Fixing Your Early Arm Bend issues

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Article written by Fletcher Pierce

Lifting big is a difficult thing, which is why we all love our respective strength sports, but it is especially hard when we make things more difficult for ourselves. A prime example of adding additional work and hurting ourselves in the process can be seen in the pull portion of the clean and snatch. When we start doing weights closer to our max, probably 90% or higher for most athletes, we naturally start thinking we need to put more force into the top of the pull or we simply won’t make the lift. The way many of us do this is by pulling with our arms at the top of the pull. There are multiple problems with this natural habit, and you need to be aware of them in order to help yourself improve as a lifter.

The main reason this is an issue is that your turnover (the ability to transition under the bar and get your elbows through in a stable position) is greatly diminished in both speed and efficiency. If your biceps, triceps, and entire shoulder are actively engaged at the top of the pull, that is a lot of tension that the lifter must overcome in order to transition to their bottom position. If the transition isn’t consistent and the lifter is unable to adjust to the extra tension in the millisecond available, they will most likely dump the bar in front, wasting precious time and energy in the process.

Another reason pulling with the arms is an issue is that the pull will actually be cut short. If a lifter is doing a max weight, and is compensating by pulling with their arms, chances are they will also not finish the second pull to full extension. When the arms are generally elongated at the top of our pull we naturally develop a sense of where the bar should be located on the quad when we begin the transition into the bottom position. If we pull with your arms and elevate the position of the bar even an inch, it could change the rhythm of your entire pull, causing you to cut it short. 


 
Most lifters know that turning your elbows out (away from your body) will help create a smoother and more efficient bar path by keeping the bar closer to their center of gravity. Another benefit of keeping your elbows out like this is that it limits your arms ability to attempt to “reverse curl” the bar. If you attempt to reverse curl the bar there are a few scenarios that many of us have been through:

1. The athlete could crash the bar into your throat (instead of catching it).
2. The athlete may simply be unable to turn the bar over (dropping it in front).
3. Or there is my favorite option, when the bar swings out away from the athlete and they pull it back in with their arms, which in-turn drives the bar into them, which throws the athlete on their back (hopefully not breaking any wrists in the process).

All of these can be avoided by simply keeping your elbows out, staying over the bar, and use your arms like ropes in the pull. They aren’t going to be of any benefit to the real pulling muscles, your quads and glutes won’t throw a party for your biceps for saving that PR clean or snatch.

That being said, there are lifters that pull with their arms in a fixed bent position. They do this to elevate the bar into their hip pocket more efficiently, but it is difficult to do and hasn’t been proven to be more or less effective. In order to do it this way, you must make sure the arms aren’t actually used to lift the bar as much as stabilize it in the desired position.

  • malone

    Any advice/cues for someone with freakishly long arms? I basically have to start my second pull at my kneecap. Please don’t reply with ‘take up basketball’. My J and crossover are much worse than my hang clean.

    • malone

      Judging by the lack of response, I gather I should probably work on my J.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09626477510185622549 Kristin Newman

    Or, the arm bend is a way to bring it into your hips for a greater finish:

    1) http://youtu.be/pElJ7U46XnQ

    2) http://youtu.be/ABcEE7E88yA

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06850163798794549045 Fletcher Pierce

    Correct Kristin! That is what the last paragraph was about. There are athletes that use the arm bend to bring the bar into their hips and are able to use it to benefit their pull. However, they aren’t pulling with the bar in a way that negatively effects the bar path or speed of the bar, they are simply creating a fixed arm position to increase the height of the bar. Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06850163798794549045 Fletcher Pierce

    I would also like to add, that I wrote the last paragraph, and covered the bent arm pull, almost EXCLUSIVELY because I know the CalStrength team and now MDUSA use that technique and have done so very successfully. It is not considered the standard. So I’m not surprised to see a post of a Donny Shankle lifting video, what a beast.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02158932410880953942 GMoGoody

    Are there any recommended ways to break this habit or is this something practice will correct?

    –Gordon

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06850163798794549045 Fletcher Pierce

    Practice mostly. If you practice good positions and technique consistently with lower weights, then your heavier lifts will be more consistent as well. If you pull with your arms all the time, even with lower weight, I would suggest a lot of lighter lifts with elbow position and bar path as your primary focus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11651559713519122078 Judith/Finnseach

    You have the video of a horrible arm pull… how about one of a correct arm pull for us neophytes? ;)

    • Anonymous

      I concur, it’s easier to learn from seeing what to do rather than what not to do!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00069223521495788458 Mariah

    I always tend to rush the second pull and completely miss the hip/triple extension, pulling and muscling it up instead of driving with my hips. I also have a hard time keeping the bar nice and tight to my body. I know in my mind how it’s supposed to look, and I spend a lot of time replaying youtube videos (mostly LBEB) on how that triple extension is supposed to look. Guess I just need to practice more! :) Thanks for this article!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00069223521495788458 Mariah

    PS. The “elbows out” cue might just do the trick too. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Hip cleaners are born.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06850163798794549045 Fletcher Pierce

      I agree, hip cleaners are not the norm. It takes a special kind a person. I hope keeping your elbows out will help you improve the second pull and bar path. It is difficult to take your arms out of the equation, and not muscle it up, so try to not get discouraged.