The Position Statement: The RDL Position
Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 04:31PM
Aaron in clean and jerk, coaching, exercise progression, olympic lifts, snatch, weightlifting

Read time: 12-15 min

In this article, you'll learn how to perform the snatch and the clean from the "RDL position." This position is the second sequence in our teaching progression for the snatch and the clean. For a review of the "power position," refer to part one of this series: The Power Position.

You'll learn three set-up variations for the RDL position along with their specific benefits and how to choose the right variation for you. We'll also lay out programming guidelines for beginner and advanced athletes.

The RDL Position

In reference to the pulling phases, the RDL position marks the end of the first pull and beginning of the transition phase (Figure 1). For most athletes, the RDL position coincides with the barbell at a height just above the knee caps and is analogous to snatch and clean variations from "above the knees."

Figure 1. The phases of the pull.

General Guidelines

Athletes should be proficient lifting from the power position before progressing to variations from the RDL position.

Athletes should also be able to perform the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) before attempting to lift from the RDL position. The RDL is a prerequisite to achieve the proper positions to perform lifts from the RDL position.

Refer to this tutorial for how to perform the RDL, including teaching progressions. The positions described there are relevant to lifting from the RDL position. Additionally, the eccentric portion of the RDL is part of the set-up for one of the variations discussed below.

Readers should note that only the set-up and positions of the RDL exercise and snatches or cleans from the RDL position are the same. The concentric action of standing up with the weight during an RDL is different than completing a snatch or a clean from the RDL position.

Position Fundamentals

The athlete's body in the RDL position (Figure 2) is typified by three primary characteristics: the athlete’s shin angle, torso angle, and position of the shoulders in relation to the barbell.

Figure 2. The RDL position.

In the RDL position, the athlete’s shins should be vertical, or perpendicular to the ground. The knees should not be locked. The shoulders should be in front of the barbell with the torso not quite parallel to the ground.

As with the power position, the athlete should keep the barbell close to the body by maintaining active lats with the wrists rolled forward and elbows turned out. These actions help maintain lift efficiency, especially during the second pull, by minimizing unwanted horizontal barbell displacement (i.e. excessive looping forward).

Fundamentals Checklist:

  • Vertical shins, hips back, and feet flat
  • Barbell tight to the body with the shoulders ahead of the barbell
  • Active lats with wrists rolled forward and elbows turned out
  • Feet and Balance

    The athlete's feet should remain flat on the ground during all portions of the lift prior to the second pull, which includes the RDL position and the subsequent transition phase.

    It is incorrect for either the toes or the heels to come off the ground during the first pull or transition phase. The athlete’s center of balance should be focused midfoot (i.e. within the arches, between the heel and ball of the foot) in the RDL position.

    Excessive forward weight-distribution is most easily identified by the athlete's torso angle being too horizontal, which may also cause improper knee and shin angles. This type of fault may indicate weakness of the posterior chain and/or insufficient strength or engagement of the lats.

    Potential effects of excessive forward weight-distribution include early initiation of the second pull, the athlete jumping forward to receive the barbell, reduced vertical barbell displacement, and/or excessive forward displacement of the barbell.

    Primary indicators of the center of balance being too far rearward include a negative shin angle (i.e. knees too far rearward or locked), the torso being too upright, and/or the toes coming off the ground.

    Undesirable results associated with an excessive rearward weight-distribution include a second pull achieved primarily by back extension and/or excessive looping of the barbell during the second pull and turnover phase.

    Both examples of improper weight distribution disengage the posterior chain reduce the effectiveness of the second pull.

    Set-up and Performance

    This next section details three set-up variations for the RDL position following the guidelines above. Following our discussion of the three set-up methods, we will detail completing the snatch or the clean from the RDL position.

    1) Snatch/Clean with Pause above Knees

    Video 1. Clean with pause above knees.

    In this variation, the athlete will achieve the RDL position from the bottom-up. Given this requirement, this variation is suitable for individuals who have the ability to snatch or clean deadlift from the floor.

    Assuming an athlete can pull properly from the floor, this variation is the default I use, regardless of the athlete's skill level.

    I prefer this variation, even for athletes with high proficiency in the Olympic lifts, because it provides extra practice to develop and reinforce the proper motor pattern of the first pull. In addition, it helps develop specific strength for the weightlifting pulls.

    To perform this variation, the athlete simply completes the first pull and halts when the barbell reaches just above the knees. The athlete should then hold this position for a 3-count before completing the lift.

    This pause helps the athlete ensure that his or her position is correct before completing the lift, thereby reinforcing proper mechanics and developing additional specific strength.

    2) Hang Snatch/Clean from above Knees

    Video 2. Clean from above knees.

    For this variation, the athlete gets into the RDL position from the top-down. To set up, the athlete begins from a full standing position and performs the eccentric portion of an RDL (as described here), halting when the barbell arrives above the knees.

    As with the pause above knees variation, the athlete should pause for a 3-count before completing the lift. The set position of the athlete and barbell in this variation should be identical to the position achieved in the snatch/clean with pause above knees.

    This variation is most suitable for more-experienced athletes whose technique is sound and well-established. It may also be suitable for athletes who have not yet learned to, or cannot, lift from the floor.

    3) Snatch/Clean from Blocks above Knees

    Video 3. Clean from blocks above knees.

    Variations from the blocks are most suitable for advanced athletes whose pulling mechanics are sound and well-established. The height of the blocks should be adjusted so that the position of the athlete and barbell match the position achieved with the other two variations.

    Variations from the blocks require immediate explosiveness and can hone the skill of rapid force development.

    The key to this variation is generating maximum tension throughout the body immediately prior to initiating the movement. Achieving this tension can be challenging but is necessary to maintain integrity of the movement.

    The Transition Phase

    From the RDL position, the athlete must complete the transition phase (Video 4) in order to reposition his or her body to the power position. This transition phase is necessary for an effective second pull.

    Video 4. The transition phase of the clean pull.

    As demonstrated in Video 4, the athlete brings the hips forward and underneath the body as the torso reorients vertically. The knees maintain their slight bend. Note that the hips and torso move simultaneously, and the athlete arrives at the power position.

    Typically, the transition phase occurs naturally, but some lifters, especially beginners, may need direct practice to learn the coordinated movement of the hips and torso. Tactile cuing, in which the coach guides the athlete with one hand on the front of the shoulders and the other hand at the top of the hips, is an effective method to help such athletes.

    Initiating the second pull directly from the RDL position (i.e. without the transition phase) is ineffective because the athlete is not positioned to drive vertically with the legs and hips. Similarly, if either the hips or torso move too fast relative to the other (i.e. incorrect performance of the transition phase ), the athlete will not achieve a proper power position.

    It cannot be emphasized enough that the athlete must achieve the power position in order to have an effective second pull. And the only way to achieve the power position is by correctly performing the transition phase.

    For a more detailed explanation of the effects of the transition phase on lift mechanics, refer here: Enoka, R.M. (1979). The pull in Olympic weightlifting. (full text). (This article uses the term "double-knee bend." The terms transition phase and double-knee bend are synonymous.)

    Barbell Trajectory

    Figure 3. Illustration of barbell trajectory during the snatch lift.

    The barbell trajectory from the RDL position begins at the end of the first pull and ends once the barbell is secured overhead for the snatch (Figure 3) or on the shoulders for the clean.

    Barbell trajectory during the transition phase should remain predominately vertical. The athlete must maintain active lats in order to maintain the barbell in close proximity to the body. It is acceptable for the barbell to brush the thighs as the athlete completes the transition phase.

    The barbell should contact the hip crease or upper thighs immediately prior to the second pull of the snatch or the clean, respectively. This contact point should match the respective contact point achieved when performing the snatch or the clean from the power position.

    This barbell-body contact occurs naturally as a by-product of the mechanics of the lift. Such contact should not be achieved by deliberately swinging the barbell into the hips nor by deliberately bringing the hips forward into the bar.

    From this contact point, the barbell will proceed through its normal trajectory during the second pull, the turnover phase, and the catch phase as discussed in Part One.

    Rationale

    The RDL position builds upon the skills and demands from our first teaching progression, the power position. The RDL position also introduces new skills and demands.

    Lifting from the RDL position increases the magnitude, speed, power, and intensity of the movement compared to lifting from the power position.

    One new element introduced with the RDL position is the potential for a plyometric effect of the thigh muscles during the transition phase and second pull. In addition, the RDL position can help develop specific strength for snatches and cleans from the floor.

    Snatches and cleans from the RDL position provide the opportunity to eccentrically load the posterior chain, which, combined with the plyometric effect during the transition phase, increases the magnitude of force and rate of force development produced during the second pull.

    Programming Considerations

    Variations of the snatch and the clean from the RDL position allow for an increase in load, speed, and mechanical work performed. Changes in these characteristics can be used to guide exercise variation throughout the training plan.

    A general principle of periodization is that volume and intensity are inversely related (i.e. as one increases, the other decreases). Since snatches/cleans from the RDL position increase intensity, their volume compared to snatches/cleans from the power position should be reduced.

    In general, phases that include the RDL position should be sequenced after phases that use variations from the power position and before phases that emphasize variations from the floor to employ phase potentiation.

    Phase potentiation is when benefits and training effects in later phases of a training sequence capitalize on the foundation of benefits and training effects developed during preceding phases.

    For weightlifters, variations from the RDL position begin to more closely resemble the competition lifts, which makes them appropriate during specific preparatory periods, or late pre-competitive phases. For other athletes, these variations can be appropriate during strength and strength-power phases.

    Suggested relative intensity for snatches or cleans from the RDL position are ≈70-85% of 1RM snatch and ≈75-90% of 1RM clean, respectively. These percentage ranges are only an informal guide.

    The lower end of each range best suits power variations from the RDL position, and the upper end of the ranges corresponds to full versions from the RDL position. Actual percentage of 1RM will vary with each individual and the set-up method used (e.g. pause above knees, RDL to knees, from blocks).

    Increased movement complexity also warrants a reduction in number of repetitions per set. Workout volume recommendations for snatch/clean from the RDL position is generally 3-5 sets of 3 repetitions.

    Special Programming Considerations

    Another way for coaches to manipulate intensity is to select power or full versions of the lift. By default, snatches and cleans are received in a full squat position. Power variations (e.g. power snatch, power clean) designate that the lift is received above a parallel squat position.

    From a given start position, an athlete should be able to snatch or clean more than they can power snatch or power clean, respectively. As a result, power versions of the lifts naturally reduce relative intensity by limiting the potential load.

    With beginners, this relationship is sometimes reversed; however, it is usually due to lack of skill and/or reluctance receiving the barbell in a full squat. For this reason, it is useful to require athletes who are first learning the Olympic lifts to perform full variations exclusively (assuming they have requisite mobility and stability).

    For athletes who have considerable difficulty maintaining balance or control receiving a snatch or a clean in a full squat, the respective combinations of a "power snatch + overhead squat" (Video 5) or a "power clean + front squat" (Video 6) may be useful.

    The athlete should progressively work to connect the two movements as seamlessly as possible, eventually being able to receive either lift in a full squat position.

    Video 5. Power snatch (from power position) plus overhead squat combination.

    Video 6. Power clean (from power position) plus front squat combination.

    Conclusion

    The RDL position serves as a key progression between lifting from the power position and lifting from the floor. It also has specific benefits within the context of the overall training process.

    Coaches and athletes should use the guidelines in this article to choose the best set-up variation and ensure proper technique to maximize the benefits of snatches and cleans from the RDL position.

    In the next installment of The Position Statement, we'll teach you what you need to know about performing snatches and cleans from the floor.

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    Article originally appeared on Five Rings Athletics - Excellence through Sport (http://www.fiveringsathletics.com/).
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