The “Over Pull”: Is It Real?

One of the best American male lifters takes an attempt. The US support team wanted him to stay lighter on his opener, get into the meet, get comfortable and then go HAM. His warm-ups were solid, no misses in the back and the athlete had a mindset that was on point. He walks to the bar, chalk covering his taped-up thumbs, the bar rotating in his hands as he establishes his grip and goes through his competitive ritual. He gets set, drops his butt for a dynamic start, stays tight off the floor and then hits his finish, the bar flies behind him. The lifter looks infuriated, his coach, a renowned American coach muttered the words to the US support team, “The weight was too freaking light, he over pulled! I told you we should have gone heavier.”

As a young coach at one of my first international events, I just took some notes on the interaction, on the body language of the lifter and the coach and the way they communicated. This is what I enjoy doing with weightlifting. I believe every experience I can observe creates a way for me to further improve my own coaching ability and improve communication between myself and my own athletes.

Sitting in the back room at a national weightlifting meet, I tend to enjoy my time as an observer. Particularly listening to some of the incredible coaching gems from some of the best coaches in the US. Sometimes, those gems turn into something ridiculous. The ridiculous concept I hear quite consistently? “I over pulled.” This is ALWAYS stated, not in regards to the fact that their technical movement contained errors but to the fact that they were too aggressive with the weight on the bar and that lead to the bar being out of position.

The renowned American coach and his athlete’s mindset regarding “over pulling” is defined as such:
Definition: The weight was too light, the scenario sparked a sense of aggression leading to a missed lift.
Cause of missed lift: The lightweight on the bar.

I would like to take a few steps back toward the time I spent with Norik Vardanian. Norik has some of the greatest technical movements that have ever graced an American platform. His mindset was established by Yuri Vardanian, one of the top 3 weightlifters of all time. During the beginning stages of my coaching career in weightlifting, Norik would remind me how important it was for him to establish feeling with 50 kilos, 70 kilos, 90 kilos. These were weights well under his American record of 172 kilos. He felt strongly about executing every single movement with precise control that would lead to incredible positions and sustained technique that could then be targeted with a large amount of aggression. In simple terms, if the lifter can establish the exact movement needed at 50/70/90k, they will be able to shut off their mind and let their coordination take over and embrace the aggression and still execute the lift precisely with the maximal load.

Back to the international competition. I sat there pondering about the mindset of something being “too light.” Did this same lifter miss all of his warm-ups in the back because they were too light? Are they only able to execute numbers on the platform that are near maximal? Do near maximal lifts prevent the “over pull?”

This mindset was extremely foreign to me. I come from a background in throwing (shot put and discus) and a background in wrestling. Both of these sports are very technical and athletes must have a technical mindset. We even have throwing movements where we dramatically lower the speed and intensity of the throw and force our body and mind to continuously achieve optimal movement patterns. In throwing, we know that for an athlete to throw further, they must move more effectively in the circle and their technique must consistently improve. Studies on throwing technique have even shown that the best technical learning is achieved between 65-80% of their bests. This immediately popped into my mind when analyzing the “over pull” situation.

The over pull caused by weight that is too light is fake! Do athletes over pull weights, missing them behind? For sure. They do this regularly, but there is a TECHNICAL reason for the over pull that has occurred. The mindset of the renowned American coach is entirely based on a “meathead” zone. Use all the strength you have, grip the bar, rip the bar and pray it’s in position. If the bar is not in position, then blame the weight on the bar, don’t blame the lifter for having inconsistent technique and don’t blame the coach for doing a shitty job imprinting technique into the lifter.

Clearly, I think this approach is absurd. I am recognizing that over pulling does indeed occur in weightlifting, but it does not occur because of low intensity on the bar. To start comprehending the over pull, we have to start thinking about technical errors. Where do we start?

MINDSET! I mentioned how ridiculous the coach's mindset was at the competition. The coach did not establish a technical model and could not educate the lifter on the reason behind the over pull. For starters, we must establish a different mindset in lifters. Hell, we must establish a different mindset in all of our athletes! Coaches MUST establish a technical model or technical models to educate the lifters on the goals through various positions. Then as technical errors occur within training, the coach is able to identify a technical error and the athlete’s job is to associate that error with the feeling they had. When that feeling takes place, there will be an error. The next step as a coach is to provide a cue that will enhance the feeling, leading to a technical correction. The sooner this mindset and relationship are established, the sooner technical progress will take place.

Understanding the movement will lead to better technical comprehension. Every coach should have a list of reasons that traditionally cause consistent errors. This is why I love observing other coaches in the back at various competitions. If I hear a good cue or notice a positive relationship between a coach and athlete, I try to notice their cues and how effective they are in hopes of potentially stealing their cues to use in a future situation with an athlete I may be coaching! Once technical comprehension is established, we can gather what causes the infamous “over pull.”

The over pull might be a by-product of various errors. It’s important to take note of a lifter’s consistent inconsistencies. Do they tend to get on their toes early? Do they arm bend and bang the shit out of the bar? Do they throw their head back hard, getting way behind the bar? Do they jump forward? Do they jump back? Are they jumping their feet 6 feet in the air prior to grounding? All of these may be potential causes for an over pull. Let’s pick off each problem (there are more, but I don’t want to write a book on over pulling errors).

On the Toes Early

Lifters that tend to get on the toes early may have proprioception issues, they may have weak feet and they may have tight ankles. If they get on the toes early, they will be pulled forward, leading to a poor finish and the bar traveling behind their head. Cue the lifter on staying flat-footed until the bar is in their hip, teach them to apply force through the toes, the pad of their foot AND the heel. Improve their dorsiflexion to enable their knees to track for without the heels popping and create proprioception drills that will enhance their neural feedback from the foot.

Arm Bend and Bang

The arms bend and bang MIGHT be a result of being on the toes early. Check and see if the lifter was on their toes, if they were not on their toes, figure out when they started the arms bend and bang. These are the lifters that get bruises on their pubic bone. Typically, arms bending occurs just after the bar travels past the knee. This may be caused by their knees failing to reciprocate forward under the bar, keeping the bar forward from their body, making them bend to bring the bar into the hip. Arm benders typically have weaker hamstrings as well. The hamstrings are responsible for the knees flexing after the bar passes the knee, strengthen their hammies through various knee flexion exercises. If they are bangers, they have very strong hips but fail to extend their knees on the finish. Educate them on knee reciprocation and proper movement of the body around the bar.

Throwing the Head Back

Throwing the head back, a la Pyrros Dimas is a pretty consistent technical error. It feels good, we think it will add positive energy to the finish. A lot of the “head backers” are the same lifters saying “stay over the bar.” Riddle me this, how can one stay over the bar if their head is three feet behind the bar? The head and chest need to hold over the bar as long as possible and finish as vertical as possible. When the head is thrown back, the knees are typically not fully extended. “Head backers” have very strong hips but their quads are not finishing the lift. This goes back to a technical mindset. The knee extension is the final accelerator on the lift. The hips extend, then the knees extend and the chest holds vertical. This keeps the bar as tight as possible and energy is applied very efficiently into the finish! Kuo, Toma, Yuri Vardanian...these are all lifters that execute this position incredibly well.

Jumpers (Forward, backward, UP)

I lumped these all into one big technical error. I was the loser that jumped 17 feet backward, snatching 145k doing a double leg backward bound. Jumping back is typically seen on lifters that have very strong hamstrings and a very strong back and struggle to recruit their quads. Teaching them proper technical movement of the knees and hips and educating their body with quad strengthening exercises is a great way to start improving the jump back. Jumping back is easily identified by lifters that consistently have to take a step forward after the snatch catch. The jump forward is seen in athletes with poor ankle mobility and quad-dominant lifters. They fail to sit through the heels on the finish and bump the weight forward, leading to inconsistent catch positions. Again, focus on technical positions and teaching them the most effective way to move their body!

Finally, everyone’s favorite jumper...no not Christian Taylor or Will Claye, those are the real jumpers (I suggest watching their highlights on YouTube), the lifters that jump UP. Even within the upper echelon of USA Weightlifting, we still have coaches and leaders saying that an upward jump is ok. STOP IT! We know how physics and biomechanics work. The longer the feet are grounded, the longer the lifter can apply force into the ground and accelerate the bar. This is the EXACT same principle as seen in throwing and boxing. If an individual has their feet off the ground, they can no longer accelerate or decelerate the bar. This takes us back to the jump UP. If they jump up and the feet are taking longer to ground, then the deceleration phase will be shortened. Are there elite lifters that jump vertically? For sure. But I want optimal performance from everyone. The foot movement should be a long grounded finish with a slide to a flat foot landing. The longer the feet are grounded, the longer the acceleration phase becomes, the sooner the feet reground, the longer the deceleration becomes.

The “over pull” is real but it occurs due to poor technical movement. When it happens, it isn’t because the bar is too light, it is because the technique was not executed properly! Troubleshoot the reasons behind the over pull, experiment and understand cues in relationship to various feelings and the over pull will cease to occur....until the next technical error occurs. But that’s the sport of weightlifting.

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