When I entered college I had the goal of becoming a University or Pro Strength & Conditioning Coach. I didn’t know a heck a lot about the field, but the idea of getting paid to train athletes seemed like a pretty sweet job. Eventually I would intern at my college’s Strength & Conditioning as well as a few other places and discovered it just wasn’t a job for me. However, it did expose me to so many different training techniques and methods. For example, weightlifting in the use of the power clean, snatch, and other Olympic lift variations were pretty standard for me. When I went into private training I found that to NOT be the case at all!
I wanted to bring athletic based training to general fitness, but at the time that was an easy way to get others to talk badly about you. There were times I had clients even tell me (this was very early on in my career) that other trainers would follow them into the locker rooms of the gym to tell them I was going to hurt them if they trained the way I was showing them. They were always very confused because my clients would regularly tell me they never felt better. Eventually they thought any situation like that was pretty funny. However, that isn’t what today’s post is about.
When I started teaching more athletic lifts, many clients struggled. There was the fact that we had to teach proper movement patterns needed to succeed in the exercises and then many had never moved fast with weight and really hadn’t moved fast in any capacity in their life in quite some time. So, when it came to teaching movements like a power clean, I searched for ways that would make the lift much easier to learn and give them an opportunity to build so many layers off of the movement.
What Is A Power Clean?
A clean was initially defined in the late 1800’s as an exercise where the weight was lifted from the ground to the shoulders in one “clean” motion. That idea of clean was important because there were other lifts like a continental clean where the weight would be lifted about to the belly and then slowly moved up to the shoulders. That lift has largely fallen out of favor because it doesn’t benefit most programs as the purpose was really just to bring up heavier weights to the shoulder that couldn’t be done in one clean motion.
The continental clean is not something I would teach to 99.9% of people.
A power clean is defined as catching the weight in the shoulders in a quarter squat position or less (many times in kettlebells the catch isn’t with a quarter squat because the weight doesn’t travel as high up the body). This lift is usually used because the standard full clean is too complex and many aspects aren’t necessarily needed for most lifters. What’s the point of using them though?
The power clean is a great way to teach how to develop power. When you go lift a pack of water out of the low part of your grocery cart and put it into your trunk, that is really power, not so much a deadlift. If you bend down to pick up your kid and lift them to your shoulder, that is power, not a deadlift (your kid would be stuck pretty low;). Power is not only great at helping everyday activities, but power helps with injury resilience as well as really drives up the metabolic system as well integrates the whole body!
Great, so what did I want to show you with the power clean progressions we use in DVRT that most overlook? Each power clean teaches something different.
Bear Hug Power Clean
Admittedly I kinda go quickly over this power clean in our DVRT live courses because it is relatively easy to teach and have success. That doesn’t make it simple or not effective. This commonly underused power clean is a great way to teach more practical lifting off of the ground because most things are not perfectly balanced and stable. It is also a very safe way to teach how to make a weight feel weightless in the power we generate from the hips, but just direct with the upper body.
The Bear Hug power clean gives us feedback upon the quality of our movement because if we aren’t aligned well, if we don’t use our hips, if we don’t lock in our upper body, the lift becomes a BAD wrestling match very quickly. It is also a great way to get people to use more load because load often is a feedback tool that people need to understand how to express power into their feet and NOT their backs. Lastly, compared to drills like a kettlebell swing, the fact the weight is closer to our body in this power clean makes it a lower risk to one’s low back.
Shouldering Power Clean
You saw in the above video that I discuss Shouldering as well as a power clean. When I first got into sandbags, Shouldering was generally one of the few consistently used exercises I could find recommended. Due to the fact that most sandbags weren’t designed for fitness until we came out with the Ultimate Sandbag in 2005, so doing many of the DVRT power cleans you see us use today weren’t really possible. Shouldering was the way most people would power clean a sandbag.
Like many old time things, the use of the lift was more out of necessity than seeing the bigger value out of the movement. Compared to a Bear Hug power clean, or the other power clean movements you are used to seeing with the handles, Shouldering is the MOST powerful and could be on par with the Snatch. How so when the Snatch travels to locked out overhead? Well, Shouldering when done to its full capacity, starts lower to the ground so you could easily make an argument that the actual distance the weight travels on Shouldering and the Snatch are REALLY close!
While Shouldering is rather simple, especially if we go through the Bear Hug power clean first (the Bear Hug clean teaches us a strong foundation for Shouldering), however, there are still techniques that people need to be aware of to be successful.
-If the weight is too low to the ground to get in proper position, elevate the weight.
-The arms should be locked to start and as they bend during the movement, it is only done to direct the weight to the shoulder NOT lift the weight.
-The weight should start where the lifter is 50% over the weight.
-There should be no shifting or rotation of the hips both during the movement of the Shouldering power clean, or in holding gate weight upon the shoulder. What makes Shouldering a powerful and unique power clean is the diagonal movement of the weight up the body and the need to resist rotation and lateral forces both lifting the Ultimate Sandbag up and holding it upon the weight.
-Bring the weight back down, you want to cup the weight with both arms. Reverse the hip hinge where the weight stays close to the body and is lower by the hips not thrown down (spinal rotation and flexion under load is a great way to hurt your low back).
You do want to consider in both the Bear Hug and Shouldering power clean, the size and instability of Ultimate Sandbag you use matters. If the USB is very loose, then the weight can separate and you get this annoying “whack a mole” type of experience. Typically you want to use more filled Ultimate Sandbags to give you shape and help you have better movement of the load. Even then weight may separate during the lift so you may have to redistribute the weight.
That is why I like using such movements for lower reps (like 5-6) and can be used as part of a complex (as DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows below) or with short rest intervals and repeated efforts. Knowing thing why’s gives us better how’s! Try adding these power movements to your next workouts!
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