Power Clean Progression

Power Clean Progression:  Part 3 of 3 in a series of exercise progressions by Tobias Jacobi

In the previous installments of this article series we talked about the importance of progressions and the progressions we utilize with our middle school and high school athletes in the Front Squat and Pause Bench Press.  These can be found at http://iyca.org/front-squat-progression & http://iyca.org/bench-press-progression.  

In this installment we will be discussing our Power Clean Progression.  We will also give you the progression plan we implement with our athlete’s and recommendations for both middle school and high school athletes.  In the last portion of this article we will discuss some issues that may occur when prescribing this exercise and our rationale for using this particular exercise in our program.  

The power clean is one of the most beneficial, and controversial, lifts that a coach can prescribe within their program.  Technical efficiency isPower Clean Progression imperative for the proper execution and continued progress with the power clean, which is the primary reason we utilize the lifting progression we implement.  When learning the power clean, never sacrifice technique for more weight; this is a recipe for disaster and will eventually lead to injury.  Our 7th grade program will typically use 3 weeks for each movement, while the 8th grade program uses 2-week intervals, and our high school program uses 1-week intervals for each progression.

When discussing how to teach the power clean, coaches usually choose either a Top-Down or Bottom-Up teaching progression;  I have found the Bottom-Up approach to be most effective in my program.  The reason we implement the Bottom-Up system is that, in my experience, it does a better job of strengthening not only the primary movers of the exercise, but it also does a tremendous job of developing the stabilizing muscles used when performing the power clean.  An additional benefit to using a Bottom-Up progression is that if a hand or wrist injury occurs with an athlete, they already have experience performing the modified movements like the clean pull or hang high pull.  One unique aspect of our power clean progression is that we use a partial range of motion to full range of motion philosophy when teaching technique.  We have seen substantial success using this model, but I need to reiterate that this is just what works best for me and our program.  

There are a couple of things we must discuss that are uniform across the board when talking about power clean technique:

Grip: When using an Olympic lifting barbell, the athlete grips the bar a thumbs-length from the “power clean ring” on the barbell.  Also make sure the grip is always outside the legs, not inside.  If the athlete has the ability to use the “hook grip” we will allow it, but do not make it mandatory.

Shoulder Position:  The shoulders should always be “covering up” the barbell in the starting position.

Barbell Position:  The barbell should always be pulled as close to the body as possible, and is either touching the thigh when the starting position is inside the rack/blocks, or touching the shin when lifting the barbell off the floor.

Power Clean Progression

RACK PULL

The Rack Pull is the first movement in our power clean progression.  The benefits of using the Rack Pull as the first exercise is that it teaches proper body position for pulling the barbell from a static position.  When performing this exercise, the athlete must focus on keeping the chest out, lower back tight & arched, and lifting with the legs not the back.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 1 – 6 x 5 WK 1 – 6 x 5 WK 1 – 6 x 5

WK 2 – 6 x 4 WK 2 – 6 x 4

WK 3 – 6 x 3

DEADLIFT

We cue our athletes to perform the Deadlift movement exactly as they did with the Rack Pull, with the only difference being pulling from the floor instead of the rack.  One important coaching point  when the athlete lifts the barbell off the floor is to cue everything rising together;  the athlete wants to avoid the hips rising too quickly.  If the hips rise too fast, the athlete will then lift with their back instead of their legs, which is not what we want when performing this exercise.  We want to focus on lifting with our legs not our back.  

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 4 – 6 x 5 WK 3 – 6 x 5 WK 2 – 6 x 5

WK 5 – 6 x 5 WK 4 – 6 x 4

WK 6 – 6 x 3

RACK CLEAN PULL (Jump Shrug)

The Rack Clean Pull is the first movement where we add the explosive aspect to our power clean progression.  We teach the Rack Clean Pull by telling the athlete to perform the Rack Pull, but we jump through the roof and shrug the barbell at the top of the jump.  The arms should stay straight and cannot bend while executing the lift.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 7 – 6 x 5 WK 5 – 6 x 5 WK 3 – 6 x 5

WK 8 – 6 x 4 WK 6 – 6 x 4

WK 9 – 6 x 3

CLEAN PULL (Jump Shrug from Floor)

The Clean Pull is the first explosive pull from the ground in our power clean progression and is coached by telling the athlete to perform the Rack Clean Pull starting from the floor instead of the rack.  This exercise can also be used for athletes who have wrist/hand injuries that preclude them from performing a full clean.  The Clean Pull also is used for a regression for those athlete’s who bend the arms too early when performing the Power or Hang Clean.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 10 – 6 x 5 WK 7 – 6 x 4 WK 4 – 6 x 4

WK 11 – 6 x 4 WK 8 – 6 x 3

WK 12 – 6 x 3

HANG HIGH PULL

The Hang High Pull is our first movement where we bend at the elbow and hips to complete the exercise.  This is a great exercise to develop explosiveness for an athlete who has a wrist/hand issue but cannot perform a clean catch.  The cue we use for teaching the Hang High Pull is to jump & shrug into an upright wow (which would have already been taught) while pulling yourself under the barbell at the apex of the movement.  We teach athletes to pound the heels through the ground, which ensures the athlete is bending at the hips to get under the barbell and bending into a quarter-squat position.  Another added benefit of teaching the pounding of the heels is that it gives the athlete an audible cue to use.  9 times out of 10, if they do that correctly, everything else works properly as well.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 13 – 6 x 5 WK 9 – 6 x 4 WK 5 – 6 x 4

WK 14 – 6 x 4 WK 10 – 6 x 3

WK 15 – 6 x 3

RACK / BLOCK CLEAN

The Rack Clean or Block Clean are the same movements, the difference between the two is one is done out of a half- or power-rack while the other is performed off technique blocks.  The preferred method would be to use blocks if they are available, but if they are not then using the safety bars of a rack will suffice.  This is the first movement in our power clean progression where we will now catch the barbell at the top of the movement.  When catching the barbell, the athlete wants it to land on the natural shelf of the shoulders in the “rack” position.  This position is the exact same position an athlete uses when performing the front squat, which we would have already taught in great detail beforehand – see http://iyca.org/front-squat-progression.  When teaching this exercise, we tell the athlete to perform the Hang High Pull from the rack, but we add the catch in the rack position.  The jump & shrug into an upright row and pounding of the heels remain the same, and give the athlete points to return to if necessary.  Make sure the athlete allows the barbell to come to complete rest in the rack/blocks in between repetitions;  do not allow a bounce at the bottom of the movement because it will cause improper execution.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 16 – 6 x 5 WK 11 – 6 x 4 WK 6 – 6 x 4

WK 17 – 6 x 4 WK 12 – 6 x 3

WK 18 – 6 x 3

HANG CLEAN

The Hang Clean is just like previous exercise, but now the athlete is standing free on the platform and not inside a rack or using blocks.  Do not allow athletes to rock back & forth to generate momentum before performing the exercise.  This is not proper execution.  Focus on controlling the barbell at the start of the movement as opposed to using momentum to complete the lift.  The Hang Clean is where we will stop our 7th graders progression for the year.  Once they learn this movement we will focus on perfecting their technique for the rest of the year.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 19 – 6 x 4 WK 13 – 6 x 3 WK 7 – 6 x 3

WK 20 – 6 x 3 WK 14 – 6 x 2

WK 21+ – 6 x 2

HANG SQUAT CLEAN

The Hang Squat Clean is the exact same as the Hang Clean, except for the position of the catch.  When catching the barbell of the Hang Clean we are in the quarter squat position, but the catch in the Hang Squat Clean occurs at the bottom of the front squat position.  Performing this movement allows us to focus on getting the athlete under the barbell and adds some “athletic development” to the action.  To be able to perform this movement correctly, the athlete must be able to perform all of the previous progressions (as well as the front squat) efficiently.  Again our 7th graders do not perform this exercise, but our 8th graders and high school age athletes do.

8th Grade High School

WK 15 – 6 x 4 WK 8 – 6 x 3

WK 16 – 6 x 3

POWER CLEAN

The full Power Clean is the final movement in our power clean progression, and is what we have been working towards with this technical progression.  When teaching the Power Clean as before we just have the athlete’s put the Clean Pull & Hang Clean movements together.  Saying it in this manner gives the athlete something they can relate to since they have already worked through the progression, and can now perform those exercises proficiently.  When we catch the barbell in the Power Clean, we teach catching in the quarter squat position.  For our purposes, catching in the low front squat position constitutes a different exercise, and we wait to add that in later in training.  

8th Grade High School

WK 17 – 6 x 4 WK 9 – 6 x 3

WK 18+ – 6 x 3

Because of the high degree of technique required, many issues can arise during the power clean progression.  One of the most common we see involves athletes lifting with their arms or back instead of their legs.  Lifting with the back puts unwanted stress and strain on the lower back area, which can commonly lead to muscle strains and back issues, even with a relatively light load.  Using the arms creates different issues and will limit the amount of weight that can ultimately be lifted.  In some cases, the athlete may not be able to get into a proper starting position, which leads to lifting with the back as opposed to with the legs.   If that is case, and flexibility or mobility is the issue, then performing movements to increase an athlete’s flexibility & mobility is highly recommended, along with only having them pull from a position high enough to achieve the proper starting position.

Another issue that was mentioned earlier is athletes pulling with their arms too early.  The second an athlete bends the elbows, the ability of the hips to produce force is gone.  To steal from the great Gayle Hatch, “the elbow bends, the power ends.”  This is where having a qualified coach is really important.  Being able to dissect the issue and give appropriate feedback and instruction is critical, and is often a problem for under-qualified coaches.  When this issue occurs, we typically have the athlete regress to the Clean Pull for 1-2 weeks and pay special attention to keeping the elbows straight.  Using this regression has provided positive results in getting kids to bend the elbows at the correct time.

The power clean progression closes this series on exercises progressions, and I want to thank Jim Kielbaso and the IYCA for allowing me to share our progressions with you.  As always I look forward to feedback about this article or anything else that you may want to discuss.  I can be reached at tjacobi@strong-rock.com

Tobias Jacobi

Tobias  Jacobi has been a strength & conditioning coach at Strong Rock Christian School for 4 years and spent 15 years as a college S & C coach before that.  He spent time at East Carolina University, Charleston Southern University, Kent State University, Western Carolina University, Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Cumberland University.  He holds multiple certifications, has worked with thousands of athletes at every level, and has spoken at clinics all over the country.

 

 

For more information on how to train high school athletes, check out the IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist course and certification.  The HSSCS is the only certification available that focuses entirely on training high school ages athletes.  The HSSCS includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from 20 of the top strength & conditioning coaches from major universities, high schools, private facilities and NFL teams.  Click on the image below to learn more about the High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist credential.

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