Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Improve Your Clean - Bob Bednarski

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

How to Improve Your Clean
by Bob Bednarski as told to Bill Starr 
(December 1967, Strength & Health)

 - Bob Bednarski has established himself as one of the world's greatest Clean and Jerkers. He has broken the  American clean and jerk record on three separate occasions and holds the current mark at 448. In training he has cleaned 463 at a bodyweight of 228, so he is certainly an authority on the finer points of the clean. His advice will prove helpful to every reader who is interested in this crucial lift. 

During these past two years I've done quite a lot of traveling and have had the opportunity to observe and talk to many of the greatest lifters in the world. This experience has enabled me to gather a storehouse of training hints on many facets of lifting. In many instances, it is these little secrets that can make the difference between a lifter being an also ran and being an excellent athlete. 

I noticed that the European lifters, on the whole, have one thing in common - they have terrific clean and jerking power. This they use as their ace in the hole in tight competition. For instance, every Russian at last year's world championships either broke the world record or came within 5 or 10 pounds of doing so in the C&J. It is this fact that the Russians are so good in the clean and jerk that makes it possible for them to come from behind and win. 

Russ Knipp was in great position after the first two lifts, but fell to fourth in the final standings. At the 1960 Olympics, Ski out-pressed Vlasov by 11 pounds and out-snatched him by 11 pounds, but still lost the contest with the Russian heavyweight. Another example, which I admit I'm not too fond of relating, to make this point is that Zhabo was only 10 pounds ahead of me after the snatch last year, but ended up 60 pounds in front after the clean and jerk.

Even though I referred to the clean and jerk in these examples I will restrict my article to the clean. It only common sense that you have to be able to clean a weight before you need worry about jerking it. The jerk will be dealt with in a future article. 

I want to point out some of the finer points of the clean that I have learned through talking to the greats both in Europe and the United States. I know that if the reader will apply these ideas to his training he can add 20, 30, or more pounds to his clean in six months because I've seen it done. 

About a year ago Bill Starr asked me to help him in the clean. The two main faults in his cleaning style were: 

1) He was moving under the weight too slowly.
2) He was not finishing his pull.

I showed Bill a movement that I had found successful in the past for just such problems, which was immediately dubbed the "Barski clean." 

 Click to ENLARGE
See more detailed instructions below.

Within three months, his clean moved from 325 to 375. I have introduced many other lifters to this movement which differs slightly from the standard clean and all have improved their cleaning power considerably. 

When I see someone having difficulty pulling the bar off the floor smoothly then I recommend power cleans, high pulls from the floor, or isometric pulls in the bottom position. 

If I see someone who is obviously weak in the top of the pull, I have them do shrugs or isometric pulls from the top position. 

In other words, one need to attack the weak point in the pull as in every other phase of lifting. 

If your position is bad, practice a great deal of form. 

If you are slow moving under the weight, then the "Barski clean" will help you.

If you are weak in any portion of the total pull, then you must work hard to correct and strengthen that weakness.

Here are some of the "secrets" in the pull that I try to remember when I practice the clean. I should point out that one needs to review these constantly as the muscles only do what they are taught to do. Even if you perform all the segments of a correct pull perfectly on Wednesday you may find yourself slipping into bad habits on Saturday. This is why I have Tony Garcy, Tommy Suggs, or Bill Starr watch my form during every workout. Learn to do the movements correctly and then have someone observe you so that you can constantly practice them to perfection. 

First and foremost, learn to use a hook grip. Let me add that you are spotting your competition at least 20 pounds if you don't use the hook grip. It may be painful for the first couple of weeks, but the rewards are well worth the pain.

In the stating position your shoulders should be over the bar with your feet in a comfortable stance. Your back should be flat and your head up. The initial pull off the floor should be performed slowly and smoothly with the bar accelerating as it gets higher. 

I see too many lifters jerking the bar off the platform and this destroys their top pull. By pulling smoothly and relatively slow, you will get more second pull and will be able to extend more completely. 

At the very top of the pull rise on your toes. This little hint has added 10 pounds to many lifters' clean overnight. At the same time as you are coming on your toes (stop snickering) shrug your shoulders. As you can see, timing is critical at this point of the pull. The shrug insures maximum extension and brings into play the powerful trapezius muscles. Try shrugging off the power rack some time and you will discover that the traps can pull a tremendous amount of weight.

Again, timing and speed are crucial at this stage of the clean and this is where most cleans are lost. You should meet the bar solidly as you rack the weight and meet it at the height you pulled the weigh. Do not let the weight fall on you so that there is a jamming of the body. Meet the bar as high as possible, then ride it to the bottom of the clean and bounce up immediately. 

The Russians are experts at getting the bound at the bottom of the clean. Too many of our American lifters stay in the full squat much too long and even if they do come out of the clean they are too fatigued to do a successful jerk.  

Remember, if the clean is performed easily, the jerk will be easy and of course the opposite is true - a hard clean usually necessitates an even harder jerk.

I have outlined some of the exercises that I have found to be very helpful for the clean.

1) The "Barski" Clean

You should use straps or a hook grip for this exercise. Use your regular clean grip. Dead lift the weight and lean back before commencing the pull (see photos above). Let the weight dip to just above the knees. Now pull, using the traps and arms, and drive the elbows under to rack the weight. 

You do not bend the knees for the pull. Rather, you force the muscles of the back to do all the work. A terrific top pull and a great deal of speed are required to do this movement successfully. It is crucial to keep the shoulders back throughout the exercise. If you are having difficulty with you top pull or racking the weight properly, then the "Barski Clean" will solve your problem. 

It should be performed in sets of 2, working up to a maximum single. I recommend doing this exercise twice a week until you are satisfied with your progress, and then do it once weekly. Progress slowly at first and you will find progress comes easier. 

2) Isometric Pulls Off the Rack

This is an excellent power exercise that many lifters have overlooked in recent years. Gary Glenney resorted to working on the iso rack during the time his back was giving him problems last spring with great success. Other issues of Strength & Health give a complete iso workout so I will not go into isometrics in great detail here. Let me add, however, that isometric work should be performed for no longer than 5 or 6 weeks at a time for best results. Use straps on all isometric pulls. 

3) The Shrug

There are very few movements that duplicate the action of the top part of the clean as identically as the shrug. You can really isolate the traps. You can either dead lift the weight from the floor or take it off the rack at shrugging height. Remain flat footed while doing the shrug. Pull the weight as high as possible, bringing the arms into play, and rotate the shoulders backward. Lower the weight slowly to increase the action of this movement. As in the other exercises use straps. Do 5 sets of 5 employing a weight that is 50 pounds over your highest clean for the final set. Once a week is plenty as this movement tends to fatigue the muscles a great deal.

4) The Hi-Pull

Using straps and your regular clean grip, pull the weight off the floor as if you were about to clean it. After the bar passes your knees try and explode with the final pull. Attempt to duplicate the movements of the clean as closely as possible. The value of the hi-pull is that it helps you to overload and thus works the pulling muscles to a greater degree than the regular clean. 

If you are weaker in the bottom pull than the top pull, do all the hi-pulls from the floor. If your top pull is lacking, do 2 from the floor and 2 or 3 from the hang. 

I would suggest doing 5 sets of from 3 to 5 reps using 25 to 50 pounds over your best clean for the last set. 

Let me say once again . . . the value of the hi-pull is to duplicated the movements in the clean. Keep good position throughout. 

5) Power Cleans

This is a favorite of the Russians. I recommend using straps on power cleans although some prefer to use the hook. If you plan to do many reps, I would definitely say use straps. 

Concentrate on pulling the bar close and snapping at the top. Practice driving the elbows under the bar quickly in the power clean and you will find that you will be able to rack the bar in the regular clean much easier. 

I recommend doing power cleans once a week in sets of 3 reps.

6) Good Mornings      

Many lifters do not realize the importance of the lower back in the clean. It is the lower back that gives the bar the momentum through the middle of the pull. This is the point where so many lifters break form and round their backs. In many cases they break form because their lower backs are not strong enough to move the weight through the sticking point of the clean. 

There are two recommended ways of performing good mornings. One method is to bend the knees and lower the head down between the legs. (Note round back in this style). Bob Hise III advocates this method and has achieved a great deal of success with it. If this method is employed a light weight must be used as the back is in a very unnatural position and very prone to injury. I recommend 5 sets of 8 with 100 pounds below bodyweight for the first week, and then work up slowly. 

The other method is to keep the legs locked and bend to about the parallel position. This is the way Paul Anderson performs good mornings. More weight can be used in this method. I would say 5 sets of 8 reps with about 50 pounds below bodyweight, and then working up. 

These are my ideas on how to improve your clean.     




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