Articles




The Double Knee Bend: It’s Not Going Away Just Because You Pretend It's Not There
Greg Everett

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.


Vladislav Lukanin


Dmitry Klokov


Max Lang


Kwang Song Kim


Xiaojun Lu


Ilya Ilyin

 
 
 
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:
  1. The double knee bend is a natural movement that should not be performed intentionally.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. I’m not saying these foreign lifters and coaches are wrong; I think what they’re saying is being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented.
  5. I may be a crotchety bastard, but I’m not old.


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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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11 Comments
AlexUa 2016-02-29
I like your deep inside on the things. When my coach keep saying me the same on knee I have a difficulty understanding and it looks like after pushing the ground by legs and after passing of barbell knees I instead to pull hard trying to stop unbending to let my knees to move forward slightly. Seems I over thinking instead to find right patten
Jim Shelby 2016-02-29
Greg, another excellent article. Thank you sir!
Andrew Alvarado 2016-02-29
Greg,

This article was very helpful. I want you to know that these articles help tons of people. Don't worry about the trolls that hide behind a computer. Your doing great things that are helping a lot of people. Me included.
"The Russian" 2016-02-29
You are spot on about the mis-translations!

Here is an excerpt from the main book that is currently being used in the Olympic training centers across Russia to teach young weightlifters: http://bit.ly/1QQmb9b

The comments to the Figure 7.1 (3) clearly state that an athlete naturally re-bends during the second pull, when knees reach approximately 130 degrees.

Markus 2016-03-03
As for Germany, I can add that a re-bending of the knees during the pull is considered as somewhat a technical fault as per "our technique textbook". The reasoning here is that by re-bending (= decreasing knee angle during the pull) you lose speed in your pull (v1 -> v2 -> vmax transition, with overall increasing speed, esp. v2 >= v1, where the scoop would occur during v2 *).
The knees will of course shift forward more or less strongly (depending on lifter proportions). Of course we do not actively teach this point. It just comes naturally, as was mentioned in the article.
I would assume that was the point ("decreasing angle") that Frank Mantek wanted to get across, but obviously I was not there, so can't know for sure.

*) Not sure if you have a similar notion. v1 and v2 are velocity parameters part of our technical diagram. Rougly, v1 is from floor to knees, v2 is velocity on thighs until vmax.
Yes, I think it's the issue of not intentionally doing it, as this will always cause the knees to move forward prematurely and with too much flexion, but also the timing, which should be later in the pull, i.e. bar higher on the thigh - intentional knee movement and early knee movement will both decrease speed to an unnecessarily great degree.

Acceleration and even speed decrease unavoidably somewhat during this repositioning, and the goal is always to minimize that decrease, which is done with the above - proper timing of the initiation of the explosion and allowing the movement to occur naturally, as well as continuous force against the floor with the legs.

Greg Everett
Allan Hopkins 2016-03-12
Hi Greg,
For working to a HS on the snatch, whats your view on Power snatching the weight catching it lower & lower as the weight gets heavier until it's a full snatch vs always doing a full snatch even on the lighter weights? I know you don't want the weight crashing down on yourself in the catch, so seems like as long as you're catching the weight at the proper place, either way is fine? Appreciate the website and all the time you/your team spend on the content!
If you're snatching, snatch. Even if you fix the bar overhead higher than the bottom of a squat, still continue fluidly into the bottom. Otherwise you create problems in the long term.

Greg Everett
Allan Hopkins 2016-03-15
Thanks for the help! much appreciated.
Zea U 2016-03-21
I find some informative, educated articles as such to be sometimes drive and I have to force my way through reading them (the things we do to be educated) but I always love reading your articles. You explain things really well with a good balance of nerdiness and fun that makes your articles easy to understand. I have a few guys that train in the gym I work in who constantly argue over fully extending vs the inevitable double knee bend, so I am definitely printing this article to share with them.

Thanks!
Randy Forbes 2016-05-18
Glad you have more time to rant er set the record straight- great job at the nationals!!

We never leave this site. It is a real blessing to lifters and coaches Novice or professional.

THANK YOU!!
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