By Zack Nielsen
The clean and its variations are often used as a means of enhancing power in the athletic performance setting. As a ballistic ground-based movement, the clean is a more desirable mode of training for power than other common strength lifts (squatting, deadlifting) (Kawamori, et al., 2005).
Due to the high mechanical specificity accompanying the increased power-producing capabilities, the clean and other weightlifting movements are effective for training athletes that require explosive strength and power to be successful in competition (Garhammer, 1993). After analyzing performances in the weightlifting movements and their derivatives, Garhammer found a significantly lower decrease in power output when compared to the competitive power lifts (squat, bench, deadlift). This evidence supports the notion that weightlifting movements (clean, jerk, and snatch) are superior for developing power in athletes.
Background on the Nuts and Bolts of the Clean
The clean is the first half of the competition movement known as the clean and jerk. In the clean, the athlete begins by taking a grip slightly outside shoulder width on the bar, and setting a tight start position with feet approximately hip width apart and toes turned out slightly, and the weight balanced evenly across them. Knees pushed out to the sides inside the arms; back completely arched; arms straight with elbows turned out to the sides; head and eyes forward; and arms approximately vertical when viewed from the side. Push with the legs against the floor to begin standing, maintaining approximately the same back angle until the bar is at mid- to upper-thigh. At this point, continue aggressively pushing against the floor and extend the hips violently, keeping the bar close to the body and allowing it to contact the upper thighs as the hips reach extension.
Once you have extended your body completely, pick up and move your feet into your squat stance as you pull your elbows up and to the sides aggressively to begin moving yourself down into a squat under the bar. Bring the elbows around the bar quickly and into the clean rack position as you sit into the squat. Use the rebound in the bottom of the squat to help move back up to the standing position as quickly as possible. Once you stand completely with the bar in control, you can return it to the floor (or continue to a jerk).
The primary purpose of the clean is as part of one of the two competitive lifts in the sport of weightlifting. Athletes not competing in Olympic-style weightlifting can use it to develop power, speed, precision, and mobility (Everett, 2009).
Transition from Competition Lifting to Sports Performance Development
The question of whether it is appropriate for athletes not competing in the sport of Olympic-style weightlifting to execute the clean as defined above is a common one among athletic performance professionals. Many coaches note that the intent of the clean is to train aggressive hip extension and after this is accomplished in the second pull, there is no need to continue the lift into the catch phase of the classic lift. For this reason, many coaches only use the power variation, known simply as a power clean. Recently, legendary coach Bob Alejo made the case for dropping the catch altogether.
Many of the points he brings up in his writing are great points to consider when determining if an athlete should use the clean as a main lift within their training program. Current literature supports this argument, stating that during the pull phase, the peak ground reaction force increases linearly as load increases, but no significant difference was found in peak ground reaction force during the catch phase as load increased (Hayashi, et al., 2016).
At the end of the day, you as the coach have the final say whether to implement the clean as seen in competition or different variations of the lift. As athletic performance coaches, we are not primarily competitive weightlifting coaches. We prepare athletes for competition in co-acting and interacting team sport. In reality, very few of the athletes entering the weight room are able to safely and effectively execute a competition-style clean.Always have the athlete’s best interest in mind when prescribing highly technical exercises. Click To Tweet
This article presents various ways to progress and regress the clean through different variations of the movement. While progressing and regressing the movement, it is important to educate the athlete on the reason they are not performing a traditional clean. As the athletic performance coach, you must have the athlete’s best interest in mind at all times when prescribing highly technical exercises like the Olympic-style weightlifting movements. By explaining a progression or regression to an athlete, you educate them on the process of learning the movement properly. You also create buy-in and trust that you, as the coach, will not put the athlete in a position to harm themselves while training.
Drill Variation 1: Position 1 Hang Power Clean
The first variation is pulling or cleaning from the hip or position 1. This will be the least technical portion of the lift. In this position, we utilize both a start from the hang and a pull from blocks. Pulling and cleaning from this position is the greatest utilization of the athlete’s strength and power due to the decreased technical proficiency required for this exercise. The greater the amount of force the athlete puts into the ground, the greater resultant force the athlete can put into the barbell.
The sequence below shows the start position for the position 1 hang power clean. The athlete will initiate the movement by unlocking their knees and slightly flexing at the hips, allowing the barbell to lower to mid-thigh.
After the athlete finishes the pull, they will pull themselves under the bar and catch it in the receiving position.
The bar should rest across the shoulder and clavicles while keeping the chest and elbows elevated. This variation’s designation is a “power” or catching above a parallel squat. While the term “parallel” is up for debate when referencing a squat pattern, the intent is to catch the weight with as little flexion through the knees and hips as possible.
Drill Variation 2: Position 1 Power Clean from Blocks
Working from the same position, the second variation is a Position 1 Power Clean. For this exercise, the athlete uses blocks to raise the bar to the upper thigh (similar to where the athlete would load in the hang variation).
This allows for a static start position, which requires the athlete to exert a great amount of starting strength. Follow the same procedure for the setup, pull, and catch as in the hang variation.
Things to Consider Before You Start
While these exercises are not flashy or as glamorous as the full clean pulled from the floor, they are still great substitutes when an athlete has not yet reached the appropriate level of skill in the clean or lacks the required movement capabilities to safely and effectively pull from the floor and catch at full depth. Jump shrug and high pull variations are also great alternatives for a desired outcome of increased power production.
- Everett, G. (2009). Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. Catalyst Athletics.
- Garhammer, I. (1993). A Review of Power Output Studies of Olympic and Powerlifting: Methodology, Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 7(2), 76-89.
- Hayashi, R., Kariyama, Y., Yoshida, T., Takahashi, K., Zushi, A., & Zushi, K. (2016, May). Comparison of Pull and Catch Phases During Clean Exercises. In ISBS-Conference Proceedings Archive (Vol. 33, No. 1).
- Kawamori, N., Crum, A. J., Blumert, P. A., & Kulik, J. R. (2005). Influence of different relative intensities on power output during the hang power clean: Identification of the optimal load. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(3), 698.