Ask Greg: Can't Get a Back Arch in the Starting Position
Greg Everett

Adrian Asks: I've been lifting a year and a half and have a problem setting up tight from the floor. From plates and off blocks I feel really strong but when it comes to the floor I can’t seem to get full scapular retraction and T-spine extension, which wrecks my first pull. How do I set myself up or mobilize to fix this problem?

Greg Says: You don’t want full scapular retraction when pulling—you want to arch the entire spine and depress the scapulae, but keep them close to neutral in terms of protraction/retraction. In any case, if you can set up with a tight back arch from a higher position, it’s clearly a lower-body mobility limitation, because that will be reduced as you move the starting position higher and higher and the angle of the hip is opened.

You don’t mention it, so it may not be the case, but if you have particularly long legs, this will make setting a good arch in your starting position even more difficult simply because you have farther to reach. In this case, I would suggest experimenting with a wider pulling stance, which should help you arch your back a little better by reducing the need to flex the hip slightly.

In any case, experiment with changing your pulling stance and be sure you’re pushing your knees out to the sides as far as you can inside your arms in the starting position and first pull; the latter will help open the hips a bit more and also effectively reduce leg length to make the position somewhat less demanding on hip mobility.

Any stretches for the hamstrings, adductors and glutes should help improve your ability to achieve a better starting position. In particular, the spiderman lunge and Russian baby maker.
You can also try doing slow eccentrics on snatch and clean pulls or deadlifts, focusing on maintaining the arch position all the way down to the floor, as it will be easier to maintain from the top than to set from the bottom, and this is a good way to strengthen the back in that position. Good morning squats may also help—arch the back completely, bend into the good morning, and then slowly sit the hips down into the squat position, fighting to maintain the same arch in your back as you do.
Finally, floating snatch/clean pulls or deadlifts and snatches/cleans from a low hang position can all have similar effects by allowing you to create a strong arch in an easier position, and then work to maintain it, strengthening your back and stretching your hips simultaneously.

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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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Benjamin Beilman 2017-11-30
Greg, just wanted to drop by and say thanks for all the knowledge you spread on Catalyst's website as well as on Instagram. As a novice to the weightlifting movements, the website (particularly the exercise library and your articles) has been an invaluable learning tool. And as someone that's 6'4" I can attest that what you say about adopting a wider pulling stance to help with back arch was 100% true for me.
Thank you.

Greg Everett
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