I get a lot of emails and texts throughout my days. The great thing about this is that I have an organic network of people feeding me things they’ve found in their time browsing the internet so I don’t have to spend time looking at anything myself—I just get sent the ridiculous, the confusing and the interesting and have the luxury to choose what to ignore and what to get irritated by.
One that was just sent to me was regarding the double knee bend or scoop
. This is a topic I have discussed in bloody detail in a number of places over the last ten years or so, including in each of the three editions of my book
, and in my level 1 seminars
. This recent quote reminded me of a couple conversations I’ve had or things I’ve overheard regarding the double knee bend, so I figured I would throw this together and see once again if I set the record straight.
A couple years ago, we hosted a seminar with Vasiliy Polovnikov, Oksana Slivenko and Russian national coach Vladimir Safonov, with Nikita Durnev. At one point, while analyzing some lifting video, the topic of the double knee bend came up, and Nikita said that prior to them coming to the US, they had never even heard of it.
A couple years prior to this, German national coach Frank Mantek gave a clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and apparently said that they (the Germans) “no longer do the double knee bend.”
And this week, someone sent me a link to a forum post in which someone wrote, “The main technique takeaway was that the second pull and hang second pull are very stiff legged, hips back and no knee rebend nonsense with hips coming forward. Similar to Klokov stuff,” when relaying what he had learned in a seminar with Vladislav Lukanin.
With things like this floating around, I understand why there might be some legitimate confusion surrounding the topic, and why people who spend more time online than in the gym may have an idea in their heads that the double knee bend is some kind of old-fashioned technique that is no longer used in modern lifting while we stupid Americans still cling to it.
Unfortunately, this confusion, and the idea that the double knee bend is some kind of lifting technique that can be performed or not by choice, is also perpetuated by some coaches in various manners, such as by teaching the movement itself.
What is the Double Knee Bend?
First, let’s describe what exactly the double knee bend is so we’re all on the same page: During the pull of the snatch or clean, the knees extend during the first pull, bringing the bar up the leg until reaching a point at which the shins are nearing vertical, the knees are still somewhat flexed, the hips pushed back, and the shoulders in front of the bar. As the bar moves up the thigh, the lifter’s hips extend, bringing the shoulders back and the hips forward… and the knees momentarily remain in that same slightly bent position and move forward under the bar before completing their extension along with the final extension of the hips.
What exactly this all looks like (i.e. the precise angles of the shin, knee, hip and trunk and whether or not the knees remain bent to the same degree, extend slightly, or even bend slightly as they move forward) will vary among lifters based on proportions and technical style, but the same fundamental movement will always occur. The movement will be less pronounced in lifters who flare their knees out to the sides significantly simply because the knees are oriented less forward (see Max Lang below as an example of this).
Double knee bend demonstrated
You Can't Escape It
As I’ve been trying to get across for years, the double knee bend is a natural phenomenon, and unavoidable if the lifter’s positions, timing, and speed are even approaching correct. In order for the lifter to extend the hips (bring the trunk upright and eventually behind vertical, the hips must move forward over the feet—this is a very simple issue of maintaining the balance of the barbell-body system over the base. In other words, it’s the body’s very natural and very strong desire to not fall over.
If the hips were extended without the hips moving forward from their originating position at the start of the second pull (i.e. back behind the feet), the lifter-barbell’s center of mass would move far behind the feet and the lifter would fall over backward. Simple.
Now the knees. Two basic factors come into play with regard to the movement of the knees (in addition to the forward motion of the hips explained above). The violent extension of the hips in the second pull is the result in part of the contraction of the hamstrings. Some of the hamstrings group crosses both the hip and the knee joints—that means their contraction both extends the hip and flexes the knee. When The hamstrings fire off that last extension effort to finish the upward explosion of the lift, the contraction is also trying to bend the knee, which is already in a partially flexed position. This is why the knees remain at that partially bent angle as the hips move forward over the feet, meaning the knees too move forward under the bar with this motion (the scoop).
The second factor is that the lifter is continuing to drive with the legs against the ground during this final upward explosion, which will naturally move the knees forward in order to reposition the body properly to propel it vertically. If you’re not sure what I mean by this, get up and stand in a simulated mid-thigh hang position—shins approximately vertical, hips back, and shoulders in front of the knees (just like if you had a bar in your hands and were about to initiate the second pull of a snatch or clean). From this position, simply jump vertically as high as you can without a countermovement and pay attention to what your knees do, or have someone watch you and explain—without any intention on your part, your knees will move forward as your trunk moves into a vertical orientation as part of the effort to drive vertically against the ground. Try as hard as you want to prevent this forward movement of the knees. You’ll fail.
Now, granted the term double knee bend
is itself somewhat confusing. Scoop is probably preferable as it simply describes the movement of the knees forward under the bar. In most cases, the knees don’t actually rebend, and when they do, it’s extremely minimally—it would more accurately be called the temporary cessation of knee flexion during the course of the repositioning of the body to preserve balance of the barbell-lifter system over the base of support in response to the final extension of the hips in the second pull
. But that’s a bit of a mouthful.
It’s Real—I’m Not Just a Crotchety Old Bastard
I’m sure some of you still don’t believe me and just think I’m some crotchety old bastard who hates all these new young kids coming in and ruining my sport (for the record, I’m 35—a gal who attended my seminar last weekend said, “I expected you to be old and strict, but you’re young and silly.”), how could these world-class lifters and coaches be wrong and your dumb American ass be right, and that I’m just hallucinating this whole double knee bend thing because I overdosed on my hypertension medication and the swelling of my prostate is interfering with the blood flow to my brain.
So here are some sequential frames of various world-class weightlifters snatching to show exactly what I’m describing and prove that it’s not in my head. Note that I’ve included both Vladislav Lukanin and Dmitri Klokov, two lifters the internet seems to believe don’t perform the double knee bend according to the included quote, and Max Lang, a current German lifter. Also included are Kwang Song Kim of North Korea and Xiaojun Lu from China to add some short-legged lifters to the selection and avoid any of these ludicrous “Asian lifters do everything completely differently” arguments. And finally, I threw in Ilya Ilyin to cover that exasperatingly persistent myth that he has some kind of completely unique lifting technique that defies all textbook rules and consequently proves that the entire textbook is wrong.
Each one of them is doing the same thing with somewhat different timing and angles due to technical variation and proportions. If you want to argue that, there’s nothing more I can do for you.
Kwang Song Kim
How Did We Get So Confused?
I think the heart of the problem when foreign coaches are talking with Americans is simply one of communication. When Mantek said the Germans don’t do the double knee bend anymore, I suspect he meant that they don’t actually instruct their lifters to move their knees under the bar, which they may have at one point in the past. When the Russians here said they’d never hear of the double knee bend, I suspect they were really referring more to the term itself; further, that because their lifters learn to snatch and clean at young ages through drills, not conceptual instruction, and since the double knee bend, as I’ve tried to explain, is a natural, unavoidable phenomenon, it never had to be discussed (this doesn’t mean they’ve never seen it happen or don’t know about it—it’s written about in great detail in many Russian weightlifting books and papers). Finally, I suspect what Lukanin was trying to get across was a point about timing and position—you’ll notice that in his lift, he keeps the knees back and shoulders over the bar longer than the others (to about mid-thigh; Iliyin has similar timing).
This is actually the timing I teach as the starting point for lifters, and it will naturally adjust based on strengths and proportions. For example, if you look at Lu and Kim, you’ll see an earlier scoop with a greater degree of knee flexion—this is what a shorter-legged, longer-torsoed lifter will naturally do because it shifts more of the work of elevating the bar to their stronger, more mechanically-advantaged (technically less mechanically-disadvantaged) legs instead of the hips.
From this starting point of miscommunication, you then have an extended game of telephone as this information gets posted and reposted across the internet with each iteration losing something from the original and/or gaining an incorrect interpretation by the poster until you have people hearing complete nonsense and believing it’s straight from the mouths of some of the world’s best lifters and coaches.
Further, I don’t know what’s going on these days because I have no involvement in the area, but at least for a time, some strength & conditioning organizations and coaches were teaching the double knee bend as an intentional action (due, I believe, to the mistaken interpretation through lift analysis that lifters were intentionally moving their knees forward under the bar) and fueling the confusion.
As I mentioned previously, I discuss the double knee bend in both my book and my seminars, and in each case, I try to clearly make the point that I would prefer not to even address it, as it’s best allowed to simply occur naturally by teaching lifters the proper positions and timing in the snatch and clean (i.e. wait to explode until the bar is closer to mid-thigh, and in this position, the shins should be approximately vertical and the shoulders in front of the bar); unfortunately, coaches need to understand the information, and everyone these days, coach or not, is starving for detailed information even when arguably inappropriate at a given stage of development.
What Have We Learned?
I sincerely hope that you’ve taken away the following:
- The double knee bend is a natural movement that should not be performed intentionally.
- The double knee bend occurs in all snatches and cleans even by lifters who may not know they’re doing it or tell you they’re not.
- The internet is a potential source of good information, but it’s also a guaranteed source of terrible information. Use it wisely (I suggest just never leaving this website).
- I’m not saying these foreign lifters and coaches are wrong; I think what they’re saying is being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented.
- I may be a crotchety bastard, but I’m not old.