”Knowing” technique doesn’t give you good technique. Repeating the correct movements will improve technique. Because of the complexity of the snatch and the clean, we need to isolate specific parts of the lifts to learn and improve them.

Doing pulls from stairs is a great way to work on the second half of the pull for both the snatch and the clean.

How do pulls from stairs differ from pulls from blocks or from the hang?

They differ a lot. When pulling from blocks or the hang, the bar will start at a given height with no upward momentum. However a bar traveling from the floor will have upward momentum when it reaches this given height. The stairs provide the upward momentum that the bar should have at this height.

Before going into the ”how to,” something important about the pull:

An efficient lifter should pull the bar vertically from the platform, and keep it close. As the bar passes the knees, the shins should be perpendicular to the ground.

Shins are perpendicular to the ground as the bar passes the knee. Photos from Hookgrip's Youtube.

Shins are perpendicular to the ground as the bar passes the knee. Photos from Hookgrip’s Youtube.


If the shins are slanted backward, then the legs will be straight and will no longer be in use during the pull.

If the shins are slanted forward more than a few degrees, then the knees will end up in front of where the bar started from the floor. With this position the bar either must travel from the floor away from the lifter to hit that position, or will hit the shin/knee on the way up.

When the bar is at the knee, the back is at a precise angle. From here on out, I’ll call this back angle  – ”This back angleThis back angle is different for every lifter and is dependent on the lengths of the torso, femur and arms.

stick figures

Identifying this back angle is important for doing pulls from the stairs. This is the angle your back needs to be in for a considerable part of the lift. Whether doing a static or dynamic start from the floor, by the time the bar is a few inches off the floor, the back should already be at this back angle.

The back angle is kept uniform until the bar passes the knee, at which point the back starts to open up.

When doing lifts or pulls from a height (blocks, or stairs, or hang), a lot of lifters start from a more comfortable position, where the angle of the back is not this back angle. It may me more comfortable when doing pulls from this height – but it won’t transfer over to the lift from the platform as well, since the position and muscles involved are different.

To identify this back angle for the snatch:

  • Stand up straight with bar in hand.
  • Lower the bar to the tip of the knee.
  • Balance the weight mid foot.
  • Back should be tight and slightly arched.
  • Shins should be perpendicular to the ground.

Memorize this back angle.

For the clean – the same steps apply – except the balance should be on the front part of the heel instead of the mid foot.

This is the angle your back should be in for a good portion of the pull. Nearly all beginners, most intermediates, and many advanced lifters would benefit from setting their back angle to this for the start of the lift. With this angle, they can push vertically with the legs, and not move the back at all until the bar has passed the knee.  They won’t need to pull around the knees, and won’t hit the shins or knees.

Now back to pulls from the stairs:

Prerequisite: build yourself some stairs, or find a block of some kind. The stairs need to be narrow enough to fit between your feet in the starting position, and can be any height (ideally 2-3 inches below the knees).  There is no standard height because lifters of different sizes require stairs of different heights to work on the same positions AND – the precise height doesn’t matter much.

For the first few times using the stairs for snatch pulls:

  • Start by standing with the stairs between the legs, and bar in hand.
  • Lower the bar to the knee and make sure that the shins are perpendicular to the ground and that the weight is balanced in the middle of the foot. The back should be at this back angle.
  • Keeping this back angle, lower the bar slowly straight downward using just the legs (don’t adjust the back angle or shift your balance forward or backward).
  • The bar will hit the stairs and bounce back up.
  • Still balanced on mid foot, drive up with the legs, keeping this back angle, and only after the bar passes the knees can you start to open up your back.
  • Complete a pull (there is too much to say about exactly what should happen in the pull- I’ll cover the pull dynamics in a future post) by pulling the elbows as high as possible while being fully extended.
  • Lower the bar back down using the same trajectory as you did on the way up, getting to this back angle as the bar passes the knee on the way down. Repeat. repeat. Repeat.

If the bar is lowered with a more vertical back angle, then the knees would be more forward than they should be. If the knees are more forward, then the bar is further away from the lifter than where it would be in an efficient classic lift. The lifter either has to pull the bar in, or they themselves are pulled forward and off balance.

Here you can see – only when Vasiliy lowers the bar slowly and to the right position, the following pull is vertical and precise.

Clean pulls from stairs are nearly identical to the snatch variation, except the balance is slightly closer to the heel.

Pulls from stairs are typically done for more reps than other classic lift and pull variations, typically something like this:

Snatch pulls from stairs: 5 sets of 4 reps at 90%

There are a lot of muscles that have a precise time to work during the second half of the pull. This is a great weapon for isolating the second pull to correct and strengthen the movement.

There are other good exercises you can do with the stairs. This is not one of them:

Yasha Kahn
Weightlifter, coach and now: blogger. I've traveled around the world sharing my weightlifting knowledge and experiences. I look forward to the next adventure.
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