Squat and Pull Functions

Written by Jim Napier

Squats and pulls (dead lifts) are often incorporated as part of an athlete’s training regime regardless of the sport. In powerlifting the squats and pulls (better known as dead lift) are the competitive events along with the bench press. Right away we can tell there will be a difference in the way the squats and pulls should be trained in weightlifting as opposed to powerlifting, since the competitive events of the weightlifter are the snatch and clean & jerk and not the squat and dead lift. In bodybuilding the squats play a role in developing the legs for display purposes and not for an athletic performance. In other sports where the legs play a prominent role, i.e. shot put and discus, more squats and pulls might be used over other conventional type exercises with barbells or dumbbells.

We need to define what squats and pulls represent, as far as the sport of weightlifting is concerned. The most common mistake the novice and even elite lifters make is trying to train the squats and pulls as a powerlifter would train those events. It might seem on the surface that such an approach would be correct, but this would be a false premise. The function of the squats and pulls are fairly straight forward.

1) Development of the fast twitch and slow twitch fibers so a consistent and constant time in motion can be maintained with every rep in every set of both the competition lifts and the squats and pulls. This means that when doing a back squat or front squat the stand up time should be the same for ever rep and that time should also be in accordance with the velocity of the snatch and clean, which is 1.0 second from the platform to receiving the weight, and one second for the recovery of the snatch and clean (0.5 seconds for the jerk). When the squats and pulls are in equilibrium with the times in motion of the snatch and clean then and only then can the lifter reach their full potential.

2) Never allowing the squats and pulls to decelerate during any single or set of reps. Deceleration occurs when the lifter is moving through the sticking point. The sticking point is basically from parallel to quarter squat and is caused by the shape of the human body acting like a double sided hinge. The more vertical position the lifer can maintain with the upper torso during a squat or clean recovery then there will be less vulnerability associated through the sticking point. Maintaining the time in motion of 1.0 second when recovering the squat or clean will also create a situation where the sticking point can be nullified.

3) The function of the front squat is to develop enough velocity to make standing up with the clean effortless and thereby creating a more efficient jerk. Also, the front squat is used to develop the jerk drive. The time in motion for the jerk drive from full is 1.0 second and from just above parallel  0.67 seconds with up to 100% of PR clean & jerk. Slower squats will allow more weight to be handled, but at the expense of that velocity needed for the snatch and clean & jerk.

4) The function of the back squat is for developing the 1st pull, and jerk drive and absent the ability to do front squats, the back squat would also serve as some support for the clean recovery. The times in motion are the same for the front or back squat.

5) The function of the pulls is to develop the velocity (time in motion) necessary to maintain a specific time in motion regardless of the weight on the bar up to and slightly more than 100% of snatch or clean & jerk PR. The time in motion is 0.67 seconds from the platform to full extension and right before the 3rd pull is commenced.

To be clear the only function of the snatch or clean pull is velocity training from the platform to full extension. Full extension does not include bending the arms or shrugging the shoulders. There will be some minimal amount of arm bending and shoulder shrug at the finish of the pull, but that should be held to a minimum amount of effort, allowing the greatest amount of momentum to be produced by the legs, hips and upper torso. Maintaining the 0.67 seconds to full extension will require the lifter to train the pulls using weights at or near 100% of PR. More weight can be handled using slower times, but that will be at the expense of developing the correct velocity for the competition lifts.

Squats and pulls are assistance lifts, they should not be nor ever become events as in powerlifting where slower times are being used to gain an advantage for lifting bigger loads. A slight amount of overloading in the squats and pulls can be useful, but that overloading should be limited to 120% of clean PR for the back squat, 110% of clean PR for the front squat, 105% of snatch and clean & jerk PR for the pulls. Heavier loads will produce slower times and less force not more, as some would argue. Squats and pulls should always be programmed as a percentage of clean & jerk and not as a percentage of maximal squat or pull singles, because the weightlifter, unlike the powerlifter, should never know how much absolute weight they can squat or pull.

The aspiring weightlifter should try and get it out of their head that weightlifting has anything to do with being strong or powerful or anything other than athletic, agile and very fast. Training for the sport of weightlifting has nothing in common with the training used in powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman events. They are as different as sprinting is to running the 10,000 meters, even though both events are trained on an oval track and both might have some form of interval training they have little else in common as far as the training of those events are concerned. Many sports have some crossover effects, such as gymnastics and the pole vault or powerlifting and the shot put, but their effects must be carefully determined as to their effectiveness and necessity.