By Craig Sowers, director of performance, Velocity Sports, Cleveland, Ohio
Like the Bench, Squat and Deadlift, the Clean is great for building power and strength. But the Clean also increases an athlete’s speed, which is the name of the game for most sports. I teach the Clean using a four-part, top-to-bottom progression. An athlete must master each part separately before I let him move onto the fourth and final position, the floor. Once an athlete starts performing the Clean from the floor, he will always perform it from the floor.
Part 1: Front Squat (Receiving Position)
The Front Squat teaches how to grip the bar, which is crucial for the following parts of the progression.
• Stand with feet hip-shoulder width apart
• Hold bar across shoulders with hands slightly outside shoulder-width
• Keep elbows up and pointing forward; let bar roll onto fingertips
• Sit hips back, keeping weight on heels
• Squat until thighs are parallel to floor
• Do not allow knees to go past toes
Coaching Point: Most athletes find the Clean grip by grasping the bar a thumb’s length away from the start of the knurling. That usually puts the hands right outside the shoulders.
Part 2: High Chest Position
A: High Chest (photo d)
• Stand with chest high
• Keep head in neutral position and look straight ahead
• Hold bar with Clean grip and wrists flexed toward body
• Bar should rest comfortably on thighs, below crease in hip joint
• Fully extend elbows with slight outward rotation
• Keep knees fully extended
• Flex knees 15-20 degrees while keeping chest up
• Angle torso 5-10 degrees forward
B: High Chest Jump and Shrug (photos d & e)
This teaches the large muscles of the hips and back to generate bar acceleration without help from the arms.
• From high chest position, jump, fully extending hips, knees and ankles
• Keep wrists flexed, elbows rotated outward and focus straight ahead
• Forcefully shrug shoulders, keeping chest up
Coaching Point: Elevate the bar as high as possible without bending your elbows, and keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement.
C: Muscle Clean
Learning to transfer the bar from full extension to the Receiving Position [front squat] with just your upper body results from practicing the Muscle Clean.
• Pull elbows high, keeping the bar close to body
• Place bar on shoulders by rotating or “snapping” elbows from high, outside position to Receiving Position
Coaching Point: I always stress a high elbow position when catching a bar on the shoulders. A wrist injury can occur if you let your elbows fall and make contact with your thighs.
Part 3: Hang Position
A: Transition from Hang to High Chest (photos c-e)
The most difficult to master, this transition requires you to get the bar from the Hang Position at knee level to the High Chest Position, while maintaining bent knees.
• From High Chest Position, push hips slightly back and lower bar to knee level
• Keep back flat or slightly arched with slight flex in knees
• Pull chest back into High Chest Position while maintaining flex in knees
• From High Chest Position, complete high chest jump and shrug
Coaching Point: Keep your knees flexed throughout the transition. If you straighten your knees, you’ll lose the ability to jump or extend.
B: From below the knee (photos b-e)
• From Hang Position, rotate chest over bar and slightly lower hips until bar is below knees
• Once bar is below knees, move back to Hang Position
• Move through transition to High Chest Position
• Perform high chest jump and shrug, then drop into Receiving Position
Part 4: Floor Position (photos a-e)
• From below-knee position, bend knees only, lowering bar until weight plates touch ground
• Bar should be at mid-shin level
• From floor, extend legs by moving chest and hips at same speed. Keep back angle constant
• Keep bar close to body at all times, but do not let it scrape shins
• Once bar is at Hang Position, move through rest of positions and catch bar in Receiving Position
Coaching Point: Do not jerk the bar off the floor. Squeeze it off the floor to the below-knee position, then accelerate. This should be one complete, smooth lift without any pauses during any position.