mezzie

hosted by mezzie

  1. Introduction
  2. Getting Ready
  3. Technique
  4. Programming
  5. Olympic Weightlifting

Welcome to The Power Clean Bible!

Train the Right Way

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:

Robert Gray, Canadian bobsledder, powercleans about 350lbs

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!

Why should you listen to me?

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:

mezzie going heavy on power clean

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!

What is a Powerclean?

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:

Hang Power Clean followed by Power Clean off 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.

Explosiveness in Athletics

Al Oerter being awesome

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.

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Bad-ass karate takedown

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.

Jose_Bautista.jpg get-some-air.jpg

Power takes various forms

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.

Who this website is for

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.

Athletes

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.

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Pudz getting his pull on

Coaches

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!

coach.jpg

Coach being coachly

Before getting started with the technique of learning the power clean, there are a few things that need going over, in order of importance.

Equipment

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.

Barbell

dhs-barbell.jpg

DHS fully-loaded barbell

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!

Weight Plates

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Eleiko competition bumper plates

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.

kraiburg-bumpers.jpg

Kraiburg kilo training bumpers

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.

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Set of Pendlay colored metal plates

Lifting Area/Platform


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6' x 8' lifting platform

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.

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3/4" thick, 4'x6' rubber mat

Shoes


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Adidas Adistars

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.

chalk.jpg

Magnesium Carbonate, aka Lifting Chalk

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:


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Ironmind Short and Sweet straps

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:

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

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

Here's a video demonstrating the front squat form you should strive for:

VIDEO OF FRONT SQUAT FORM

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 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?

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.

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.

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

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

VIDEO OF 2-PHASE RACK AND DRILL TO FIX IT

VIDEO OF FOOTWORK DRILL TO STOP FROM SPLITTING OUT WIDE

VIDEO OF SMOOTH RACK PREVENTING CRASHING

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).

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

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:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Chinup
  • 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.

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:

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).

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.

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