The Art of “Carrying” The Bar

Proficiency in the second pull of the Olympic lifts starts with this technique.
By Bob LeFavi, Ph.D., CSCS, USAW,

As CrossFitters often come to find, the highly technical and complex Olympic lifts can be quite difficult to master. Some aspects are intuitive; their biomechanics make sense and are easy to grasp. Using powerful leg muscles during the first pull and keeping the bar close to the body during the second pull are examples of elements that feel natural even to newbie CrossFitters.

Other aspects of a good snatch or clean-and-jerk, however, are relatively unintuitive. One of the most difficult elements is the hip extension in the second pull. Here’s how to master it.

Full Hip Extension

“Extension” of the hips is simply the technical term for increasing the angle of the hips, often referred to in CrossFit as “opening” the hips (as in Games-style box jumps). Yet, while athletes know what this action feels like, they often have trouble performing it in weightlifting movements.

Here’s a conversation that may sound familiar:

Coach: “Your hips aren’t extending at the second pull. That’s why you aren’t getting the bar velocity you need, and that’s why you can’t get the bar high enough. Scoop the bar back toward your hips. You should feel the bar coming off your hips (or upper thighs in the clean). Are you feeling that?”

Athlete: “I guess I don’t know what I should be feeling or how to fix that.”

Coach: “On your next lift, I want you to bring the bar into your hips so you make contact and then start the second pull.”

Athlete: “You mean you want the bar to actually hit my hips?!”

Coach: “Yes!”

Often, it takes a few trials and some encouragement to actually position the bar in that close. Soon, though, the athlete feels it and gets it. Now, they are in a position to have the hips actually “carry” the bar upward in the second pull.

If you simply cannot get the feel for positioning the bar in so close as to make contact with the hips, work on the second pull only (using blocks) in a hip-extended position. That will give you a better feel for where the bar should be at the beginning of the second pull.

One other note: While most good lifters do carry the bar upward immediately following contact with the hips or upper thighs, a small percentage of lifters do not. However, when you analyze the lifts of the latter lifters, they are clearly achieving full hip extension, and the bar is no more than an inch away from their hips at the start of the second pull. Without question, teaching an athlete to actually feel the bar on the hips is the best way to get past this unintuitive position at the second pull.

The Timing of Hip Extension

The second reason an athlete benefits from feeling the bar contacting the hips at the beginning of the second pull is that it teaches timing in the pull. Coaches often see hip extension but at the wrong time. Even good CrossFitters are guilty of starting the second pull with a shrug (elevation of the shoulder girdle) and then reaching full hip extension as the bar gets to the sternum. That is far too late; power is wasted and the lift is inefficient. When the bar gets to the height of the sternum, athletes should already be pulling themselves under it.

Here’s the chain of events in an effective “carrying” of the bar:

1. The velocity of the bar increases as the bar clears the knees.

2. The bar is scooped in toward the hips as the hips move forward.

3. The bar contacts the hips (or upper thigh in the clean).

4. The hips finish full extension, carrying the bar as they move inward and upward, and the arms, in “scarecrow” position, guide the bar in close to the body.

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