The clean is fundamentally very similar to the snatch. In the snatch the weight is held directly over head at the end of the movement, and this is not the case with the clean. In the clean the weight is not lifted over head; it does not exceed the height of the shoulders. The other main difference is that the grip width distance for the clean is much narrower compared to the snatch grip distance, directly under the shoulders. Otherwise the basic set up and movement from the ground to the upper body is basically the same. As is the case for the snatch, the clean can also be a power or a squat clean.
Establish your clean width grip first. Obtain a grip on an empty barbell (no added weight) and stand with it so that it lays across your thighs. Your knuckles should be facing the floor. Then, keeping your grip on bar, perform a reverse curl in order to bring the bar to lie across your chest, and rest it on your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointing straight ahead of you. In this position, your hands should be just outside of your shoulders. Stick your thumbs out to touch your shoulder. The tip of your thumb should just barely touch your shoulder. Adjust your hand distance until this is the case. Notice where your hands are on the barbell. This is your clean grip width.
The Set Up
Start with the weight on the ground and start with a light weight if you are new to this movement. The set up is important to do correctly in order to establish safe a proper movement throughout the lift. Safety and accuracy start with a solid set up.
Approaching the bar: It’s important to establish a routine for approaching the barbell. Every time you approach the barbell you should approach it in a similar manner. Here is a sequence of events that can be used for approaching the barbell for the snatch.
1) Walk up to barbell and place the bridge of your shoes (the last laces nearest your toes) directly under the bar. When you do this, that bridge of your shoes should be hidden from your view when you look straight down.
2) Feet should be hips distance apart so that your heels are directly underneath your hips. Toes should be facing forward, or if you are a little taller than most, your feet can be slightly turned out.
3) Bend down and establish a grip on the barbell using the predetermined grip width.
4) Knees should be bent, with shins rather straight.
5) Hips should be slightly above your knees. When you do this, your hamstrings and glutes should feel tight and engaged.
6) Shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar. Too far forward is not good, and behind the bar is also not good.
7) Arms should be straight and somewhat loose. They are not pulling on the bar to lift it from the ground, so keep them straight yet loose.
8) Abs should be tight to support your midsection.
9) Back should be tight and lats should be engaged pulling your shoulders back and down away from your ears.
10) Eyes should be looking either straight forward or slightly forward and down.
**The last three points, 8, 9, and 10, are the most important part of the set up. This can also be cued as having a “flat back” or “neutral spine”. These cues help you set up a safe spine position, and this should be maintained throughout the entire movement. Not at any point throughout the movement is it acceptable to disengage your abs or your upper back. Doing so may lead to short or long term injury. If you find that you are disengaging these areas and your back is rounding as you pull or that its over extending as you catch, then lower the weight and practice keeping those muscle groups engage so that your back is protected.
This movement occurs in what are called three pulls that all happen consecutively and quickly to be one full movement moving the weight from the ground to catch it over head.
First Pull: The first pull indicates the movement that gets the bar from the ground to just over your knees. To do this, you must first establish your set up position with a flat back position. Then while maintaining that flat back position, push down through your heels by engaging the quads and glutes. You should feel the bar leaving the ground. The only joint that should be changing position is your knees, which should slightly straighten. Your butt and your chest should be rising at the same time, meaning that the angle of your back should not change. Your hips should not rise before your chest. For this pull, your lats should be tightly engaged, pulling the barbell close to your body as you rise. The barbell should reach the top of your knees. This is the end of the first pull.
Second Pull: The second pull starts with the barbell from the top of the knees to the hips. At the start of this pull, your shoulders should be slightly in front of the barbell, or directly above, and your back should be flat as it was when you started. Your knees should be slightly bent with the barbell just above the knee caps. The lats are engaged to pull the barbell close to your body. It should be close to your body if not touching it. Move the barbell up your thigh towards your hips by pivoting at the hips. Ensure that you maintain a tight midsection and keep the chest up. Your arms should be kept long and loose. Do not straighten the knees at this time. If your knees were a little too straight at the beginning of the pull so that you could get the barbell past your knees, they might even re-bend during at the beginning of this pull in order to get to a good power position for the third pull. Once your back is fully upright and the shoulders are directly over the bar the pull has ended.
Third Pull: The third pull starts in the power position and ends with the barbell across the shoulders and chest in the receiving position. The power position is the barbell resting below your hip crease, back and chest are upright, shoulders directly over the bar, knees slightly bent. From the power position, the lifter squeezes the glutes tightly to open the hips fully while firing the quads to extend the knees straight. This movement is much like a jump and should propel the lifter and the barbell upwards. The lifter’s feet may leave the ground completely or just slightly roll the weight to the toes. Once the hips and knees are full extended, the shoulders should shrug upwards to continue the movement of the barbell upwards. Only now, and not at any previous time, the arms should start to bend, sending the elbows out to the sides, pulling on the barbell. As the lifter reaches the top of their jump the barbell should just start to become weightless. Before the barbell begins to descend, the lifter should feel themselves begin to descend. Bend the knees and whip the elbows around the bar so that when the barbell descends, it will land across the chest and shoulders. When you land your feet may have shifter to a wider stance. You should land with the weight in the heels, knees slightly bent, and the barbell across the chest. This is the end of the third pull.
From here in order to make this movement a squat clean, the lifter should descended into a full squat while holding the barbell across the chest and shoulders. The hips will descend below the knees in order to make this a full squat clean. Without this movement, the lift would be considered a power clean.
The last thing the lifter needs to do is to stand up fully before dropping the bar. Make sure that the hips, knees, and shoulders are all aligned to finish the movement before the weight is dropped. This is the clean.
Imagine you are standing up against a wall and you are not able to move side to side. You only have the option to move your body up and down by bending your knees. Now imagine that someone threw a Frisbee, and it is coming towards your face at a fast pace. How would you get your head low enough to dodge the Frisbee by only vertical movement? You would have to drop into a position with your knees bent, feet wide, and possibly even with butt low to the ground. This is the same kind of movement use for the landing position in the third pull. You have very few seconds to move from a fully extended position at the top of a jump to a receiving position with weight evenly distributed on your feet so that you can catch the weight.