Pulls or Deadlifts for Olympic Weightlifting
As a lifter, it's hard to know whether to use pulls or deadlifts in programmes. Even coaches seem pretty divided on the topic, with some using loads of pulls and no deadlifts and others using lots more deadlifts and very few pulls. In this article, I'm going to be breaking down WHY we use pulls and deadlifts, and how to choose which is right for YOUR training.
Clarifying Terminology (Pulls Vs Deadlifts)
Let's start by making sure we're clear on the terms we're using... For me, pulls refer to clean and snatch pulls, typically performed lighter and often at percentages based off a lifters max clean or snatch. Here's a quick example from the OG catalyst athletics database...
Deadlifts is a trickier term, in powerlifting and general strength sports it means a higher hip position, very posterior chain dominant lift, typically done with heavier weights. But for weightlifting, that's not quite what I'm talking about. I'm referring more to clean deadlifts and snatch deadlifts that use heavy(ish) weights whilst lifting in biomechanically similar positions to the clean and the snatch. Here's a quick example...
My Chat with Glenn Pendlay about Pulls and Deadlifts
Back in 2019, I was lucky enough to be individually coached and programmed by Glenn Pendlay of Cal Strength and American weightlifting fame. What surprised me about the programmes he wrote for me was that he had me doing heavy deadlifts twice per week. One session of snatch deadlifts and the other clean deadlifts. It surprised me because having read so much of Glenn's early work, and like many lifters having watched so many of those early days cal strength training videos, I knew that Glenn had previously not really used deadlifts as part of his training methodology. So why the change? Why go from zero deadlifts to multiple heavy sessions per week? Well, when I chatted to Glenn about this over the phone, his answer was essentially two things... 1) Assuming similar technique, Strength is the biggest limiting factor for most US and UK lifters, mainly because they're drug-free.
2) Lighter pulls aren't the best at building strength.
So for Glenn, deadlifts were the better choice for getting lifters stronger and getting them more competitive with the rest of the world.
Pull and Deadlift Velocity
Now, for the most part, I agree with Glenn. BUT
There is a nuance we need to consider... Strength isn't always the limiting factor for US and UK athletes, even when they have good technique. Sometimes speed-strength qualities are the limiting factor. You can have an incredibly strong lifter who fully extends, keeps the bar close, fixates it overhead, but still doesn't lift anything close to what they're theoretically capable of. And that's where pulls come in. Clean and snatch pulls are a speed-strength exercise. They bridge the gap between high force, slow velocity movements like deadlifts, and lower force, high-velocity movements like snatches and cleans.
Pulls or Deadlifts: Which Should You Use?
This all depends on your individual needs as an athlete. Typically you'll fall somewhere on a spectrum... On one end, you've got fast lifters who can move the bar off the floor with incredible speed, but can only deadlift slightly more than they can pull, and often not much more than they can clean. I'll 100% put myself in this category. I could do 5x3 pulls incredibly fast at 140kg, but struggled with 3x3 deadlifts at 155kg.
On the other end, you've got lifters who can destroy heavy deadlifts, but just can't seem to accelerate quickly enough to turn that strength into an improved weightlifting total. These lifters tend to pull quite slowly, and often have what looks like a single flat tempo throughout the lift, rather than a noticeable acceleration as desired.
If you're a speedy boi, then you need to be dedicating a lot more of your training to deadlifts. You're already fast, what you need is the ability to produce more force.
If you're a slow but strong boi, then you need to be dedicating a lot more of your training time to pulls. You're already strong enough, what you need is the ability to move weights faster and accelerate more aggressively.
And if you're somewhere in between those two types, you can pretty much use a mixed approach, including some heavier deadlifts along with some pulls.
If there's a mismatch in your programme, then get that sorted as soon as possible. More pulls if you need speed, more deadlifts is you need more force/strength. Try the changes for 6-12 weeks, and I'm pretty sure you'll see your snatch and clean & jerk start to improve. If you're interested in weekly coaching tips, programmes and workouts, then feel free to sign up for my mailing list on this page. And if you want 1:1 coaching or a custom programme writing for you, then check out the coaching section of the site. 'Til Next time Alex