Lifting From the Hang vs. Blocks: What's the Difference?
One question we get a lot is “what are the differences between lifts from the blocks (or boxes) and from the hang?”. Although they may look similar, there are some key differences when considering which movement to program. Before we get started, I just want to make it clear that this article is specific to weightlifters, performing a variation of either the snatch or clean! I do program partial lifts for my throwers, but the reasons behind those choices are for another article. So, let’s get into the details here. For organizational purposes, I’m going to split the discussion into three parts:
A hang snatch or clean generally means a lift where the athlete will lift the bar from the ground, then lower the bar to one of any number of specified points (high hang, above the knee, below the knee, hovering), before completing the lift. The vast majority of the time that I program hang movements, it will be from just below the knee. The reasoning for this is twofold: first, this is the point during the lift at which the lifter is at their greatest disadvantage from a biomechanical standpoint. Further, the deeper stretch in the hamstrings at this point really serves to prime the hamstrings and lower back to be active during the pull and better feel the position when the athlete is back to lifting weight off the floor again. I try to avoid programming hangs during high volume phases, as the extra eccentric movement can be very hard on the hamstrings and low back.
As a movement for technical improvement, hang snatches or hang cleans (particularly when pulled form below the knee) are excellent for teaching lifters to move their knees back when the bar passes them. Drilling these movements can really help any lifters who have issues with the pull around the knees. Again, because of the stress on the lower back and hamstrings in these movements, these can also be very good for lifters lacking strength in those areas.
The starting positions for lifts from the blocks might be fairly similar, set up just below or right at the knee of the lifter. I usually only have lifters use either one or two blocks for lifts. When performing a two block lift, the bar should be right at the lifter’s knee, and the lifter will start the movement with the knees already back over the heels. For a one block lift, the bar will a few inches below the lifter’s knee, and the knees will not already be back. In both cases, the lifter needs to cue having extremely tight lats at the initiation of the pull.
For this reason, these lifts are great for athletes who have trouble keeping their lats tight throughout the movement. As well, the forced starting position requires awareness of the position of the knees during the movement, similar to the hang lifts. During an athlete’s high volume phases, I’ll opt to program these over hang movements, because the lifter doesn’t have to worry about lifting the bar and then lowering it to the determined starting position. This cuts out a ton of strain on the posterior chain.
As you can see, there are just as many important differences between the two as there are similarities. Both varieties teach the lifter speed under the bar and absorbing the weight of the lift, as well as having a tighter finish. In terms of starting height for either, while there are positives to the higher positions (high hang/2 block), the single block and low hang movements are much better for olympic weightlifters. Improving strength in weak positions is key! I hope this was a helpful guide, and be sure to take a look at the Garage Strength Movement Library for video of these movements and many more!