Teaching power cleans to young athletes: Part I

By Hunter Glascock, CSCS, UASW L1

What is a Power Clean?

The Power Clean is an explosive, but highly technical movement that is included in many athletic training programs to increase total body strength and power. The power clean when done correctly has many benefits to athletic populations; the power clean mimics triple extension found in jumping and sprinting movements. It also improves the athletes rate of force development (RFD) or speed that a muscle can develop force. If an athlete is able to improve RFD they will ultimately be able to sprint faster and jump higher. In part one of “Teaching the Power Clean to High School Athletes” I will be addressing the importance of assessing the movement patterns athletes must master before power cleans are programmed into their training program.

Athlete Assessment

Before adding the Power Clean to an athletes training program the coach must assess their coaching ability and the group of athletes they will be training. As a coach the ability to teach a movement or exercise determines what should be implemented into the athletes training program. If the coach does not fully understand the particular exercise and how to teach it, the athletes performing the exercises are at risk. Exercises such as, Olympic movements if done incorrectly; provide no benefit to the athlete and can lead to serious injury.

The group of athletes being trained must also be assessed to determine if they are ready to begin learning the Power Clean. Athletes must be able to perform the following exercises with perfect technique before moving on to the Power Clean:

Front Squat

The front squat is a great assessment tool for the power clean, since this movement replicates the receive position. The front squat will show any glaring mobility issues that may occur at the ankles, hips, thoracic region, shoulders, and wrists. Improving mobility in these areas are important to safely receive the bar during the power clean. Coaches should watch out for any issues that may occur during the front squat and correct them before athletes move onto the power clean.

014004-01922P POWER Athletes-05_04_2016Front Squat Setup

The bar should rest on the shoulders with hands gripping the bar slightly outside shoulder width. Elbows should point directly in front as the upper arm is parallel with the floor. Feet should be slightly outside hip width and toes should point forward or slightly outwards. To perform the front squat the athlete will descend into a squat by pushing knees out and sitting in between their legs, while maintaining an upright torso position. Once the athlete reaches full depth (hip crease below knee crease) the athlete will push their feet through the floor and ascend to the starting position.

RDL (Hip Hinge)

My favorite exercise to teach the hip hinge and develop the musculature of the posterior chain is the RDL. Athletes should learn how to set up and hinge correctly at the hip before performing the power clean. Coaching athletes to correctly load the hamstrings and maintain posture at the shoulders, thoracic region, and low back will help keep the bar in the correct position during the power clean.

Hook Grip

Before I move forward to the RDL setup I want to discuss the hook grip. The hook grip is used by many lifters to create a stronger grip as the weight increases during the power clean. I have found it easier to teach the hook grip early on with athletes, as opposed to teaching a new grip in the middle of their training program.

RDL Setup

Grip (Hook grip) the bar with hands slightly outside hip width.  Set the shoulder blades by pulling the bar hard into the hip and engaging the lats and other muscles of the back. Create a slight bend at the knees, the bar should now be positioned high on the upper thigh. Begin the RDL by breaking at the hip and shifting the hip backwards while the bar maintains contact with the upper leg. Once you can no longer push the hips backwards and shoulders are slightly in front of the bar you have reached the bottom position of the RDL. To complete the RDL push the hips forward until you return to the starting position.

Deadlift

I teach the Power Clean from the top down, but it is important to teach the deadlift to insure athletes can correctly pull the bar from the floor. I incorporate deadlifts into my athletes training program as I teach the clean from the top down, so that when we are ready to pull from the floor they are experienced at deadlifting.

Deadlift Setup

Walk up to the bar until you can see your shoelace around the bar. Set up and perform an RDL until you reach the bottom of the RDL position. From the RDL bend the knees until you can reach the bar. Grip (Hook grip) the bar with your hands outside hip width. Take the slack out of the bar by pulling yourself into position and setting shoulder blades similar to the RDL. Your set up is correct if shins are vertical and bar is in line with the shoulders. To execute the deadlift push your feet through the floor and your hips and shoulders should rise together. To lower the bar follow the same steps as you would during your setup, the only difference is the bar is now in your hands.

Conclusion

The front squat, RDL, and deadlift are basic fundamental strength exercises that should be included in every athletes training program. Athletes should be assessed on each of these movements, as they pertain directly to the power clean movement and safety of the athlete. Once an athlete has shown the ability to perform each of these exercises with correct technique they may move on to learning the power clean. In the Part 2 of “Teaching the Power Clean to High School Athletes” I will discuss the positions of the power clean and how I teach the power clean in large group settings.