Monday, October 27, 2008

Charles Staley - Learning To Clean Can Be Accomplished In One Lifetime!

I am a big fan of functional weight training for health, fitness, and fat loss. One of the classic lifts, and that many people think is too difficult, in the Olympic clean. It's a tough one to learn, but in this article, strength coach Charles Staley offers most of what anyone needs to know to do this lift properly.

As always, start light and get the form down before going heavier. Often, though Staley doesn't mention it here, it's easier to learn this lift if you start with the hang clean then progress to the full power clean. [Hang clean video below the article.]

Learning To Clean Can Be Accomplished In One Lifetime!

By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems

It's unfortunate that so many coaches make the process of learning the Olympic lifts seem more difficult than a manned mission to Mars. In point of fact, developing safe and efficient technique in these lifts isn't much harder than learning to bench, squat, or deadlift, which most people seem to have no issues with.

Now of course, developing the technique necessary to compete on the International stage does take years, but the same can be said for powerlifting, a sport that Olympic-lifting coaches love to demean as primitive and pedantic. Just because a sport looks simple doesn't mean it is. And conversely, just because a sport looks complex or sophisticated doesn't mean it's unattainable for the average person willing to put in the time and effort.

Here's two cases in point: Justin Negrete and James Fitzjohn.

Justin's entire experience with resistance training spans just one year, and his experience with Olympic lifts was gleaned during two stays at Bed & Barbell- a 5-day visit in July '08, and a 4-day visit just last week, where he completed two workouts. So in total, Justin has had a total of about 3 workouts with us where we worked the clean. With that in mind, check out how nice his cleans are in this video:

My second example is James Fitzjohn from England. Prior to working with us here at Bed & Barbell, he had virtually no experience with Olympic lifts, other than toying around a handful of times. As of this writing, James has visited us here 4-5 times, and last week he posted a lifetime Personal Record of 100kg's (220 pounds). Check out the video and tell me that cleans are beyond your reach

Both of these lifters display the elements of sound technical cleaning, namely:

  • The bar starts against your shins and stays tight against the front of your legs all the way up to the "rack" position on your shoulders.

  • As the bar ascends upward, your knees push backwards, which positions your shoulders in front of the bar at the instant it reaches knee height. This allows for efficient full-body extension powered by the posterior chain.

  • Your arms stay long and straight until your body reaches full extension (meaning a vertical body line, up on the toes, big shrug.

  • Once you've reached full extension, you allow your elbows to bend so that your arms won't impede the upward motion of the bar. I emphasize the word "allow" to point out that the elbows flex passively to get out of the way of the bar, as opposed to actively to assist with lifting the bar. The arms attach you to the bar - nothing more.

  • The bar is caught on the shoulders with high elbows. This provides a shelf for the bar on the deltoids. Catching with low elbows tends to make the bar land on your collar bones (which hurts). If you have trouble with the shelf, experiment with grip width and make sure you protract (push forward) your shoulders- protracting your shoulders is a lot like pulling our a drawer… it's like pulling out your shelf for the bar.

  • There is a distinct "tempo" to a successful clean- it starts slowly, and gradually builds to full speed once the bar gets past your knees. Think of it like this: from the floor to your knees, the goal is to "get into position:" meaning, push the knees back and get your shoulders out in front of the bar. This is the "power position." Make sure you get here each and every rep. From the knees to the top of the pull, think explode. Once you reach full extension, you're "done." Now all that's left to do is to catch the bar on your shoulders.

And that's it! Are there finer points I haven't covered yet? Sure. But the point is, just get started. Because cleans are fun, so no need to wait until you've mastered it, cause that'll never happen.

Enjoy and discuss- maybe Justin and James will chime in with their own experiences.

About The Author

His colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results. His counter-intuitive approach and self-effacing demeanor have lead to appearances on NBC’s The TODAY Show and The CBS Early Show.

Currently, Charles competes in Olympic-style weightlifting on the master’s circuit, with a 3-year goal of qualifying for the 2009 Master’s World Championships.

Hang Clean:

No comments: