• The clean is one of the top exercises in resistance programs for improving performance, as it requires triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in a coordinated, explosive pattern – similar to what is required when sprinting and jumping.
• Utilizing a top-down, or bottom-up, teaching progression when coaching this exercise helps improve an athlete’s ability to learn and master each of these movements prior to putting all of these movements together. This “chunking” technique is the essence of a part-to-whole learning approach and an excellent way to engrain the movement patterns for performing the clean.
Why Perform the Clean?
Few lifts develop total body power and explosiveness like the clean. While traditional lower-body exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, are best for developing pure strength, cleans truly bridge the gap between strength in the weight room and speed on the field better than almost any other weight room exercise. This is because the clean requires triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in a coordinated, explosive pattern – a movement that simulates the triple extension in both sprinting and jumping necessary for movement sports. Consequently, this exercise blends sudden strength, power, and coordination to create a weight room exercise that is directly transferable to on field performance.
Challenges When Teaching the Clean
It’s fair to say that no other resistance training exercise requires the biomechanical and coordinative demands of the clean.
To put it lightly, the clean is an extremely technical exercise, requiring the muscles that cross the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, and trunk to work in concert with one another to accelerate a heavy resistance, stabilize the spine, and transfer power throughout the entire kinetic chain. With competitive athletes the full clean is an advanced exercise that requires greater mobility and stability than the hang clean, making it more difficult to perform for athletes with unique mobility and stability restrictions.
Training Speed-Strength and Strength-Speed
When applied correctly with submaximal resistance (40-75% 1RM), cleans are a great tool for training speed-strength and strength-speed. Except for competitors in Olympic lifting and athletes being max tested in the clean, training with submaximal loads provides an awesome training stimulus without compromising technique.
Unlike squats and deadlifts, cleans aren’t an exercise you’re able to “blast through” when fatigued because they have a high neurological demand. With that in mind, freshness and optimal technique are imperative for maximal training effect, training at high-intensity, and gains in strength.
For maximum strength: 90-95% of 1RM for 2-3 sets x 1-2 reps and 2-5 minutes recovery.
For greater strength-speed: 65-85% of 1RM for 4-6 sets x 2-4 reps with 2-3 minutes recovery.
For greater speed-strength: 30-60% of 1RM 4-6 sets x 2-4 reps with 1-2 minutes recovery.
Teaching the Clean to Your Athletes
There are numerous ways to teach the clean. Namely, the top-down and bottom-up progressions are the most commonly utilized.
Below, we will review the bottom-up progression the full clean.
The bottom up progression is taught first because the first pull is a common source if missed lifts due to poor trunk integrity when pulling from the floor.
To maximize the second pull and full hip extension it is imperative the first pull is performed with near flawless technique and sound stability. If the second pull is sacrificed due to poor movement in the first pull then hip extension and sports specific transfer is limited.
When pulling from the floor, the dead-pull is the initial movement bringing the bar from the ground up to the bottom of the knee. During the dead pull it’s vital to keep the backs braced, torso rigid, and drive the heels into the floor as the shoulders and hips rise together.
Note: For a full overview of the dead-pull, read this.
When the bar teaches the bottom of the knee pause, hold position, and then lower under control.
The dead-pull trains three of vital components:
- Ideal Starting Position
- Trunk integrity
- Reinforce stabilization through the trunk
2. Hackey Pull
Begin the pull from the floor, keeping the hips and shoulders rising simultaneously. When the bar is just below the knee start accelerating the bar aggressive extending the hips forward as the bar passes the knees. The bar will pop off of the thighs when explosive hip extension is reached.
This movement teaches you to reach full-hip extension before breaking at the elbows during the pull. “If the elbows bend, the power ends”.
The hips must extend first or the carryover to athletic performance is reduced due to poor triple extension, which results in a reduction in speed and power.
If you jump forward or drop under the bar too early, you’re likely missing hip extension, and minimizing the opportunity for the greatest carry-over to performance.
Note: This is to teach hip extension, so be conservative with programming so that you don’t get in the habit of bouncing the bar away from the body without transferring the bar to a vertical path.
Eventually, the bar will be moving up a body that’s “retreating” from it while maintaining a vertical path with hip extension. If “pop” is minimal, you’re likely out of position, lining the shoulders up behind the bar.
The power shrug combines full hip extension with a quick, powerful shrug. The goal of the power shrug is to groove the transfer of forces from horizontal to vertical, preparing the bar to travel vertically through full hip extension.
4.The High Pull
The high pull is a great exercise for accelerating the bar right AFTER hip extension is reached. After accelerating through hip extension, explosively drive the elbows up, displacing the bar vertically.
The high pull grooves the coordinated movement pattern of extending the hips and elbows to maximize bar speed during the clean.
Be careful when using with athletes and heavy loads as there is a tendency to pull the body forward into the bar or drive the elbows before fully extending at the hip. Keep loads submaximal to maximize hip extension.
5. Muscle Clean
The muscle clean is very similar to a hang clean, except the bar sits in a higher position above the knee. Hinge back slightly and use a short, explosive hip action to accelerate the bar vertically and rack it on the shoulders.
The arms do a fair amount of work to “muscle” the weight to the shelf position. This is a fantastic way to bridge the gap between the hackey pull and a full clean.
6. Power Clean
The “power” position is simply catching the bar in the high rack position without dipping the hips and squatting the bar up, which forces the athlete to generate more power.
7. Full Clean or Clean With Front Squat
Full Clean Progression:
The Full clean progression takes you from the bottom up, grooving proper clean technique mechanics from the floor.
1. Dead Pull: Reinforce proper trunk position when pulling to the bottom of the knee.
2. Hackey Pull: Ensure full hip extension as the driving force for performance in the clean.
3. Power Shrug: Change directory of the bar from horizontal to vertical while ensuring full hip extension.
4. High Pull: Transfer the bar from to the height of the catch while ensuring full hip extension.
5. Muscle Clean from hang: Teach upper body mechanics in preparation for the rack position of the clean from the high hang for hinge position.
6. Power Clean: Maximize hip extension and displacement of the bar and catching in the high, power position.
7. Full Clean: Take the bar from the floor with full hip extension into the rack position and catch in a coordinated synchronized pattern.
Considerations and Common Issues:
Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID): Specific adaptations occur based on the imposed demands of a training program. If the coach allows sub-par technique, by not reinforcing proper hip extension during this lift the direct transfer of this exercise to their sports will be reduced.
It happens occasionally, but it shouldn’t be commonplace.
Cleans are extremely technical – consistently missing lifts leads to faulty movement pattern development and minimized carryover to sport. Missing lifts is the result of inappropriate load by the coach or technical error athlete. When learning and developing technique in the clean using submaximal loads will help reinforce proper hip extension and yield the greatest long term benefits.
As coaches we’ve all seen it: Good hip extension until the legs split apart, stagger, and voila: valgus collapse on one leg or anterior weight shift that forces the athlete to stumble forward and take a few steps to stabilize and get the hips underneath the bar.
To prevent injury and ensure optimal performance this should be avoided at all costs.
Leave the ego at the door—the aim is to improve performance, not test 1-RM’s and create competitive lifters.
Movements in the weight room are ancillary to movements on the field and in movement training. It’s imperative to be intelligent with loading and ensure full hip extension as the driving force for the clean.
The clean is a great tool to train triple extension and the absorption of force with proper mechanics. Treat it as such and be smart. A tool is only as good as the job the coach chooses to utilize it for.
Full hip-extension of the hips is the primary driving force of the clean for maximizing sports performance transfer.
Without hip extension, the value of the clean for sports specific power is severely limited as both the transferability of the exercise and execution of the exercise suffer.
In other words, without extending the hips, the value of the clean and its variations are extremely limited for athletes. Implement both the progressions from the floor and rack position to develop explosive total body power and hip extension in your athletes.
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