A technical breakdown of the Clean

Strength and conditioning coaches use the Olympic lifts and their variations to improve the

speed , power, RFD (rate of force development) and intramuscular coordination of their athletes. They are so effective because they train the triple extension movements often required in sports such as sprinting, jumping and throwing. Weightlifters have achieved some of the highest absolute and relative peak power outputs ever reported in research. The clean is commonly used as a power exercise because it is both effective and relatively quick to learn compared to the full clean and jerk or snatch. The exact position of each stage will vary depending on the anatomical proportions or technical style of each lifter so please keep this in mind when using the guide below.


Start position


  • Barbell should be seen over the balls of the feet, feet flat on the floor and pointing outward no more than 45 degrees

  • Hook grip with hands at clean width / shoulder width apart

  • Hips higher than knee, knees pushed slightly outward inside of the arms, the angle of the knee joint is between 80-86 degree

  • Shoulders above hip, in line with or slightly in front of the bar

  • Back flat

  • Chest up

  • Arms straight at the elbow

  • Head up looking straight ahead

First pull


  • The position ends at the knee and looks similar to that of the bent over row exercise.

  • Focus on making sure that the hips and shoulders rise at the same time

  • Keeping the movement under control as you push with the legs

  • Back angle still maintained and observably flat

  • Arms still straight with barbell kept close to knee

  • Knees are still slightly bent

  • Shoulders still over or just in front of the bar

  • Keep the feet flat on the floor

Second pull: Moving through the power position to triple extension

Power position:


  • The power position is your “perfect jumping position”, this can be found by trying out a few vertical jumps and feeling and observing how much you squat down before you leap.

  • Approximately quarter squat position

  • Weight balanced evenly throughout feet

  • Hips meet the bar without crashing into it and reducing vertical force. The movement is not unlike that of a romanian deadlift. Barbell kept close to thigh

  • Shoulders above the barbell with chest out

Triple extension:


  • The actual “jump”, finishing with full extension of hip, knees and ankles.

  • Explosive leg drive onto the toes

  • Arms should remain relaxed but straight until the highest point of extension

  • Shoulders behind hips, actively shrugging upward










Catch


  • Rapidly dropping under the barbell whilst keeping it close to the body

  • Elbows rotating rapidly around the barbell as quick as possible

  • Feet jumped out to the side into a front squat position with hips below the knee

  • Barbell caught on the shoulders, secured into position by high elbows

  • Chest up maintaining a braced, tight, upright torso

  • Head still up and looking forward


Recovery


  • Either bouncing out of or stand up from the bottom catch position as fast as possible

  • The weight of the barbell resting on the shoulders and secured by the arms as a result of the elbows being kept high

  • Driving upwards with legs, keeping the knees out on the way up

  • Maintain an upright position by keeping the chest up

  • Core should be kept tight / engaged, do not exhale!

Finish position

  • Standing position that can also be starting position for the jerk

  • Knees now locked out

  • Chest and elbows still up

  • The feet moved back into hip width position

  • Exhale at the top




The method I would use to teach the clean is most similar to that of how it is taught by Eleiko education, by learning the power position and how to achieve front rack position first, and then adding stages until lifting from the floor. Catalyst athletics have a huge library of fantastic resources that I would also recommend using as they often use lifters of different proportions to highlight differences in positioning. The actual phase names, number of stages and number of technical points for this lift are different depending on the resource that you look at. Some parts of the lift are referred to as pulls by one organisation and as stages by another. The models produced by British weightlifting and USA weightlifting are slightly different but both very useful as a reference and reasonably straightforward to follow. I met a lecturer once from the UKSCA who claimed that they had over 240 points in their technical model for the clean and jerk but I'm guessing that they were probably counting things like using a barbell, not running around, being alive or something secret that you can only find out if you write them a big cheque and do another one of their workshops.

Ryan Fearn, Weightlifting Coach at Canterbury Strength


References

  • Tamas Feher (2019) The Weightlifting Book

  • Eleiko education (2018) Eleiko Strength Coach Level 1 International Qualification Handbook

  • Gregg Everett (2016) Olympic Weightlifting: A complete guide for athletes & coaches

  • John Lear (1991) Skilful Weightlifting. A&C Black London

  • USA weightlifting (2014) Advanced Weightlifting & Sports Performance Coach Manual

  • British Weightlifting (2017) Olympic Weightlifting Technique Handbook

  • British military fitness (2015) Level 4 Award in Strength and Conditioning

  • Haff & Triplett (2016) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. NSCA. Human Kinetics