How to Clean and Catch Low Every Time
The “power clean” is a staple of modern athletic strength training programs. Unfortunately the ugly ass power clean ends up in most of those programs too.
A better way to power clean is needed to make huge gains in this lift. Just pulling on the bar and finding a way to catch it isn’t going to cut it anymore.
A better way to catch the power clean is to take a cue from Olympic lifters and learn to catch low on every rep.
“But wait…I coach athletes, not Olympic lifters.”
“I don’t want to compete in Olympic lifting.”
“I don’t have the time to teach athletes to catch low on every rep”
While those have been my concerns in the past, they no longer are. The ability to catch the bar low is now a staple in my gym, and gone are the days of ugly lifts.
“If it doesn’t look athletic”
We have a saying in our gym, that was stolen from Mike Boyle, “If it doesn’t look athletic, it probably isn’t.” We use this phrase to evaluate a lot of new movements we consider putting in the program, but also just to evaluate movement in general.
Back squats with feet extremely turned out? Doesn’t look athletic, needs to be fixed.
Overhead position with a barbell and an extreme lumbar flexion? Doesn’t look athletic, needs to be fixed.
Jumping on a high box, and landing in the lowest squat possible? Doesn’t look athletic, not to be done in my gym.
The most egregious error that I see from athletes all over, but never see in my gym anymore?
The starfish catch position. The feet wide, elbows down, knee exploding bad catch position in the clean. Completely un-athletic.
Like the nude scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall it’s not pleasant to look at, and has no place in my gym.
The wide catch position just isn’t athletic and it needs to be eliminated. It’s a perfect way to ruin what was once an awesome lift, and also a perfect way to blow out a knee. While I have seen some huge weight caught in this position, and I even have power cleaned a few lifts into this position in my darker days, this is far from optimal.
Low Catch = No more starfish
It’s no coincidence that you never see the wide catch position at the Olympics or from high level lifters in general. It isn’t effective, and it certainly isn’t efficient.
The best cleaners don’t employ this technique on any lifts, even their power cleans.
The way to eliminate the star fish is to teach your athletes how to do what the best lifters do: catch low
What Causes the Horrible Catch Position?
Before I can give you the solution we have to think about the cause first. Athletes that are catching the bar wide are doing so because they are over pulling the bar.
Athletes that are great at the clean understand this basic tenet of the lift: the pull up on the bar ends when the hips are extended. Any more pulling on the bar past hip extension leads to a bad catch position.
A good catch position is achieved by an efficient transition to pulling under the bar.
Our cue for a good transition is pull up and pull under. Immediately.
A good look at how to move under the bar can be had by looking at the final pulling position of an athlete in the clean. The athlete should have their torso pretty close to vertical, their feet flat, and their knees under the bar. In a manner similar to lifting the back end of the car, this is a strong position, and will give us a max pull in a short amount of time.
From this position there is no need to rip on the bar as high as possible, a short impulse and then a quick movement under will get the job done.
When it comes to talks about the skill of Olympic lifters, the separation point does not come at the 2nd pull (or the pull up on the bar). The separation point lies at the ability to pull under the bar.
Think about it for a second, in your local Globo gym there are probably 5 guys that can take 400 lbs and pick it up and pull it to their belly button, the height a good clean reaches (or thereabouts). How many of those same guys can clean 400 lbs?
We both know the answer to that question. Pulling under the bar, the ability to quickly change direction, to relax forcefully, then meet the bar, is the key to bigger lifts.
It not only is the key to bigger lifts for Olympic lifters, but for everyday Joe’s, and athletes.
Improving one’s ability to move under the bar is simple too. Just eliminate the ability to move the bar up too forcefully by working on power cleans from the hip, progressing to power clean from the hip + front squat, and finally a full clean from the hip.
Here is a video of one of my athletes (an Olympic lifter) hitting above their 1 RM PR from this position. Efficiency in action.
The No-time, Little Effort Solution
No you don’t have to spend months and months on the platform to learn to catch the bar low. You can make this change to your technique and for your athletes in only one day.
All you need to do is start with the power clean (or hang power clean) and front squat combo.
Athletes may fumble around with this movement for a minute and catch wide, and then bring their feet in to perform the front squat. Eventually those athletes will decide that it is less time consuming to just keep their feet where they are. Instantly you have a better catch position.
Every athlete in our gym that is learning the lifts is doing a power clean or hang power clean + front squat combo. Basketball players, football players, volleyball players, males, and females. Unless those athletes can demonstrate proficiency in the this combo at 40-50k they will not move on to higher weights, or a normal power clean.
We program the power clean + Front squat, or hang power clean + front squat in the same way that we would typical Olympic lifts. Sets of 2 or 3, with a front squat for every rep of cleans.
Now think about the environment you are creating in your gym or the habits you are creating with your lifts. When you get used to catching in the same position you front squat you are no longer limited by the height you can pull the bar. You and your athletes can now get under the bar in a safe and strong foot position!
Gone will be the wide catch position, in its place a beautiful power clean or full clean.
While full ass to grass cleans may not become the staple of your program, giving yourself/ athletes the ability, and know how, to catch the bar low will eliminate horrible catch positions from your program. The world will thank you, your body will thank you, and those in your charge will thank you
By Smitty on July 16th, 2013
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