Master the King of All Exercises

Deadlifting Secrets 101

Everything you need to know about this complex exercise.

Free Video Training

Name:
Email:* 
The High Performance Handbook

The High Performance Handbook Is Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before...


Strength Training Programs: The 7 Most Common Power Clean Technique Mistakes

Written on March 22, 2012 at 8:20 am, by Eric Cressey

In response to my article, The 7 Habits of Highly Defective Benchers, I had a few reader requests for a similar article on power clean technique.  Fortunately, I knew just the guy to write it for us: my buddy Wil Fleming.  Wil did a tremendous job writing up the International Youth Conditioning Association Olympic Lifting Course, and he shares some of his knowledge along these lines with us below. 

I had the unbelievable good fortune of learning to Olympic lift under the guidance of a former Olympian and a couple of national team coaches. Unfortunately, many athletes learn how to do the Olympic lifts from a coach who hasn’t had that type of training.

As a result, the power clean may be the single worst looking lift in most weight rooms.  Seriously, I know you can picture it.

Walking into many high school weight rooms, and you’ll invariably see some kid who has WAAAY too much weight on the bar getting ready to show off what he thinks is pristine power clean technique.  He’ll roll it around for a minute on the floor, then muscle it up and catch it in a position that makes you wonder how he has so much flexibility in his adductors (history in gymnastics?).

I am by no means the most explosive athlete; in fact, I definitely wasn’t at one point, but I learned from the best.  And, just as importantly, I learned to not make some of the mistakes that plague athletes trying to do the power clean.   Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #1: Missing too many lifts

I actually had a coach recently tell me about his plan for having athletes max out. It went like this.

“Well we put about 15-20 lbs more on the bar than the athlete can do and then have him try it. He usually misses it, then we do that same thing again. Once they miss it a second time, we drop about 5-10 lbs and try it a 3rd time.  Sometimes they get it.”

Wait, what?

Exactly.

The sad part is that I think this is the mode that a lot of athletes get into when training. They think that just a basic overload in the lift is a good thing.

In truth, the power clean is a really complex pattern and overload isn’t always rewarded; technique is rewarded.  If you train knowing you are going to miss lifts, you are…drumroll here…going to miss lifts.

Something I learned – and something I instill with my athletes – is that missed lifts are a part of training, but they are not a consistent part of training. You’ll learn far more by completing lifts than by missing lifts.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #2: Starting from the floor when you can’t make it there in good position.

Is a power clean a power clean if you don’t start from the floor?

This is a mistake that I see all too often and with serious consequences.  Athletes are told and made to start from the floor with the power clean when in truth they have no ability to get down to the start position and maintain any semblance of structural integrity.

The true start position for the clean is uncomfortable, to say the least.  It requires hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and tremendous trunk stability.  Most athletes are lacking in at least one of these areas.

Lacking the mobility and stability to actually achieve these positions means that an athlete will default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground. Typically, this will mean that they will achieve the movement from lumbar flexion, and then the cycle of back injuries occur.

As you can see in the photos below, this isn’t a position that you often see in the local high school weight room. (Photo Credit:  http://nielpatel.blogspot.com)

Fortunately – especially in young athletes – working to improve mobility in each of these areas can help tremendously in getting lifters in the right position.

In the meantime, just beginning the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (A low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that does not include lumbar flexion.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #3: No consistency in the start position

In any movement – from a golf swing to a bench press – we preach consistency. The pattern that we create time and again is the one to which we will default when the going gets tough.

The power clean is no different, but if I walk into most weight rooms and training facilities, I see something entirely different.

Roll the bar around for a minute, hop up and down, roll the bar around some more and LIFT!!!

“But wait, I do three rolls every time, so my pattern is the same.”

The approach to the power clean should be the same every time you approach the bar.  Early on in training, I sought to eliminate inconsistency by crouching by the bar before beginning the lift.  Still, I found difficulty achieving a consistent position in my lift off from the floor.

My training really took off when I took a three-step process to get the bar in my hands.

1, Cover my laces with the bar, brace the core and lock in the lats.
2. RDL to my knees.
3. Squat to the bar.

The first step is really about verifying that I have the proper relation to the bar and that my body is prepared to maintain a stable position throughout the lift. Keeping the bar close to the body on the initial lift-off will allow for the most efficient bar path while maintaining the right position.

Making an RDL movement to the knees allows my hips to be behind the bar. Getting the hips away from the bar will allow the hips to remain loaded throughout the lift.

Squatting to the bar maintains a consistent torso angle down to the start position, meaning that on lift-off the shoulders will remain forward of the bar.

With this three-part pattern, I am able to guarantee that I, or any athletes I coach, make it to the start position consistently.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #4: Pulling the bar too fast off the ground.

Lots of weight on the bar? Only one way to pull it: HARD. Right?

Not really.  The first pull off the ground is all about maintaining consistent position and gaining momentum into the second (more aggressive pull).

As a beginning lifter, I don’t think that there is any mistake more common than pulling too fast off the ground.  Speed is king in the Olympic lifts and coaches preach it from day one.

There is only one issue. A bar that is moving too fast will inhibit an athlete’s ability to make an aggressive second pull.

Think of it this way: If a car were driving past you at 90 miles per hour and you were asked to push on the bumper to make it go faster, you would have very little time to improve upon the speed of the car and therefore have no effect on its acceleration.

Imagine the same car moving past you at 5 miles per hour.  If you were to push on the bumper of this car, you could greatly improve its acceleration and velocity.

The same is true with the Olympic lifts. Pulling too fast before reaching the mid-thigh will make your second pull much less effective.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #5: Pulling around the knees

This is another really common problem among novice lifters.

The bar trajectory off the floor should be back. Struggling with this is pretty easy to do because the overall “feel” of the power clean is straight up.

The bar must always start in front of the center of gravity (on the floor away from the hips), and the first pull should be used to align the bar with the center of gravity.  Aligning the bar even more to the front of the center of gravity is a common problem that leads to a lot of missed lifts and poor catch positions.

If the knees do not go back on the first pull, the athlete will be misaligned forward of the toes in the above the knee position and not be able to put the full power of hip extension into the lift.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #6: Not finishing the Second Pull

Pretty early on, some athlete that you train will realize that the lower they can go to catch the bar, the greater likelihood they will have in being successful in catching the lift.

Not finishing the second pull (the fast pull) from the mid-thigh upwards means that the athlete did not reach full hip extension and did not close the gap between their body and the bar.

Not reaching full extension with the hips is a big no-no because it is the primary reason that athletes do Olympic lifts in the first place.  Explosively pulling on the bar to hip extension in the point right?

The Olympic lift happens fast, and as coaches we can miss things like this.  Assuming you don’t have Superman vision, the easiest way to spot this problem is watch for an athlete jumping forward in the catch.  A complete hip extension will result in the athlete catching the bar in the same position on the platform or slightly behind the starting position. Jumping forward is the red flag for an incomplete pull.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #7: Catching the bar like a starfish

The starfish is a magnificent creature, but it likes to spread its appendages all over the place, and that has no place in the power clean.  And, we all know that we have seen a starfish in the weight room before.

We talk and talk about the force production that is such a valuable part of Olympic lifts, but equally valuable is the force absorption that must occur at the moment of the catch.

When an athlete catches like a starfish they are putting themselves in a position that will lead to injury.  If this pattern is the reaction to absorbing a stress on the body, then I really fear the moment when they come down from a maximal effort jump in competition.

So, do yourself a favor and don’t allow any starfish appearances in the weight room.

Conclusion

Try as we might, some of these things will always occur when you have people doing power cleans. Eliminate the majority of the problems and you will have people safely pulling a lot of weight, fast.

About the Author

Wil Fleming, CSCS, is a member of the International Youth Conditioning Association Board of Experts, and co-owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Bloomington, IN.   To learn more about Wil’s teaching system for the Olympic lifts, be sure to check out the IYCA Olympic Lift Instructor Course. To follow him on Twitter, click here.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
  • http://homefitnessmanual.com/ Mitchell – Home Fitness Manual

    Wil, there’s a ton of great info to take away from this article.

    Your three-step process is perfect for not just the beginner, but also the “seasoned” lifter who still needs to keep an eye on their technique.

    Also, I love the “Starfish” example…yes they are magnificent creatures.

    -Mitchell

  • http://tylerenglishblog.com Tyler English

    Great post Wil! Glad to see someone with years of training experience in Olympic Lifting sharing the knowledge. Thanks to EC for having you share the knowledge!

  • Rufus

    Very good article.

  • http://nielpatel.blogspot.com/ Niel

    Wil this is a great article. Most athletes will see a significant improvement in power cleans, or the classical lifts, by correcting or avoiding these mistakes.

  • Wil

    Mitchell- Thanks man! Sad to say but that starfish example is one of my athletes! We are still working on it.

    Tyler- Thanks Bro!

  • http://www.exsp.biz Dave

    Wil
    Great post. I see the Starfish all the time when I go to a high school weight room for the first time. Most coaches do not understant the importance of teaching technique. That if technique is taught correctly then the weight will go up faster and higher then doing it wrong. Thanks again for the great post.

  • Rob

    Excellent article Wil!

  • http://fittrue.com/ Tim Peirce

    Thanks Wil, I saw a guy “starfish” 275 just the other day.

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Wow!! Awesome info! Thanks for the great read.

  • brian

    Great article, I noticed in the first video, the clean from the blocks, that the student was jumping forward … Is that also a good example of not finishing the second pull…

  • bks

    Great article, I noticed in the first video, the clean from the blocks, that the student was jumping forward … Is that also a good example of not finishing the second pull??

  • https://sites.google.com/a/wca-hsv.org/wca-strength-conditioning/ Garrett

    Great article. The setup example was a good teaching tool.

  • http://www.fitstoronto.com Luke Wilson

    Wil,
    Thanks so much for this, I’ve been working on cleans and snatch myself, and sadly have been making a few of these mistakes myself. I was aware they needed improving but now have some direction as to HOW to do it, not just what to do.
    Thanks again.

  • Nikki

    Very helpful.

  • http://richloow.wordpress.com Jakob Richloow

    Aweseome post! I see novice lifters, aspiring crossfitters and hobbybuilders making all of these misstakes at once on a daily basis where i work. Might even do a similar post in swedish on my own blogg to raise the awereness. Sad thing is, most people that are doing these mistakes dont know they´re doing anything wrong. :-/

  • http://www.macnseitz.com Rob Jackson

    Wil,

    Love the information and love the consistent approach…to many kids just get over the bar and go. I do have a question. You show a video between mistake #2 and #3 talking about the elevated starting position (love the idea), but I noticed in the video that the lifter does not include a front squat after the catch and just absorbs the weight with a slight knee bend. That is the typical position I have most of my athletes finish in, but got scolded the other day by a strength coach (high school football) that told me that the athlete must go into a full front squat after the catch. Is this true? are there variations, or is one method preferred over the other?

  • http://functionalintegratedtraining.com Jared

    Wil,

    Great post! Love the clean but it can definitely be an ugly lift. Just went to a “lift-a-thon” for a local H.S. and saw a whole school of starfish, tough to watch. Happy to say my athletes weren’t part of that school! Thanks for the guest post.

  • http://razorsedgeperformance.ca Kyle Kennedy

    Hi WIll,
    these are all great tips. One way to eliminate problems with #2 and #3 is by switching to a mid-thigh clean. If you’re just training athletes to be more explosive, then the type shouldn’t matter. A recent article in the JSCR showed that the mid-thigh clean had more vertical ground reaction force and rate of force develop of the clean start positions (mid thigh, knee, floor). Much easier to stay consistent with the starting position this way as well. Just my two cents!

  • Chuck S

    I learned some good stuff here, but I didn’t understand some things, like what you meant about starfish. Also what RDL means. Maybe Romanian deadelift, but that’s a wild guess. No so good for this beginner.

  • Wil

    Wow! Awesome response here. I will try to address the issues brought up.

    @Niel- Thanks for your support, and thanks for the photo, you have great website!

    @Brian/bks- In the video (its me) I just forward just slightly but if you look at the pull slowed down, the hips finish through the bar, so the actual problem was that my elbows didn’t stay above the bar, they got behind it, creating space between my body and the bar and to close the gap I had to jump forward. Nice pick up on the jumping forward, a different cause to the same symptom.

    @Jakob Richloow- Would love to see how the swedish post turns out! I will use Google translate to read it! Email me when you finish it.

    @Rob Jackson- Catching the bar with only a slight knee bend, is the true definition of a power clean. Catching the bar lower is the competition style clean of a “clean and Jerk”. For most athletic purposes I like a power clean better because it reinforces a good 2nd pull. With novice (athlete/football player) lifters a full squat clean will lead to “diving” to the bar.

    @Kyle Kennedy- Thanks for the post, if you know me at all I am the worlds biggest proponent of the hang clean (although I like an above knee start position, it turns it into a more hip dominant movement, which athletes need). For most athletes coming from the floor can create a ton of problems as the bar path is not very intuitive and they lack mobility to get into the start positions (#2 and #3). For the athletes that need to do a power clean from the floor, I try to make the corrections above. Glad to hear that other coaches share my opinions though!

    @Chuck S- You are correct RDL refers to a Romanian Deadlift. A starfish was just a creative way of saying that the athlete catches the bar in a really wide foot position at the completion of the lift. Imagine someone doing a snatch with wide arms and wide legs and you will be able to envision it clearly!

    @Everyone else, thank you for the support on the post.

    If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me wtflemin at gmail dot com

  • vitor

    Great stuff as always.

  • Matias Ratti

    Excelente, Muchas gracias sigo aprendiento mucho con Eric, aunque mi English es muy pobre y me cuesta mucho, best regars

  • http://onlinepersonaltraining.wildfitness.com.au Anna

    Great article. Everyone is always in a rush to slap more weight on the bar but with Olympic lifts, technique is king.

  • Seymond Perry

    I like the power clean because of the benefits it offers. I do struggle with the “star fish” issue. Do you have any suggestions to correct this issue?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Seymond,

    Take down the weight, and focus on being faster!

  • http://harrycool.wordpress.com harry

    My gym does not have bumper plates and does not allow dropping weights too heavily. It is a typical city gym with all kinds of people and there is NO ONE doing Olympic lifts. I do not have a choice.

    Is there a substitute for Power Clean? I have hurt my back many times trying to catch the weight on its way down so that it does not hit the ground too hard.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Harry,

    A few thoughts…

    1. Find a new gym!

    2. You could try cleaning from the hang, as it’ll reduce the load you can use. You could also just do snatches, which will also reduce the load needed to get a training effect.

    3. Jump squats would be an alternative. You could load with a barbell, dumbbells, or weight vest.

  • JD

    Sick article

  • Anthony G

    @Seymond:

    I’m not an expert, but I have been working on improving my power clean and recently managed to “cure” my starfish. For me, it was literally as simple as moving my hands out an inch or two on each side. It might sound silly, but my hands were in too narrow, resulting in me keeping my feet too narrow, similar to my normal deadlift position. Because they were so narrow, during the second pull they had a strong tendency to want to move to their “natural” position. Since this happens so fast, they would push out way beyond what would normally be natural.

    By simply moving my hands out, I created more space for my legs, resulting in a wider stance from the start. My stance is just slightly wider than shoulder width at this point, essentially wide enough to provide room for my arms and torso inside of my legs at the bottom, but nothing more. I think that starting out where your legs “want” to be makes it less likely that they will move from there (and overcompensate in the process). Just my (non-expert) experience.

  • http://n/a joshahj

    Great tips! I’m no olympic lifter – far from. I’ve been doing “beginner cleans” for probably 10yrs and I always do them off my thighs (only putting the bar down between sets). What’s your thoughts? Thanks!!!!

  • Erick

    Excellent

  • Luis Baca

    I get a pain on my cervical part of my spine every time i do power cleans. Ever since i havent done power cleans. In a week or so i am required to do power cleans. How can i get rid of this pain and what did i do wrong in power cleans that caused this pain? Please respond back asap? Thanks

  • Don Johnson

    Great motivational stuff. I am getting ready for a session and reading this makes me want to transport to the gym.

    tx


New Balance

Featured Product
Assess and Correct

YouTube Twitter Facebook