How To Find The Perfect Form For Power Cleans By Charles Staley
Too many people unnecessarily avoid power cleans because (unlike other lifts) they wrongly tend to assume that any minor technical error they make will result in catastrophic injury. Are you one of these people? Do you just assume that cleans are only for "advanced" lifters and that you have no business attempting them?
If so, please read on. My goal in this article is to convince you that you can start incorporating cleans into your program, right now, with fantastic results. I'm assuming by the way, that you have at least a cursory understanding of what a clean is, and what one looks like. If not, please first refer to the videos I've posted in the article for a quick brush-up.
Jeff's First Attempt At The Clean
Dr. Jeff Bernstein is a coaching-group client of ours who recently gave the clean a shot after some verbal and textual instruction from me, and watching some videos of cleans on You Tube. Jeff has had NO hands-on instruction on this exercise. Here's how he did:
Now this isn't a technically perfect clean, but that being said, I've coached pro athletes with worse cleans than this. The main error here is that the bar should stay closer to the body throughout the movement path. But it's a safe execution and a great start.
Bumper Plates Really Help
Note that Jeff's using 120 pounds here, which means the plates he's using are of a smaller diameter than a normal 45-pound plate. The solution to this problem is to use bumper plates, which allow you to use less than 135-pounds, with plates that position the bar in the same place it'd be if you were using 45's. If you don't have bumpers, you can set your barbell on steps or simply start the bar at mid-shin. Not ideal, but it'll get you by until you're strong enough to comfortably manage 135 pounds.
How I Teach The Clean
The goal of a clean (whether it be a "power" clean or a "full squat" clean) is to bring the bar from Point A (the floor) to Point B (your shoulders). In fact, this is the very definition of "clean." Given this, it's important to have some strong familiarity with Point B before you proceed any further- after all, if you're not familiar/comfortable with where the bar's headed to, you're likely to move the bar in an uncertain manner. Here's a quick video I made recently that shows you how to comfortably "rack" the bar on your shoulders- this is your Point B:
Once you're comfortable with this position and can hit it consistently, it's time to get comfortable with Point A: Taking the bar off the floor and toward your knees. The movement is essentially like a deadlift, with a few specialized nuances. Here's a video of one of our clients practicing a drill called a "clean liftoff." In addition to being a great strength-training drill in it's own right, it's also a great way to rehearse the correct hip, shoulder, and knee angles for the clean. The most critical thing to observe in this video is how the bar stays close and how the knees shift backwards as the bar rises. This puts you into a position where your shoulders are in front of (or ahead of) the bar as the bar passes your knees:
OK. You're now familiar with Point A and Point B. Next, let's connect the dots by learning how to do the "clean pull." The clean pull comprises the entire active part of the clean, starting from the initial pull off the floor to full body extension. Note that the first ½ of the clean pull is the clean lift-off, so really this is in essence a continuation of the clean lift-off. Take a look:
One important point to notice on this video is the tempo used: the lift starts off slowly and then culminates in an explosive full-body extension (including a big shrug and coming up on the toes). Also notice that the arms do not actively pull- instead, the elbows bend passively so that the arms do not impede the upward progress of the bar.
Here's a video where I do my best to pantomime what's called a "rushed first pull;"
This is what happens when you have a monotonous tempo- remember, slow off the floor, get into the power position, and then violently extend upward. If you simply yank it off the floor, you'll look as bad as I did in that video!
Putting It All Together
The only thing I haven't covered thus far is the segment of the clean starting from the finish of the clean pull to racking the bar on the shoulders. This is the "passive" aspect of the clean. The less you over-think it, the better. The main goal here is to just get out of the bar's way, and then catch it on the shoulders. Incidentally, if the weight's very heavy (which it shouldn't be if you're just learning how to clean), you may need to sink into a semi-squat to get low enough to rack the bar. Even if you don't need to, it's a good idea to practice catching the bar in a semi-squat- you'll need this skill down the line anyway.
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