Social media is definitely a double edged sword. On one hand there are the great positives that we can share information with more people faster than ever before. The downside being that we don’t always know if the information being shared is good or not. I see it in fitness all the time, a “new” or “novel” exercise gets shared on a popular social media account and it seems to spread like wild fire. Sadly, it does seem more times than not that this isn’t always the best ideas getting shared.
I can appreciate social media because it gives me an opportunity to try to share with you better ideas as we address both the good and bad with what becomes a popular idea overnight. In this case I am thinking of the split clean. What is the split clean? Basically it is when you pull a weight and catch it in a split leg position looking very much like a split squat. In order to share with you how we do this right and make it better, we need to first understand why it was used as well as where people go wrong with it today.
Why Split Movement?
While some would make you believe that Olympic lifting has been around since the beginning of time, much of what you see on tv or even at your local gym largely comes from the sport evolving in the 1950’s and 60’s. The sport went through some interesting evolutions from the early 1900’s till the mid 1900’s. You can attribute that to the sport changing specific rules, evolution of equipment, and therefore training methods. However, the goal of the sport has ALWAYS been to lift as much weight as possible.
One of the important ways weightlifters accomplish this is by getting “under” the barbell very quickly. Meaning, that the bar only has to achieve a minimal height for the lifter to get under the weight to catch it. This allows bigger loads to be used because simply the weight doesn’t have to move as far. Such a strategy has led many weightlifters to try different techniques in getting under the weight and for a period of time many use the split position to do so (this is why you see many use a split in the jerk even today). The split didn’t take as much mobility as squatting under, but many lifters find they can lift more weight with the squat version, this is why you see most competitive lifters use the split position.
I wanted to point this out because we do have to sometimes separate training for a specific sport and training for the rest of us that have much more varied fitness goals. That isn’t to say there isn’t a point in doing split cleans and lifts even if you aren’t a competitive lifter. As the great U.S. Olympic lifting coach, Jim Schimtz wrote, “The split technique is very athletic and really should be a part of all strength and conditioning programs. When I teach the USAW course, I have everyone learn the split technique after they have learned the power and squat techniques, as the courses are made up of strength coaches, personal trainers, CrossFitters, and weightlifting coaches. For most, it’s a brand new lift they really like and enjoy, and they realize its value for sports performance training.”
We use the word “athletic” or “athleticism” a lot without really giving much of a deeper explanation of what we really mean. So, a split anything does build (some could argue demonstrates) greater reactive hip/core strength, mobility, higher level stability training, and overall ability to produce and absorb high levels of force. All good things right? So, what’s my deal? What do I not like what I am seeing?
The Wrong Tool For The Exercise
Since 2005 I have been on a mission not to push equipment on people, but to help people see how the tools we use really matter. In this case, my issue doesn’t lie in the use of the split but the tools that we choose to perform it with. Specifically I am referring to the use of the kettlebell for the split clean or snatch. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE kettlebell cleans, they offer a TON of unique benefits. However, the one thing that does make them very different from many other tools we can perform cleans with is that they don’t come that high upon the body.
In most forms of cleans there is a large emphasis on total body extension which is so important in getting the weight to float high enough to receive it or get underneath it. Those familiar with kettlebells realize that we teach them differently because the weight doesn’t have to travel as high upon the body. This is why you don’t see the big elbow movement that you would see with a barbell or Ultimate Sandbag.
This typically isn’t a big deal as long as we understand the differences until we get to a drill like the split clean or snatch. Because the weight doesn’t travel as high on the body with a kettlebell clean (I’ll go over issues with snatch in a moment) when people go to split clean they TOTALLY miss creating full hip extension. Yes, the WHOLE purpose of the movement gets lost because many times people are trying to perform a new exercise and forget the purpose of the clean or snatch in the first place. In other words, the exercise actually becomes less effective.
For those of you that might be saying, “but Josh the snatch goes high on the body I can split snatch that right?” I’ve found trying to split snatch a kettlebell offers different issues than in the clean. It IS more possible but because of the rotation of the weight around the hand it does require incredibly accuracy in the movement. So, you can try it, but you better aim to nail the actual snatching of the weight as well as the full hip extension that is more important than if you split your legs or not!
So, What’s Better?
Since I began writing on the internet in 2001 (yea, I’m THAT old) I’ve never been one to point out an issue and not give a better alternative. If some want to believe this is just about using Ultimate Sandbags you will notice two things. If I DO use or recommend the Ultimate Sandbag, there will be a specific reason why as I will explain. The second is that I will show you how we can use the kettlebells SMARTER for a similar but different version of the split clean.
As everything goes in DVRT, we ask first what are we trying to accomplish and then what is the best way to teach and progress the movement. When it comes to any of the split lifts, our goal is to firstly create full hip extension and then use the split or lunge to help build those qualities I mentioned earlier. So, how do we do it?
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You can see how I’m not such a fan of half kneeling cleans or power movements either, but WHY I am not and how we actually are better off starting from the bottom of the lunge and moving upwards. Physical Therapist, Jessica Bento shows three progressions that uses the kettlebell clean and lunge smarter (these are broken down more in our Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification as well).
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What you should be noticing as well is the hardest part of these movements tends to be the deceleration back down to catch the weight in the lunge position. This is a VERY important quality to develop before moving into any type of split clean or snatch because the forces only get higher when we perform those movements and not prepping the body correctly can lead to knee or hip injuries. That is why what DVRT Master, Cory Cripe and Megan Berner of Fitness Lying Down show are important progressions and a way we keep progressing this type of power movement with lunges.
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Hopefully you are seeing that we have to be careful of just seeing something on social media and going to do it. We have to first ask ourselves “what is the goal of the exercise?” If we can’t answer that question we have to stop immediately and ask ourselves if it is a good exercise if we can’t answer why we are performing it. Then we have to ask ourselves what went into building up to that movement (the biggest mistake I see coaches make is not asking this question), and then finally what are the best tools to teach these movements. I do hope that I’ve done a good job in opening your eyes and answering these questions for you. As you see by the great work that coach Robin Paget shows below, there are purposeful, thoughtful, progressive means to teach higher level of such skills if we ask the important questions first!
These types of concepts and movements are what we break down from foundational to high level in our Online Certifications/Courses that you can find for 30% for a limited time along with our Ultimate Sandbags and Workout Programs with code “holiday2020” HERE
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