Power Clean Technique Mistake #1: Missing too many lifts
Have you ever gone into a session aiming to 'max out'? Basically you put some weight on, lift, put some more weight on and miss, and then take a little bit of weight off before juuuuuust making that lift.
Sound odd? It should.
Unfortunately the sad part is that this is the mode that a lot of athletes get into when training. They think that just a basic overload in the lift is a good thing.
In truth, the power clean is a really complex pattern and overload isn’t always rewarded; technique is rewarded. If you train knowing you are going to miss lifts, you are…drumroll here…going to miss lifts.
Something you will learn as you continue to lift is that missed lifts ARE a part of training, but they are NOT a consistent part of training. You’ll learn far more by completing lifts than by missing lifts.
Power Clean Technique Mistake #2: Starting from the floor when you can’t make it there in good position.
"Is a power clean a power clean if you don’t start from the floor"?
This is a mistake that we see all too often and with serious consequences. Athletes are told and made to start from the floor with the power clean when in truth they have no ability to get down to the start position and maintain any semblance of structural integrity.
The true start position for the clean is uncomfortable, to say the least. It requires hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and tremendous trunk stability. Most athletes are lacking in at least one of these areas.
Lacking the mobility and stability to actually achieve these positions means that an athlete will default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground. Typically, this means the movement will be achieved through lumbar flexion, and then the cycle of back injuries occur.
Fortunately, especially in young athletes, working to improve mobility in each of these areas can help tremendously in getting lifters in the right position.
In the meantime, you could try beginning the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position. If you find that you are unable to get to the floor without sacrificing a neutral spine, a couple of low blocks or bumper plates could help you get into the appropriate position without inducing lumbar flexion.
Power Clean Technique Mistake #3: No consistency in the start position
In any movement – from a golf swing to a bench press – we preach consistency. The pattern that we create time and again is the one to which we will default when the going gets tough.
The power clean is no different, but if you walk into most weight rooms and training facilities, you see something entirely different.
Roll the bar around for a minute, hop up and down, roll the bar around some more and LIFT!!!
“But wait, I do three rolls every time, so my pattern is the same.”
The approach to the power clean should be the same every time you approach the bar.
If you're struggling to lift consistently or wondering why you miss a lift every couple of goes, why not give thought to a consistent set up pattern...you may find that a pattern helps you retain consistency in your approach to the bar.
Power Clean Technique Mistake #4: Pulling the bar too fast off the ground.
Lots of weight on the bar? Only one way to pull it: HARD.
The first pull off the ground is all about maintaining consistent position and gaining momentum into the second (more aggressive pull). Your power and speed generally accelerates the closer the bar gets to your hips - so you start off slower from the ground and end up pulling harder and faster the further the bar travels from the ground.
For most beginning lifters. pulling too fast off the ground is probably the most common mistake. Speed is king in the Olympic lifts and us coaches tend to preach it from day one.
There is only one issue though. A bar that is moving too fast will inhibit an athlete’s ability to make an aggressive second pull.
Think of it this way: If a car were driving past you at 90 miles per hour and you were asked to push on the bumper to make it go faster, you would have very little time to improve upon the speed of the car and therefore have no effect on its acceleration.
Imagine the same car moving past you at 5 miles per hour. If you were to push on the bumper of this car, you could greatly improve its acceleration and velocity.
The same is true with the Olympic lifts. Pulling too fast before reaching the mid-thigh will make your second pull much less effective.
So next time you're practicing your cleans - try to identify the different speed of the bar in each of the pulls. It's important to note that when we say, 'don't pull too fast' we don't mean pull slow. Your first pull needs to be slower RELATIVE to your second pull. If you're a powerful athlete your first pull is going to be extremely fast, but it should still be slower than your more explosive second pull.
Power Clean Technique Mistake #5: Pulling around the knees
This is another really common problem among novice lifters.
The bar trajectory off the floor should be BACKWARDS. Struggling with this is pretty easy to do because the overall “feel” of the power clean is straight up.
The bar must always start in front of the center of gravity (on the floor away from the hips), and the first pull should be used to align the bar with the center of gravity. Aligning the bar even more to the front of the center of gravity is a common problem that leads to a lot of missed lifts and poor catch positions.
If the knees do not go back on the first pull, the athlete will be misaligned forward of the toes in the above the knee position and not be able to put the full power of hip extension into the lift.
Wait...WHUT? I hear you saying. Yeah, confusing! Luckily this video demonstrates it pretty well.
So how do you improve on your knees moving backwards rather than having the bar move around them? Clean pulls from the ground. Add a band and you'll have even more tension to deal with that will also be a great way to reinforce a tight back, lats and core. Go on, give 'em a go!
Power Clean Technique Mistake #6: Not finishing the Second Pull
Pretty early on, some athlete realise that the lower they can go to catch the bar, the greater likelihood they will have in being successful in catching the lift.
Not finishing the second pull (the fast pull) from the mid-thigh upwards means that the athlete did not reach full hip extension and did not close the gap between their body and the bar.
Not reaching full extension with the hips is a big no-no because it is the primary reason that athletes do Olympic lifts in the first place. Explosively pulling on the bar to hip extension in the point right?
The Olympic lift happens fast, and as mere humans we can miss things like this. Assuming you don’t have Superman vision, the easiest way to spot this problem is watch for jumping forward in the catch. A complete hip extension will result in the athlete catching the bar in the same position on the platform or slightly behind the starting position. Jumping forward is the red flag for an incomplete pull. Still not sure if you're guilty of skipping full hip extension? Film yourself!
Power Clean Technique Mistake #7: Catching the bar like a starfish
The starfish is a magnificent creature, but it likes to spread its appendages all over the place, and that has no place in the power clean. And, we all know that we have seen a starfish in the weight room before.
We talk and talk about the force production that is such a valuable part of Olympic lifts, but equally valuable is the force absorption that must occur at the moment of the catch.
When an athlete catches like a starfish they are putting themselves in a position that will lead to injury. If this pattern is the reaction to absorbing a stress on the body, then I really fear the moment when they come down from a maximal effort jump in competition.
So, do yourself a favour and don’t allow any starfish appearances in the weight room. How? Lower your weight and refocus on your drop. Banded drop drills are a great way to practice this.