One Lift to Rule Them All
I've devoted my life to building muscle – on myself and on others – for 17 years. And in all those years I've only encountered one exercise that can make a visual difference in a physique within two workouts. That's right, you'll start to look more brutal and more powerful in as few as two sessions.
That movement is the snatch-grip high pull, and I believe it can give anyone a "3D" look and make them stretch out a T-shirt.
The high pull hits your mid-back, rhomboids, and rear delts. And nothing will build boulder traps like high pulls! As a bonus, the high pull will hit the whole posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
I'm telling you, my delts and traps have always been my best body parts, but snatch-grip high pulls have given them a totally different look. They've widened my delts and added thickness to my traps.
Using a wide snatch grip on the bar, yank the bar up and keep it close to your body. Your elbows should be higher than the bar and aimed 45 degrees back.
I can't emphasize strongly enough that this movement should be done explosively. Pretend you have just walked into the room and the weight is on top of your puppy dog. Pull with violence! Blast it off!
Let the bar fall quickly back to the starting position, too. Don't try to lower it slowly. Again, remember that this is an explosive Olympic lift variation.
Keep in mind, though, that this is not just an upright row done with body English! Pay particular attention to the arm angle in the video.
- Even though it's an explosive movement, the most important portion of the high pull is the starting position. A proper starting position can actually make as much as a 40-pound difference in your lift. It's crucial that you pull the shoulder blades together and then "roll" the chest up as high as possible. That will turn the whole upper back into a solid base from which to explode. And while the upper back is tight as can be, the arms should remain as loose as possible: Tight back + loose arms = highest power transfer possible.
- Lift the bar toward your neck. To do so, use a powerful posterior chain pull to create a lot of momentum at the start of the movement. Once the lower back is approaching full extension, aggressively pull the bar toward your neck – up and towards you – keeping the elbows higher than the bar.
I only make reference to the neck to help you understand that you need to keep the bar close to your body. Don't pay attention to the actual height. While a lift must reach at least nipple line to qualify as a high pull, focusing on the end position instead of the powerful launch will undoubtedly lead to using your arms to pull instead of using the lower body power to drive the weight up.
I've used higher-rep sets of O-lifts and their variations in the past with female clients, but with men I don't go above 6 reps. Most of the time, "high reps" with the Olympic lifts equals 4 or 5.
Why higher reps with women and not men? In my experience, women can maintain the same level of intensity and quality for a greater number of reps. Men simply suffer technique breakdown when they exceed 6 reps.
Both methods have their advantages. I prefer the hang strictly for muscle-building purposes and body composition changes, especially if you can get into a rhythm and refrain from stopping between reps. That way, the muscles stay under load for the duration of the set.
Pulls from blocks build explosiveness a bit better and allow you to set up properly for each rep, which is a benefit if you're just learning the movement.
Stick to the variation that's easiest for you. The less you have to worry about technique, the more you can focus on proper muscle loading. No matter which method you choose, lifts from the hang or blocks above the knees are much simpler than lifts from the floor.
High pulls can actually fit into any training day since they not only hit the traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and mid-back, but also the posterior chain. I personally use pulls from the hang on back day and pulls from blocks on lower body days.
The important thing, however, is just that you do them!