The exercise known to us as a snatch/clean high-pull
and referred to as “Practicing active drop phase” in the Soviet school has long been incorporated into weightlifters’ routines. But like with any other exercise, to benefit from it, an athlete needs to understand what he is doing it for and when and how it shall be done.
While approaching it correctly, it may help you to understand the technique of “active drop”, where you basically use your arms to push yourself under the bar. This technique allows you to improve the speed of the drop phase and to get better control of the bar.
At first, it may seem that this exercise is a must-have in any routine, as speed and control are huge prerequisites for successful lifting. But do not rush to practice it without reading this article, because in certain instances this exercise may be a trap, leading athletes to improper technique and movement patterns.
The exercise is not as simple as pull the bar as high as possible
and requires some practice. Should it be used by a novice weightlifter, he is very likely to use his arms incorrectly, which will have an adverse effect on his snatch and clean technique and speed.
Firstly, a novice athlete may start to use its arms too early, having them bent at the beginning of the second pull. It may not seem that crucial at first, but as the weights get heavier, bent arms will absorb some of the energy instead of transmitting it to the bar. Imagine that you tie yourself to a sled with a long rope and start running. Until you run far enough to stretch the rope, none of your speed will be transmitted to the sled. Same happens with a snatch or clean, with the bar being a sled, and your arms the rope, extending instead of moving the bar/sled.
Second, the active drop (pushing yourself down under the bar) may distract you from a correct drop phase. The main factor for the drop speed is the ability to drop your body down by bending the legs. This skill does not involve any strength, just focusing on learning how to drop your body down like a rock with speed and ease. And if you focus on making it an “active” movement, which involves active muscle work (pushing yourself down the bar with arms), without a well-established drop phase, your lower body will likely not be able to relax and drop down as fast as you want it to. Unless you are trained well enough, it is not that easy to contract the arms and relax the legs at the same time.
Third, athletes tend to postpone the groundless phase. Pulling the bar up requires the feet remain against the ground. If you are in the air, you can’t transmit any power to the bar with your efforts. So, if your mind is set on making sure you use your arms to lift the bar as high as possible, the groundless phase (post-jump phase) is likely to occur with significant delay, leaving you less time to drop below the bar. There is no jump in the snatch high-pull, thus you will always have a connection to the ground, completing the exercise in one way. But when you do the snatch, you need the jump and the wrong movement pattern may ruin your snatch.
So one important thing an athlete needs to understand is that while a regular snatch/clean pull mimics the element of snatch/clean, the high-pull does not.
To understand why the high-pull may bring more disadvantages than advantages for novice and intermediate athletes, let us repeat the priorities in the early stage of your weightlifting journey.
Forming correct angles:
The hip and knee joints shall be extended almost simultaneously, not leading to asyncronization on any part of the movement. So, if you feel that there are some parts of the bar path where only legs or back are extended, your angles are not set well enough.
Forming correct muscular effort:
The back and legs are the strongest muscles of our body, so use them to lift the bar. Once acting correctly, these muscle groups make the work of the arms, glutes and traps irrelevant for bar acceleration. If you feel that going onto the toes or shrugging is done not with inertia but to give extra acceleration to the bar, you are likely to do it wrong.
Keeping the bar close to the body:
Any actions leading to an increase of the gap between your body and the bar is a sign of technique flaws. There are numerous adverse effects of letting the bar move away. Understanding them all would require another article, so for now, just take it for granted. Allowing the bar to move too far away jeopardizes your lift and results.
Mastering a fast drop:
Dropping fast is as crucial for the lift as being strong enough to pull the bar.
My rule of thumb is that the high-pull will benefit you only if you are a) a naturally gifted weightlifter; or b) pretty confident with the four points above.