Sweeping The Bar: How To Fix Your First Pull

Earlier this week, we discussed how to extend the wrists for a proper overhead position. Today we will be discussing what we consider to be a few of the more glaring errors that can doom a lift before it even starts. One of these errors comes from a failure to “sweep the bar back”.

Naturally, the starting position is the most important aspect of the lift: an athlete has a small chance of finishing correctly if they begin incorrectly. Many of the new lifters we deal with will approach a clean or snatch setup the same way they would approach a conventional deadlift. Something we stress at seminars is that “a deadlift is not a clean/snatch, and a clean/snatch is not a deadlift.” This means that the upper back should not be round like a deadlift, and the bar should not start against the shin and travel up the entire leg. Coach Bob Takano has a nice quote about the starting position:

“If you are comfortable, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

You can see everyone’s starting position in the video. Their levers are tight, and the bar is not starting against vertical shins. Instead, the knees start over the bar, and the bar is away from the shins, roughly over the crease of the shoe. This is where “sweeping the bar” comes into play. Unlike a deadlifter, an Olympic lifter should not be proud of bloody shins: bloody shins means something is wrong with the pull. Sweeping the bar means the bar travels backwards during the first pull. This occurs when the lifter’s shoulders and hips rise at the same rate. Essentially, the two easiest cues for this would be:

1. Pull knees back 2. Sweep bar backwards

You can test the athlete’s efficacy of this by standing a pvc pipe up on end on either side of the barbell, and ask the athlete to pull the bar to their knees. If the bar stays behind the pvc pipe: they are sweeping the bar back. If it travels in front of the pvc: they are not pulling the knees back and sweeping the bar back. If the bar were to travel in front of the imaginary pvc during an actual lift, several things could happen: The bar can crash into the hips and arch out, either causing the lift to be lost, or causing the athlete to chase the lift, wasting energy and focus, possibly ruining the lift.

It is very important to remember that the hips and shoulders rise at the same rate during the 1st pull, otherwise the lifter will completely extend their legs without the bar moving off the ground, becoming a straight legged deadlift. The head should be pointed ahead (If there were a judge in front of the athlete, the athlete would be looking roughly at the judges forehead).

Keeping these things in mind will help you or your athletes alter their setup from a conventional deadlift setup to a proper clean/snatch setup position instead. Other aspects such as hand width, hip starting height, elbows turned out, etc… can all be different based on the athlete’s body type (Some suggest up to 9 different somatotypes for men, and 27 different somatotypes for women). However, one thing doesn’t change: The bar and knees must be swept back in order for the lift to start off correctly. Next week, we will discuss the basics of the 2nd pull and how you can improve it.

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