The Trouble with Pulls: Snatch & Clean Pull Weights
Traditionally, snatch and clean pulls are prescribed as a percentage of a lifter’s maximum snatch or clean. This generally keeps pulls appropriately quick and technically sound rather than allowing them to get slow and change the lifter’s balance and timing. Typically pulls are done with 80-105% of the lifter’s best snatch or clean, and for a lifter who is well-developed technically, this is usually appropriate and effective.
However, for newer lifters who nearly always have a surplus of strength relative to their technical ability to use that strength for the snatch and clean, this range of percentages is far too light, and aside from use as practice, is ineffective.
I’ve considered trying to come up with a formulaic method of prescribing pull weights based on the ratio of snatch or clean to the squat, but with some thought, it becomes clear that there’s far too much variation for even this method to be accurate.
This situation, like many in weightlifting, demands a little intuition from the coach. You’ll need to select pull weights based on what you see. When first training the athlete, start conservatively and work your way up in fairly small increments until you reach a weight at which the athlete is moving properly and at the level of effort that you’re looking for. This of course will change depending on the goals for the workout, or with the time within a cycle. For example, if the lifter is just learning to pull, you won’t want to see them struggle with the weight. If you’re at or near the beginning of a training cycle, pulls shouldn’t be particularly challenging—if the athlete is struggling to pull the weight on week one, you don’t have anywhere to go over the remainder of the cycle. And if you’re near the end of a cycle and want to really challenge the lifter’s pulling strength, pulls should look difficult, although still be done properly.
Don’t make the mistake of not allowing the lifter to pull heavy just because it exceeds the normal range of relative percentage—if a lifter is technically challenged, all you’ll do is limit their strength development. This holds true even for lifters who are not brand new—some lifters who seem technically proficient will still be, for various reasons, not snatching or cleaning as much as you might expect based on their pulling strength. Some lifters, for example, can be very strong pullers but weak squatters, so their cleans are low relative to their clean pulling strength. Another example would be a lifter who has a poor overhead position in the snatch and consequently can’t snatch as much as he or she would be expected to based on how much he or she can pull with ease.
Once you’ve gone through some time coaching a given athlete, you’ll have a sense of what he or she is capable of with regard to pulling weights, and if you pay attention and take reliable notes, you can use that to prescribe pulling weights in the future irrespective of how they relate to that lifter’s snatch or clean.