Archive for “clean” Tag

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 https://iyca.org/front-squat-progression & https://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 is 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


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


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


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


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


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 https://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


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


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


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.

Top 4 Exercises to Improve the Power Clean

In this article Coach Tobias Jacobi discusses the top 4 exercises used to improve the power clean.

The power clean is one of the most popular exercises used to improve sports performance.  The ability to externally load the triple extension of the knee, hip, and ankle is one of the main reasons the power clean is so popular.  Another reason is the coordination required to properly perform the exercise,

Improve the power clean

which leads itself to being a movement that assists in athletic development.  In my time as strength & conditioning coach at both the high school and collegiate levels, I have noticed a trend that athletes who perform the power clean the best often see great carry-over onto the playing field.

The technical aspect of the exercise must be stressed, taught, and progressed properly in an age-appropriate manner.  In our system, we teach 7th graders the hang clean over a 34-week program, 8th grader perform the power clean by the end of our 34th week, and our high school student-athletes go through a 9-week progression program.  In this article, we will discuss some of the exercises we use to help improve the power clean performance of our athletes.  The front squat, hang squat clean, overhead squat, and KB swing are all exercises that we use to help increase our performance of the power clean.

Front Squat

In my opinion, the best assistance exercise to improve the power clean is the front squat.  We recently make a change in our program when we switched our primary squat variation from the box squat to the front squat.  Making this change has already lead to significant increases in our athlete’s ability to perform the power clean.  Because it helps mimic the catch of the power clean, we place great emphasis on the rack position during the front squat.  Doing this helps athletes learn the proper position for catching the barbell at the bottom of the power clean.

Just like any exercise, we see common issues in the front squat that must be addressed.  The first issue a coach will run into is the position of the barbell in the rack position.  The bar should be resting on the natural “shelf” created by getting into the “rack position” free weight squat to improve the power cleanwhere the barbell will be placed on the deltoids near the upper clavicle.  To address this, our teaching progression includes the “free weight squat,” something I stole from Iowa’s Football Strength & Conditioning Coach, Chris Doyle.  The free weight squat is basically a front squat with the arms pointed straight ahead instead of gripping the bar.  This teaches athletes the proper barbell placement when performing the front squat.

Another issue is the hand placement during the exercise.  Because of our teaching progressions and attention to detail, we have had tremendous success using the “rack position” for the front squat.  Wrist mobility and flexibility work is included in our programs starting in the 7th grade, which has given our athletes the mobility necessary to use this position.  As a college coach, I dealt with many athletes who lacked the mobility to get into the rack position, so I often had to adjust their hand placement in the front squat.   We would often hold onto wrist straps that were strapped to the barbell. For other athletes, we would have them only perform the free weight squat, and in some of the worst cases, we would have athletes cross their arms.  I believe the carryover from the front squat to the power clean is severely diminished when you use a different grip then the rack position, so this needs to be emphasized if the goal is to improve the power clean.  Here is a properly performed front squat:

Hang Squat Clean

In my opinion, the 2nd best assistance exercise to improve the power clean is the hang squat clean.  When performing this exercise, it is important to make sure the athlete is being explosive by initiating the exercise with a jump.  A common mistake is to perform the exercise by simply dropping under the barbell instead of moving the bar upward.  While this seems to accomplish the same end result, it defeats the purpose of the exercise, which is to generate power.  The other portion of the lift that a coach must pay special attention to is catching the barbell at the bottom of the squat.  Doing this helps improve the lifters ability to catch the barbell with heavy loads.  With this exercise, you must start with lighter weights and slowly progress to heavier loads.  Once this exercise is mastered, athletes will see a significant improvement in their ability to perform the power clean.

Again, when implementing the hang squat clean, we introduce it as part of our power clean progression, so our kids will actually perform this variation before they perform the full power clean.  We have seen tremendous success using this format and it allows for the usage of multiple exercises throughout the duration of an athletes training career in our program.  Performing the movement fluidly and not achieving proper depth on the catch are two common issues coaches will see when implementing the hang squat clean.  Both issues are fixable when coached properly over time.

The fluidity of the movement is very important to the proper execution of the exercise and takes some time for athletes to understand.  Fear also prevents some athletes from catching the barbell down in the full squat position.  That is one of the reasons that we use this in our teaching progressions, so kids understand it’s not about load, it is about proper technique.  Once they understand this, they typically begin to perform the exercise properly and feel successful.  In some cases, I have had to regress athletes to a hang clean to front squat combination exercise to get the movement patterns to slowly work together.

The other issue a coach may see is the athlete not being able to achieve the full squat position when they catch the barbell.  Each situation is different.  The issue could be lack of hip flexibility, lack of ankle flexibility, or again just fear of getting under the barbell.  Kids with larger bodies also have a tendency to lock the hips when catching the barbell.  This is usually a technical motor pattern a coach must clean up or may stem from fear, where the athlete will have to develop confidence with lighter loads.  If it is a flexibility issue for the hips, the overhead squat is my favorite exercise to address the problem.  There are plenty of exercises that can be used for this, so pick what works best for your situation.  If it is and ankle mobility problem, we address that by using slant boards and band stretches to help develop the needed range of motion.

Here is a properly performed hang squat clean:

Overhead Squat

My 3rd favorite exercise to help improve the power clean is the overhead squat.  This exercise is typically associated with performing the snatch, however in my experience it is also great for building a solid power clean.  The biggest carry over from the overhead squat to the power clean is that it teaches the full range of motion when they catch the barbell in the bottom of the power clean.  Another benefit that is added from the overhead squat is the teaching of balance and weight distribution.  This is a very popular exercise for Olympic Weightlifters to use when training to improve their lifts.

When performing the overhead squat one of the most commons things a coach will see is the toes turning outward.  While there may be reasons for some kids to turn their toes out, we try to have our kids keep their feet as straight as possible when performing this exercise.  From my experience, tight ankles usually create this issue.  Again, we implement slant boards and band stretches to help improve range of motion for the ankle.

Another issue a coach will often see when prescribing the overhead squat is that some kids may have tight hips and cannot get to depth because of this.  Once we know the hips are the issue, we utilize a series of stretches to help improve mobility.  A combination of static stretching, foam rolling, and band stretching are used to help improve range of motion.  With both issues, it will take time and consistency to see results as these are not quick fixes for athletes.  However, addressing these issues usually helps many areas, so it’s worth the time and energy.

Kettlebell Swings

The last exercise we will discuss to improve the power clean is the kettlebell (KB) swing.  There are many ways to perform the KB swing and for our purposes we perform it keeping the KB as close to the body as possible and focusing on hip involvement when executing the lift.  The initial movement of the KB swing is the crucial hinge of the hips backward before violently extending the hips forward.  We want to “snap” the hips forward, and the athlete should feel this snap when performed properly.  The bell should swing up to shoulder level, while keeping the arms straight.  A common mistake is the bending of the elbows which engages the upper body.  This is something we want to avoid.  The bending of the elbows also takes emphasis away from the hips.  We typically use the double arm swing, but you can also utilize a single arm version of the exercise.  When performing the single arm exercise the one additional coaching cue is that we turn the thumb backwards when the bell goes in between the legs.  The snap of the hips and minimal arm use is the exact same as the double arm version of the KB Swing.

The ability to produce substantial amounts of force into the ground and express it externally is the reason I use the power clean so extensively.  I believe that improving power output helps lead athletes to success on the playing field.  I’ve seen this power transfer to the playing field with many athletes including Michale Spicer, Bryce Cardin, and Jack Williams.  Michale was a defensive end who played for me when I was at Western Carolina University.  He had the biggest power clean I have ever seen in person, which was 425lbs.  Spicer also played professional football for 8 years in the NFL, AFL, and UFL.  Bryce Cardin played for me while at Strong Rock Christian School.  Cardin, who was an undersized offensive lineman, posted a 320lbs power clean while in high school and earned 1st Team All-Region honors as a senior because of play on the field.  Finally, Jack Williams was a defensive back who I coached at Kent State University.  Jack was the owner of a 343lbs power clean and was an All-Conference defensive back along with being a 4th round pick of the Denver Broncos.  He also spent time with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Rush, and Las Vegas Locomotives as a defensive back.

While their success obviously wasn’t exclusively the result of performing the power clean, I have seen many athletes improve the power clean which has led to improved performance on the field.

The power clean is an integral part of our training program and of many strength & conditioning programs, and these four exercises will help you coach and improve the power clean in your program.  Using assistance exercises to help increase an athlete’s ability to perform the exercise is critical in the development of the exercise itself.  The front squat, hang squat clean, overhead squat, and kettlebell swing are all exercises that help in the improvement of an athlete’s ability to perform the exercise safely, efficiently, and effectively.  Utilize these exercises to help improve the power clean and watch your athletes numbers skyrocket.


Tobias JacobiTobias  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.


Learn more about power development and strength & conditioning in the IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification featuring the Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook.

3 Movements For Young Athletes


Preparing Young Athletes


young athletes weight training


By Wil Fleming


Can you recall walking into a weightroom for the first time?


I still can, it was my high school weightroom and I was maybe 14 years old. Men, four years older than me were lifting much more than I could imagine, grunting, cursing, and straining their way to be better at their sport. I was told what the workout was and went to it.


I remember that first workout. Three sets of 10 on the bench press, back squat, and incline bench press, and five sets of five on the power clean. I remember that my squats were three inches too high (no one back squats well the first day), my power cleans looked like reverse curls, and my bench press was 15 pounds too heavy for my strength levels.


This happens all the time, young athletes are thrown into programs about which they know nothing, for which they are completely unprepared, and from which they are likely to get injured.


It doesn’t have to be that way though.


The squat, the clean, and the bench press are the staples of programs for high school athletes in their school. There are three exercises that they can be taught beforehand that can set them up for ultimate success.


3 Exercises that every young athlete should be taught


Goblet Squat
We’ve all seen the picture of the baby in the perfect squat position. You know which one that I am talking about. The neutral spine and neck, the hips below the knees, the feet flat on the ground. So we all know that humans can squat…at some point. So at what point did people lose the ability to squat well? I can’t tell you for sure but typically it is before they hit the weightroom for the first time.


The first key that makes the goblet squat the best tool for re-teaching athletes is the un-weighted goblet squat or prayer squat. Have the athlete take a prayer type position with hands together and elbows down squat to the bottom. At their lowest point let their elbows push their knees out . This is the first lesson that the Goblet squat can teach us. We must create space to squat to. We do not need to bend over to squat, because you will run out of room. Squatting must happen between the legs with a vertical torso.


Move on to using the dumbbell or kettlebell and try the same thing. Squeeze the top of the dumbbell or kettlebell this time and see that your lats are turned on and because of this your entire torso is straighter. This is the second lesson of goblet squatting that other squats do not teach: The torso is just as actively a part of the squat as the lower body.


KB Swing
We all know that I love the Olympic lifts but before I even get to teach athletes to Olympic lift the swing is very often my first chance to teach explosive movement. The benefit of the swing is that it is also one of the first times that I get to teach the athlete to hip hinge.


Before getting to the swing begin by teaching the hip hinge pattern. The easiest way to do so is to grasp the kettlebell in a handcuffed position behind your back. This handcuffed position will start to teach the shoulders back, superhero chest position that will be important in the swing and in the Olympic lifts. The bell will be slightly below the glutes at this point. The athlete should unlock their knees and drive their glutes into the bell . There will be a tactile sense when this happens correctly. If the athlete gets into a back bend pattern the bell will remain below their glutes and make contact with their hamstrings throughout the movment. Actually moving the hips backwards in space will bring the bell up higher and in contact with the glutes through the movement.


Do this movement slowly at first and then teach them to forcefully drive their hips to stand up. You have begun to teach the athlete to swing, and given them a hip hinge pattern to base much of their movement on.


Next teach the swing and the snap that comes along with it. The swing is an excellent first explosive exercise to teach because it does not reward poor positioning. A relaxed core will lead to the athlete being pulled forward on their toes. The swing teaches athletes to make “something” move with their hip hinge and hip extension rather than with their arms, which will come in handy in the Olympic lifts later on.


The big 3 at the high school level are squat, power clean and bench press so why aren’t we using this space for a push up? Quite simply many young athletes are not ready for the push up. For this reason we choose to teach directed stability in the plank to prepare the athlete for the push up.


Most athletes that we encounter for the first time lack total body stability. Trying to place them in positions that require strength before they have stability will only build on top of deficiency.


The goal of the plank should be to find stability throughout the body. Have the athletes lock the lats low, and forcefully contract the glutes and the quads. The core will be locked in without many cues at that point.


With these three movements athletes will develop important patterns that can assist them in learning to do more advanced or more heavily emphasized lifts in the high school weightroom. Equipping athletes with these patterns can lead to fewer injuries and more success for the young athletes we coach down the road.