blindfolded? I don't recommend it, but if you try it you will see how much it slows down your timing and positioning.
When we are teaching new lifters our goal is to get them into the same positions time after time to reinforce good habits. If they are throwing their head back every time and losing spatial awareness this only works against us developing good technique.
Are some people good at the archangel position? Sure, there are always exceptions, but for the middle 80% of the bell curve I would suggest against it.
One final word.
Every coach needs to start the coaching process with the athletes conceptually. Before each athlete starts with us, we explain to them what we want to do with the bar. This conceptualization is a bullet point of our main technical points. We briefly explain the start position, the position at the knee, and the top of the pull.
Almost all beginner athletes will swing the bar all over the place. It is my belief that you can start to limit that horizontal displacement by having the athlete understand conceptually that you are trying to get the bar to move up as straight as possible.
Does this mean the bar will travel only vertically-- no of course not. But we would like their mindset to be dialed in on eliminating the bar swinging away from them.