Power up your clean

Power up your clean

Today’s post is by special request from miss Julie. I don’t typically recommend that the general public should learn the Olympic lifts for no real reason, however, I am a big supporter of the standard clean. I am hoping to get my Olympic lifting certification in the next few months (!), but until then the only Oly lift I feel comfortable teaching my advanced clients is the power clean.

It is always best to have a coach teach you an Olympic lift but if you are advanced and feeling adventurous, you can give it a go. Keep in mind that moving heavy weight at high speeds can be dangerous, and that cleans require a high level of concentration and skill. The guide below is very simplified – I am self-taught, and I’m not an expert.

Purpose: Along with the squat and deadlift, the clean is one of the best compound exercises you can do. I find the latter much more taxing, as I’m usually dripping in sweat by the time I’ve knocked out a few sets. Cleans will improve both your overall power and strength.

A power clean involves a triple extension movement pattern, whereby the hip, knee and ankle are all extended at the same time. It will work your posterior chain – calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back – as well as your quads, traps, delts, forearms and core muscles. Not many other exercises can claim that!

It is an explosive movement and incredibly metabolically taxing on the body, so always perform it first in a training session. Keep the number of sets and repetitions low.

There are a number of different types of cleans you can perform. A power clean is where the bar stays high and the hips do not come below parallel, a squat clean is where you catch the bar in a below parallel squat position, and a hang clean is where you clean the bar from around knee height rather than from the floor.

Set-up: There are five phases to a power clean: the first pull, the scoop, the second pull, the catch, and the downward phase. Each phase should be mastered before moving on to the next. Don’t worry, it won’t take weeks – I usually progress someone through the lift in a single session. Start with a light bar or a broomstick to ensure you master technique before you even think about adding weight.

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You will start in a similar position to the deadlift. Feet should be hip-width, with toes pointing slightly outwards. Hold the bar with a pronated (overhand) grip, with your hands on the outside of your bent legs. The bar should be right up against your shins, and your arms should be hanging straight with elbows locked. Your back is straight and your chest is up.

Execution: The first pull will teach you how to move your hips. You are going to lift the bar to hip level, while focusing on snapping your hips through and keeping the bar as close to your body as possible.

The scoop involves learning how to shrug the bar up. After completing phase one, let the bar hang just below knee height. Drive your hips through to finish the movement, while simultaneously shrugging your shoulders. Keep your elbows locked.

The third phase leads on from the second. Once your shoulders reach the highest point of the shrug, bend your elbows. As you lift the bar, allow your heels to rise off the ground. Ensure this is a quick snap, and not a reverse curl.

To catch the bar, fully rotate your arms so that your elbows become parallel to the ground. The bar will rest on your clavicles and shoulders. Simultaneously position your body underneath the bar by lowering into a quarter squat position.

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Finally, the downward movement phase requires you to return the bar to the starting position. From the quarter squat, straighten your legs and quickly snap the bar back to hip height. Slowly squat down to return the bar to the floor.

Some people like to think of the exercise as a combination of a deadlift, upright row and front squat, but I think that makes the movement too disjointed. As a complete and fluid movement, imagine pushing the ground away from you as forcefully as possible, while simultaneously pulling yourself underneath the bar to catch it.

Full body explosive workout: 

Note: Where the two exercises are linked via ‘superset’, perform both back-to-back before taking a 60-90 second rest and starting again.

Have you ever tried a power clean? Do the Olympic lifts intimidate you?

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