Does the early arm bend on a clean or a snatch always lead to problems for the lifter? We examine conflicting opinions from Games athletes, Olympic lifters and elite strength coaches
...Maybe not, says Sean Brown, the current Irish weightlifting record holder (85 kg weight class), head coach at HD Barbell Club in Atlanta, Georgia and Blonyx SE Sales Manager.
In fact, many high-level lifters, including Brown—who started lifting weights when he was a 15 year-old rugby player—deliberately bend their arms slightly during the set-up of both a snatch and a clean—the purpose being to get the bar higher in the hip crease.
“Not to be misunderstood between pulling with the arms early, bending the arms (deliberately) and maintaining the bend is what you want. You don’t want to see someone pulling with the arms early in the lifts,” said Brown, who has been dedicated to weightlifting for the last five years.
Sean Brown showing Blonyx athlete and CrossFit Games competitor Carleen Matthews how to correctly carry her shopping bags home.
Brown added that teaching a deliberate arm bend on the set-up of a clean or snatch isn’t something that should be taught to a novice lifter, as the inexperienced athlete will invariably employ the detrimental early arm bend. But a more experienced lifter might benefit from the uncharacteristic technique.
“By bending your arms in the set-up and maintaining it throughout the lift, you can achieve this bar to hip contact more easily. It is not usually common to teach this method, but it is in fact more effective when it comes to power generation,” said Brown, who uses this technique when he cleans. In other words, athletes who are able to connect the bar to their hip crease are generally able to clean more weight than lifters who make contact lower on the leg, such as at mid-thigh, or just below the power position at the top of the thigh, Brown explained.
This technique works especially well for taller athletes, and athletes with especially long limbs, Brown said.
“If you have long arms in relation to your torso, then it can be hard to get the bar to the power position—hip crease—so bending your arms and maintaining that bend can help you achieve that,” said Brown, who qualified to the recent World weightlifting Championships, but didn’t compete because of the birth of his first child.
If you’re going to try this technique, Brown reiterated in this video the importance of setting the scapula and the arms early, and keeping this position throughout the lift:
Even Rich is Doing It...
Brown isn’t the only one who employs the conscious arm bend technique. Check out this Rich Froning 305 lb. snatch video from the 2014 CrossFit Invitational. Subtle arm bend.
Elijah Muhammad says it's good for certain people
The tall and lanky Elijah Muhammad also bends his arms a bit to get the barbell into his hip crease.
Muhammad, who was 4th in the snatch speed ladder at the 2015 CrossFit Games and 7th in the max clean and jerk event—325-lb.—explained he employs the technique because of his long limbs.
“I do have longer arms and am more comfortable with a slightly narrow snatch grip, (so) in keeping my hands more narrow I bend my arms to get the bar in my hip crease for contact point,” Muhammad said, adding that it has both helped and hurt his lifting.
“I pull early so I made high contact and always get full extension from my hips. It hurts me because sometimes I feel low back stress because (of it),” said Muhammad, whose best snatch is 301 lb. and his clean and jerk rings in at 375 lb.
Despite his use of the technique, he added that he doesn’t teach it, or even recommend it, to others, but feels it works for certain athletes.
“It’s a misuse of the body, but there are different cases when it should be allowed and worked with due to the athlete’s (physical proportions),” he said.
Muhammad warns that, while the technique works for him, he doesn't recommend it to most athletes... (the arm bend, not the ripped jean shorts).
"It's Still a Technical Flaw"
While the deliberate bent-armed technique seems to work for the athletes like Brown and Muhammad, other highly-esteemed lifting coaches don’t recommend it. John Broz, world-renowned lifting coach and the owner of Average Broz Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of these coaches. Greg Everett, the owner of the highly-acclaimed Catalyst Athletics, is another.
“There are people who have a slight bend in their arms yet are able to hold it throughout the second pull and still remain effective, but it’s rare and remains a technical flaw,” said Broz, who has been coaching the sport for 37 years.
He added: “The idea of keeping your arms loose like ropes is very important. When you extend your hips, traps and calves you’ll get maximum acceleration into the barbell; however, if your arms are intentionally bent when you extend all those levers, the arms become a weak link between the force generated and the barbell, hence limiting the power output and maximum height displaced into the barbell.”
Early arm bending makes world-renowned lifting coach John Broz scream!
Similarly, Everett’s Catalyst Athletics article from April 2015, rips into the temptation to generate more power by setting up with bent arms, calling the style a temporarily fashionable lifting fad.
Although Everett admits it’s easy to find videos of elite lifters setting up with bent arms in the clean and the snatch and lifting incredibly well, he warns intermediate lifters to avoid mimicking this.
“It’s important to recognize the difference between the idiosyncratic habits of elite lifters and attempts by less advanced lifters to imitate them,” he wrote.
Even if you’re an experienced lifter, though, Everett is emphatic in his opposition to the technique and lists a number of reasons why he doesn’t recommend the deliberate arm bend, including:
- Bending your arms creates slack, and any slack in your body during extension is “force being lost,” he explained in his article. “Like a rope stretching while towing something.”
- When a lifter relies too much on the hips, “the bar will be supported in part by the hips as they finish the extension rather than more by the shoulders through the arms” he added.
- Bending your arms early can “disrupt an optimal pull under the bar,” Everett wrote. Meaning the elbows will get pulled backward as opposed to up and out “as is desired for maximal downward speed and proximity of the bar and body.” On the clean specifically, this technique often leads to the bar crashing down onto the shoulders, as opposed to a more smooth connection, he explained.
In short, Everett believes the only reason to bend your arms on purpose is to ensure the bar gets close to the hip crease, which can also be achieved with a proper grip width, set-up, pulling position and timing, he argued.
He concluded: “In other words, if your setup and pull is correct to begin with, even if you want to use a more hip-oriented lifting styler, there is no need or benefit to bending the arms.”
What do you think?
Where do you fall on the spectrum?
If you’re tall with long arms, are having trouble getting the bar into your hip crease during your clean and your snatch, and are relatively experienced, is this a style you might dabble with?
Or do you agree with Everett and Broz, who argues very convincingly that it’s better to rely on a perfect set-up, positioning and timing to achieve maximal power generate?