So, I’m getting coaching on doing cleans (and snatches) as well. It’s hard to get the technique down, for sure. I feel you.
A few things:
You’re not setting up correctly at the bottom position. You’re just reaching down and grabbing it off the floor. Take your time to set up correctly at the bottom.
You’re not catching it in the power position. You’re standing upright.
Your elbows are not in the correct position at the catch. They are still mostly pointing down. “Fast elbows”. Don’t be afraid to let just your fingers support the bar in the rack position.
You’re not getting under the bar at all, but yanking it up to your clavicles in the standing position.
You’re plenty strong to be able to get 235 lbs up to the front rack position the way you do. I would suggest dropping the amount of weight and working on technique. Get so you are correctly setting up, peeling it slowly up before exploding and extending when it contacts your thighs, then fast elbows as you get under the bar. When I was doing it similar to the way you are, I was working up to 185 lbs. Now that I’m learning the technique, I’m sticking in the 115 - 135 lb range. Going heavier and my technique falls apart and I mentally struggle with the catch and getting under the bar. I know it’s a power clean and not a squat clean, but you still catch it in an athletic position and not upright.
If you can find a coach, do it. It’s made a big difference for me.
First off, thanks for taking the time to reply with such detail, I appreciate it.
This is pretty much the motivation for this post, feel like an ogre doing the movement, not the worst thing but definitely not ideal.
I spent more time today getting closer to setting up “right”, I definitely don’t have a firm enough grasp on proper setup or enough self-awareness for understanding when that is happening, though.
Yep, I definitely didn’t feel like I was in great catch position but it took until you commented to realize how unathletic my position is. I did some squat cleans a decade ago and while they were never good I at least attempted to get under the bar. I think this is largely due to lack of confidence in my catch, I’ll keep the “fast elbows” cue in mind.
The topmost video was from a “technique” session today but I think your suggestion of going lighter is a good one. I’ll post some updates in the coming week.
Going to see if I can find some Thibs videos tonight, do you have any other favorites that teach the movement?
Thibs stuff is always good. The hard part (as we both have encountered) is translating what someone else (Thibs or another guy) is demonstrating and explaining to actually applying it to our own technique. It’s just hard. I’ve benefitted from having a coach break the clean down, and then watch me and coach as I practice. Even still, I am not yet good at the clean in any way.
One thing that was hard to mentally overcome is that I was “cleaning” more weight before the coaching than I am now. But, I’ve learned to not focus on how much weight is on the bar and instead on the technique and process. For example, if I perform a 115 lb clean correctly, I am much more pleased than doing a 185 lb clean with poor form. That’s just a different mindset than power lifting, where it really just comes down to moving the poundage. Keep it up! Learning new lifts keeps us fresh and motivated.
It sounds like your coach does it in-person, is that right? Did you find them at the CrossFit gym you lift at?
I’ve never been coached, not necessarily opposed to it, just not sure I want to start and not sure where I would, if I did.
Absolutely agree with this. I implemented the clean and push press into my 5/3/1 cycle for the first time ever this most recent run and it’s definitely got me way more enthusiastic than any other portion. I’ve really enjoyed trying to learn the clean and nearly as importantly, have it grow fast enough to keep up with my push press.
Ok, the two things that jump at me are the main power producers during the second pull (explosion, even though in your case it is a veeeeeeerrrrry slow explosion) and the catch positions.
The starting position is also bad and likely leads to the issues in the second pull which itself leads to the poor catch.
Let’s look at each one in order:
STARTING POSITION AND FIRST PULL
Your hips are too high in the start. You are essentially taking a position that is adequate for a deadlift in someone with a dominant posterior chain. The problem is that in a power clean, when the bar reaches the knees you pretty much have no more knee extension potential, so you simply use the lower back to lift the weight up… essentially you are doing a fast Romanian deadlift
Just because the bar starts from the floor in a power clean, doesn’t mean that you should set-up like in a deadlift. This is a mistake made by powerlifters, strongmen and other decently strong athletes when they try to learn the clean. They basically do a deadlift and “whip with their lower back and tug with the arms” during the explosion phase. The problem is that when someone is fairly strong, they can actually do a decent amount of weight that way, making them believe that they are doing it right.
The purpose of the first pull (from floor to just above knees) in a clean (or snatch) is to set-up the body in an optimal position to use all of your levers to produce maximum explosion during the second pull. This means being able to use knee extension and hip extension mostly (some back extension but not anywhere near what you are using).
To be able to do that your hips can’t be too high in the start position. They will raise even more during the first pull, leaving your legs in a weak position to contribute while they should be the prime movers.
Your hips should be as low as possible, while the shoulders are still above, or even slightly in front of, the bar.
The first pull is then done by pushing the knees back a bit (to get the knees out of the way of the bar) and the torso angle remains pretty much the same.
SECOND PULL / EXPLOSION
As I mentioned, you are essentially doing a fast Romanian deadlift/back extension with an arm tug to get the bar up. Your deadlift is strong enough to be able to handle a non-ridiculous weight, but it is not efficient and it will be nearly impossible to keep progressing that way.
When the bar is above the knees/mid-thighs, where the EXPLOSION occurs, the knees should still have some bend in them, the hips should be back, the shoulders roughly above the knees. Basically, imagine a linebacker in his stance.
From that position you should simply stand up as violently fast as possible. For YOU I would use the cue “JUMP” although it is frowned upon by some “modern” coaches, for you it is what you should think about. The role of a cue is to get your body to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter if is is technically accurate or not. In your case you are: 1) slow, 2) not using your legs 3) using your back and arms… focusing on “jumping” as violently as possible will fix those issues and will get your body much closer to doing the right thing.
Another issue with your pull is that it sets you up to have a very poor catch position. A catch position that makes it impossible to move under the bar properly.
Because you are using the back extension as your prime source of power (I’m using that word very loosely because power entails being explosive, which you are not) the torso stays back in the catch: at best your torso is upright which means that the hips are also forward (directly under the torso) and your knees are forced to move forward. This is not only a very weak position, but it’s a position in which it is impossible to go down lower than a few inches, forcing you to pull the weight A LOT higher than you need to (obviously limiting the amount of weight you can use).
In a proper catch position you should be, once again, in a “linebacker or athletic stance”. Basically, set-up to do a back squat but only squat halfway down (90-100 degrees knee angle). Take a picture from the side, this is pretty much the position you should be in when catching a power clean: hips back, torso angled a bit forward, shoulders above or slightly behind the knees.
Here’s a quick tip to know if you are in a proper catch position for a power clean: You should be able to go right into a front squat without adjusting at all when you catch a power clean. If you can’t, your position is wrong.
Stop with the powerlifter/strongman/strength trainee mentality of always trying to go heavy. You seem to have plenty of strength to clean a lot more than that. Heck, I’ve trained 130lbs women who power cleaned more than you and they were nowhere near as strong as you are. What you need is TECHNIQUE and SPEED… No, not speed, VIOLENCE.
You should probably not go above 165-185 for quite some time. But focus on reaching the proper positions and BEING AS VIOLENTLY EXPLOSIVE as possible above the knees.
IMPORTANT: I’ve worked with hundreds of people on their olympic lifts… from athletes to crossfit competitors to regular crossfit members who wanted to learn the lifts. Not all of them improved. Not because I’m not a capable coach. Because when they were left on their own they would use too much weight too soon, getting back to their old habits.
ALSO IMPORTANT: When you try to change your technique on the olympic lifts you will first get weaker. That’s because regardless of how inefficient your technique is, you became fairly strong at it and trying to change your motor patterns will throw everything out of whack. That’s another reason why people fail to improve: they see themselves getting weaker with the “new” technique and they thing “screw this, I’m going back to my old ways”.
If you hope to become good at the power clean you must:
Accept not using heavy weights for a pretty long time… at least 20-30 sessions. And don’t add weight unless you can maintain positions, technique and speed.
Even if your technique is good, understand that the olympic lifts DO NOT respond the same way as the strength lifts. The overload principle doesn’t work the same way on the olympic lifts because of their reliance on speed. You cannot add weight as frequently or rapidly as on a squat, bench or deadlift. Just because it also uses a barbell, doesn’t mean that it is to be trained the same way or follow the same expectations.
Being a more technical and coordinated lift, you need to practice the power clean more often. Which you CAN do because, if you are smart, you will use light weights for now. If you are using the 5/3/1 program, I would do a few sets of 3 power cleans at the beginning of the deadlift and squat sessions (good activation too) and MAYBE do clean & presses on the overhead day, provided that your press is not too heavy to stay light on power cleans.
Wow, thank you for such a detailed and thorough response. I’ll read through this a few more times and give some cleans a shot.
I think part of my problem (with my mindset, not my lift) was that I was trying to make sure the clean was caught up with the press. I’ve practiced variations of pressing for years, much less practice for the cleans. Expecting the clean to have competency this early was foolish, so I think I’ll drop the clean and press and just stick to the press from the rack with cleans as warmups.
If I stay in this weight range and below, is there a limit to the number of sessions you would recommend per week?
I did a few doubles trying to focus on lowering my hips and explosiveness, felt a bit better, work to do.
Awesome, I’ll try to use that cue next time I do them. I did a few more this morning at the gym (that felt less bad than previously) but didn’t video them, will try to snag some more clips for feedback next time. Appreciate the time and advice.