How to Master the Clean Pull Under

The clean pull under is an exercise to help learn, strengthen, and develop speed pulling under the bar (as if that wasn’t already obvious from the exercise name), as well as develop that feel and skill of staying connected and active using the arms to pull the body down vs pulling up really any at all (as it goes back and around the bar, not the bar around the body). It’s such a great exercise that I had it in my programming through the years just about continually (as well as the snatch version.)

CAUTION: Before worrying too much about the insufficiencies consistently executed, or difficulties you are feeling within the actual pull under portion of your full clean from the floor (whether it be position, speed, timing, or overall quality), ensure that you are setting your body up for best success in “getting under” by first assessing for a quality and effective start position, good movement with the bar staying close to the body from the floor to bar at hip, and then sufficient extension with an efficient body position (See more details in these regards on my Instagram channel, embedded below; for start position specifically, see my previous BarBend article.)

In addition, understand that more compensations than not, and hesitation of the act of jumping under a heavy load, stem from lacking mobility, awareness, and strength of the bottom position of your squat.)For example, if you never see that true bottom position/end range with your squats, and there is no time being spent there, then typically the body wants to catch heavier and heavier loads higher and higher.

In any case, this is definitely a very tricky and difficult movement for many athletes to learn the best coordination of with the body. They typically want to initiate the bar by dipping with legs and/or shoulders forward, and/or pulling the bar up with the arms first. Common set up patterns that contribute to this undesired order include an un-stacked body, and/or unnecessary tension or muscling. We want a straight line with knees over feet (lock your knees), hips over knees (squeeze you butt), shoulders over hips (NO big chest; pull ribs down/crunch abs), and head right on top of all of them (relax your head as if you were having a casual conversation with someone directly in front of you).

A post shared by Chad Vaughn (@olychad) on

All of this takes place with the entire foot grounded, as opposed to pressure on heels/floating toes with an already slightly leaned body; I don’t want you to have the ability to lift your toes, they should be gripping floor. Also, think about relaxing your shoulders/trap and arms down to where they are all just hanging, as opposed to shoulders already partially shrugged, and elbows bent pulling UP on the bar. A key here is to RELAX where you need to relax and tighten where you need to tighten to force and/or learn that straight body position. Eventually you should just be able to “relax” into this as well; for example, when I am in this set up position, I am simply in my natural standing body position, just holding a bar triceps flexed to set arms/shoulders in better pull under readiness.

Like any other exercise, and probably more so than most, the speed part should come after those set up concepts, and along with that coordination of the actual execution of the exercise is understood and consistent. The movement should be initiated with a lean back of the torso, not just the shoulders, with arms still straight, and without hips offsetting too far forward. From here, the arm bend, knee bend, and body going down should happen simultaneously. SLOW DOWN , use a load that you can move in slow-mo with, and put all your focus on the body going down as soon as arms bend, leaving your feet flat on floor for now.

Common faults seen once speed and feet are added back in (or if one starts with speed and feet without these other concept being considered) include, jumping excessively forward or back, and/or bar crashing. Excess jump back would be anymore than 1 inch, and excess forward would be any amount. For this, you would simply go back to the “slow motion” version of the pull under, or go ahead and add the speed but with “no jump”. If the bar crashes on you, this means that you’ve dropped under and made it to your bottom position before the bar does, so you are sitting there waiting and then the bar “crashes” into your front rack position. Ideally you want to find connection with the bar at a higher point, and with the body and bar together, so the load is cushioned down with the legs where the bottom position can now be found at a better time, and the stretch reflex can be used for a more efficient reception and change of direction. For a crash within the clean pull under or in general, my go-to fix is having the athlete aim/focus on a power clean INTO a squat. Where needed, I will have them stop in the power position, hold briefly, and then sink with a plan of putting it together as able.

NOW, let’s “drop it like it’s hot!”(or rather, actively and aggressively pull under the bar AFTER a sufficient pull!:))

Featured image: @olychad on Instagram

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Chad Vaughn is a 2-time Olympian, 9-time US National Champion, 2003 Pan American Games Gold Medalist, and American Record Holder in the sport of Weightlifting. Chad also holds CrossFit Level 1 and Level 2 certificates, as well as being a USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach. With over 20 years of utilizing and application of elite level training programs, Chad has shared this knowledge with athletes of all levels throughout the world through weekly weightlifting classes, seminars, online coaching, videos, and written content. Chad is also the co-founder of Vaughn Weightlifting, a Power Monkey Fitness coach, and the host of the Vaughn Weightlifting Podcast.