Fixing the “CrossFit Pull”

by coachdanbell

That the explosion of CrossFit popularity has been good for weightlifting cannot be doubted. Through CrossFit, more people have discovered our sport and the joy of moving athletically with a barbell than at any time in even the oldest weightlifting coach’s memory. CrossFitters have also discovered the challenges of doing the Olympic lifts well. It ain’t easy, and after they get by light beginner weights, CrossFitters quickly find that out.

The reason so many CrossFitters are driven to fits of apoplexy by the lifts is that many of them have been taught poorly, but more than that, they have been taught incompletely. The typical CrossFitter bar path is too far to the front to make heavy weights consistently. Left to their own devices to fix the problem, and through no fault of their own, CF athletes spawn all sorts of ugly aberrations of the lifts. The way the lifts have been taught by many CrossFit coaches makes the result inevitable.

Here is a pic at the top of a classical pull as used in the old Soviet system:

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It is central to how CrossFit teaches the Olympic lifts, as you can see in a pic from a CrossFit Weightlifting clinic:

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They are taught to pull the bar high and close. By one of the old Soviet teaching progressions, so far, so good. But here is where things can go awry. There is too much emphasis on getting the bar to go up, not enough on how and when to transition down, and little mention of how to keep the bar over the base of balance–the feet. All too often the result looks like this:

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CrossFitters taught this way typically pull too long, arm pull on extension and drive the hips too far forward. The long pull/arm pull destroys the timing moving under the bar (with no arm action left to accelerate the lifter down) and the hips being driven too far forward pushes the bar away from the front of the body, usually forward of the base of balance.

So what do we do to fix this? I use two drills to get and keep the bar deep over the base of balance and make the hips move down in the right timing, keeping the hips back where they should be. One is the Back Half Drill. In this drill the lifter stands at the edge of a platform and lets the front half of the foot float off of the floor. By taking away the ball of the foot, the athlete can no longer leave the shoulders forward too long; they cannot finish the pull with the entire body vertical over the ball of the foot, with the hips and bar too far forward. They are forced to open the torso in the right timing, get the bar deep over the base, and move under in the right timing.

The second drill, the No Hands/No Feet Drill, is from an old Soviet progression and was employed after the lifter learned the classical high pull. Made to leave the feet in place as they move under the bar, the lifter is forced to emphasize coordinated hip and arm action. Especially if the lifter keeps the heels down, the bar gets deep over the base, the hips cannot travel too far forward, thus moving down at the right time, and the arms are active in pulling the lifter down.

This drill has been used by American coaches and lifters recently, but has been used as a drill to improve speed under the bar. It does do that, but I believe its primary importance is in getting the bar back over the base, keeping it there, and correcting the timing of the movement under the bar. I have used it extensively of late, and it has worked wonders on CrossFitters whose pull was, to be blunt, completely fucked up.

Zygmunt does let his heels come up a little in the video of the drill, but again I must emphasize that the No Hands/No Feet Drill works better if the heels remain glued to the floor throughout the drill. With time, talent, these drills, and some luck, maybe you can look like this one day:

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