Constant Pressure In The Clean On

A couple weeks ago I was asked by to write a blog on an error I see often in the clean for their blog.  They graciously allowed me to guest post on their site which looks really awesome and has some pretty sweet content.  Specifically check out this article on cell phone usage today.  Their bottomline thought is “Treasure it before you lose it. It’s that simple.”  Check that article here.

The article I posted is below.  It’s rather lengthy but I believe is a solid look at the bar crashing on you in the clean.

There are a multitude of common errors that have plagued the Olympic weightlifting and Crossfit communities. Improper setup at the start. Swinging the bar away from you in the turnover. Raising the hips too fast through the first pull. These technical faults occur on a regular basis and are specifically common with new lifters. However, one of the most common faults coaches see with new or beginner level lifters revolves around the necessity to be constantly applying force to the bar at any given point during the lift.

More specifically, I see a lot of lifters who lose control of the barbell in the clean when they make the transition from the top of the 2nd pull into the 3rd pull. Normally, these lifters are pretty fast to the bottom of the squat and often end up in the bottom waiting on the bar. Common sense, from someone unfamiliar with the lifts, would be to tell this lifter to slow down so they are not forced to wait on the bar. However, slowing a lifter down in the third pull will ultimately take kilos off their total as you take away one of their stronger attributes in their speed.

The problem when a bar crashes on a lifter in the bottom of the clean comes down to staying connected with the bar throughout the entire lift. In our program we have a phrase that we harp on to our intro level lifters. We consistently tell our athletes that they should always be applying pressure to the bar. Consistent bar pressure creates consistently made lifts. When lifters allow the bar to float and are not exerting pressure at all times, the force of gravity will come crashing down on their shoulders. The lift should never be “floating” or out of the lifters control.

The fix for this type of error is relatively simple. First, a proper understanding of what is happening in the transition from the second pull to the third must be established. It is relatively easy to teach a lifter to apply pressure to the bar when they are moving vertically away from the floor. They have to apply pressure to the floor with their feet to get the bar to move. Furthermore, helping a lifter understand the necessity for the bar to be close to the body is pretty simple as well. This requires horizontal pressure on the bar applied by the lat muscles. Both are pretty easy concepts to grasp. However, once the bar makes contact at the hip and continues moving vertically there is no longer a necessity to be applying pressure upward. The bar’s maximal velocity is reached the split second it leaves the hips from the power position. Thus, all the bar is doing from this point on is slowing down. From a physics standpoint that means the lifter only has a certain amount of time before gravity takes its effect on the barbell and it returns back to the floor. Therefore, the lifter should be doing all they can to get under the bar before it reaches its peak height and begins moving to the floor.

The error in the lift that typically occurs happens when lifters are moving to the squat. Instead of applying pressure to the bar by pulling down on it, the lifter simply drops to the squat. There are two errors in this mentality. First, the lifter can only move at the rate of 9.8 m/s ^2. (the speed of gravity). While this may seem fast, when you are at maximal level weights it is not fast enough. If the lifter uses the weight on the barbell to apply force downward then he can move to the squat at a much faster rate of speed than gravity. The second error in this mentality is the belief that the lifter can wait on the bar at the bottom and expect to absorb into the squat, maintain a stable midline, and recover from the squat with any sort of speed. The lifter MUST engage the bar from the time it leaves the floor to the time he drops the weight. Consistent bar pressure creates consistently made lifts.

When I am trying to help coach my athletes or trying to work on this problem myself there are three different exercises I use to help. Firstly, I try tall cleans. The beauty of this movement is that because there is minimal leg drive the lifter must engage the weight immediately and constantly throughout the lift. Secondly, I use heavy muscle cleans so the lifter remembers to keep pulling and always engage the weight even AFTER it leaves the hips. Lastly, I will use heavy cleans from the power position in order to force the lifter to think only about the finish of the second pull and engaging the weight to the bottom of the squat.

Be on the lookout for this error as it is running rampant throughout the Olympic lifting and Crossfit communities. If you struggle with this technical fault, fixing this may be the key to a 10kg PR. Take a look at the coach’s eye video below for a closer look at the error.

Turnover In The Clean Video

If you want to see the article on their site check it out here.


5 responses to “Constant Pressure In The Clean On

  1. Spencer,

    First off I want to say how much of an inspiration your faith is. How you incorporate it into every aspect of your life is a model for anyone that follows The Lord.
    My question is how this applies to the snatch. When I’m critiquing myself or friends on the snatch and we are working light weights I still generally try to catch ass to grass as opposed to riding the weight down. Is this incorrect? If the weight is light is it ok to ride the weight down slightly?

    • Hey John,

      I always believe that catching the bar at the moment you pull under it is critical to speed in the third pull and making lifts at maximal levels. My advice at light weight is two fold. Approach it like light weight in the amount of effort applied to it so that you are catching bars at around parallel without bar every floating. Second, always meet the weight where the pull under causes you to land. Don’t ever let the bar just float while you wait on it in the bottom.

  2. Hey Spencer,

    I see a lot of my athletes doing this. I guess my question is how to avoid this given you want to be explosive in that second pull. Or am I wrong that you wouldn’t apply the same hip force in the second pull because it’s so light. If not, isn’t this just a function of weight being so light that the bar travels so high? Should the athlete focus on less power from the hips since it’s so light and instead focus on speed under? Depending on how you answer above (If you want the hip power to be the same) doesn’t the athlete then have to pull the bar down and interrupt it’s natural path by pulling the bar down while he’s getting fast under it? I hope that makes sense.

    • Makes perfect sense. Response is easy. Approach 50kg like it’s 50kg and 150kg like it’s 150kg. If I cleaned 50k like it was 150k I would have all kinds of problems. Do overdo it on weights that don’t require that.

  3. Awesome. That’s what I figured and that’s what I do personally but just wanted to make sure I was queuing my athletes correctly. Thanks man!

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