Clean is one of the most talked about lifts in strength and conditioning. I have written numerous articles on the clean and have a whole book about it.
Hang cleans can be referred to as an easier exercise and as equally effective than a full-range of motion clean from the ground. Is it true? It depends.
My goal is for you to be armed with scientific facts so that you can make better decisions for your athletes. An athlete’s coach should be familiar with biomechanics and anatomy. These skills will enable them to discern what information they will receive from their mentors and peers. I don’t want you to think that because one of your mentors says something, it is necessarily true. This is a dangerous assumption that will lead to a decline in the quality of the industry. I don’t want my mentors to think that everything I say is gold. Louie Simmons and Coach Joe Kenn wouldn’t want their coaches to believe everything they say. This information is based on our personal experience and research. We are doing most things right, judging by the results of our athletes. But strength and conditioning have a long way to go, according to me.
Let’s get to it. Let’s first discuss why strength and conditioning coaches use cleans in their repertoire of exercises. Let’s look at the many benefits of a clean.
Power = Force x Velocity. This allows you to move moderate loads at high speeds through space.
RFD (Rate of Force Development) – This is associated with increased motor unit recruitment and rate coding (the speed at which the neuromuscular systems recruit maximal motor units). Don’t be afraid to dig deeper.
Adaptation specific to imposed demands (SAID principle)
Proprioception is the ability to sense movement in space.
These are only a few examples, but I believe I have made a strong point. You get a lot for your money with the clean. We’ll be looking at each benefit and comparing a few favorite cleans with the full-body clean. This course is designed to equip you with the information necessary to choose the right tool for your job. This is the core of the matter. Every movement is just a tool in our toolboxes. We must know the right tool for the job, just like any skilled builder or carpenter.
POWER = FORCEXVELOCITY
Let me simplify this. Force is mass x acceleration. Louie Simmons made it his life’s mission to ensure that we all understand this. Let’s examine the relationship between force & velocity. The velocity is proportional to the mass component. This means that when the mass increases, the velocity decreases and vice versa. Because acceleration is a measure of the change in velocity, it is proportional to velocity.
Athletes are usually only responsible for moving their bodyweight as fast as possible on the field of play (except when they’re throwing or strength athletes). Except for powerlifting, aerobic sports and powerlifting, Velocity is the best in all athletics. It is important to know the speed at which an athlete moves a particular weight. The clean from the ground is the best, and I’ll explain why.
In biomechanics, impulse is an equation that measures the time in which a force is applied. Let me explain. I promise to simplify this. Here’s the deal:
Impulse = Momentum
Impulse = Average Net force x Unit Time Applied, or Impulse = S. Dt
Momentum = Mass x Velocity
Thus: Average Net Force x Time Applied = Mass + Velocity
Let me now explain it in layman’s terms. You will see more velocity if you apply force for a longer time. Again, velocity is inversely related to mass. This means that velocity decreases with increasing mass. Why is this important?
You won’t get as much velocity with a hang-clean or clean from blocks as you will with a clean from floor. This gives the athlete more time to pull the bar from the floor. It also creates more momentum and velocity. You might consider doing at least a few cleans on the floor if velocity is your main goal or the block of programming.
Each athlete will generate more power on the floor if power equals force x velocity. This is important but not the only thing that I consider to be important. While the clean can be used to express power, it doesn’t necessarily mean that power will give an athlete more power on the track. Bryan Mann did some very significant studies that showed the squat is more related to power in the vertical leap and 40-yard dash. My own data tracking has shown that an increase in strength in the back squat when combined with power increases in the clean equals maximal gains on the field.
You might think that doing clean pulls is a better alternative to cleaning the floor. But not so fast! My friend Coach Wil Fleming explains his research with his weightlifting athletes in Velocity Based training for Weightlifting. The velocity of a clean pull was 15% faster than a full clean at the weight. This is usually 88-90% of an athlete’s 1RM for the clean. The clean high pull was also slower by 10%. The hand release clean pull was only 3% slower.
The brain is the problem. When there is no commitment to lift a barbell, the brain knows that deceleration will occur. Most athletes will tell that weights that feel normal will feel heavier when doing clean pulls. The same can be said for me. Clean pulls don’t have to be boring. Clean pulls are still necessary for strength development in different positions needed to complete a clean. For athletes, a clean deadlift is essential for building strength at the hips and isometric strength for the spinal extensors needed for large collisions. Do you see the theme? Understanding the application of various exercises (the tools in your toolbox) is the key to understanding it.
RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT
Before you start to cry because you can only program clean hang cleans or cleans blocks, let us discuss a principle that will likely favor your style of programming. In most athletic events, force is crucial. However, the speed at which one can apply maximum or high force is more important. While velocity is important, there’s something else. What is the fastest way for an athlete to reach top velocity? This is a look at acceleration and brings us back again to force. After I’ve confused you all, I’ll explain it in simple terms.
Rate of force development refers to the rate at which contractile elements produce force. It is affected by rate code, maximal motor unit recruitment, muscle fiber type and attachments. On average, the entire pulling phase of a clean takes about 1 second. The entire pull phase of a clean is much quicker than a clean from the blocks or hang clean. This allows athletes to work in time zones that are more relevant to their sport. You can think of the athlete’s position before a tackle, the load phase in a vertical jump, or the joint angles at the start of a sprint.
Motor unit recruitment should be practiced in the same time zone that is required in each sport. Motor units are motor neurons (nerves) and all muscle fibers it connects to. Maximal motor unit recruitment is the purpose of strength training. More motor units recruited will result in more force. Rate coding refers to the speed at which the neuromuscular systems recruits maximal motor units. This translates into maximum RFD. As the frequency of signaling increases, neuromuscular junctions (synapses), improve in this area. This is also affected by muscle fiber type, but I will discuss the next point first.
SPECIFIC ADAPTATIONS TO IMPOSED DEMANDS. (SAID PRINCIPLE).
Your body adapts to whatever demands you place on it. Fast training will cause muscle fibers to adapt to your demands. This can lead to certain muscle fibers mimicking or conforming to fast twitch fibers. You can argue for both the full clean or the hang clean. Full cleans allow for faster velocity and recruit fast twitch fibres. Over time, this can lead to adaptation of hybrid type fibers to better mimic the fast-twitch fibers. This topic is covered in Andy Galpin’s 55 Minute Physiology.
Overspeed training is valid for sprints and jumps. Hang cleans and cleans with the blocks work better to increase force development in specific time zones and to reduce angular displacements at the joints (hips/knees/ankles). The counter movement makes the hang clean more specific for vertical leaps, while the clean from blocks is more specific for the joint angles during sprint starts.
The nerves that are located in the joints, muscles and tendons, called proprioceptors, give the brain feedback on the position of the tendon, muscle and joint and their rate of change. This basically gives the brain information about where the body is in space at any particular moment. This will enable the athlete to move more efficiently through space if the body is able to do this better. This is why weightlifters can do almost anything with their bodies. You’ve probably seen my athletes perform muscle ups, backflips and walked on their hands if you’ve ever met them. While it is possible to argue that a clean requires more movement, which makes the proprioceptors more effective, I believe both the clean from the blocks and the hang clean are fine for improving this neural pathway.
This is a quality that should not be overlooked. The athlete must reach maximum range of motion at the ankles, hips, and knees in order to be in the bottom position of a clean. Because synovial fluid is the only way that the joints get nourishment, this range of motion is crucial for joint health. The end ranges of motion are where synovial fluid is released, so the health joint must be able move throughout the range.
Sprinting requires that the recovery leg can fully flex at their knees to enable a shorter moment inertia and allow for maximum angular velocity at each hip joint. You will notice the heel of any sprinter in action during the recovery phase. This is why I recommend that athletes include full range motion cleans and squats during their training, even though quarter squats or power cleans may be more precise.
It is. It depends. This is why absolutes are so offensive to me. The two most important traits that distinguish the best coaches from the rest are assessment and application. You young men should have a huge arsenal of tools. All of you should have tools to assess athletes and help you coach. This article should have provided some science that can be used to assist in this application.