Mr. ‘Clean’ Is Not Impressed

You know those folks that complain about modern art?  They spend a few hours at The Museum of Modern Art, and then complain about ‘artists’ putting a toilet in a gallery and calling it art.  “I can do that”, they say.  Yes, but you didn’t.

Few of us are experts, but we all have opinions.  Everyone has preferred foods, preferred forms of art, and preferred ways to spend their free time.  Usually, we can appreciate other people’s enjoyment from their personal preferences, and can objectively appreciate quality art regardless of our personal preferences. This doesn’t mean that they can analyze it to the extent of a trainer professional, but they can look at it and pretty simply think, “Yea, that’s good.”  (Wine tasting is a funny case of this.)

When it comes to movement, I think that most people can watch something and figure out if it looks athletic or not.  No, not with the eye of Janda or Cook, but they can feel if something is awkward or not.  Occasionally when I don’t have a training partner or trainer with me at the gym, I’ll ask someone close by if they can give me a form check on a technical lift, or at least take a video clip so I can watch it after the fact.  I don’t need to hear “Yea, externally rotate that right femur.”  “Knees out” works perfectly fine.  While we can intuitively sense athletic movement, we squash that natural analysis of movement with powerful things like testosterone and ego.  What am I talking about?  The sad state of the clean.

I’m scared to create a formal poll of lifts that are poorly executed, but I’d predict that the clean is at the top of it.  Between the many variations that exist, I’d venture to say that the vast majority (~95%) of them are done incorrectly.  These are typically done by unsupervised high school sophmores who are preparing for varsity football, or by those who think that the clean was invented a few years ago during CrossFit training.*  It makes for some really ugly quarter-squat-reverse-curls, or complete train wrecks like you’ll see below.  Skip to the 1 minute mark:

I think it’s safe to say that regardless of exercise experience or educational background, we can come to a consensus about the athleticism of that movement.  It wasn’t fluid or graceful; it’s a display of strength, but not a display of power.  Well, not the ‘clean’ kind of power we’re looking for.

Yesterday, Anthony Mychal wrote an awesome blog post discussing what’s wrong with the way that clean is normally done.  The title is great bait, and Mychal easily explains why cleans are a great exercise, and why they suck:

Power Cleans Suck, Here’s Why

If you’re a coach who programs cleans alongside other power exercises, or if you’re an athlete who wants to incorporate cleans into your training, give the whole article a read.  I’ll excerpt a few lines that sum up the importance of clean cleans:

So if you want to quest towards an athletic power clean, here is a rundown

  • Learn how to hinge with the hips coming to a strong lockout with the glutes squeezed, especially from a RDL
  • Incorporate this into the power clean by foregoing the double knee bend and stomp
  • The feet stay planted on the ground the entire time, simply shoot the hips forward and whip the weight in the air once you hit the RDL position
  • After some practice, you can come up on your toes and do this
  •  Even then, there’s no need to stomp or reposition the feet.

The power clean has limited application for large group athletic settings. But if you’re going to use it, learn how to hinge with your hips to make it more effective and save your body wear and tear.

To see reliable evidence of what he’s talking about, try viewing some of the videos from the USA Weightlifting YouTube channel.  They include both competition and training videos, so you can see some near-perfect technique with submaximal weights, as well as really really good technique with maximal weights.  Below, you’ll see Olympic athlete Kendrick Ferris take a 199kg Clean and Jerk.  How do you think this looks:


To go along with yesterday’s post about girls getting strong too, here are some ladies from the 2010 European Championship:


You’ve seen two videos of world class athletes taking maximal sets, and it looked completely different from the first video, right?  Here’s another link to Mychal’s article so you can think about cleaning up your cleans; pretend it’s the name is intended for you to take literally!  If your clean is dirty, then don’t do it; the injury risk is just too high.  When appropriate, it’s a fantastic exercise for developing explosive extension at the ankles, knees, and hips.  The appropriateness for athletes who don’t compete in Olympic lifting competitions is debatable, but coaches will agree that when used, form is paramount to the weight moved.  As Anthony said:

“Getting stronger is different than lifting more weight.”

(*I made that up, but it’s probably true.)

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