Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cleans - Cornell Hunt

 Power Clean:
How to Clean Tutorial, Glenn Pendlay

Cleans for Explosive Strength
by Cornell Hunt (2013)

I'm going to cut right to the point. If you're into athletics or cross-training, you're probably incorporating some type of Olympic lifting into your workouts. If you've been keeping up with the current trends of fitness, you know that Olympic lifting is part of what the masses are doing and looks as if it's here to stay.

Olympic lifting is no longer exclusive to the Olympic games or to college or high school programs. People are smartening up. Everyone wants to be strong and fast and to look good. So, the fitness population has decided to mimic the moves of elite athletes around the world -- and Olympic lifting has made its move into the mainstream.

The chances are, however, that you are performing the lifts incorrectly. I am an Olympic lifting certified coach, and it hurts my eyes to see so many people performing these movement poorly. It is a recipe for injury in the name of physical fitness and strength, which is a travesty. To get the most out of these terrific exercises, take a step back, learn the movements, and then progress. Keep your ego in check, and watch your workouts improve.

Below is a beginner's guide on how to learn the power clean and squat clean. I could fill pages and pages with instructions on Olympic lifting, so bear with me as I drop that down to just a few. The fact that there is so much to learn shows how important the technical aspects are and how these lifts must be done with caution.

Foot Placement

Foot placement is a big issue I see among beginners when they're learning how to do Olympic lifts. Here's a simple drill. Jump up as high as you can go about five times without thinking about foot placement. After you land on your fifth jump, look down. That's your correct foot placement for the Olympic lifts. People fail to realize that the clean and the snatch are jumping movements in which your body is trying to produce as much power as it can. Wherever your feet push through the ground to jump as high as you can, that's where you should place your feet when setting up. Generally, it's about hip width apart.

Hip Hinge/Romanian Deadlifts

The next movement that you should be able to do is hinge at your hips while keeping your knees slightly bent, your spine neutral or slightly arched, and the muscles of your back engaged. Keep the bar close and move your hips back. If you are performing the movement correctly, you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. That stretch is crucial, as you will learn later. Once your flexibility stops you from going any lower with the bar, stand up violently by extending your hips through a hard gluteal contraction. Beginners should master this before progressing further.

Front Squats

Flexibility and core strength are huge limiting factors when you're trying to perform front squats. Grab a bar with your hands about thumb distance away from your thighs. Put the bar across your clavicles with your elbows up and your triceps running parallel to the floor. Your hands should be relaxed but helping slightly to support the bar from falling forward. This is where sub-par flexibility will be exposed. There can be a host of problems, but the inability to put your elbows up high shows a lack of wrist flexibility, lat tightness or poor shoulder rotation. Sometimes you can address the problem by adding weight to the bar, but you must address it before you move on to performing cleans.

When squatting, open your feet about shoulder width apart or slightly wider, keeping your toes pointed out slightly. Also keep your knees tracking over your toes throughout the movement. With your torso being a bit more vertical, your ankles will go to greater levels of dorsiflexion, so adequate ankle mobility is required. Olympic lifting shoes that have elevated heels and stable platforms will give you an easier descent. Also, your ability to maintain an upright torso will help to test your core strength. When you are holding heavy weights in your hands, whether you are doing a clean or a front squat, the weight will pull you forward. You'd better have the core strength to offset that and remain stable. Again, make sure you are able to perform the front squat safely and without much limitation before moving on.

Clean Pulls (from different hang positions)

This is where we begin to implement the power. Start by performing a clean pull from the mid-thigh. Grab a bar with the same grip as described above. Push your hips back as in the hip-hinge exercise until the bar is in the middle of your thighs and your weight is on your heels. From that position violently push through the ground, creating power, and then transfer the power from your heels onto the balls of your feet. That should also cause a violent hip extension. For beginners it's easy just to say, "Jump" which usually results in the desired outcome. 

After you've mastered that, take the bar a bit lower to the top of your kneecaps, still by hinging at the hips. You should feel that stretch in your hips, as described above. The stretch will cause your hamstrings to load up tension and energy and then release that energy by forcing a violent contraction, which allows for a more efficient transfer of power when you're doing the full movement. When you reach your knees, slowly start back up; when you hit the mid-thigh position start your clean pull.

Once you've mastered this range of motion, proceed to lowering the bar below your knees. Keep your knees flexed, with your shins vertical. All your weight should be on your heels. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep your shoulders in front of your toes. Also, don't forget to keep your back tight. You will learn that when you have a heavier bar in your hands, creating back tension will keep you safe and injury free. Slowly rise, and then violently jump, letting the bar brush around that mid-thigh position. Learn these movements completely before moving on.

Hang Power Clean From Each Position

Notice that we didn't do the clean pulls from the floor yet? There is a reason. You want to get better, right? Continue to follow this advice, as it's like fastening links together to form a complete chain. 

After you've gotten the clean pulls down, return the bar to the mid-thigh position. Now perform the clean pull again, but this time let the bar come up and travel upward. As the bar rises, drop yourself back down under it, catching it in a power position -- hips back, tall chest, feet flat on the ground -- looking like the descent portion of a front squat. Remember to relax your fingers as the bar travels upward, and catch the traveling bar as you move into the front squat. Practice this movement by mastering the timing and rhythm so the bar is caught gracefully and doesn't crash on your shoulders. After you've done this, proceed to performing hang power cleans from each position -- above the knee and below the knee.

Set Up and Lift Off

Once you are able to lift from the floor, you should proceed with caution. This is where many people make mistakes. Making sure your feet are around the hip-width position, walk up to the bar, putting your shins about an inch away from it. The bar should be over the laces of your shoes. Squat deep, and grasp the bar in the clean position. A good rule of thumb is to keep your hamstrings close to your calves and have your weight on your heels. You want the movement from the floor to be very quad dominant, allowing the hamstrings to kick in later. That's another reason that Olympic lifters have huge quadriceps. Get your chest up nice and tall, with your elbows rotated outward. 

Once you are safely set up and your back is tight, lift the bar upward by moving your knees out of the way, performing a reverse Romanian deadlift. By pushing your knees back and out of the way, you enable the bar to travel straight up along a smooth and efficient path. Most beginners keep their knees bend and in the way, forcing them to move the bar around their body when it should be the opposite.

Once you rise, your knees will straighten out, and that's what we call the 'first pull'. After the bar passes your knees, you will begin the double-knee-bend, or scoop phase of the movement. Here, your knees go under the bar, thereby beginning the 'second pull' which is the violent hip movement and jump, as described above. 

Power Clean and Squat Clean

There is a difference between the power clean and the squat clean. When thinking power clean, think of a powerful athletic position. Think of a basketball defensive stance. Your knees are slightly bent, your chest is up, and you're catching the bar into something that's much like a quarter- or half-squat. The power clean should be learned before the squat clean, and you should become efficient at both. Once you obtain some skill, precision and confidence with the rhythm and timing of the power clean, you can start working the squat clean harder.

Many people don't understand the mechanics of the squat clean. Quite simply, when the weight gets heavier the bar won't travel as high. So, after you initiate that second pull, you have to drop under the bar and 'catch' it in a deep front squat. There is a time in this fluidity when the bar weighs nothing. That is when you have to get under it. Once you are under it, having a good front squat enables you to stand up and get out of the hole.

If this seems like a lot of information, know that there are books on how to perform squat cleans. As a certified Olympic-lifting coach, I appreciate how difficult it is to teach someone how to perform Olympic barbell movements. Trainees must be coached and go through a series of steps (a 'progression') before they can lift the weight from the ground effectively. Some people may simply not care to lift more weight, but I would assume that if you are reading this article you aren't part of that crowd. The stronger you are, the better off you will be. Learn the movement, and get better at it. Have patience, and watch your workouts take off.

Cleans are rightfully making their way back into all fitness arenas, including the programs the high-intensity junkies love. Now, I'm not a huge fan of putting Olympic lifting into high-intensity workouts. I believe the risk outweighs the reward, especially with someone who is a beginner at the movements. So, if you're going to continue to do these, let my advice help you a little. If possible, find a certified Olympic-lifting coach, and have him or her help you. Drop the ego, and realize that taking a step back can lead to multiple steps forward. Increase your strength with the movement. Learn to do it correctly, and master the technical aspects.

Implement these complex lifts into your overall workout with caution. Always work on your lifts before doing any metabolic work that can cause you to fatigue and stray away from proper movements. People who do Olympic lifts while in a fatigued state just end up rehearsing bad movement patterns and wondering why they don't get stronger. Think logically about the positives and negatives, the values and risks of higher rep and/or fatigue-state Olympic lifting before simply retching plans blindly onto your workout sheets. 

If I I haven't convinced you sufficiently to keep away from the high-intensity power clean workouts, give this clean/front squat ladder routine a go:

Put about 60% of your one rep power clean or squat clean max on the bar. Perform 10 power cleans and then perform 10 front squats . . . then 9 power cleans, and then perform 9 front squats . . . working your way down to one rep of each movement. Once you feel your technique is dropping, make the weight lighter before continuing.

If you're working out and have the patience to learn Olympic movements you are already part of an elite few. Just respect the progressions and get stronger. It will lead to an overall improved workout experience, enabling you to hit your goals more quickly.

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