Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes: Hang Cleans for Dramatic Athletic Improvement


Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes

Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes

I was speaking yesterday to a fellow strength and conditioning professional and the question came up “Do you like to do cleans from the floor or from the hang?”


Considering that my first experiences with training came at the age of 15 in an Olympic lifting club where we competed regularly in the sport of Olympic lifting, you might just assume that my answer is from the floor. It was what I was first introduced to and where I cut my teeth in training. It turns out though that the answer is not in line with traditional thinking. I choose the hang clean for all of my athletes (For the most part).

Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes

I choose the hang clean because for nearly all Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes it is the position from which they will complete most of their athletic skills. The start position from the floor is essentially a rolling start and the last time I checked linemen in football don’t get to take a running start to the line.. The response to this line of thought mostly comes in the form of, “Well I don’t ever get in a full squat position while pole vaulting/playing tennis, etc etc, So are you suggesting that I don’t ever squat?” The answer is emphatically, undeniably that……


Well they are missing the point. What we train by doing Olympic lifts from a hang starting position is the quality that often makes athletes successful not the specific movement pattern.


Olympic Lifting from the floor is a sport, and good Olympic lifters are built for and made up to be good at that sport. You probably wouldn’t make a 5’10” Olympic Lifter a basketball player to improve their Olympic lifting, so why make a 6’6″ basketball player an Olympic lifter to improve their sport?

Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes

All this said, I do have my athletes train movements from the floor for increased hip mobility and for some variation in their training program over the course of a typical program, but for the most part the focus is on developing the hang clean and hang snatch to the fullest.


The hang clean is a perfect way to overcome the difficulties in teaching and the physical limitations of many athletes. By starting from the above knee position the athlete can take advantage of the strong stretch shortening cycle and maximize their potential pulling power. I believe that the ability to move a load quickly and explosively is absolutely essential to being a good athlete. The hang clean is by far the best way to learn and develop this skill.


Where do you have your athletes start their cleans? I want to know…


You absolutely need to have progressive training systems in place for all areas of your programs. Speed, strength, power and especially if you are using Olympic Lifting with young athletes!


If you want to know how to start using Olympic lifting with young athletes in your program check out the Olympic lifting instructors course.

Olympic Lifting With Young Athletes





23 Responses

  1. Kate Halaris says:

    Wonderful article!! Great information to consider when training. I have yet to see a 7 foot Olympic lifter.

  2. Chuck says:

    I have taught the floor clean and snatch for 30 years and still believe that to be the best way to train. Do I believe in the hang of each, yes. The reason I go from the floor is to produce a carry over in technique for life, lifting a box, and for the development of the posterior chain in the legs and lower back. The problem I have now at our school is that the athletes have been told and taught to jump off the floor instead of jumping under the bar. My problem with the vertical jump is that the athletes never get to full triple extension. A quality hang will produce this action. I also make use of block cleans. That is my safe way of doing a hang. I do not allow a roll of the bar into the shins. Our students go from the static position. Great conversation.

  3. Steve Payne says:

    All of my athletes do hang cleans. Always have. Like Wil stated previously, Olympic lifting is a sport in and of itself. I’m not training Olympic lifters. I’m training basketball players, and baseball players and volleyball players and so on. All of them play from the crouch position, so that is where we start. Seems like simpleton logic to me, and I’m the chief simpleton.

  4. Gary Steffensen says:

    Nice to know I’m not the only one….I’ve been a youth and elite ski racing coach for 30 years and Olympic lifts have been a huge part of my training phases. Now as a training facility owner I train youth for many sports with hang cleans and Olympic lifts. Awesome conversation.

  5. Been teaching the hang clean for several years now, never performed it competitively, but was mentored by one of the best in the business and now teach it in four steps. I can’t tell you how many athletes I work with for the first time and when asked about their weight room experience, many have worked with a trainer, or a sports performance business that specializes in hockey or baseball, but yet can’t perform (or know what it is) an RDL, a jump shrug or a high pull. I like to finish it off with a “muscle clean” using a 10 – 15 lb. bar to get 10 or so reps without fatigue. Then after mastering the supplemental lifts, put them together for the finished product. Depending on the athlete’s level of coordination, it could be learned in one session and polished up in just a few more. Even after learnt, loads are kept between 40% and 65 %. The most important emphasis during this learning process is that perfect posture is never compromised.
    For the snatch lift I like to follow the progression of push press, split jerk, then split snatch. By the time the athlete is ready for the split snatch, he or she has already mastered the basic movements while performing less technical lifts. We just add the muscle snatch.

  6. Andrew Voris says:

    I start all my athletes from the hang for all the reasons listed above. I knew I liked Brian for some reason. I feel that the more we can do from the athletic ready stance the better.
    I use the overhead squat progression, squat to row and squat curl to press from the floor for mobility and I feel it is great to see if the athlete compensates an joint patterns while performing the exercises. The more neurologically challenging stuff we do from the hang.
    You should always have some of both and I am not real sure it matters to much which are from the hang and which from the floor just as long as you know why you are doing what you are doing.

    Great stuff everybody!

    I have to say that for once I feel trainers are actually getting better in this industry. Due in part to IYCA and other great organizations offering this education.

  7. Joe Hadachek says:

    I start all my athletes with one arm kettlebell cleans and one arm kettlebell snatches. Once the one arm technique is mastered we move on with two arm/two kettlebell movements.

    While I realize the majority of trainers will use an Olympic bar I believe the kettlebell method is easier to teach and a terrific way to train an athlete like similar to the sport he/she participates.

    I have trained middle school, high school, and college athletes for almost 30 years. The last three years I have been coaching in high school and teaching strength and conditioning to middle school boys and girls. I have no doubt if I was coaching and training collegiate athletes again I would use the kettlebell.

    The advantages I have seen over the last three years give me a renewed energy to help young people increase strength while decreasing the chance of injury. You get the majority of the benefits with a below the knee or above the knee hang clean.

    This (kettlebell training) is not a fad but another way for trainers to workout a large group of athletes safely in a limited amount of time. This is especially true when you have a weight room with limited square footage or do not have enough time in the day. The outdoors is your classroom and more importantly the feedback by the athletes tells us they LOVE it and want more.

    All the best.

  8. paul reneau says:

    Brian, I have been saying this for years and I am glad that the experts are now saying it. Squats have a place in the world of performance however I agree Brian that the positions that athletes perform from is not the squat position. The posterior chain can be reached from other positions to be strenghtened.
    Thanks for clarifying that to people out there that are still pushing the squat as the means for athletes to be measured.


  9. Joyce says:

    Great stuff here! Chris, I found your technique very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  10. dizzed.com says:

    Hang Cleans for Dramatic Athletic Improvement…

    I was speaking yesterday to a fellow strength and conditioning professional and the question came up “Do you like to do cleans from the floor or from the hang?” Considering that my first experiences with training came at the age of 15 in an Olympic…

  11. SoCal Brian says:

    This information is definitely something to consider when training elite athletes. I am personally
    more interested in working with a larger demographic and I personally do not use Olympic lifts
    much. I like to go with more of the “power-lifting” style of techniques and just modify them here and there to increase speed, strength, increased flexibility and overall power. The “power-lifting” movements are a lot easier to control and master for more timely results which brings upon more confidence and success for these young athletes. Personally, I like to cross-train sports, there are many advantages gained from utilizing different sport movements and training methods.

  12. Wil Fleming says:

    Wow thanks for all the responses! I really like this discussion.

    In working with athletes that have never performed the Olympic lifts or in most instances performed the movements but with no teaching other than “get it to your chest” or “get it over your head”, I decided that it was necessary to create a reproducible and trusted system to teach the lifts. To rectify this problem I have turned the teaching of the hang clean and hang snatch into a 4 level system, with a couple of sub-levels, that I start teaching in session 1. I continue this progression through the first 4 weeks of training an athlete.

    We will implement movements from the floor but do so by first doing clean pulls to the knee. That is, we teach the initial pull off the floor up to the position that they will ultimately do a hang clean. I will also mix in things off the box for static pulling power, but from a purely athletic development standpoint I tend to lean towards the hang clean with my athletes, and then use the movements from the floor and various start points as supplemental work, that will all improve the athletes’ ability to perform a Hang Clean.

    I really do appreciate all the input. Looking forward to hearing more.

  13. Njama says:

    Fantastic conversation and topic … but what about teaching these movements to children or teens or adults that aren’t “athletes” ie baseball football so on and so on, and are just looking to improve their fitness levels? What I’ve done is to teach the clean which is the easiest of the movements, and then the press. Depending on what I see with the posteriour chain, I may or may not introduce the snatch. Sometimes the clean and press and then the squat suffice for the whole snatch movement. I work with a few children participating in martisal arts … and while the clean (with a very lite bar) has a place for hip movements and hand speed, taking the bar above the head isn’t transferable in my eyes. When I work with “athletes”, I prefer kettlebells most of the time or sandbags.

  14. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    I am enjoying this discussion a great deal, and thank you to everyone posting on here. Part of wat we wish to create within the IYCA is that honest, respectful give and take of ideas. I think our Congress could take some cues from you all. No one has said “you Lie”, or said than anyone else was “acting stupidly”.

    I will add my two cents: I become very uneasy anytime someone says things like “I ALWAYS start my athletes with “x” and “y”.” Let’s always remember that not only is progression important, but that every athlete won’t respond to the same progression.

    Some athletes, I might start out with simply learning about how to stabilize the shoulder, and awareness in that region. Other athletes may be ready to step right into a snatch.

    For some athletes, the bar overhead might be transferable: Dancers (male, for lyrical, ballet, and even ballroom).

    Again, let’s apply our thinking to evaluate the best tools, whether that is O-lifts, modified versions of O-lifts, or something completely different. If the O-lift is needed because the coach has chosen this, teach it, but choose your progression wisely

  15. Geoff Eliason says:

    The article was spot on. I think the greatest hole in training in recent years has been a lack of progression in teaching. There are plenty of good ideas used at the wrong time with the wrong person. Wil really addresses this need nicely.

  16. shawn fears says:

    I am a USAW Sports Performance Coach and everything for everyone is taught from the hang. First at mid thigh then at above the knee and if they compete then its below the knee then off of the floor. Only in that order of progression are any coaches taught to teach the O-lifts. Its top to bottom, with mastery of each position before moving on to the next. As far as coming off of the floor I have to disagree as there is more to O-lifting then starting strength…there is also reactive strength of catching a weight. This is where pulling from the floor comes into play. I am not saying that a 6’6” basketball player will ever come off of the floor, but the reason may not be what you think…its all about mechanics. The length of the legs make it impossible for a 6’6” player to start the same place as me biomechanically speaking. As for the rolling start of the football lineman that is complete crap as you are overlooking the impact forces that is being trained for with the reaction strength being trained at the higher weights being pulled from the floor. Every time a football player makes contact on the field it is a high force impact, and the only way to train the body for that is catching heavy cleans. I am not saying that hang cleans don’t have their place because they are a very important aspect of training for STARTING STRENGTH they just don’t cover reactive aspect that makes sure a player knows how to protect himself from the impact, where injuries are most likely to occur.
    You can’t throw a bike in the air and expect to be able to handle the impact of a car…lol

  17. Brian Grasso says:

    Excellent discussion, gang. Keep it going!

  18. Kevin Brochu says:

    Every posting has been on par with the way to teach a young athlete, but I have yet to see anyone list the use of dumbbells on any of the lifts. The ability of a coach to teach body position and awareness on any of the lifts is key. As Chris Blake mentioned, how many of you have had an athlete come into your facility or school and mention the he/she has been training for “x” number of years, yet their ability to simply hold or execute the lift if dangerously flawed. I have utilized all of the above methods, with varying degrees of success, on both young and more mature athletes. I have found that the use of dumbbells is safer, easier to teach and more efficient when dealing with multiple athletes. While none of my athletes are going to be transformed into the next great Olympic champion at 100k, I do not see the need to focus so much time on teaching classic Olympic lifts to young athletes. The lifts can serve a purpose in any program when done right, but how much time is involved in teaching the lifts when it can be spent going over other keys to a well design program? When done properly Olympic lifts are safe and effective but I need to address time constraints as well when dealing with athletes who are overburdened already with crazy schedules. Dumbbells to me are as effective and in my eyes safer to teach any age athlete.

    Kevin Brochu

  19. Hollister Struck says:

    Good article! It does a good job getting the wheels spinning and driving fitness pro’s and athletic development specialists to take a look at how we are training athletes and the quality of our coaching systems as they portray to each individual athlete’s learning style.
    Let’s not forget the importance of hip & core strength/strength stability gained by easy to learn/coach deadlifting methods (which will transfer to gained life skills in terms of lifting objects during daily activities, i.e. lifting a backpack from the floor when it is weighted with a few of the child’s books, etc.). I like to teach deadlift methods to encourage and develop hip/back/core strength & flexibility, prior to movement education of O-lift style exercises. Just another small yet important part of the recipe 🙂
    Keep up the positive brainstorming everyone!

  20. Keith T. Daniel says:

    I just love to read the theory of other people and what I call “STEALING ” from others….I have read these comments and it just tells me that there are different way of opening up others eyes in the way we teach…..THANK YOU ALL

  21. Coach BiGD says:

    I start them in the hang with a power catch. No squat catch until they are comfortable with overhead squatting and front squats.
    I also work dumbbells with the same movement pattern as the bar so they pull with equal force. With some athletes that is their warmup alond with RDL and plyo box jump with the contrast method.
    Some I have to work the RDL and plyo box jump into the hang/power work.
    I was taught during my USA Weightlifting cert that the hang clean was above the knee or into second pull with a squat catch. That is why I make the distinction with my athletes hang clean with squat catch. Hang/power clean is hang start and power catch.
    Good stuff!

  22. D. Speckman says:

    Good stuff from everyone. Wil, your development into one of the best youth performance coaches I know has been awesome to watch. Thanks for all the great info you put out there for us. We use a variety of progressions to put the hang clean together for our athletes but it is important as Kwame said that every person is different and that responses will vary and we as coaches have to be sensitive to that. I have fount the IYCA O-Lift Instructor Course most beneficial in my development as a coach and our athletes have benefited like crazy as a result. Thanks to all for sharing!

  23. Mike Goss says:

    I’ve purchased three of Will’s Comlete Lifting……it’s tremendous!
    I share these with motivated coaches and athletes. The “hang” movements are simpler; and I coach high, long, and triple jumpers. I feel it’s an effective way to build jumping skills in the weight room. Triple extension is a vital part of training, but it can be promoted with the kettlebell, sand bags, med balls and specific plyo’s. Will’s work is noteworthy, tremendous teacher!

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