by Charles Coster
The most specialized training must be given the Clean & Jerk because it is the heaviest, the most complicated and most difficult lift of all. It is comprised of two distinct parts and takes last, when the lifter’s strength and energy have nearly passed their peak. Therefore, all the little details of style, speed and timing become very important when the Clean & Jerk is attempted. It is these oft-forgotten details of training that I shall try to help you with in this short article, for if you slip-up on just one of them when handling a heavy weight, the result is failure.
There are four factors that must be noted and corrected in the performance of the Clean & Jerk, and all four are concerned with the initial phase of the lift – the Clean. They are:
1.) Inability of the legs to go into the split or squat with the sufficient speed because of the lack of style-and-position training.
2.) Hips and knees that haven’t a free range of movement so that when you try to go into a low split or squat with a very heavy weight your torso doesn’t lower fast enough. This can cause the “lock-in” action of arms and elbows to be too low as the bar reaches the shoulders. Consequently it bounces off and falls to the floor because the faulty action of legs and hips makes a fast arm-action impossible.
3.) When a heavy weight is being cleaned the bar must land either in front of or behind the sternum bone. But in either case – to successfully hold a heavy weight at the chest – your elbows must flash underneath the bar (and to the front) so that the weight becomes tightly locked to your shoulders as you make leg-recovery movement, and prepare for the overhead jerk.
4.) Complete coordination of your knees, thighs, hips, torso, arms and shoulder muscles can be brought about only as a result of patient training, and when you’ve finished all normal routine training cleans, the “hang” style technique which I shall describe will put the finishing touch to all the work you’ve previously done.
Now here’s some suggestions on how you go about ironing out such difficulties:
After making your heaviest regular cleans, lessen the weight by about 30 pounds. Then lift it up until you are in the upright position. Now lower the bar to knee height and try cleaning it from there. Make two reps if you can without placing the weight on the floor.
When you do this you’ll find that you have to concentrate on the arm-pull and the elbow-whip, and that your full cleans will become faster, more coordinated, and the bar will “settle in” more better at the shoulders.
Now lessen the weight on the bar by another 20-30 pounds for another variation of hang-style cleaning. This time you lower the bar to just about 8 or 9 inches above your knees and make your hang cleans from there. Now you haven’t got so much pull velocity this time, and that means that your knee, hip, shoulder and elbow action must be more perfect as your try to make 3 or 4 reps high hang cleans.
Another thing you will notice in the performance of this variation of the hang clean is the great amount of mental concentration that you must use as you make each repetition neatly and successfully.
When you lifted the old way, the bar may have banged against your chest several inches below the sternum, not it almost touches your throat as you give every rep all the speed, timing and energy you have. And it’s so easy to swivel your elbows underneath – and forward – for a guaranteed, sure-fire clean.
The ultimate in “hang” training methods is the Dead Hang style of cleaning. This means that you lessen the weight on the bar to a poundage you can start reasonable comfort. Then you lift the bar from the platform until you are standing completely upright with the bar hanging lightly against your upper thighs.
Because your body is already upright, all pulling action must come from your arms, plus a lightning-like leg split or squat as you try by every means in your power to rip the weight upward and get it firmly locked against the upper chest.
Don’t give in to the temptation to “dip” when you make rep cleans this way. The term “dead hang” means just that . . . Dead Hang. You train yourself to pull-up from an absolute dead hang start, and with no cheating.
Now there’s nothing very new about this kind of training. It’s something borrowed from the Egyptians long ago. Their training methods are quite remarkable. They merely concentrated on terrific speed plus the mastery of these small but important details just discussed . . . details that other lifting nations neglected.
American and Russian lifters know that the power-pull is tremendously important – they lead the world in this aspect of the lift. But the Egyptians realized that no matter how powerful the upward pull, the whole effort would be useless unless the lifter could guarantee to hold the weight securely at the shoulders when in the deep position.
Very few Egyptian lifters ever lost control of a clean after the bar had arrived at the shoulders because the lifter’s arms would flash under the bar and fix it there so quickly and strongly.
They used the same techniques just described here to accomplish this. To them the great danger point was in the changing over from a pull-up movement to a supporting position when the lifter’s legs squatted or spread fore-and-aft. They have an amusing but quite logical philosophy which helped them in overcoming this difficulty in the lift.
Since most lifters make the common error of going all-out at every workout, the Egyptians created another plan. They reasoned: the clean and jerk is the heaviest lift, and our climate is one of the hottest in the world so let’s work on the clean first, while we are strongest and most energetic.
The snatch will feel lighter than usual after handling much heavier weights and this is another advantage. By the time we have finished doing all the clean exercises, the muscles of the arms and shoulders will have already had a considerable amount of exercise and this will be sufficient to stop the pressing muscles from deteriorating until we get ready to work on that lift.
With this thought in mind Egyptian lifters would warm up with light cleans, go on to something heavier and heavier, until they were getting near their limit. After making one or two heavy cleans, however, their training schedule for the clean is not finished by any means.
They stop to examine any special little fault details that may have occurred, and they immediately start to cure them by lowering the weight on the bar by 15-20 pounds at a time. Never finish your training routine with a heavy weight! This is a maxim they follow faithfully.
Heavy cleans often force the lifter into a faulty position, and faulty technical positions must be made perfect by using lighter poundages in the various hang positions.
A heavy clean may force you into a lop-sided position. It may cause you to lean backward. It may force you to lean forward. It may cause the bar to hit the chest too low. Your elbows may not whip up underneath the bar with sufficient speed and accuracy.
Any one or all of these faults will cause failure when you’re handling more weight than you’ve ever tried before. The important thing to do is to arrange your training sessions – along the lines suggested here – so that you cure these weaknesses well in advance of them becoming habitual. Hang cleans are on of the best fault-curing methods ever devised.