The clean should be taught from the top down. The human mind can only focus on one cue at a time when learning new skills. I prefer to keep it simple in order for the athlete to internalize the cues quickly and remember them easily. When teaching any ground based skill it is critical to teach the base of support/stance first.
The stance can be taught several ways. Have the athlete jump up 3 times and land in a quarter squat on the third jump. Have the athlete assume their high bar squat stance. Have the athlete place their heels under the hips and externally rotate the feet out at 7-15 degrees. External rotation of the feet is important any time the athlete has load through the spine. Being able to squat with the feet straight ahead is a function of hip external rotation mobility. Squatting with the feet straight ahead with load is an excellent way to cause back strain and injury. Back to teaching the clean stance. This stance is the basic athletic stance for jumping and landing.
The knees are flexed with the kneecaps even with the toes. The torso is upright at this time. The abs are braced, the shoulder blades are retracted and the wrists are turned straight down OR the elbows are turned out. Why are these the cues and why are they important? The knees are flexed so that they are in a position to jump, but will not move/flex in the slide of the bar down the legs. The abs are braced in order to protect the lumbar spine and transfer force. The shoulder blades are retracted in order to better transfer the power from the legs and hips through the shoulders to better move the load on the bar with speed. The wrists turned down/straight OR the elbows are turned out in order to create an upright row path of the bar in order to keep the bar close to the center of mass, a much stronger position to impart force.
When the athlete understands and can execute the stance and the posture, the hang clean techniques can be introduced. The first is to hinge at the hip and execute a bend over. The body weight should stay centered on the foot with the load being full footed but NEVER “on the toes”! The body weight can be SLIGHTLY forward on the forefoot (I will grab the athlete and let them feel their weight centered on the foot, back on the heel and forward on the forefoot by having them lock their body and rocking them back and forth so they can understand how slight the change is in their center that can change the entire movement). I have them bend over, bend over and then jump. We will execute this movement several times. Then the athlete will execute an upright row, putting the “hands in the armpits” with a grip so that the hands are outside the edge of the legs. The elbows will be high and wide. This can be done with body weight, a dowel rod or a bar. Next I will have them put it together so that they will say OUT LOUD “Feet”, “Knees”, “Chest”, “Wrist” in order to set up and then they ONLY NEED TO DO 2 MOVEMENTS – ONE AT A TIME! The movements are “Bend Over” and “Jump” and the jump should be HIGH! The bar should remain close, go to the mid-chest area and the elbows should be high and wide. The jump will cause the athlete to leave the ground, but the stance upon returning to the ground should be the normal clean stance, which is also the normal squat stance.
The RackThe rack is a rack – NOT A CATCH! Many times people will “catch” the bar, and it will land on them with a thud on the shoulder, which is very uncomfortable for young athletes or very lean athletes, both of which have very little muscle mass on the upper shoulders. The key to the rack is to keep pressure on the bar at all times. The pull converts to a push as the bar passes the upright row phase into the rack onto the shoulders. This in turn allows the athlete to rack the bar at a position in which the load is absorbed at the highest level of the front squat. If the rack is smooth, the load will be absorbed by the legs and hips; with the torso being stabilized and braced for protection. When the load is heavy, the rack will be accomplished with a low front squat where if the load is light, the rack will be in a high front squat position. In other words, the load will determine the depth of the squat on the catch.
Flaws, Problems and Corrections –
Weight misplaced in the base of support – Too far forward and the athlete will have to jump to the bar, lean back on the rack or reverse curl the load up to the rack position. Too far back and the bar will hit the belt or belly on the way up or there will be no power transferred into the bar.
No Shrug – The shrug is a key component of the high pull and the last bit of force imparted to the bar on the upward path before the pull force changes to the push force of the rack.
Lazy Elbows – The elbow quite often gets lazy and the bar will begin to drift away from the center or torso, requiring the athlete to again reverse curl the bar or lean back on the rack.
Rounded upper back or lazy shoulder blade retraction – This results in a portion of the power generated in the hips and legs being lost in the upper back as the torso flexes and the taps stretch, absorbing force that should be transferred into the bar. If the flex continues down the torso into the lumbar spine, injury can occur and could be quite serious.
Soft Core – Many times a beginner will not maintain a braced core, and the body will look as if it is flexing through the torso as the lift is executed. This flex is wave like in appearance and is due to the abs not being braced. While not too dangerous in terms of injury (unless it is excessive or the load is great), the resultant lack of transfer of force will seriously limit the ability of the athlete to generate force into the bar and move the weight with speed.
Landing in a wide stance after the pull/jump – this denotes a lack of leg strength in the ability of the athlete to squat with load. This is remedied by prescribing more squatting activities.
Teaching Drills –
Slide, Slide and Shrug, Slide and Hang Clean – This drill is just like it sounds. First, slide the bar down to the hang and then up; Second, slide the bar down to the hang and then up with a shrug; Third, Slide the bar down to a hang and then clean it.
Hang Clean and Front Squat – Again, Just like is sounds. Do a normal hang clean and follow it up with a squat – or multiples of both the squat and/or the clean. If they are weak in the squat, do 1-2 Hang Cleans and 2-5 Front Squats.
Slide, Pause and Hang Clean – This is for starting strength. A normal hang clean is elastic (think rubber band/ball – elastic). Do a normal slide and then hold the hang position for up to 5 seconds before executing the hang clean. This will train the athlete to have excellent form, great back side chain strength in the hang position and good explosion out of the hang or athletic position.
Bar – the traditional implement for use in the hang clean.
Dumbbells – ok to use but will change the elbow position and foster a lazy elbow, which is a common error.
Kettlebells – a somewhat “new” implement for hang cleans and this does mimic the general hang clean pattern that a bar requires for optimal execution.
Ground based trainers – such as a bar type implement that is anchored on one end (think land mine set-up). This is ok in general, but can restrict the ability of the bar to move naturally in the “S” shape if the anchor point does not rotate in a 360 degree ROM but it does enforce good mechanics.
Summary – The hang clean is the usual starting place for learning the clean from the floor, blocks and with other implements. Once the hang clean is mastered, it is relatively easy to introduce the clean from below the knees and then the clean from the floor. The hang snatch is super easy to learn when the hang clean becomes natural as the hang snatch is really even easier to learn.
How do you handle conflict resolution in your organization?
When an athlete and an assistant strength coach have a conflict it is usually due to poor communication. Our rules are to be on time to train, work hard and communicate if you have a problem and together we will work it out. This usually covers any and all disputes that crop up from time to time. However, occasionally there is a situation that the system does not address and some type of intervention is needed. At this time I will step in and mediate the situation. Usually this will clear it up in a matter of minutes. However, if I can find no common ground between the parties, then we will take it up the chain of command to an assistant or head coach. This rarely occurs and is usually done when there is a pattern of conflict developing with this particular athlete and the strength coach and/or the weight room in general.
Having a clearly defined system of guidelines and rules explicitly communicated to frame acceptable behavior for all parties tends to negate the source of most conflicts. If and when disputes occur, people skills go a long way in resolving the conflict. Identifying and addressing the issues at the root of the conflict are paramount. Offering up possible strategies to resolve the conflict and then all parties agreeing to a solution makes conflict resolution palatable to all. There is no winner/loser, only solution centered strategies in order to refocus on the goal of training in order to prepare for the upcoming competition.
How do you indoctrinate newcomers to your philosophy and training program?
When our freshmen report to our university, we indoctrinate them to the strength and conditioning program
on the first full day of practice. We give to each freshman and post in each locker a camp tip sheet
reminding them to drink water, salt their food, use the ice tubs, see the trainers (as needed), get a massage
(if needed), nap with their feet up, drink the electrolyte drinks, eat their fruits and vegetables and void clear
at least once each day. During the orientation we warn them to never ingest a supplement without first
consulting a coach or trainer. We remind them of the consequences of testing positive for a performance
enhancing drug (one calendar year). Our rules (be on time, work hard and communicate if there is a
problem); our philosophy (train hard, eat right and rest/recover consistently); and our procedures (prevent
injury, sharpen their tools (speed, strength, power, flexibility and work capacity) and have fun) are
introduced as well.
We do not have a technique session with them at this time. About ten days into camp
we have our first day of strength training. At this time we pair two of our upper classmen with one of our
newcomers. The veteran players indoctrinate our new players to our program. Things like where the
workouts are, what the abbreviations mean and get signed out when you finish are introduced by our
veterans. This allows our 6 member coaching staff to actually teach technique as we train. Many times our
experienced players will also help with some of the basic technique instruction on many of the lifts. I feel
it is better to coach on the run as many times the frosh will only remember 10% of what they hear and 20%
of what they see in any demonstration given by the strength staff.
How do you transition from in – season to off – season training?
At the end of the season, I have two general plans, depending upon the success of the season. If we are in a bowl, then we are going to mimic a full year in a month. After the Thanksgiving break, we will have a week of off – season, a week of summer, a week of camp and a game week. Throughout the process the players usually organize voluntary 7 on 7 and team drills. The first week will focus mainly on fitness and conditioning, the second week more on strength and power. The third week is mainly football practice and in – season lifting. The fourth week is usually at the bowl site and the focus is on the experience of the bowl and preparing to win. The coaches are on the road recruiting, we have recruiting weekends, and finals are approaching so it is a very busy time for the entire organization.
If we are not involved in the post – season, then the second general template is implemented. The players will be involved in a 5 day per week general strength and fitness program designed to lay the foundation for off – season, rehab any injuries and set the tone for the Christmas break training. This is usually a time period of about 2 – 3 weeks. At the end of this training phase, the team is given a workout that involves a lot of bodyweight exercises and some interval conditioning. If a weight room is not available, then the entire program can be accomplished and the athlete can still maintain his fitness. When the athlete returns from break, he will be held accountable for his level of fitness. We accomplish this by testing twelve 110’s on 65 second turnover with a time of 19 – 17 – 15 for the big guys, the middle guys and the speed guys. There is an extra 5 seconds recovery and we only do 12 rather than 16. We also do 4 full leg circuits. This is the leg circuit designed by Vern Gambetta and it is our leg strength, power and fitness test for fall camp. It consists of 20 squats, 20 alternate lunges, 20 alternate step – ups, and 10 squat jumps. This must be executed in 90 seconds with a two minute and thirty second recovery. Only bodyweight is used.
During this time I visit with each and every coach concerning his guys and what he sees they need to improve on. This helps a lot, but not in the way most people think it would. In general, the position coaches tell me that each player either needs strength, power, fitness, body composition changes or some combination. But what I get out of these meetings is I get to hear the position coaches talk about the personality of his player as well as how, why and what he is coached. This is invaluable insight into where this player is in his career and enables me to preach his coaches sermon to him as we interact in the off – season program. This help put me on the same page as the position coach and keeps the lines of communication open.
Many performance professionals include track type drills as a part of a dynamic warm-up. Drills such as skips, butt kicks, shuffles, carioca and back pedal are a staple of many dynamic warm – up programs. But, why do we do those drills for performance athletes and performance clients? Riding a bike, jogging on a treadmill and calisthenics are all good options for raising core temperature, increasing heart rate and upping the respiration rate, which are the goal of a good warm-up.
Most performance athletes and performance clients compete or are very active in ground based endeavors such as sports or exercise classes or have hobbies and/or jobs that involve moving with speed and efficiency. Most of the drills we use in dynamic warm-up patterns are repeat opportunities for first step and get away step mechanics practice. If done with focus, technical proficiency and power, the athlete can repeatedly practice the posture, mechanics, arm drive and core stability needed in order to become a better athlete in terms of moving with efficiency.
The drills and what they are doing follow:
Skips – Single and double leg skips are repeat first step mechanics for linear movement. Knee punch action with a toe-up casted ankle are critical for proper force to be imparted into the ground which will in turn drive the body forward. If the glute is engaged on the back side as the foot makes ground contact, the body will be propelled linearly and cover ground. If not, the ground reaction forces of the foot contact will cause the body to move vertically as much as linearly. Common errors include no force into the ground (this is huge), poor casted ankle/foot drop, collapsed posture, poor arm action.
Butt Kicks – Single and double leg butt kicks are to reinforce the cyclic action of sprinting. When sprinting, the heel will almost brush the buttocks as the ankle crosses above the opposite knee. When running, the ankle will cross at the opposite knee. When jogging, the ankle will cross below the opposite knee. If the athlete has a casted ankle with the toe-up, then the butt kicks will be springy upon ground contact. Most athletes will let the ankle drop and allow the foot to “reach” for the ground as contact is made. This will add to ground contact time and is a major difference between running and sprinting. Posture should be tall with a braced core, good arm action and hips over the toes. Common errors include flat-footed ground contact, poor arm action, excessive knee lift with the butt kick and too much forward lean and/or flex at the hips.
Slide Kicks – Double Leg slide kicks are excellent for training transition from starting acceleration to absolute speed in sprinting. This occurs for most team sport athletes beginning at the 10-20 yard mark. With a toe-up casted ankle, the athlete stands tall and begins to jack hammer the foot up and down above the ankle. Quickly the amplitude of movement will increase as the foot/ankle will go up to the opposite knee and jackhammer to the ground. The athlete will begin to lean at the hips and the jackhammer force will begin to propel the athlete linearly. As the lean increases, the amount of ground covered between each step will increase as the force the athlete imparts on ground contact will propel the body forward. The jackhammer action does not change as the speed increases. Common errors include dropped foot for contact (no casted toe-up ankle), collapsed posture, obvious change of gears from acceleration to a run rather than acceleration into a sprint, poor arm action and flat–footed ground contact.
Cycle Kicks – Single and double leg cycle kicks are the most technically difficult to learn to execute and usually takes 4-6 weeks of mastering the other three linear drills before this drill is incorporated into the dynamic warm-up. Cycle kicks are a combination of the other three drills and are a mimicking of the sprint cycle action. The difference is that this action is done in warm-up and is fast in execution but does not impart the force that is used in acceleration and sprinting. Focus on tall hips, braced core, heel-up, toe-up, arm action can all be the focus of this drill which creates a slightly different exercise on each rep as the focus is changed. Common errors include uneven leg cycles, poor high ankle recovery and collapsed posture.
Lateral Drills –
Pull Shuffle – Pull shuffle is what we normally think of as a shuffle drill. The front leg is pulling the body forward. This is what is used in basketball defense as the athlete shadows an offensive player that is a comfortable distance away. Common errors include too much external rotation of the legs, over striding with the front side pull leg,
Push Shuffle – The push shuffle is much more violent and explosive as the back leg will impart great force into the ground in order to move the body laterally. Knee punch, toe-up casted ankle technical emphasis is reinforced. The knee of the push leg will be ahead of the toe in order to impart force on the push. Again, think of the basketball athlete on defense, but this time the offensive player is very close and the defender is attempting to beat the offensive player to a spot in order to redirect his movement. Common errors include too much external rotation of the legs, pulling with the front side leg rather than pushing with the back side leg and being too outside dominant (usually due to too much double leg squatting) thus being bow legged with the knee outside the foot rather than on the inside edge of the foot for the push-off.
Lateral Skip – Is a repeat action of the first step in push shuffle in order to cut off an opponent. Keeping the shoulders and chest perpendicular to the acceleration direction as the arms drive from front to back. The lateral movement occurs from the backside leg putting force into the ground. The front side leg will cover the ground in relation to the force imparted by the back leg. As in any acceleration drill the front side leg should have a knee-up/toe-up focus with the foot contacting the ground under the hips. In other words, don’t overreach or overt stride with the front side leg and attempt to pull the hips forward. Common errors are no backside knee punch, poor rhythm, over striding with the front side foot and bad arm mechanics.
Carioca – The carioca drill is an opportunity to repeat the first step mechanics for the crossover step. High knee action across to the opposite hip with the little toe up focus to keep the knee ahead of the toe for good acceleration mechanics is critical for optimal acceleration mechanics. The back side arm action must be with a 90 degree flexed elbow in a front to back action rather than crossing the mid-line in order to prevent the shoulders from rotating toward the direction of acceleration, thus creating unwanted motion during this repeat drill. The rotation should occur below the hip while the torso above the hip is relatively perpendicular to the direction of acceleration. Common errors include poor casted ankle/foot drop, low knee recovery, poor landmark placement of backside knee-punch, poor arm mechanics and collapsed posture.
Crossover Run – the Crossover run is the front side/back leg of the carioca drill repeated. It is imperative for the backside elbow to drive back and not cross the mid-line in order to prevent torso rotation. The backside knee should punch up and across the hips aiming for the front side hip. The little toe should be the focus and in a toe-up position. This allows the knee punch to be optimally in front of the foot in order to impart force back into the ground in a backward vector. The shoulders should stay perpendicularly square to the direction of acceleration. The downward knee punch and rearward elbow punch should be equally forceful in order to create maximal acceleration in reaction to the ground contact force.
Crossover Skip – The crossover skip is usually easier to learn than the crossover run for most people. This is more of a pattern drill than an acceleration drill in order for athletes to become comfortable with the rhythm of the crossover pattern. It is a drill to introduce in the progression in order to make the coordination of the crossover run easier for the athlete to internalize. The focus is on the rhythm of the drill first, followed by cueing the knee punch, arm action and finally the little toe up mechanics. Since a skip is slower than a run, it is easier for the athlete to be aware of the movements and techniques needed to optimize the pattern. Common errors include not skipping or skipping with only one leg.
Back Pedal – The back pedal is to teach stopping mechanics for change of direction. Hip, knee and ankle flexion as well as posture is critical in order to prevent the collapse and possible internal rotation that occurs all too often as athletes attempt to absorb force. Many time this poor force absorption pattern results in an ACL rupture. The key points of cueing are chest over knees, knees over toes. The feet should be forward and the arms should be driven backward forcefully at the elbow. The posture should mimic as if the athlete were doing a good morning or in other words the tall, braced core, flat back attitude should be apparent.
Backward Run – The backward run is prescribed to emphasize and create awareness of backside mechanics. Explosive elbow drive, heel – up and reach, posture and ground contact point are all similar, but much more critical to locomotion when attempting to go fast backwards. In order to execute this drill, it is much easier to start with a back pedal and as the speed increases, instruct the athlete to get tall, hammer the elbows back and get the heels up and reach. Instruct the athlete to lean in the direction of acceleration with the hips tall and great posture as top end speed is attained. Common errors include leaning away from the direction going (which results in a lot of work and very little locomotion), low heel recovery, poor arm mechanics, poor posture and externally rotated feet.
Backward Skip – the backward skip is a drill that is prescribed in order to allow the athlete to feel the heel brush off of the buttocks. Optimal posture is easier to attain, arm mechanics are slower and can be emphasized and foot contact is much easier to correct. The common error is a lack of rhythm for the movement pattern.
Backward Butt Kicks – This drill will correct a lack of heel brush off of the buttocks. Long-term joggers and bigger athletes such as offensive linemen in football will benefit greatly from this drill. The emphasis on backside heel to buttocks brush will pay dividends for these athletes as high speed, absolute sprinting will show mechanical improvement with high ankle recovery which in turn allows for stride length optimization as well as better ground force production due to the corresponding optimal knee punch.
External Rotation of the Legs – This is usually due to too much double leg squatting or leg pressing and a corresponding dominance of the outside sling or outer, lateral areas of the hips and legs which create tighter TFL, IT band and vastus lateralus causing the external rotation expressed in the lower leg and foot contact mechanics. In order to correct this the addition of single leg exercises such as Bulgarian (also known as pitcher squats), multi-direction lunges and multi-direction single leg squats are critical. Especially useful to correct this is the lateral lunge or squat and the scorpion lunge or squat. Additionally, the lateral leg musculature needs to be lengthened and/or released via stretching, massage and/or application of vibration.
Rhythm/Drill Mechanics (walk before run) – Just as in learning any new skill, it is best to execute it walking before trotting, jogging before running and running before sprinting. The addition of the skip application of the drill allows more explosive forces to be applied but at a slower tempo of movement allowing for corrections to be cued and internalized before sprinting is attempted.
Posture (Strength/awareness/age & maturity) – Posture is more complex as there are a variety of issues that could contribute to a collapsed posture. The easiest correction is just due to a lack of awareness. Creating focus via a verbal cue many times is all it takes to correct this problem. Tight hip flexor complex is also a reason for collapsed core as the front side core above the hip will flex on the hip opposite the knee punch as a reaction to the tight hip flexors on the straight leg side. Poor front side low core strength and stability will also contribute to postural collapse as the upper core attempts to assist in the lifting of the heavy lower limb during acceleration mechanics and the corresponding drills. Many times the growth spurt experienced by emerging athletes will exacerbate this problem as the rapid lever lengthening will make stability strength much more difficult to master and/or maintain in these drills. At full speed/absolute speed the athlete should be tall, chest over the hips, hips over ground contact point and be “planed out” like a boat on water. In other words, the athlete should be sprinting up on top of the ground/track/field/court for a short distance. This is not sport speed but speed development and is different than the speed that is used in sport competition.
Poor Arm Drive – This is usually due to lack of awareness and/or front side shoulder tightness. Front side anterior deltoid and pec stretching will allow for additional ROM. To create greater awareness, add a very light weight (1-2 lbs) to the hands of the athlete or place an ankle band from the webbing between the thumb and forefinger to the elbow which will not allow arm straightening during the hammer back phase of the arm drive. Arm drive should be from “cheek to cheek” or shoulder height in front with the hands and almost shoulder height in back with the elbow.
Foot Drop or Poor Casted Ankle – Have the athlete rub the toes up on the top of the shoes. Have them march in place with a casted ankle. Why is this so critical? When the foot drops and “reaches” for the ground, the ground contact time is increased and the tendons are not loaded as much as the muscles are loaded. When the mucles are loaded, the athlete is running. When the tendons are loaded, the athlete is sprinting. That is why conditioning is concerned with volume and sprinting/speed development is concerned with quality.
These drills will assist the client/athlete to improve first step and get away step quickness if done with focus, effort and intensity. Impulse into the ground, posture, mechanics and being engaged mentally will greatly increase the quality of the efforts which will increase the abilities of the client/athlete, if done with consistency.