One of the more complex aspects of the clean is the finish of the second pull. The uses of the shrug, the angle of the back, and the placement of the bar among many others create some debate around the weightlifting community. Recently I have seen a couple of my lifters struggle with body placement and opening the hips at the top of the second pull. You can see in the picture above the difference and an open hip and a close hip. The open hip on the left displays appropriate back angle at the finish and ultimately is a good example of explosive power the top of the second pull. The closed hip on the right is a great example of this lifter leaving some power output on the table and not finishing his pull well. I corrected Rudy after the lift on the right and asked for a more explosive finish at the top. The result is the picture on the left.
One of the most important aspects of the Olympic lifts is the jump. In sports, the jump is the measure of athleticism and is often indication of potential power output. That’s why the highest vertical leaps tend be the most powerful athletes. In the snatch and clean, an explosive triple extension at the top of the second pull is essential for maximum bar speed and power output. Regardless of your belief on the necessity of triple extension, it cannot be argued that triple extension creates more bar speed. In study after study they have measured the bar speed of those who achieve triple extension and those two neglect to achieve that position and the bar speed is far greater in those with an extended hip, ankle, and knee.
For the clean it is important that one focuses on extending the hip. Obviously the ankle is not going to extend as much in the clean as it will with the snatch purely based on the amount of weight on the barbell. Simply put, heavyweight prevents height of extension. The heavier the barbell the less extended the ankle is able to get.
Often times lifters who are not finishing the pull on their clean attribute their lack of finish to the shrug. While this may be true, often times the lack of shrug is a symptom of a closed hip. Many lifters just simply don’t have time to shrug because they didn’t give themselves enough time to open their hip. Since the shrug is more effectively used to pull the lifter down in the third pull, the open hip is most important to bar speed in the second pull.
When practicing cleans or clean pulls be sure to focus on this element. Back angle matters but you should not over rotate your back and send your hips horizontally into the bar. Furthermore, it is also important that you rotate just enough to allow your hips to get to full extension. Proper back angle is going to differ based on the levers and height of the lifter but a perfectly vertical back is always going to limit hip extension. This is clearly evident in the picture of Rudy at the top and the picture of the Chinese lifter below. You must open the hips to achieve maximum power output and ultimately allow for the most amount of weight in the clean. However, be sure not to over rotate the shoulders behind the bar as this causes an adverse effect sending the bar away from your body. Many weightlifting coaches would consider an explosive and extended second pull the icing on the cake to a good lift. Be sure your explosive at the top to ensure you are not preventing power output. Ice that cake!