The first pull really does set you up for success later in the lift. It's a part of a greater sequence, and by reducing its effectiveness you, as a consequence, reduce the effectiveness of the movements that follow. Resulting in an unmethodical and sub-optimal lift.
Now, before some of you go absolutely bananas, we're talking about a movement here, not a position, so your argument for the starting position being more important can wait. Although I would agree that the starting position is "more important" than the first pull. But let's get to the point, shall we? And for that I'd like to start off by saying this: For a car to reach 100mph it first has to reach 99mph and to hit 99mph it has to reach 98mph, so on and so forth until you get to 1mph. Meaning, without initially driving 1mph you'll never reach 100mph. Then, to some extend, you could argue that the 1mph mark is the most important speed for a car, if its goal is to reach 100mph. The same goes for both the snatch and the clean & jerk, at least to some extend. If you want to be able to snatch any weight you first have to move the bar from the floor. There is no other way. But unlike the car scenario, it's rather difficult to quantify the first pull since it falls into the qualitative category. Yes, there is technology which can provide the velocity of the bar in the first pull. Yet, although there is a correlation between a specific velocity range and higher success rates in the snatch/clean, it does not mean that a higher velocity first pull causes greater success rates in the snatch/clean, and the speed at which the first pull should be executed does differ from individual to individual. Don't confuse correlation and causation, they're wildly different and you know better. The first pull is a movement which should be executed in a very specific manner, although there is a fair amount of variation between individuals. For the triple extension to be great there has to be generated enough velocity to the bar after it has reached knee height. However, you can only do that if you have the bar, and your body, in the right position enabling you to take advantage of balance, lever arms, positions, coordination etc. For you to achieve all of this your first pull has to be very good, and for that reason you don't just rip the bar of the floor to reach knee height as fast as humanly possible, but rather in a way which allows you to be able to hit perfect positions. Slow from the floor, fast from the knees. The first pull really does set you up for success later in the lift. It's a part of a greater sequence, and by reducing its effectiveness you, as a consequence, reduce the effectiveness of the movements that follow. Resulting in an unmethodical and sub-optimal lift.
When viewed from the side, it's after the triple extension when the bar is furthest away from the body, during the third pull. To counter-act the bar moving too far away from the body, the first pull has to act in the opposite direction, towards the body. Among other things, pulling the bar backwards the body will shift the centre of gravity from a position of being in front of the base of support to a position on top of the base of support. Now, this is often a point a lot of beginners don't really understand because they can easily move the bar straight up during the first pull and encounter no issues. Although that might be the case, just because they're able to pull it straight up, or even away from the body, with a lighter weight, it's when the weight on the bar equals or surpasses the lifters own bodyweight that the lifter will understand the importance of pulling the bar towards the body. As the weight on the bar increases the further in front the centre of gravity shifts, indicating that the backwards movement of the bar increases in importance with every kilo added to the bar.
For it to even possible to move the bar backwards straight from the floor, when the shins are already in contact with the bar, it's crucial to move the shins out of the way with the initiation of the first pull. If the bar is placed directly above the metatarsophalangeal joints (the bending of the toes) in the starting position, then the bar should be placed above the cuboid/cuneiform bones (just in front of where the ankle bends) as the bar reaches knee height. And because the knees are placed slightly in front of the bar in the starting position, depending on the lifter, then the knees need to travel a greater distance than the bar. How does one know if the bar, or the knees for that matter, have moved the distance necessary? Dave Spitz, head coach and founder of California Strength, cues for a vertical shin when the bar reaches knee height. As a generalisation, this is a good cue, and it's quite an easy method when analysing your own or someone else's technique. That being said, be aware of individuality and be willing to adjust that cue when necessary. This is especially the case when lifters have an unusual limb to torso length relationship.
Loads of people have difficulties differentiating between a deadlift and a snatch/clean pull. The deadlift is a hip dominant/hip hinge movement. Most of the movement comes from the hip, and when that is the case the back angle never stays the same, but changes from start to finish. The first pull, however, is more similar to the squat. There is an equal amount of movement at the hip joint as there is at the knee joint. Meaning that the back angle during the first pull will not change, but remain the same from the bar leaving the floor to just above the knee. The reason for the back angle remaining the same is because the shoulders remain over/in front of the bar the whole time, and the knees move backwards along with the bar. With the shoulders over/in front of the bar it allows for more leverage in the second pull to accelerate the bar in an upward motion. Meaning, if the shoulders are behind the bar early on there is less space, and time, for the upper body to move into to generate power. Power = Work x Time!
If done correctly, the pressure on the feet will shift from mid-foot, when leaving the floor, and move towards the heel when the bar is at knee height. This does NOT mean the whole weight sits on the heel, but rather the majority of the weight is on the heel, despite there being some pressure still on the mid-foot/forefoot. This, again, allows more space for the foot to accelerate into during the second pull, when the pressure shifts towards the toes allowing for more power to be generated for the triple extension. Power = Work x Time, remember!
There is no need to say this, but I'll say it anyway! 1. During the first pull, as with all the other Olympic movements, the back has to stay in a neutral, strong, and rigid position throughout.
2. Drive with the legs and not the lower back to initiate the movement. Think of it more as a push of the floor rather than a pull.
3. Arms are long, relaxed, and the outside of your elbow is pointing slightly backwards. As suppose to pointing straight backwards or in the same exact direction as the bar.
4. The feet should be placed slightly narrower than squatting stance. Preferably under the hips.
5. Look forwards, and for god's sake use a hook grip!