hosted by mezzie
Welcome to The Power Clean Bible!
Ever see something like this at your gym?
OK, the example may be a bit extreme, but the point stands. Yes, this kid is a strong, healthy (hopefully still, after that!), powerful athlete. He can squat 600 lbs and deadlift 700 lbs. But are doing lifts like those helping athletes like him develop their athletic potential? Are those lifts the REASON they're strong, healthy, and powerful? Or are they able to perform lifts like that because of strength and power developed in OTHER ways, such as through squats, playing their sport of choice, or other activities?
With his strength numbers, 310 is NOT a challenging weight. It should pop right up assuming solid technique, and power cleaning upwards of 375 should be easily within reach. Working with 310 is simply not going to improve power output since the load is too light. With this technique, it's just an injury waiting to happen.
Now check this out:
Notice the differences between what you saw a moment ago and this thing of beauty? Which lift looked safer? More efficient? More powerful? More productive? More useful as a training tool? I'm biased, of course, but the second lift is the winner across the board. He's also not nearly as strong as the guy above (though he's still damn strong), but power cleaning about 50 lbs more with apparent ease. Oh, and he's an Olympic bobsledder
You might be thinking "hell, I'm a football player, I just want to get strong and explosive and I don't have time to learn that kind of technique." Or maybe "I'm just a basketball player looking to increase my vertical, and I've heard that using more than 20-30% of your max weight doesn't actually train POWER." You may be thinking those things, but they're plain and simple bullshit.
Maybe your coach told you that form wasn't that important, or that just going through the motion is enough, regardless of the weight on the bar. Or maybe that your form is "good enough", and the weight you're using is "enough to have a training effect". What do you think? Wouldn't you LIKE to lift like that second guy? Don't you think that looks like it has more potential for helping you develop power that you can apply on the football field? Isn't moving a HEAVY weight fast something that might be useful for jumping higher? Doesn't it look a heck of a lot safer than that monstrosity at the beginning?
It's my job in this website to give you the tools to build a respectable power clean the RIGHT way. You might be limiting the weight you're able to use for a little while at the beginning, but within a few weeks, you should be BLOWING past your old best lifts with ease, without actually getting any stronger. And once you're using challenging weights with your new, improved technique, your power development will have finally begun.
Welcome to the truth behind training for power.
Welcome to The Power Clean Bible!
To be perfectly honest, I'm nothing special in the world of strength training or athletics. I came to Olympic weightlifting quite late in life, and never really accomplished much of anything in the sport. I'm not particularly naturally strong or explosive, and heck, now I'm just plain old and slow. So why on earth should you listen to me? Because I have a great eye for technique and have helped a lot of lifters improve their strength and power rapidly, while developing first-rate technique in the Olympic lifts. In other words, I have real-world experience with real athletes both on-line and in the gym, and they've generally benefitted tremendously from my help. Have a look at the testimonials and video examples to see what I'm talking about.
Oh, and this is what I look like doing a power clean. If you want to look like this, too, then stick around:
Many athletes who have contacted me over the years have been dissatisfied with the strength coaching they've been getting from their football coach, rugby coach, martial arts instructor, and so on. They decided to take the responsibility into their OWN hands for learning to do the Olympic lifts in a safe, productive manner.
I've helped athletes work towards improving their vertical jump for basketball, increasing their striking power in various MMA disciplines, hitting harder on the football field, and so on. As part of a general strength template which I'll discuss in the Programming section later on, I typically include at least one exercise for each athlete to help them develop explosive power. The easiest movement to learn to do productively in a short amount of time is the power clean, which is the subject of this website. I hope you enjoy the ride, learn a lot, and start applying the things you learn in the gym right away.
Let's dive right in!
Have another look at that powerclean from the beginning of the chapter. Here it is again for your convenience:
It sure looks like the old "deadlift + reverse curl", or "jump and shrug" that so many strength coaches are teaching in gyms across the country. But look a little bit closer and the differences are evident.
First of all, he starts the lift off in a position that doesn't look particularly mechanically advantageous. What I mean by that is it's not how you'd set up for a heavy deadlift attempt. The leverages look all wrong, with his shoulders in well in front of the bar. He moves slowly off the floor, keeping his shoulders in front of the bar the whole way up, and his back angle remains almost exactly the same, leaned forward, as he straightens his legs. But once the bar passes the knees, everything changes. Suddenly the bar is in the PERFECT spot to apply maximum power, tight to the body, right up against the meaty part of the thighs. At that point, he extends his whole body, accelerating the bar greatly, then IMMEDIATELY changes direction and moves to a safe, solid, stable receiving position, with his elbows whipped forward and up high, the bar nicely across his shoulders, his knees slightly bent, completely balanced, not leaning backwards or caved forwards.
Think of it this way: he's not trying to lift the heaviest weight possible off the FLOOR; he's trying to lift the heaviest weight possible to his rack position. Big difference, and that's why the setup is different. We'll go into detail about that in the technique section, but for now, just keep it in mind.
In short, a powerclean involves a full extension of the body to apply enough force to the bar so it becomes weightless for a moment. While it's still going up, your job is to move efficiently and immediately to your receiving position with the bar smoothly racked across the shoulders. Yes, it's that simple! And no, I won't leave you hanging. We'll go through everything step-by-step in the Technique section.
Lifting from the hang
You might have heard the term "hang clean" before, or seen lifters do hang cleans in the gym. Lifting from the hang means starting with the barbell already at the mid-thigh position (or anywhere that's not the floor, such as mid-shin, the knees, or just below the waist). Here's an example of a lift from the hang, followed by another lift from the floor:
Plenty of lifters lift exclusively from the hang, giving one or more of the following reasons:
- "Save" the lower back
- Focus only on the "power" portion of the lift
- It's technically easier, since bar is already in position
"Save" the lower back
By "save the lower back" I mean they avoid doing the "deadlift" part of the lift, moving slowly from the floor to mid-thigh. They consider that part of the movement too taxing, especially if they're already doing deadlifts as part of their strength training. While technically a valid point, the fact of the matter is that you still have to get the bar to the hang position somehow, and the VAST majority of athletes deadlift the weight up first, pause, and then do the lift from the hang. This effectively defeats the purpose of the reason they've given for doing hang cleans in the first place. The alternative is to set the bar up on pins, blocks, or in a half rack or power rack, and lift the barbell up from there instead of from the floor. This method is fine, and if that's how you plan to train, I have no complaints. Although see my note in the next paragraph.
Focus only on the "power" portion of the lift
Some lifters claim they're only interested in the "power" portion of the lift, which is the explosion part, giving the bar momentum. Again, this is valid as far as it goes. However, lifters in this category tend to have the worst technique of the bunch. They load the barbell up 50 or more pounds heavier than they should, hitch the bar into the crease of their hips, sway back and forth a few times, then BOUNCE the bar off their thighs and try to get under the bar, usually in a very ugly way, with legs spread out wide, wrists bearing the brunt of the weight, leaning backwards, and so on. Even if the lifter doesn't do all of these things, what tends to happen is that the starting position of the lift varies slightly from rep to rep. One rep you're exactly at mid-thigh, the next rep your a bit lower, the rep after that you're higher, and so on. It becomes a crapshoot whether you're hitting the proper power position on every rep, and you'll ultimately limit the weight you could be using due to inconsistency.
It's technically easier, since bar is already in position
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the position of the bar at the beginning of the lift may actually be varying quite significantly from rep to rep, particularly as the lifter adds weight. This renders reason #3 completely wrong. It actually required MUCH more discipline and skill to force the shoulders over the bar and get the bar in the right position on every rep when starting from the hang. Form degrades rapidly as weight is added, which is a no-no for any kind of training. Lifters may feel that learning how to get the bar from the floor to the power position efficiently is too difficult, or they've been told that's not an important part of the lift, so they simply never learn. As you'll see in the Technique section of the website, not only is it well worth the time investment, but in the long run it's actually much easier to start the lift from the floor.
Lifting from the floor
You may have already guessed, but I'm a big proponent of keeping everything as simple as possible. This includes starting the lift from the floor, instead of from the hang. This has several advantages:
- Perfect starting position on every rep
- Proper bar path
- Consistently hitting the same power position
- Every rep the same
Perfect starting position on every rep
When you start the lift from the floor, everything is motionless, and you have maximum control over how you set up. You're not shaking and trembling, trying to get your shoulders over the bar lifting from the hang with a too-heavy weight. You're relaxed, you can loosen your arms, prime your legs and back, set your lower back into a nice arch, and so on. You can develop your own personal routine for setting up so that every rep begins exactly the same. Cues used in your startup will affect the rest of the lift
Proper bar path
With a perfect setup, you'll be in a great position to maintain perfect bar path all the way up. You won't be bouncing the bar off your thighs sending it every which way. You'll be engaging all the proper musculature needed to keep the bar exactly where it needs to be.
Consistently hitting the same power position
Once your bar path is consistent, you really have no choice but to hit that perfect power position on every single rep. Your body will get used to feeling the right spot and accelerating properly. The bar will literally pop up right into position every single time.
Every rep the same
Lifting from the floor with proper form, which I'll go into in great detail later on, will allow you to make every rep exactly the same, from beginning to end. This means every rep will be PREDICTABLE and completely CONTROLLED. The most important factor in lifting safely and minimizing injury risk is to LEAVE RANDOM CHANCE OUT OF THE EQUATION. Every factor that introduces some degree of uncertainty to your lifting will increase the chance of injury. Lifting from the hang simply introduces too much uncertainty and inconsistency into each rep to be maximally safe. And you're not competing in Olympic weightlifting, so let's not get injured in the freaking gym!
Seriously, lifting from the hang can have its place in SOME athletes' programs, but only under very specific circumstances, such as training around injury, addressing a very specific weakness, and so on, but ONLY under the guidance of someone who knows what they're doing, and who is there with you in the gym.
All right, with all that out of the way, let's move on to talking a bit about power, what it is, why you need it, and how you can increase yours.
The thwack of a tennis ball off an 135mph serve by Andy Roddick; the bone-crushing tackle of Peyton Manning 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage; the lightning-fast hands and feet of Alistair Overeem punishing a foe. What do all these actions have in common? They're a combination of an athlete's superior strength COMBINED with blinding, otherworldly speed. This combination of speed and strength is called POWER, and is the most indispensible skill in the majority of competitive sports. You can be brutally strong, able to squat 600 pounds or bench press a small car, but unless you're able to move quickly and explosively, you won't be much of an obstacle on a football field. Similarly, you can be as fast as lightning, but if your punches and kicks lack authority, you'll be unable to inflict damage on your opponent and end up looking up to the stars, flat on your back on the canvas. You need BOTH strength AND speed to excel in any athletic endeavor.
Strength and speed can both be developed in a variety of ways. First of all, just the act of doing your sport will help you develop both, to a certain extent. Countless Olympic and professional athletes throughout history only ever trained their sport, and did no outside weight training for strength or speed development. In sports such as Major League Baseball, weight training was considered taboo for decades, as it was thought that bulking up would result in decreased flexibility and slow you down. Same thing applied in karate, particularly in traditional dojos in Japan. Weight training was frowned upon, as it was thought all the necessary skills could be developed exclusively through doing your sport, plus perhaps some accessory bodyweight exercises like pushups or air squats.
All that being the case, over the past 3 decades or so, there has been a marked increase in lifting weights to increase performance on the field. Building extra muscle mass, training to handle heavier and heavier loads, learning to move a heavy weight fast, and cycling training volume depending on the competition schedule were all eventually seen as good things, and adopted by athletes in virtually all sports. Heck, even sumo wrestlers in Japan, typically a very traditional and conservative community, started lifting weights to build strength and increase body mass.
One assumption I decided to make when preparing this website was that you, the athlete, already have a decent idea of how to build strength and program for it, or that you're training under the watchful eye of a coach who has set up something sensible for you. I'll go through some general strength-building principles in the Programming section later on and provide simple templates, but the focus of this website is to teach the TECHNIQUE OF THE POWER CLEAN, which addresses the power building part of your program.
So, if you're an athlete interested in:
- increasing your vertical jump
- putting more oomph behind your punches and kicks
- seeing opposing players look at you with fear and respect when they face you at the line of scrimmage
...or any other athletic endeavor that combines strength and speed (which is most of them!), and you're not 100% confident that your power clean is where it should be, then this website is for you.
Furthermore, if you're a football coach, a baseball coach, or are involved as a strength coach for athletes of all levels and abilities, then this website will give you a solid grounding and proven teaching progression to have your athletes power cleaning safely and productively in a matter of just a few workouts. This will be an invaluable lifelong tool you can use in a wide variety of training situations. Even if you've been teaching power cleans for years, I'm sure you'll take away a lot of great insight from this website, and ultimately feel more confident that you're taking maximal care of your athletes' safety in the gym.
You concentrate on coaching your athletes, and I'll concentrate on coaching you!
Before getting started with the technique of learning the power clean, there are a few things that need going over, in order of importance.
Luckily, barbell training requires no specialized equipment other than a barbell and enough weight to challenge you. However, there are a few things that are worth mentioning to ensure your safety when lifting.
Let's go through them one at a time.
If you have a home gym, I highly recommend going all-out to get a good-quality barbell. It's really the one expense that shouldn't be skimped on, since the barbell is essentially your most important tool for all your time spent training with weights. You will use it at every single workout, and put it through a lot, particularly if you are dropping the barbell often with heavy weight. Quality brands such as Eleiko, Werksan, Zhangkong and Uesaka are all excellent choices, though very expensive, ranging from about $750 US to $1000 US for a training bar (not a competition bar, which are more strictly calibrated, though no better in quality.
A more affordable choice would be Pendlay, with bearing bars running about $550 US, and bushing bars only about $350. Pendlay bars haven't been around very long, so it's unclear how they hold up after years of hard training, but I've heard good things about them so far. They also come with a lifetime warranty, so you can't really go wrong. Keep in mind that bearing bars do spin with far less friction than bushing bars, but unless you're an elite Olympic weightlifter, this is unlikely to affect your workouts at all.
If you're working out at a school gym, commercial gym, or other athletic facility, you'll most likely be using the bars they provide. The vast majority of barbells at these places are, to put it bluntly, crap. They're inflexible, don't spin well, warped, and might weigh anywhere from 22-55 lbs. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a bar to work with:
- Make sure the bar isn't warped
Lay the bar flat on the ground and roll it a few inches. If it jiggles or doesn't roll straight, it is likely warped or bent a bit. This will cause the barbell to behave unpredictably when you accelerate a heavy weight, so avoid these like the plague.
- Pick the bar that spins the best
When I say "spin", I'm referring to the sleeves where you slide the weights on. They don't need to spin freely like a bicycle wheel, but they shouldn't stick or feel overly stiff. When you're power cleaning a heavy weight and whip your elbows fast, the barbell should spin nicely in your hands, while the weight discs remain virtually still. If it doesn't, you'll essentially be fighting the weight of the plates to whip your elbows, which can cause strain, and increases the risk of wrist and arm injuries, since you won't be able to receive the bar smoothly.
- Use the same bar every time and WEIGH it
One thing I stress over and over again on this site is creating a CONTROLLED lifting environment, to minimize surprises and maximize safety. By using the same barbell every time you lift, you'll develop a feel for the bar and know what to expect, since it won't be warped and should spin just fine. As for weighing it, that's more for tracking personal progress than anything else. You should also weigh all the weight plates you use most often and label them. You'd be surprised how much of a difference there can be from plate to plate. I've weighed 45's that have weighed anywhere from 38 lbs to 49 lbs. Even 10-lb plates should be weighed. The easiest way to weigh a barbell, by the way, is to step on a scale, weigh yourself, then pick up the barbell and weigh yourself again holding it in your hands. After that, do the math to figure out how much the barbell weighs!
Ideally, you'd lift with bumper plates, which are made of a hard rubber material that can be safely dropped on an appropriate surface. This becomes more important when you're using very challenging weights, since it's much easier to attack a heavy weight knowing it's OK if you have to bail out. Lifting without the ability to drop weight causes some lifters to tighten up, tense up, and lose the fluidity and snappiness that are required for explosive power cleans.
There's no need to break the bank by getting a complete, colored, competition-style Eleiko set like that picture up above. Plenty of companies make perfectly serviceable black bumpers that will last for years. Some reputable brands include Kraiburg, York, and Pendlay. Some brands are available in either kilograms or pounds, so make sure to specify when you're purchasing them.
A quick rule of thumb for adding metal plates to bumpers is to never have more than HALF the weight of the LARGEST BUMPER ON THE BAR in metal plates. What that means is that if you're using 45-lb bumper plates on each side, you shouldn't add more than 22.5 lbs of metal to each side. If you have 25kg bumpers on each side (55 lbs), you can use a bit more iron if necessary, up to about 27.5 lbs. However, when you're warming up, or if you're simply not strong enough to use big, thick bumpers, then adjust accordingly. If you have 10 kg bumpers on each side, you shouldn't be slapping on all sorts of little iron plates. Think of investing in 5kg bumpers if necessary.
As with barbells, quality is important with bumpers, but you can certainly make do with the Pendlay Economy bumpers, Kraiburg bumpers, or a number of other quality brands. And stocking up on a set of 1-kilo rule metal plates (or the lb equivalents) will enable you to be very precise with the weight used when setting up your workouts.
Here again, lifting on a wooden platform designed for Olympic weightlifting is the best scenario. Platforms are large enough that you don't have to worry about someone getting in your way, and you can feel completely safe dropping bumper plates on them. If you don't have access to a platform, rubber mats are the next best solution. Your lifting area should be minimally 6 x 8 feet (48 square feet), so you can purchase 4 x 6 feet mats and lay them side by side to make the appropriate 6 x 8 shape. I recommend at least 1.5 inches of thickness, so if you buy 3/4" mats, just buy 4 and double up the layers. This is exactly what I have done in my home gym.
If you're lifting in a crowded gym, just make sure people are aware of what you're doing. Use a bench or a gym bag to mark off your space, or draw a line on the floor with chalk or tape. Also, leave as much space between you and the wall as possible. If anything should go wrong and you need to bail on a lift, the last thing you want happening is sending the barbell (or your body!) crashing into a floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall! Finally, NEVER EVER ask someone to "spot" you, and NEVER EVER get remotely close to anyone doing power cleans. Really, never ever do that.
Appropriate footwear is essential for both safety and performance in all athletic endeavors. When you're playing a sport involving running or jumping, you may be constantly starting, stopping, moving forwards, backwards, side-to-side, and diagonally. Add in the various surfaces you might be on, and it's clear that the shoe should be tailored to both the activity and the surface you're playing on. So for baseball or soccer, you go out and buy a pair of cleats. For running you get a running shoe, which is designed for forward motion, while for tennis you get a tennis shoe, which is designed with lateral motion in mind. If you're serious, you wouldn't go out and play tennis in a pair of soccer cleats!
Training with weights is no different. If you're serious, you will NOT train in a pair of soft, squishy running shoes. I've stressed it time and again, but to ensure maximum safety, you want your environment to be as controlled and repeatable as possible. When you power clean in squishy shoes, they will squish and compress differently on every rep. This unpredictability could easily lead to a turned ankle or a twisted knee. So, for traditional strength training including the power clean, I recommend a shoe with a hard, stable sole. If you're squatting deep, prefer a raised heel, while if you're only squatting to parallel, you might feel more comfortable with a shallower heel. In general, the raised heel will help tremendously when doing full-range movements like deep back and front squats.
The ideal shoe is, not surprisingly, an Olympic weightlifting shoe, since it's been designed specifically for heavy barbell training. The heel is raised, and made of wood, so there will be no give or rolling over when you receive a heavy weight. Just a rock-solid base to lift from confidently. Some decent brands are Adidas Adistar or Ironwork, Nike Romaleos, Do-Wins, VS, or Werksan. Online stores will often have sales on old or discontinued models, so hunt around for the best deal. Expect to pay anywhere from $80-$200 depending on brand and model.
Another video demonstration for your pleasure:
Chalk used for lifting is the same as that used for gymnastics. It's simple magnesium carbonate, and you should be able to pick up a pound of the stuff (several blocks) for less than $10. On hot, humid days, chalk will be your best friend. Even when you're not sweating excessively, chalk will help prevent skin from tearing, will help you maintain a snug hook grip, and heck, it makes you look bad ass.
Some rules and advice about chalking up:
- Chalk up each finger individually, the palms, and the sides of you hands as well. Don't neglect the backs of your fingers all over the tape.
- Don't over-apply the chalk. Then things will just get slippery.
- Don't clap your hands together at any point after chalking up. Chalk on the FLOOR is not the same as chalk on your hands. It can create a slipping hazard on wood floor.
Here's a video showing my preferred method of chalking up for a heavy lift:
Unless you want to limit the weight you're using by 10-30%, I strongly recommend you learn the hook grip early, practice it often, and use it 100% of the time when power cleaning, except maybe when you're working with the empty bar. Using the hook grip allows you to relax your arms, leaving them loose and supple in order to whip your elbows quickly and safely. Using a double-overhand grip without hook gripping will make you tense up your forearms, wrists and hands, and you'll lose some of the proper power transfer from body to the bar. We'll go over why in the technique section. One side-effect of using the hook grip all the time is that you may develop some non-painful bruising on your thumbs, so be prepared for that. Another side-effect is that you might find yourself hook-gripping everything, from your steering wheel to your... well, let's just leave it at that!
Here's a video demonstrating proper hook grip technique:
Straps are a controversial topic for a lot of people when it comes to powercleans. Yes, using straps means you don't have to tape up, use the hook grip, or even chalk up, though chalk can still help in hot and humid areas. However, in my opinion the risks inherent in using straps for power cleans far outweigh the conveniences. The problem is that when you're whipping your elbows hard, your wrists end up bent backwards up by your shoulders. If the weight is a pound or 2 too heavy for you, it might not get quite high enough to rack smoothly. If you're all strapped in, you simply won't be able to "escape" from the barbell. It can snap your wrists, or even worse, end up pinning your elbows to your knees or to the ground, causing all sorts of damage. We'll learn how to bail from a missed lift in the technique section; straps should play no part in a power clean.
If you're still not convinced, search for "Zach Krych wrist injury" on YouTube. One of the top 85kg (187 lb) lifters in the country, he suffered a horrible injury to both wrists and spent a year rehabbing. Here's what he said about the injury in the video description:
"I was doing cleans from the hang with 160kg (352lb) and I caught the 3rd rep back on my heels. I tried to dump the bar but I was strapped in, so I couldn't. When I fell back my elbows hit the ground with the bar in my grip and both wrists hyperextended and dislocated. I felt them both "pop" when the ligaments tore. There's no audio, but I yell "Ouch!". I'm going to be in full arm casts for 8 weeks after surgery on 3/5/09, and then rehab. I'm hoping the surgeons can give me some claws like Wolverine." -Zach Krych
To be clear, straps can have their place in a strength program. They can be used for snatches or deadlifts, and can really save the hands if your volume is high. I just don't recommend using them for power cleans specifically.
So, here we go! This section comprises the meat of this site. Here you will learn how to power clean safely and productively.
The ideal situation is that you're brand-new to power cleans, since you'll have no bad habits to break. If you've spent much of your training life doing bounce-heave-reverse-curl hang cleans, you'll need to buckle down and start from scratch again, with the empty bar. I promise that in a few short weeks you'll be powering up your old max and wonder why it used to be such a big deal!
PICTURE OF CLEAN RACK
The cues to remember are:
One of the biggest complaints people make is that they simply can't get their elbows high when they receive the bar. They claim they don't have the necessary wrist flexibility, they can't point their elbows forward, or that their biceps are too big (yes, people really say that!). Well that's all (mostly) a bunch of crap. The fact of the matter is that no-one has ever shown them the proper way to get high elbows. It requires virtually no wrist flexibility at all, and bicep size is completely irrelevant. Now it may be the case that injury or structural deformity prevents a lifter from pointing the elbows forward, but that's so rare that I'm simply going to assume that doesn't apply to you.
Can you touch the side of your neck with your thumbs? Yes? OK, then you should have no problem whatsoever racking a clean safely and without pain or strain. The key is to keep a perfectly neutral wrist position while pointing the elbows straight ahead. Watch this:
Once you're comfortable simply getting your elbows high like I just showed you in the video, you're ready to add in the empty bar, and then a bit of weight to see how to maintain the position. You can work by taking the bar out of a squat rack. Here's what it looks like:
One final note about elbows high and wrist flexibility. You've seen how my wrists stay in a fairly neutral position requiring minimal flexibility. There do exist some lifters who have a ton of trouble hitting this position. If you're one of those lifters, you'll have to experiment with elbow position, pointing them either in or out, in order to keep them high and prevent your wrists from bearing too much load when you rack a clean. Here's a video of one of my lifters who has struggled with inflexible wrists for years and years. Check out the compromise position he uses to rack his power clean. It's not perfect, but it's perfect for him:
VIDEO OF JEFFO'S SPASTIC WRIST FLEXIBILITY AND CLEAN RACK
OK, so now you're able to get the barbell into the rack position. The next step is simple: Keep the chest puffed up and pushed out as much as possible. This helps keep a nice "shelf" for the bar to sit on, and also makes it easy to keep a tight lower back position, which we'll come to a bit later. Here's a video showing the difference between "chest up" and a caved in chest:
People sometimes complain that the shock of receiving a power clean is hard on their knees. These same people tend to be the ones who go up on the balls of their feet when they squat, causing the knee joint to bear an overwhelming amount of the load. Same thing applies to power cleans as to squatting properly. Your weight should be distributed evenly throughout the foot, or tending back towards the heels. If you just think "weight on heels", you should be fine. Here's what "weight on heels" looks like versus the weight further forward, which can aggravate the knees:
Another thing that can cause joint pain is receiving the bar on perfectly straight legs, which is more common a problem than you might think. Many lifters are extremely lazy about how they receive the barbell, and only worry about whether it's high enough to rack, and not about the position of the rest of their body. Just like when you absorb an opponent in wrestling, take your position at the line of scrimmage, or get ready to field a ground ball, you should have your knees bent, in a ready, athletic stance. Same thing when receiving your power cleans. Knees bent cushions the blow of receiving a heavy weight. Combine this with the point above about weight on heels, and you'll be keeping your knees as safe as possible.
Again, this is something you'd think would be second nature, but plenty of lifters receive their cleans with their eyes pointing toward the ceiling and their chin pointing up. Whenever you take your head out of a neutral position, you introduce a bend in your spine. Add in a heavy weight, and, well, you can imagine the potential for injury here. With the weight across your shoulders in the rack position, you should just keep your head straight, eyes forward, with no extreme bending in either direction.
OK, you may have noticed that racking the clean with high elbows gets a bit awkward when you add weight to the bar. As long as you keep those elbows up, you should be able to keep your wrists in a neutral position, so you can have your fingers wrapped around the bar gently and the bar itself in the palms of your hands. Still, if this position is too uncomfortable, it's not necessary to keep the bar deep in your palms like that. Instead, you can consider just keeping a fingertip or 2 on the bar instead, and let your hands have more freedom. Here's what the difference looks like:
VIDEO OF PALMS VERSUS FINGERTIP GRIP
If you're unable to maintain palms on the bar, you can try the following flexibility drill to help loosen you up over time:
VIDEO OF ELBOW FLEXIBILITY DRILL
You may be thinking "Why do I have to learn how to front squat if I'm only doing power cleans? I'm not going to be going all the way down!" To a point, you're right, but there are a couple of reasons why learning to front squat is key to mastering power clean technique. First of all, to perform a technically-sound front squat, you have to keep elbows high, chest up, and maintain an upright posture all the way down and back up again. Done under a heavy load, this reinforces exactly the right position you need to be in for receiving your power cleans. Lifters who front squat regularly develop precisely the flexibility and control needed to really make power cleans a maximally-productive training tool for themselves. Second, if you're power cleaning a heavy weight and it doesn't quite make it up high enough to rack safely, you can always simply drop a bit lower and sink into a front squat to recover the lift. Sure, this is technically a full, or squat clean now, but hey, squat cleans are a fantastic exercise for strength and power development, too, and going into a full squat is much safer than trying to rack a power clean without having pulled the bar high enough.
Here's a video demonstrating the front squat form you should strive for:
VIDEO OF FRONT SQUAT FORM
OK, now the fun really begins! We now know how to receive the bar properly, so we can start moving the barbell a bit. When you're performing a power clean, all the "power" comes in a short burst comprising just a few inches of movement. This powerful explosion starts right as the bar approaches the mid-thigh area, so that's where we'll begin. When your shoulders are over the bar, you're ready to explode, and the barbell is at mid-thigh, it's called the "power position". That's because you have great leverage and are in a position to apply maximum force to the barbell. When the barbell is below the knees still, you're at a mechanical disadvantage and can't accelerate efficiently. Similarly, when the barbell is already at waist height, you have good leverage, but there's not enough room to accelerate the bar much, since you're already almost fully extended. So, the power position is a perfect compromise right between those 2 positions. Here's what it looks like:
VIDEO OF POWER POSITION VERSUS TOO LOW OR TOO HIGH
The "scoop" refers to the barbell moving in to your body, and the initiation of the hard acceleration you'll use to get the bar moving. It's essentially sliding the barbell right up the thighs and coming in to the crease of the waist, all while your body continues extending and accelerating. Here's what the scoop looks like:
VIDEO OF SCOOP
So what you're going to do is drill the scoop over and over and over again until you can't even conceive of moving the bar any differently. Some common erros people make are trying to actively BANG the bar off their thighs, which of course sends it shooting out forward; "aiming" for a spot on the thighs as a target (which results in banging); never bringing the bar in to the crease of the hips. In order to apply maximum power to the bar, it needs to be as close to your body as possible. Leaving the bar out even just a few inches means you're losing power transfer, so let's make sure we get the scoop correct! Here's the drill you'll be doing to master the scoop:
VIDEO OF SCOOP DRILL
So now we know how to receive the bar properly, and how to scoop the bar properly. The next thing to do is put it together and transition from the power position to the rack. The key point to realize here is that once you've finished your scoop and extended your body fully, ALL THE WORK HAS BEEN DONE. Nothing else you can do will apply any additional force to the bar that will be useful. This is such a fundamental point that I'm going to repeat it: Once you've finished extending your body, ALL THE WORK HAS BEEN DONE.
So why did I repeat that? Well, lots of strength coaches advocate a couple of things at this point in the lift that are completely unhelpful and add nothing to power output. In fact, they actually serve to SLOW YOU DOWN as you readjust your body into the appropriate receiving position we've worked so hard to master. What are these evils?
The first is shrugging. If you watch videos of elite Olympic weightlifters, sometimes it looks like they're shrugging their shoulders hard at the top of the lift. If you watch carefully though, you'll notice that what looks like a shrug UP is actually happening while the lifter is moving DOWN, under the bar. What looks like a shrug is actually an active motion of pulling yourself UNDER the bar, NOT trying to shrug the bar up higher. The bar is already as high as it's going to get, and by trying to shrug it up higher, you're slowing yourself down moving under it.
The second thing many coaches advocate that is dead wrong is actively going up on the toes, or in other words, flexing the calves. If you're extending the body correctly, you will likely go up on the balls of your feet a bit, as a BY-PRODUCT of the momentum you've created. There's no further need to keep trying to extend by actively flexing the calves. This is the same thing as shrugging, really. The tiny calf muscles flexing slowly is going to have zero impact in getting the bar any higher. It's only going to slow you down moving under the bar, and increase the potential for injury.
With all that nastiness out of the way, let's get back to work. The key to racking the bar safely and smoothly is "elbow whip". That's simply the act of moving your elbows under the bar as fast as lightning, at the same time placing the bar across your shoulders in the rack position. In order to whip your elbows as fast as possible, your arms need to be relaxed, loose, and supple. Now the reason for using the hook grip we talked about earlier should become crystal clear. Once you've finished your extension, the bar will KEEP MOVING UP ALL BY ITSELF. While it's moving, you whip your elbows and move your body around the barbell into the receiving position. Here's what that all looks like, in slow motion:
VIDEO OF ELBOW WHIP AND POWER POSITION TO RACK
The drill you're going to use to master fast elbows and getting the bar from the power position to the rack position looks like this:
VIDEO OF FAST ELBOWS DRILL
The starting position for a power clean is very simple. The cues are:
- Barbell over your furthest-away shoelaces
- Hands just outside the hips
- Shoulders over the bar
- Chest up
- Back arched
- Arms relaxed
- Butt down
- Deep breath
I'm not going to go through each of those points one-by-one, since a video is the clearest way to see everything:
VIDEO OF STARTING POSITION
That wasn't so hard, was it?
Now the fun really begins! In this section, you're going to actually start moving some real weight. Get into your start position, with shoulders over the bar, chest up, back arched, arms relaxed, and butt down. Now take a deep breath, and slowly squeeze the bar off the floor by pushing through your heels. Keep everything else EXACTLY THE SAME. Keep your shoulders over the bar, your chest, up, your back arched, your arms relaxed, and your butt down. Straighten your legs more and more, keeping your back angle exactly the same. The bar will be a couple of inches away from your body all the way up, and as it approaches your knees, your knees will be straightening, which makes room for the bar to pass. And hey, what do you know? You're now in the power position!
In case you didn't follow all that, here it is again in video form:
VIDEO OF FIRST PULL
Next, here are 2 drills you will do to really hammer this stuff home. The first drill is from the floor to the power position, while the second drill has you going all way up to the scoop.
VIDEO OF FLOOR TO POWER POSITION DRILL AND FLOOR TO SCOOP DRILL
Since we've already gone through all the pieces, there's really nothing further to learn. Get in your start position, take a deep breath, then squeeze the bar off the floor, keeping everything tight (arms loose and relaxed!), back angle the same. As the bar passes the knees, start straightening up and accelerating, basically standing up as hard as you can. The bar moves in to the crease of your hips, you pop by extending your body hard, then immediately change direction and whip the elbows hard, receiving the bar in the perfect spot. Here, this is what it will look like, first fast, then in slow motion:
VIDEO OF POWER CLEAN UP CLOSE FROM 3/4 FRONT AND SIDE VIEWS, FIRST FAST THEN SLOW
That's all there is to it! In the next section, we'll learn how to miss a lift safely, just in case anything goes awry, and finally, I'll work through some troubleshooting to address common flaws that might pop up as you add weight.
You've probably realized that power cleans are quite different from traditional strength-building exercises. You can't "grind up" a heavy power clean or work through any sort of sticking point. You either make the lift or you don't. There's no middle ground. In this section, I'm going to keep things simple. If the bar isn't in the right position to rack it, BAIL ON THE LIFT IMMEDIATELY. There are no hero points for fighting to save a power clean. No added benefit to racking the bar awkwardly on bent-back wrists down on your chest. No secret power development from splitting the legs out super-wide to try to sneak under a bar that's not quite as high as you expected. Just stick to the exemplary form you've learned, and if anything untoward happens, BAIL ON THE LIFT IMMEDIATELY.
So how do you bail on a power clean? Just push the barbell forward and step back at the same time. Like this:
VIDEO OF BAILING ON A POWER CLEAN
If you've followed all the instructions on this site, you will be setting up exactly the same for every rep, going through the identical positions, and moving the bar along the exact same path every time. That means there should be no surprises. The only thing that will go wrong is that you simply don't have enough power to complete the rep. This means the bar won't be quite high enough, and you can not (and SHOULD not) fight to rack it properly. In that situation, forget about it. Just push the bar forwards and step back. Push forward, step back. Push forward, step back.
One final note about bailing from a lift. You may recall from the section on equipment that I recommended against using straps when power cleaning. Now you can see why. If you're all strapped in tightly and the bar doesn't make it quite high enough, you really are shit out of luck. It's very difficult (and dangerous) to bail from a lift. With straps on, the ANGLE you have to bail from changes on every missed lift, because you'll be missing it at different heights every time. You simply can not learn how to untangle yourself from straps from all sorts of different positions in the blink of an eye. It's MUCH safer to stick with the hook grip, so you're never in danger of having the barbell end up flattening you.
In this section, I'm going to address a number of common problems that arise and the most typical method to fix them. In each case, I'll present the problem, what causes it, and then show you a video of how you can drill to fix it, typically in one or 2 sessions. All right, let's get started:
- Bar scrapes my shins
- Bar hits my knees on the way up
- I hop forward every time I receive the bar
- My wrists hurt from receiving the bar
- I can't stop my legs from splitting out wide
- My collar bones keep getting bruised
- I feel like I'm going to pass out after a power clean
If you keep scraping pieces of skin off your shins and end up getting blood on the bar, then it means the bar is too close to your body. This is typically caused by one of two things (or both of them): 1. Bar starts too close to the ankles during setup; 2. Shoulders aren't in front of the bar when you start your pull.
The fix for #1 is easy: Just roll the bar out so it's over your toe joints, or your furthest-away shoelaces. Here's a video showing the difference:
VIDEO SHOWING BAR POSITION AT START
The fix for #2 is also straightforward. When you're setting up and have flattened your back, tilt the upper body forward until you're certain your shoulders are slightly ahead of the bar. Freeze that position, then slowly begin the lift. The bar will be a couple of inches away from your shins, preventing any scraping. Here, like this:
VIDEO SHOWING TILTING BODY TO GET SHOULDERS OVER BAR
This problem often comes along with the bar scraping your shins. If you've applied the fixes described above, but you're still hitting your knees, then the culprit is usually that you're straightening up the back too soon, before the legs are nearly straight. The goal is to keep the angle of your back relative to the ground exactly the same all the way up, until the bar passes the knees. This leaves "room" for the knees to push back and the bar to pass without hitting them. You don't need to straighten your knees completely, just get them "out of the way". The following video shows exactly what I mean and how to fix it:
VIDEO SHOWING BAR HITTING KNEES AND HOW TO FIX IT
As the weight gets heavier with the Olympic lifts, it gets to be more and more of a struggle to keep the positions tight and to stay patient throughout the lift. There is a tendency to start the explosion too early, banging the bar forward, resulting in a hop to "save" the lift. As opposed to the full Olympic lifts, though, the weight used on power cleans is significantly lighter, so this issue should be easy to address. There are a few cues you can use to help you finish the pull: "Stand up ALL the way!", "Stay patient!", "Bring the bar into the crease of the hips!" Whatever works for helping you make sure you're finishing the pull is good.
VIDEO OF FINISHING THE PULL TOO EARLY CAUSING HOP FORWARD COMPARED WITH GOOD PULL
Another reason you might end up hopping forward is excessive thigh bang. Your pull is fine and you're finishing properly, but you're actively banging the bar into the thighs, causing it to bounce back and end up moving away from the body. You can work on merely brushing the thighs instead of banging to fix this. Banging does nothing to help the bar go higher; it only serves to push it horizontally away from you, sapping the power from the lift. Just be patient and concentrate on powering the bar UP instead of kicking it OUT. Like this:
VIDEO OF THIGH BANG VERSUS THIGH BRUSH
Lifters who get sore wrists almost always complain about their flexibility. While in some cases it may need work, the VAST majority of the time the lifter is simply not relaxing their arms enough, meaning the can't whip their elbows properly and rack the bar across the shoulders. Instead, they end up doing what I call a 2-phase rack, and the wrists bear far too much load. In a 2-phase rack, the lifter whips the elbows only part of the way, and receives the bar with their elbows pointing DOWN, instead of FORWARD. The bar is on the upper chest or being completely held up by the arms, pushing the wrists far back. Once they have the bar received in this way, the lifter then finishes racking the bar properly by forcing the elbows up. Of course by this time it's too late and the damage has been done. Do this a lot and your wrists will take a beating. Fixing this requires extensive drilling with light weights to teach the arms to relax and whip the elbows FAST and all the way. Here's what I'm talking about:
VIDEO OF 2-PHASE RACK AND DRILL TO FIX IT
If you're a football player you probably have a history of doing "football" power cleans, where you end up splitting the legs out super-wide. I won't go into why this is bad again, but fixing it requires footwork drills. Starting with the empty bar and gradually adding weight, the following drill will help teach the body consistency in receiving the bar, and it will help prevent you from splitting out wide:
VIDEO OF FOOTWORK DRILL TO STOP FROM SPLITTING OUT WIDE
If you end up with bruised collarbones, the bar is probably crashing on you when you receive it. If so, there's a mind-body disconnect between powering the bar up and receiving it smoothly. Typically what happens is that you're great at the first part of the lift, but once you've exploded, you shift into auto-pilot and just "let" everything happen, rather than actively working to finish the lift. You whip your elbows and move to your receiving position, but you're not really aware of where the bar is in relation to your body. Again, fixing this requires learning to rack the bar smoothly and accurately on every rep. Here's how you can work on it:
VIDEO OF SMOOTH RACK PREVENTING CRASHING
This problem doesn't tend to happen to many people when power cleaning, though it's an issue for some on squat cleans. Still, if it's happening to you, it's likely that you're receiving the bar too deep into the neck, so the bar ends up pushing on the throat and cutting off your oxygen supply. If this happens to you repeatedly, there are 2 things you can do to avoid it. The first is obviously to work on the bar position in the rack and ensure it's not pushing up against your throat. Work with the empty bar and light weight to really drill a smooth rack and better bar position using some of the drills we've already gone over. If that still doesn't work, then you can do what I call "clean and bounce" power cleans. In a clean and bounce power clean, you receive the bar and then immediately bounce it off the chest to drop the bar for the next rep. These are not quite as safe as regular power cleans since you're not in 100% control of the bar, but they're pretty easy to master, and can save you from the tendency to pass out. Here's what a clean and bounce power clean looks like:
VIDEO OF CLEAN AND BOUNCE POWER CLEAN
So that's all for power clean technique! In the next section I'll talk a bit about how to incorporate power cleans into a full-blown lifting routine, and give you some ideas of how to program for yourself.
Those of you who skipped directly to this section: THERE'S NO MAGIC TO PROGRAMMING! There are just basic principles you should follow to maximize your progress with a minimum of bullshit. Now go back and read through the technique section, which will do mounds more good for you than this section will in the long run (Mounds don't have nuts, btw).
Olympic athletes typically train 6 or 7 days a week, for several hours each day. They are at the pinnacle of their sport and have devoted their lives to it. Those lucky enough to have financial support don't maintain full-time jobs. They eat, breathe, and sleep their sport, 24/7.
Still, the majority of training time is devoted to their sport, NOT to working out in the gym. They like to get in, get their work done, and get out and recover. Ideally, sessions last as little as 20 minutes, and tend not to go longer than an hour or so. For some athletes, 3, 2, or even 1 gym session per week is sufficient to build the necessary strength and power for their given sport.
So where does that leave you? Is there any reason to spend 2, 3, or more hours in the gym in a given session? Any reason to be in the gym every day of the week? The vast majority of athletes in sports other than Olympic weightlifting simply don't require the kind of in-gym training that weightlifters are famous for. Why would they? If your sport is football, you need to be spending most of your "training" time doing sport-specific activities, NOT bench pressing for 20 sets to build your pecs
All right, so now that we've realized there's no added benefit to spending hours upon hours in the gym, we need to take best advantage of the time we do train. That means exercise selection is of the utmost importance. You've probably heard of "compound" versus "isolation" exercises, or training multiple muscle groups at the same time (compound, such as bench press, which works chest, triceps, shoulders, and to some degree, lats and core) versus training a single muscle or muscle group independently (isolation, such as biceps curl). I prefer a different, simpler definition: BIG versus little exercises.
In a BIG exercise, you're moving a lot of weight a long way. Think about a heavy deadlift. The weight starts out on the floor, and it's really really heavy. You manage to get that weight all the way up to your mid-thighs (or knees if you're gorilla-armed). That's a pretty large range of motion (ROM). So that's a BIG exercise: moving a lot of weight a long way.
Now think about a barbell curl, in comparison with a deadlift. You should be using somewhere in the range of 25% of what you used for the deadlift, so it's not a lot of weight. Furthermore, you're only moving that weight about the length of your forearm plus a bit, so it's not moving that far. So a barbell curl is a little exercise.
In my programming style, I prefer my athletes to stick to BIG exercises almost 100% of the time. The reason is simple. If you're planning to train your whole body, it's going to take an awful lot of little exercises to cover everything, which takes a lot of time. Furthermore, I like to train the body as a unit, rather than separate pieces, and BIG exercises require lots of muscle working together. Little exercises don't.
What about something like shrugs? They seem BIG, don't they? Sure, you might be able to slap on plate after plate of weight, adding up to an impressive poundage, but really, can you conceive of another exercise where you're moving that weight a smaller distance? I didn't think so. So for our purposes, shrugs are a little exercise. Same for things like kettlebell swings. Pretty big range of motion, pretty small weight. Great for conditioning and for developing some amount of power, but not a BIG exercise for our strength and power programs.
Here are some examples of BIG exercises that I recommend to most trainees, assuming they don't have some sort of injury history that prevents them from doing them properly:
- Overhead Press
- Bench Press
Heck, if you only ever did those 5 exercises, year after year, adding weight slowly but surely, you'd be pretty much set for most circumstances, and have a great amount of muscle packed on as well. This leads us to the next section, which sums up everything we've gone through so far in this chapter.
So far, you can see that I don't conceive of training like many coaches. I don't break things down by muscle group, or even by body part. I don't care what an exercise "works", and I don't care about trivialities like altering your grip width on bench press, or making sure you do your chinups 3 different ways. All I care about is making sure you have the basics covered first. And those basics are PUSH, PULL, and SQUAT.
What that means is you can forget about trying to make sure you have your upper, mid, and lower chest covered, or getting in enough extra bicep work to get that cool-looking peak (which is 100% genetic). No, all you have to do is PUSH, PULL, and SQUAT, using BIG exercises ONLY. I'll provide some sample templates later on so you can see what this kind of training looks like.Section - Adding Power Cleans to your Program
As I mentioned in the section on power, building strength is very important, but for ATHLETES, the key thing is to be able to apply that strength efficiently while doing your sport. Adding in one exercise that works power can be the difference between hitting hard, and hitting HARD. That's why I recommend the power clean to athletes in all speed and power sports, so they can get their body used to working FAST under heavy loads.
Here are the general principles of adding in power cleans to your PUSH, PULL, and SQUAT routine:
This one is easy. All it means is train power cleans FIRST in your workout, once you're sufficiently warmed up. Power cleans are great for getting the blood flowing, working your mobility and flexibility, and priming your body for the heavier loads to come once you move on to your strength exercises. Strength exercises are performed relatively slowly, and tax your body a great deal. It's very tough to get yourself springy and explosive again after doing heavy squats.
There are a few good reasons for this one. First of all, you're not an Olympic weightlifter. There are no medals for power cleaning the most weight. The purpose of using power cleans is to develop power for athletics. They are just a tool in your exercise toolkit to help you achieve a goal. Second, the heavier the weight gets, the more difficult it is to maintain 100% focus on perfect technique. The barbell suddenly feels heavy and you start moving slowly, neither of which we want at this point. Finally, maxing out leads to an increased risk of injury. Again, we're not trying to lift as much as we can; we're trying to develop power by moving a heavy weight fast.
All that being said, since you won't be maxing out, there's no reason to do single repetitions in a set. Stick to doubles and maybe triples (see the next point for more on this).
So, we're doing our power cleans first when we're freshest, we're not maxing out, and we're ensuring great technique on every rep. What the heck does "no fatigue" mean? Simply put, stop your set before fatigue sets in and causes a breakdown in form. The more reps you do in a set, the less explosive each subsequent rep becomes. Your body slows down, the bar doesn't get up quite as high, and you get slower moving under the bar. All of these things are again a recipe for increasing the risk of injury. This isn't freaking Crossfit! (Unless you're a Crossfitter, in which case you should find an instructor who doesn't force you to do high-rep Olympic lifts. Email me personally for more views on this subject, or better yet, have your instructor email me.)
For the most part, I recommend my athletes to stick to doubles, or 2 reps per set. At lighter weight as you're warming up, triples (3 reps per set) are fine, but once you hit around 80% of the planned weight for the day, switch to doubles and stay there. When you reach your top weight, you might do anywhere from 1 to 8 or so doubles with that weight, depending on several factors we'll discuss in the next section. But however many you do, make sure you rest sufficiently between sets so you're as fresh as possible for each one. If you have a breakdown in form, DROP THE WEIGHT and back off. Either stop completely, or take off some plates and finish off lighter. Always remember, this is not a competition; the weight on the bar does not matter if it's challenging to you.-->
Chapter 4: Olympic Weightlifting
Coolest sport ever
Cool stuff about cool lifters