The Power Clean is one of those exercises that coaches and athletes widely agree is a valuable exercise for improving explosive power, posterior chain strength, and overall full body recruitment. Application, however, is something else entirely.
1) The most common problem in performing the Power Clean is too much usage of the upper body
This is an inefficient technique for two reasons: 1- Obviously the arms have less strength potential than the lower body (duh!), and 2- Excess tension in the upper body « blocks » the body from pulling under and turning over the elbows with enough speed. Athletes run the risk of wrist and elbow injuries, catching with a kyphotic posture, and missing bars they are physically strong enough to lift.
Solution: Learn to lift with relaxed arms, use the hook grip, and use more lower body explosiveness to lift big weights safely.
2) A second problem is starting the « 2nd Pull », or the explosive portion of the lift, too early
For the average athlete, they should wait until the bar gets to the mid thigh before bringing the hips in and making contact, followed by a brief, rapid extension of the entire body. This will be somewhat individual, as some athletes have different arm, torso, and leg length ratios, but usually it is mid thigh. That way, the contact happens on the UPPER thigh rather than the mid to lower thigh. You don’t want to have the feeling of dragging the bar onto the shoulders,
rather it should feel like an aggressive PUNCH and extension.
Solution: Experiment with being more patient in finding the ideal place for your athlete to begin the 2nd pull. With their natural clean grip, standing
with the bar at arms length in front of the quads, wherever the bar sits naturally, is the point of contact for that athlete.
3) Another problem is being too aggressive in the deadlift portion of the lift
Guys that rip the bar off the platform as if they are deadlifting a world record. The power clean is not a maximal strength lift, and cannot be treated the same as a heavy deadlift. By ripping it off the platform, two things are happening:
First, usually they will mistime their explosive phase. Second, too much tension in the upper body and traps for an effective, smooth pull under phase. Another problem with this is the wasting of nervous energy. You really only want to use energy at the 2nd pull phase, and over time you will perform more successful, quality lifts per training than if you are too aggressive off the floor.
Solution: If the athlete is so weak off the floor that they REQUIRE the aggressive first pull, then need to do some posterior chain work (some deadlifting, romanian
deadlifts, good mornings, various leg curls, glute ham raise, reverse hyper, etc).
4) Next is flexibility, and it is not just in the forearm flexors
Yes, they are a big part of this, and I have found athletes like hockey players to be the worst, potentially due to the regular work they are doing in handling a stick and puck. I am also talking about the entire chain of muscle and fascia that is involved in racking a clean. This begins in the hands, goes into the flexors and extensors of the forearms, then the triceps, serratus anterior, lats, external rotators, and mid to lower traps. One could easily argue that the hips and lower legs are also involved, but that is a bit too global.
Solution: Simple, stretch! The best way is with a weighted stretch that mimics the racking of the clean. Start with a light weight, and take a FULL hook grip of the bar.
Have the bar on a rack, and keep the grip while putting the bar on your shoulders, push the elbows up and in. Hold for 15 seconds, rest for 20seconds. Increase the weight
and do another set. Made 4-6 increases and repeat. Do this 2-3 times per day, every day for 3 weeks and you will gain immense flexbility in this chain. Also, ART will
accelerate this process by releasing tight muscle, and should be employed early in the phase. It is also great to maintain this flexibility.
5) Finally, another big problem in Power Clean performance is simply having an athlete or client who is simply not yet ready to perform these movements properly
Whether it be lack of general strength or fitness, mobility, current injuries or nagging old ones, there can be any number of reasons why it is unwise for them to perform this lift right now. Even if the individual really wants to do it, as a coach you need to be cautious about when or if the person is ready. They will likely need to gain general strength, work on structural balance to optimize performance and avoid injury, and seek treatment and stretching to be able to move properly. Their progress will be faster in the long run than if you just throw them into the « gauntlet » and expect them to pick up on a challenging, complex movement.
Solution: Take the individual through a thorough health and fitness assessment, and design a personalized program that addresses their current and specific needs. If you are
not qualified to do so, refer to an expert who can take care of this task. Also, refer to an ART practitioner that is familiar with the needs of the sport. Be patient, and explain to them
that this process is necessary.
Nick Roberts is a 6 time Canadian Champion, and current holder of two Canadian records in the 94kg class (Clean and Jerk 195kg, Total 346kg).