Russian/Polish Perspective On Knees Back

Recently, some of the better lifters in the world have toured the United States and spent some time teaching their perspective, technique, and outlook on the lifts. I have not been able to attend any of their seminars yet, but have talked to multiple sources about how they teach the lifts. There are two consistent themes I’ve heard:

1- Be Stronger. This is obvious if you watch lifters like Ilya and Klokov lift. They have an overabundance of strength that allows much of their success in the lifts.

2- Keep The Knees Back. This one gets a little more complicated. Since I did not attend any seminars, I won’t presume to know 100% of how or the methodology for why this is taught, but I do understand why this makes sense when teaching the lifts. These elite level lifts seem to teach (as far as I have read and been told) to get the knees back off the floor and keep them pushed back for as long as possible. Some have even stated that Klokov taught them to keep their knees back for the entirety of the first and second pull. A couple notes should be made of this. First, it is impossible to keep the knees back for the entirety of the first and second pull as extension requires some flexion at the knee in order to load the quads. Secondly, Klokov himself, Ilya, and every other lifter I have EVER seen re-bends their knees as some point.

The second point that needs to be made when it comes to the knees back teaching method is,  why would they teach it this way? As a lifter who has an extreme problem keeping my knees back and always wanting to get into the second pull early, this concept really helps me. Keeping my knees back for as long as possible helps me extend the amount of time I am applying pressure to the ground and allows for a greater amount of tension to build up in my hamstrings. Do I need to re-bend my knees to be successful? Absolutely. Do I need to think about doing that? Probably not as this will be a natural movement for me into extension. I don’t know if the Russians teach it this way for that purpose or they legitimately think lifters should never flex their knees into the second pull. Not my call since I wasn’t at the seminars. However, I do know that the knee has to flex to achieve max power output.

The point however that needs to be made is that the knees MUST be back and stay back for an extended period of time. There are some out there who want to perform the lifts immediately pushing the knees under when the bar crosses the knee. This puts the lifters shoulders even with or behind the bar at the knee rather than in front of the bar. If you see a frame-by-frame of a lifter and that lifter’s shoulders are not in front of the bar through the hang or even the mid-to-high hang, then this problem has occurred. What you will likely see happen after this technical fault is an over-rotation by the lifter’s torso. This fault sends the bar forward, arcing around the body, rather than traveling up the body through the second pull.

Hookgrip has great posters showing the necessity of staying over the bar with the knees back. I am unbelievably jealous of most of these positions.

Most of these are great examples of this. I specifically like the guy second from the right in the bottom right corner.

Bottomline: They advocate keeping the knees back because that keeps lifters over the bar. Staying over the bar creates barspeed and leverage.

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7 responses to “Russian/Polish Perspective On Knees Back

  1. Spencer, the knees stay back like they do in these pics because as the bar reaches the knees the effort is simply to stand up fast. That delays the knees re-bending for a bit. Watch great lifters and you’ll see the bar still coming up the leg from 2-4″ above the knee cap before the knees start coming forward. (Smorchkov was a great example of this) But the torso angle is opening as this happens. If you just try to stand up hard as the bar reaches the knees, you’ll get what you’re looking for out of “keeping the knees back.”

  2. Great write up, I was waiting for your reaction to the Russian tour. Curious about your take on something Diane Fu wrote about: bar path. She wrote they were teaching more of a vertical (as opposed to ‘s’ path). I’d love to read your opinion on this…

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