Coaching tips to improve your clean
Thursday, April 5, 2018. Author Paul Rose
Thursday, April 5, 2018. Author Paul Rose
If you’ve ever seen or tried Olympic weightlifting, you may be familiar with the ‘clean’ – the fluid movement used to lift a barbell from the floor to the shoulders. Performed correctly, the clean is great for working out several muscle groups simultaneously (including back, shoulders, glutes, quads and core muscles), as well as improving your balance, coordination, and power.
If you fancy incorporating the clean into your workouts, here are some quick coaching tips to help break down the technique. I’ve personally found these cues to be helpful when learning the clean; so hopefully they’ll add some value to your sessions too!
Before I begin, it’s worth noting that you’ll require a good level of mobility for this exercise. You’ll also need to have a strong technique with the fundamental core lifts, such as the front squat, where you hold the bar in both hands in a hook grip across the shoulders, with your torso staying vertical.
Here's a video demonstration on our Facebook page and below, I break down each stage of the movement
When you address the bar and set up for the clean, you should have your toes in a similar stance to that you would use to jump vertically i.e. around hip-width apart with toes pointing forward (very slightly turned out).
Bear in mind that the distance between your feet will vary depending on your body mechanics (e.g., limb length). For instance, a tall or very broad/stocky lifter may start off with a slightly wider foot stance - “Feet in line with armpits!”- ensuring they can get into the correct position, keeping their shoulders in front of the bar and their back flat, allowing them to apply the force appropriately in each specific phase of the clean.
You want to use the hook grip for the starting point, with your thumb underneath your fingers. I highly recommend working on this grip before starting to use Olympic lifts in your program, as the hook grip can often be uncomfortable to begin with and takes a while to feel comfortable. Before attempting the clean, try using the hook grip for front squats and straight leg deadlifts to familiarize yourself. Although it is not entirely necessary, using athletic tape over the thumb can help reduce some discomfort with the hook grip position and can also aid with the lift once the weight starts to get heavy.
Try to keep your elbows pointing along the bar with your knuckles pointing down.
1. Starting Position
Once your grip is set, you want the bar touching your shins. This ensures the force of the weights is acting downwards right through the center of the feet.
A common problem I see with people learning the clean (and something that I am also still working on!) is the alignment of the buttocks during the start position of the clean.
You want your knees and arms in line, and your shins relatively vertical.
Keep your arms relaxed, with your knees positioned inside your arms, so all the weight is going to be pushing directly down through the center of the feet. Stiff arms will reduce the force you can generate from your legs.
Once set, engage your lats by setting your shoulders back and down, which helps keep your back flat. Your back should stay level throughout the movement.
You should look up before initiating the lift. Rather than looking to the sky or ceiling, focus on a spot on a wall slightly above eye level, which helps you stay balanced and improve your awareness of your body’s position in space.
*Note: This is not a ‘bro’ bodybuilding exercise so mirrors in front of you can be a hindrance when performing the lift!
When adopting the starting position, you should feel the tension being placed on the thighs and glutes, as if you were isometrically contracting your glutes and thighs during a wall squat.
With your upper body: set your shoulders back and down, but keep your chest up - “Show the Crest, Big Chest!” Remember to keep looking straight ahead, with your eyes slightly up.
2. First Pull
Now you are set, and you’ve created tension in your legs from the starting position, all you should be thinking about is trying to push the floor away with your legs. Keep the bar touching the shins all the way through the movement until it comes past the knee. Keep your shoulders over the bar.
*Note: use a side-on mirror to check your posture when practicing the pull from the floor. You DON’T want your hips to shoot up - this will reduce your ability to generate power!
3. Second Pull
With the bar still touching past the knee, you should now start to think about striking up. The bar should contact (just brush) at mid-thigh.
4. Full Extension
At this point, “drive your hips into it” and remember your “calves and traps” - this helps ensure you have completed the full extension.
5. Third Pull - Getting under the bar!
After the kick-through, all you should be thinking about now is driving the elbows through and moving the feet out into the bottom of the front squat position! This occurs very quickly from the contact with the mid-thigh and should be one fluid movement.
6. Catch Position
Keep your elbows high and core braced, aim to catch the bar at the base of your throat or along your clavicle. This can be a scary thought, but aiming for this position will stop the bar moving forward.
7. Finishing Position
Then, once at the bottom of the front squat position, lead with your elbows and rise like in a standard front squat.
Remember, it’s all in the movement. I have been learning Olympic lifts for just over a year and I’m only now just starting to get to grips with the different aspects of the lift and making it work cohesively in one fluid motion. Never rush your learning of a new movement. Build your confidence with lighter weights and work your way up slowly! A good coach, a slow-motion camera, and some technique cues will help make it click!