the joy of strength training


January 5th, 2008 at 3:39 pm

The Clean: common problems

CleanAt a recent Crossfit London session, we focussed on clean technique. Although we had all done the clean before, we were generally not very experienced in this move and variously exhibited these common problems:

  • Rounding of the lower back
  • Elbows too low
  • ‘Reverse curling’ the bar up rather than shrugging

Crossfit encourages full squat cleans, which are technically more difficult to master than the variations of hang clean or power clean (or hang power clean).

A full squat clean starts from the floor and the lifter does a deep squat to catch the bar. With the power variation, the lifter simply bends the knees to catch the bar and doesn’t go into a deep squat – the receiving position is therefore higher.

Problem 1: Rounding the lower back before sufficient squat depth has been reached

With the full squat clean, your ability to squat can be the limiting factor at first. We practiced squatting without any weight and also adjusted our stance. Some people find it easier to adopt a slightly wider stance with toes pointing out – as in the picture above.

You can also do power cleans from the hang position – just above the knee – until your squat depth improves.

Problem 2: Position of the bar across the front of the shoulders

Many people hold the bar too far down because they are afraid of the bar banging into their neck or choking them. The way to prevent this is to shrug up with your shoulders. We practiced holding the bar across the shoulders very lightly with our fingers and shrugging up and down. You can see the difference in the pictures below.

Clean shrug bottom position Clean shrug top position

If you feel that the bar is choking you, shrug your shoulders up. Also, make sure your fingers are just outside the shoulders not on top of them, otherwise they could be squashed if a heavy bar rolls back onto them.

One problem I had was in keeping my elbows as high as possible all the time. This is what keeps the bar in position across the shoulders, but I often let my elbows lower slightly, especially in the bottom position. We used front squats to practice the position of the bar across the shoulders. When you come up out of the front squat, imagine your elbows are being pulled upwards.

Problem 3: Failing to shrug the bar up

This is a very common issue when people are first learning the clean. It’s very difficult for people to get rid of the notion that if you have a heavy bar in your hands, you should pull it up with your arms. In fact, you need to shrug it up with your shoulders. The arms are simply a way of linking the bar to your body.

We practiced first with a plastic tube. We were simply jumping and shrugging from the hang position. The arms should be allowed to bend with the momentum, as if they are merely two bits of string attached to the bar.

For me, solving this problem made the biggest difference to my clean. I was simply failing to shrug anywhere near enough before!

Another useful tip is to curl the wrists slightly inward, as it helps to keep the bar close to the body.

Our clean workout

Having worked on technique, we then completed the following workout, with a choice of bars at 30 kg or 40 kg:

  • 5 full squat cleans
  • 200m-ish run (up the road and back)
  • Repeat for 15 minutes

Crossfit London is holding Olympic lifting masterclasses in January and March 2008. Well worth checking out if you want to take up or improve your Olympic lifting technique.

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