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.
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