The Best Clean Variations
The Olympic lifts are highly complex movements that require exceptional technique and speed strength to perform properly. The absolute best way to learn them is by break the movement down into simpler patterns.
The Power Clean
The Power Clean is an essential movement in an Olympic weight lifters arsenal and for any athlete trying to become more explosive and powerful, this is one to learn.
It’s a functional strength movement that provides the athlete with the ability to move weight quickly. Performing it from the mid-hang is a) easier to learn and b) optimal for power production.
- Sets: 3-5
- Repetitions: 2-3
- 60 – 85% of the athlete’s 1RM [60% for speed work and up 85% for power]
Greg Everett makes an important point in his book ‘Olympic Weightlifting for Sports’ where he encourages the lifter (and coach) not to overthink the movement. Performed correctly, the Power Clean’s second pull will happen naturally I.e. Don’t force the hip explosion.
A good starting point for the first pull and something to add into your programme is the RDL (Romanian Deadlift).
How to Perform The Power Clean
The Starting Position: Set the athlete’s feet in the Power position, exactly as you would for an ordinary Clean.
- Place the feet with the heels under the hips, toes pointed out by 5-15 degrees with the barbell resting over the balls of the feet.
- Keep the shins close, but not quite touching.
- The shoulder should be *slightly* in front of the bar and arms vertical and slightly internally rotated.
- Arch the back by pulling the chest up and the shoulder blades back (scapular protraction).
- Push the knees out to the sides and the weight should be balanced over the foot.
The Halting Clean Deadlift
The Halting Clean Deadlift teaches the athlete the move up until the hip explosion and helps demonstrate that the pull from the floor doesn’t have to be too powerful.
It’s a positioning movement first. Patience and technique will allow for explosiveness later.
How to perform the Halting Clean Deadlift
- A correct starting position for the Power Clean creates tension that increases the athletes power propensity.
- As the barbell separates from the floor the athlete must shift weight back over the heels, whilst continuing pushing with the legs to extend the knees, keeping the bar as close to the legs as possible without creating friction.
- The athlete MUST STOP as the bar hits mid-thigh, pushing the bar into the hips with the lats whilst keeping the shoulders over the bar.
- Once the athlete reaches this point, lower the barbell to the floor.
- Perform in sets of 2-3 initially with tension focused in the power muscles; hamstring, glutes and back.
Ultimately whatever speed the athlete is comfortable performing the first pull is fine. As long as technique isn’t compromised, the first pull’s increased momentum will allow more weight to be pulled.
Probably the first variation of the Clean and Jerk you’ll be taught, the Hang Clean is the simplest breakdown of the Olympic lifts.
Even if the athlete never learns the full Clean and / or Jerk, the Hang Clean is a very effective method to increase lower body explosiveness, whilst improving force absorption.
60 – 85% of the athlete’s 1RM [60% for speed work and 85%+ for power]
Watch this video below to see me demonstrating the Hang Clean.
Hang Clean Benefits
- Increase in Power and Strength
- Increase in Force Development: Enables the athlete to improve bar velocity and creates a greater clearance height for the athlete to pull under the bar
- The Pull section of the Clean: It’s an isolation move that improves the core section of the lift and assists in speed under the bar
- Improved Leg Drive: Often athletes miss the lift due to lack of force production and confidence the final leg drive post-catch. The Hang Clean rectifies this. Improved Timing and Rhythm
- Acceleration: Excellent carryover to other sports. Simple to train and the least complicated version of the lifts.
How to Perform the Hang Clean
Rack Position: The Position where the athlete receives the bar on their shoulders. The barbell must be securely supported on the shoulders, not by the hands or arms (these are just for guidance).
- Create scapular protraction by pushing the athlete’s shoulders forward and slightly out so the bar can rest comfortably between deltoid and throat, like the Front Squat position.
- The chest should be pulled up and the lats should be tight, as if squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Grip the bar c. half the width of a fist outside the shoulders to allow better positioning and a more explosive pull from the upper thigh.
Hang Position: Hold the bar just above the knees with the feet in the pulling position and toes turned out around 5 – 15 degrees.
- Set the back tightly by pushing the shoulder blades together and pulling the chest up to create the necessary arch and hinge at the hips, sliding the bar down to just above the knees.
- Keep the head and eyes directly looking forward and the weight slightly more towards the heels than the balls of the feet with elbows pointed slightly out.
Second Extension (‘Jump & Bump’): The otherwise weirdly named ‘jump and bump’ is the explosion phase of the Hang Clean, propelling the bar upwards. Acceleration SOLELY comes from the lower body. [Initially do this step slowly and without weight]
- Start in the Hang position and push against the floor with you feet whilst keeping the barbell as close to the thighs as possible.
- As it reaches mid-thigh, extend with the hips by pushing through with the glutes.
- The bar should contact upper thigh as this hip and knee extension is concluded and should still be at arms length as it contacts upper thigh.
- The hips should be hyper-extended, elbows turned out and knees straight. Important: Hyper-extension must occur at the hips, not lower back so keep the abs tight throughout and pull the chest up.
- Once the athlete has mastered this drill, add weight slowly and ensure that weight is correctly balanced over the foot.
The Pull: This ‘pull’ refers to the athlete’s ability to pull themselves under the barbell, the second phase of the lift. The faster and more competently the athlete an get under the bar, the better chance of a successful lift. This is known as ‘time to fixation’ and is best explained in my Weightlifting Technique Triad post.
- With the weight more on the heels of the feet and elbows turned out, the athlete will pull down against the bar and transition the feet to the squatting position.
- The barbell must remain close and the elbows pulled up and out to the sites to ensure this happens.
- The back must remain tight and arched, with the chest pulling up, whilst the feet move quickly to the squat position with aggression and minimal elevation, acting as the key driver to the lift. This very slight (and quick) separation of feet and floor allow for an aggressive contact with the full foot, essentially maximising the power potential.
- It helps to make a loud noise with the feet as they reconnect it’s the floor, acting as a cue for the rest of the movement. This transitions into the aforementioned rack position.
Hang Clean: This is the assembly of all the above movements into a single fluid motion, developing control over the body and barbell.
- As the bar reaches mid-thigh, explode with the hips and push against the floor, using the lats to drag the barbell to the contact point.
- Post-extension, move the feet quickly and aggressively to the Squat position, pulling under the bar.
- It should be noted that the contact is not a forced movement, it’s simply a consequence of ideal lift mechanics.
Hang Position —> Push against the floor with legs—> Second Extension —> Pull the bar to upper thigh contact via Lat Engagement —> Feet to squat position —> Pull under the Bar —> Leg Drive
Once the athlete is comfortable with the Hang Clean using an empty bar, add weight incrementally. If the movement is practiced well, progress will be fast assuming a level of competency. If the weight is pushed prematurely, the athlete will get into bad habits that become very the tricky to correct later.
The Front Squat
How to perform the Front Squat
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
How to perform the RDL