After posting last night the finer points to the grip width for the snatch a couple of you asked for some help with the clean grip. As complex as the grip can be for the snatch, the clean grip is often more complicated as it is greatly determined by the lifter’s flexibility and range of motion.
To add to the complexity there are a lot of different opinions out there on where an athlete should grip the bar:
A.S. Medvedyev in his book on Russian Multi-Year Training simply states that “the hand-spacing for hte clean is shoulder width.” (Medvedyev, A. S. A System of Mult-Year Training in Weightlifting. Translated by Andrew Jr. Charniga. Livonia, MI: Sportivny Press, 1989. P.52)
Mark Rippetoe states, “The correct grip for most people will be about 21 inches between index fingers in a double-overhand grip… The grip is wide enough to let the elbows rotate up unimpeded into the rack position…” (Rippetoe, Mark, and Lou Kilgore. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. Edited by Stef Bradford. Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgaard Company, 2007. P.173)
Greg Everett says, “The basic starting point for hand placement is approximately half a fist-width or slightly more outside the shoulders… With this hand placement, the bar will be in contact with the athlete’s UPPER THIGH when standing in the tall position.” (Everett, Greg. Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide For Athletes and Coaches. 2nd. Catalyst Athletics LLC, 2009. P.132)
Harvey Newton furthers these ideas by reminding us that, “Where to grip the bar depends on the size and flexibility of the athlete. Like the snatch grip, the clean grip varies with the individual needs of the lifter… The clean and jerk calls for a grip a little wider than your shoulder-width… Pulling with this width grip allows the bar to contact the legs at about midthigh level when in the power position.” (Newton, Harvey. Explosive Lifting For Sports. Edited by Ed McNeely. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010. P.85)
The bottomline is that the clean grip needs to achieve a couple different purposes. Your grip needs to allow you the bar to rest on your deltoids with your elbows rotated high and at least some grip on the bar. Furthermore, the width of your grip needs to allow your hands to sit outside of your shoulders far enough that they do not touch the deltoid. Lastly, your grip has to allow the bar to sit high enough on the upper thigh in the power position that you can clean without sending the bar in a barpath away from the body.
If your grip is too narrow, and especially if you have long arms, the bar is likely to hit too low on your quads when you transition into the second pull. This horizontal application of force into the barbell will push the bar out away from your body thus making the clean harder and more inefficient. The grip must allow the bar to make contact with your upper thigh in the standing position.
(notice the grip width to allow for a perfect power position in Mike’s clean here)
If you have been “gifted” with less than ideal arm length, you are going to have to adapt accordingly. Short arms in the clean can often be a benefit as it allows you a more narrow grip, thus more rotation in the shoulder and also allows for the bar to rest higher on your hips in a tall position. However, those of you with long arms are forced to work relentlessly on flexibility in the shoulder and wrist. Longer arms force a wider grip in order for the bar to make contact with the upper quad and not the middle of the quad. If you have longer arms your best friend is going to be the ability to rotate your elbows around the bar with a much wider grip. Lifters with longer arms still need to bar to meet them as high on the quad as possible. However, this is often limited by their ability to achieve a proper rack position with a wide grip.
I wouldn’t attempt this fix for long arms… Wide Grip Clean
Often the biggest limiter for clean grip is mobility in the wrists, elbows, triceps, shoulders, and thoracic spine region. If that is your weakness here are some good mobilization tools for helping in this area.