Now, before we get started, I just want to say that you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of 90% of gym-goers due to the simple fact that you even want to dabble with the Olympic lifts. As you already know, Olympic lifts aren’t for the average Joe, they’re for the strong, athletic type that’s after serious gains.
Whether you want to increase strength, build muscle, look good naked, or just enjoy putting yourself to the test, Olympic lifting will provide all of the above. But before you get crazy and start throwing weights around, first you need to make sure your technique is on point.
The focus today will be on the power clean. This version of the clean requires you to catch the bar with the hips above parallel – a simpler yet still very athletic version of the full squat clean. The power clean is an exercise that I like to classify as high risk/high benefit. What I mean by risk is that this exercise requires a high degree of skill to be performed correctly and can lead to injury if you’re not careful. The high benefit comes from the fact that power cleans are excellent for power and strength development and can ignite your metabolism when used in the right context.
On the contrary, a bicep curl would be considered low risk/low benefit, although I’ve seen some pretty “risky” curls in my time but that’s another story altogether.
So now that we’ve established how effective power cleans can be, we need to make sure that you don’t look like a fool and/or seriously injure yourself in the process.
The power clean is a fast lift that requires explosiveness, timing, coordination, and flexibility. To truly reap the benefits, you need to become comfortable and proficient with the barbell.
Now, I already mentioned that you are ahead of 90% of gym-goers but you might be bringing up the rear of that elite 10% due to some funky technique. Nobody wants to be that guy that makes everyone cringe whenever they lift.
Here are 5 common mistakes that are ruining your power cleans:
1. You are only using one pull – The power clean consists of 2 pulls but in an attempt to be explosive, many people try to pull the bar as hard as they can off the ground and immediately catch it on their shoulders. Their heart is in the right place but this is a highly inefficient way to move big weight. The key is to be slow and patient with the first pull and once the bar has reached the mid-thigh, you can now accelerate and be explosive. Mike Burgener refers to this as “being fast through the middle.” The key is to get the bar to the mid-thigh while still keeping your hips back with your shoulders over the bar to maximize triple extension (extension of hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously). If you struggle hitting the proper position for your second pull, work from the hang position to refine our technique and improve your speed with the bar.
2. You are letting the bar get away from your body – The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and is also the most efficient path for the bar to travel. If the bar is coming away from your body during your second pull it could mean a couple of things:
- You are reverse curling the bar instead pulling it in a straight line with triple extension and your shoulders shrugged.
- The bar did not make contact with your mid thigh before starting your second pull.
Any space between you and the barbell can be considered a loss of power. Like I said earlier, be patient with your second pull and make sure you hit the “sweet spot” on the mid thigh and really exaggerate your extension to keep that bar close at all times.
keeping the bar close to the body is critical
3. You are pulling with your arms – As I mentioned, timing is everything when it comes to cleans. Olympic lifting is essentially jumping while holding a barbell. Even though you are holding the bar with your arms, it is your lower body that is producing the force to move the weight. The key is to jump and only when you’ve reached full extension should you then start to bend your elbows. Any premature bending of the elbows will result in a deceleration of the barbell and ultimately a loss of power. Again, this lift requires a high degree of speed but also an equal amount of patience. Try clean pulls to practice pulling the barbell without breaking at the elbows.
4. You have a poor rack position – Having the strength and power to pull the bar is great but if you don’t have the flexibility to catch it, you can do some serious damage to your wrists and elbows. Being able to catch the bar on the shoulders with the elbows high is ideal. Try to use your body rather than your hands to catch the weight. Work on improving your external shoulder rotation and tricep flexibility to improve your rack position.
a good stretch for the external rotators
5. You’re jumping backwards – The fact that you’re jumping at all is a good sign. It means your being explosive but now you need to channel that energy in the right direction. If you find yourself jumping backwards, it usually means you’re not dropping your hips enough to catch the bar so you compensate by jumping back and catch the bar high. By dropping your center of gravity, you will be in a better position to receive the bar without any forward or backward movement. Practice catching the bar in a quarter or half squat position, this will teach you how to pull your body under the bar.
drop your hips to prevent jumping backwards
Now that you’ve decided to join the 10%, it’s time to be the 1% that actually masters this exercise and becomes a beast. Start with light weight and focus on quality reps until you’ve refined your form. Good luck and welcome to the club.
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