The clean is everyone’s favourite lift, unless you prefer the snatch...or the jerk, either way it is my favourite lift! Before I start this article, please take heed of two [obvious but important] things that need to be done on top of all these tips, you need to be squatting two-three times per week front squat and back squat, and you need to be doing cleans, cleans pulls and a lot of repetitions. These tips will help you get those big weights flying onto your shoulders!
1. Get the best rack position you can!
A strong rack position improves your chances of standing up out of a heavy clean. It is common for beginners to struggle with the position, people often have incredibly tight lats and triceps. Rolling the lats, triceps and wrists and stretching them during your warm up will help get those elbows higher and the bar comfortably resting on the shoulders whilst gripping the bar. Stretching out using the bar is also a fantastic way to improve it, place the barbell into the back squat position, and use the weight of the bar to rotate one elbow up at a time whilst keeping the hands on the bar and the body straight. Tip: If you have to sacrifice gripping the bar in the rack position to have your elbows up, sacrifice the grip and open your hands.
2. Good posture equals a better clean!
Having a tight mid-back from all those hours racked up at the desk can be a complete hindrance on a strong clean. Catching a clean with a rounded mid-back will force the elbows down and cause you to grind up the squat which can zap the energy from you and put unnecessary pressure onto the wrists – which is a one way ticket to injury. Kelly Starrett shows us the way to work on that area. In addition, overhead squats are a great way to improve your mobility, if you can do a clean-grip overhead squat without the bar falling forward and you can front squat more than your best clean without your back rounding, consider your posture fit for purpose!
3. Perfect that first pull!
Due to the heavier weight used in the clean versus the snatch, a bad first pull will cause serious problems. During the first pull the shoulders should stay over the bar AND the back angle should remain the same. Often people mistakenly let those hips rise as soon as the bar moves. Your knees only have to move fractionally to get out of the way of the bar as it passes the knees. Pushing your knees back switches off the legs and puts it all on the back. The more pressure you can keep on the front of the foot, the more your legs will be primed to move into the extension
4. Meet with the Bar
Ever found yourself pulling the bar so high and diving under the bar so fast that the bar comes crashing down onto your shoulders and crumbles you into a ball? Timing is very important, meeting with the bar just below parallel and “catching the bounce” out of the squat is essential to coming out of a heavy clean with ease. Hang cleans, block cleans and semi-power cleans (catching halfway and then squatting all the way down)can improve that timing for heavier weights.
5. Be More Zlatan
When you are cleaning at your limit, there isn’t any room for being soft, just take a look at Zlatan Vanev cleaning 1kilo off of the 77kg world record 5 times in one session. You have to pull that bar with all your might, with a strong hip drive and extension followed by a do-or-die rapid movement underneath the bar with the elbows up in full confidence. If you have any doubt, the weight will crush you! Vanev’s Rage is how I get myself through clean and jerks!
These are my five tips that I feel will help beginners and those further along the line who have hit a plateau. Once again I leave you with a quote from the Olympian and British record holder Jack Oliver which perfectly sums up what one must do when it comes down to a heavy clean “just smash and stamp!” – if this confuses you, see tip number 5.