Mind Your Hips
There is a lot of debate on internet weightlifting forums about whether to triple extend or not triple extend at the top of the pull. An outsider just dropping in to see what’s going on might well decide it’s the modern version of arguing how many angels fit on the head of a pin. Personally, I teach my athletes to keep their heels down as long as they can, but I think the debate misses a larger point much of the time. The real question for me is this: where and how do the hips finish at the top of the pull?
My goal as a coach is to adjust an athlete’s technique to bring the path of the bar in line with the drive of the hips. By the time the hips finish extending at the top of the pull, the bar should be moving as fast as the hips and in the same direction. If not, there will be separation between the bar and the body and bad things happen—missed lifts, that is.
At the top of the pull, the hips should be driving up and back over the heels, whether that drive concludes with the ankles extended or flat-footed. Here is the vital part: at the finish of that hip drive, the split second before the lifter moves their feet and pulls their hips down, the hips should be in line with the shoulder, knee and ankle joints. From a side view, that line would pass through the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. If the hips travel in front of that line, pushing the hips forward, or the shoulders drop behind that line, leaving the hips forward, the bar will separate from the line of the hip drive and the speed and timing of the pull under the bar will be disrupted, the hips left too far forward to be pulled out and down as quickly as required, and forcing the lifter to pull their body down under the bar from an awkward angle.
Hip extension beyond the line I describe is not more hip extension, it is back over-extension. It does not lend more upward momentum to the bar, it only makes it harder to get under the bar.
This is an extreme example, but I see all too many variations on this theme in American lifters who are taught to over-emphasize driving the hips to the bar rather than driving the hips and torso UP over the base.
Try this: stand flat-footed, weight over your heels, and extend your legs as hard as you can. Get as tall as you can. Your thighs will be tight, and more important, your ass and abs will be tight. Be sure not to push your hips forward, rather keep your shoulders and hips stacked in a straight line over your heels. That is as far as your hips go forward in the pull. If you go up on the balls of your feet, fine. If not, also fine. But do not let your hips finish forward of that point. Notice in the pics below that the pull is finished with the shoulder joint, hip joint and ankles all in a straight line, that line leaning back at a slight angle.
A good drill to to teach this finish is what I call the “back half drill.” (I picked it up from Don McCauley. I’m not sure what Don calls it. I should ask) Stand on the edge of a raised platform; I use a 1 1/2” piece of plywood I made for this drill. Now, hang the entire front half of your foot off the edge, the ball of your foot floating in the air, with all the weight toward your heels. Now do a high hang snatch, preferably with an empty bar at first. You cannot attempt to go to the ball of your foot because you don’t have it in contact with the floor. You cannot get your hips over the front of your foot, again because you don’t have the ball of your foot to use. So, if you stay in balance—a tough trick at first, especially if you are used to going to the front of your foot too early—your hips finish and quickly retreat automatically, pulling out and down, in the right timing.
I tell my athletes that learning to use your hips properly is 90% of weightlifting success. That may be an exaggeration, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to finish the hips properly to achieve the correct timing of the pull under the bar.
(Thanks to Nat at Hookgrip for the very helpful photos: http://www.facebook.com/hookgripdotcom?ref=ts&fref=ts)