The High Pull for Muscle Development and Power

The two Olympic lifts, the snatch and clean and jerk, are awesome exercises to build muscle and power. However, both lifts are very technical and most people don’t have the strength, coordination, and mobility to do them correctly. That’s why I like variations of Olympic lifts – particularly the high pull.

What’s so great about the high pull? First, virtually anyone can do it. Second, it’s an outstanding exercise to build the kind of muscle and power that makes you run faster, jump higher, kick harder and deadlift more weight. Third, the high pull, by nature, is designed to be performed explosively. That, of course, ranks it at the top of my list.

Now, even though the high pull is not a complicated exercise, there are some important technique tips. I think it’s actually better to see this exercise in pictures than video. The reason? The combined extension of the hip, knee, and ankle joints (aka “triple extension”) is the most important part of the lift to get right and it’s easier to see in a still picture.

First, warm-up with some mobility work (foam roller, etc), jump rope for a few minutes, then pull two sets of three reps with a moderate load for the deadlift. Be sure to squeeze your glutes hard at the top of the deadlift to activate that important muscle group.

Now you’re ready.

Step #1: Start with a very light load if you’re new to the exercise. About 95 pounds is a good starting point for most men; 65 pounds is usually good for most females.

Step #2: Before you grab the barbell it’s important to get the right stance with your feet. Imagine you’re about to perform a maximum vertical jump – that’s your correct stance. For most people this is slightly wider than shoulder width, but it can vary.

Step #3: Grab the barbell with a slightly-wider-than shoulder width grip. Again, this can vary slightly from person to person. The key point here is that your grip width should feel comfortable and strong. Stand up with the barbell.

Step #4: Push your hips back and let your knees bend slightly as the barbell lowers to about knee height. Your low back should be arched. This is your starting position as shown in the left picture below.

Step #5: Explosively thrust your hips forward as you simultaneously pull the barbell to upper ab/lower chest height with your elbows high. At the peak barbell position your heels should be elevated as shown in the picture on the right.

Step #6: Lower the barbell in a smooth, rapid fashion as your heels return to the floor, your hips push back, and your back stays arched. Explosively reverse the motion as the barbell gets to about knee height.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If pure power/strength is your goal, perform 3-5 sets of 3 reps. If you want more muscle to go with your power, perform 8-10 sets of 3 reps. I like to do this exercise first in your workouts, or it can be combined with an upper body pull (eg, pull-up) and upper body push (eg, dip) in a full body circuit.

I especially like this exercise for fighters because it’s much easier on the wrist joints than a clean and it’s less stressful on the shoulders than a snatch. If you have any shoulder aggravation with this exercise it can be performed with dumbbells to allow a more natural range of motion.

Stay focused,
CW

21 thoughts on “The High Pull for Muscle Development and Power

  1. Hi Chad, Great post! I’ve had much success using high pulls with my less experienced trainee’s and love using them in complexes instead of cleans.

    Would you ever use High Pulls from a full deadlift position instead of from a hang? Is this a good progression?

    Also, for the more advanced trainee, say an MMA fighter, would you rather drop the bar from the top position, negating the eccentric component (obviously if equipment allowed) ?

    CW: Yes on both counts. Starting from the floor is the next progression, and if you can drop the barbell, do it for every other workout since the stretch shorten reversal shouldn’t be avoided completely.

  2. Hi Chad, Great post! I’ve had much success using high pulls with my less experienced trainee’s and love using them in complexes instead of cleans.

    Would you ever use High Pulls from a full deadlift position instead of from a hang? Is this a good progression?

    Also, for the more advanced trainee, say an MMA fighter, would you rather drop the bar from the top position, negating the eccentric component (obviously if equipment allowed) ?

    Thanks Scott

    CW: Yes, starting from the floor is the next progression. Drop the bar every other workout. You still need to train the SSC half the time.

  3. Looks fantastic! I have to try them as a substitute for hang cleans.

    btw. 61+ reps of lunges are killing me every day, is it normal that my back leg gets
    sometimes activated/stretched more and I have to take a pause?

    CW: Be sure to stretch your legs and hips as shown in my book HIAH. Keep your chest high throughout the lunge to increase your mobility.

  4. Chad,
    I have touchy shoulders do a rather long training age but I’m not limited to what I can do yet. I just want to choose wisely from now on so is the high pull reasonable safe for cycling in and out of a workout with reasonabe weight and intensity?

    CW: Yes. Use dumbbells. But if it aggravates your shoulders, avoid it.

  5. Chad, Thanks for this! For my training, I often prefer dumbbells over barbells because I think it strengthens the stabilizers to a greater degree.

    “it can be performed with dumbbells to allow a more natural range of motion.”
    Should then the DBs be pulled from between the legs or from by the sides?

    CW: DBs should be in front, just like a barbell.

  6. Hi Chad
    I was wondering is this like hang clean without catching the bar, or is there some pulling with the arms involved? I’m asking because unless the weight is pretty light , I think it would be hard to pull to shoulder high without some arm action. Thanks

    Kash

    CW: You should be pulling with your arms. That’s what makes it great for the upper back.

  7. I absolutely agree with you in that the high pull is a great alternative to the really technical olympic lifts. I use the kettlebell high pull frequently, and I’ve found that it’s helped develop shoulder strength and definition. Fantastic post!

  8. Chad,what weight should we use? a 6 rep max if doing sets of 3?
    thanks for your time

    CW: Use the heaviest weight possible while still allowing for an explosive movement. Start with a 6-7RM.

  9. hi chad, great article and realy good exercise.
    i do the upright row exercise in mi program as an exercise for deltoid (lateral) in the first place, also for traps and of course for the biceps and i would like to replace it by the high pull if the high pull hit the same muscles or a least the lateral deltoid because i think that the upright row is a part of the high pull and i like to hit more muscles in the same exercise by doing the high pull, so what you think about this?
    thanks.

    CW: The high pull is much better than an upright row. Do the high pull instead.

  10. How is the high pull different than the upright row? Is it the explosive nature?

    CW: Yes, it’s more explosive. But it’s also easier on the shoulders because your torso is leaning back at the top position of the pull.

  11. hi chad
    thanks for this nice post i would like to ask a question about the high pull; i’m training with the get big program from you’r book huge in a hurry the problem is that i cant lift more than 55pounds in the high pull ” wourkout c phase 1 “what can i do to improve the situation adn lift more weight ??? thank you

    CW: First off, boost your deadlift. Second, you simply need to train the high pull more often and try to add load whenever possible.

  12. hi chad.
    in the exercise the heels should be elevated after you bring the barbell to upper ab height at the peak barbell position like a standing leg calf raise exercise or explosively in the same time when you start pulling the barbell in the beginning of the concentric portion?
    thanks.

    CW: Yes, the heels start to elevate halfway into the pull, and then reach the peak calf raise when the barbell is at the top position.

  13. Great post and great timing! I had been recently considering adding OL to my regime however with no accesible coach and the learning involved, well nuf said! I tried the high pull for the first time last week and it was fantastic! Not only do I have flexibility problems with my wrists, with my shoulders I cannot do upright rows. After the workout I found it had really stimulated not only the side delts but to a great extent the rear delts and the traps. I have pulled a rear delt in the past doing heavy benching and feel that this movement will really hit that area required for a raw bench!
    Tech question is for the upper arms, how far back should you pull your elbows if any or should you try and keep them in line with your torso and shoulder rig? Also what in your opinion would be a good exercise to do further along in the week to restimulate that area without doing the exact movement again? Would facepulls qualify for this for the shoulder rig? And maybe some kind of kettlebell swing for the lower portion?

    Sincere thanks!
    JP

    CW: The key point with the elbows is to keep them high. Pull back as far as comfortable – there’s no precise stopping point.

  14. Chad,

    Is there a good way to include this exercise into Body of Fire (great program by the way)? Also, when doing the lower reps weeks in BOF, is the warmup as presribed sufficent or would it be a good idea to do some warm up sets as well?

    Mattias

    CW: The high pull can be performed in any workout where the deadlift is. Just replace the deadlift with a high pull for the same sets/reps.

  15. Hi Chad,

    It might be splitting hairs but in terms of programming in a whole body routine, would you rotate the high pull with squats/deadlifts/swings as a lower body dominant move or treat it as a big pull? Does it matter much?

    Some of my own ambitions/priorities involve getting my chin and dip numbers up so I always like to include these exercises in a whole body routine of 3-4 exercises and as I train at home squatting/deadlifting really heavy are not options for me so quality lower body work can be a challenge (I do sprint)..

    CW: Do the high pull once per week in place of the deadlift or swing. So you might do squats on Mon, high pull on Wed, and swings on Fri.

  16. Chad,
    I have been on the Huge in a Hurry program since January 2010 and it has been an excellent roadmap for getting back in the gym at age 46 after a 5 year layoff. This is a great article in that it really breaks down the High Pull in a way that a bit easier to comprehend for me than the book. I am currently on the Get Strong regimen and today this move really clicked when I followed the instructions here. Thanks for the program and your great website.

    CW: Thanks Richard!

  17. Hi Chad,
    Using your HFT concept, have you ever experimented doing cleans from the ground for 4 sets of 8-10 daily?
    I am going to try this to see the effects. It seems to be a good cardio exercise and adding weight daily (if possible) will follow the HFT concept. Do you think this is too much or should I see muscle gain and fat loss?
    Thanks
    Jason

    CW: If you keep the load light and go for speed to get a cardio effect, it’s fine to do it every day.

  18. For this lift would it be a good idea to wear squat shoes if you own them, or are there really no advantages to them?

    CW: No advantage for the high pull.

  19. Hi Chad,

    I currently do a push/pull split and encorporate the high pull on my pulling days. My exercises are as follows: Wide chins, hang cleans, dead lifts, hang high pulls, bent over rows and narrow grip TRX rows. Is there any benefit in me doing both the hang cleans and high pulls or should i just stick to one of the two exercises and do more sets? thanks
    Andreas

    CW: The high pull is one way to prepare people for the hang clean. Is there a need for both? No. However, it’s not going to hurt to do both. I use high pulls to build power in the posterior chain, I don’t necessarily use them to make people better at Olympic lifts. So if posterior chain power is your goal, feel free to do both. If your goal is to just get better at O-lifts, stick with the hang clean.

  20. i was wondering how you you would schedule this into a routine. I currently do a 4 day routine.

    mon = military press

    tues = deadlift

    thurs = bench

    sat = squat

    what would be the best exercise to remove and add high pulls.. i was thinking the deadlift…obviously i would still rotate in some deadlift here and there or still do some deads on that day.

    CW: Yes, replace the dead with the high pull every other week.

  21. Coach, any idea what is a reasonable height that one would pull a weight as compared to the lifters height. In the clean 62% of their height and in the snatch 72% of their height? Any research in that area? Thank You.

    CW: I know of no research that determines lifting height based on the lifter’s height. All research I know is in relation to their body weight.

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