Category Archives: power clean

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Olympic Weightlifting

The Lazy Man's Guide

The Lazy Man’s Guide
People like the bare minimum. Instinctively we want to know what’s the least we 

can do to get a result.  Yes there are some that would say “if one ibuprofen is good, then 10 must be better” but those are the same people that end up with liver problems.  It could be laziness, but it’s more than likely intelligence.
Training is no different, we should strive for the minimum effective dose, when delivering it to our athletes or to ourselves. Becoming great at a skill like Olympic weightlifting is a different beast, but for most that is not an issue until after we have tried out the minimum effective dose.
This is the bare minimum Olympic weightlifting program you should be doing to be a good Olympic lifter.

Combos to start

Start here. Use combos to get used to real Olympic weightlifting. Combos ease the transition to the full lift.
For the clean use a power clean + front squat and a jerk (power or split depending on your comfort). Get used to pulling under the bar and catching at a lower height to move to the full clean.
For the snatch do a similar movement, power snatch + overhead squat. Start pulling under the bar and eliminating the pause before going into an overhead squat.

The Real Thing (or a variation)

To be effective at the Olympic lifts you have to use the real movement. Even if you have every intention of power cleaning for the rest of your life, take some time to get good at catching in the deep squat position.
Once you are comfortable at the real movement, choose a variation that is the right one for you, or your athletes. This means one that will get your athletes the greatest benefit, or yield the biggest returns for yourself.
For most field sport athletes: use the hang power clean
For sprinters in track: use the power clean
For tall athletes: Use a dead start on the blocks
For times where hypertrophy is needed: Use the full movement to grow some massive quads.
I recommend some time spent doing the full movement because the full movement is the purest expression of technique. You can’t do the full movement while catching the bar in the starfish position, you can’t do the full movement without great mobility.
These technical details will then carry over to whatever variation you choose for your main movement.

LOTS of squatting

A wise man once said “squatting helps everything.” Since I am referring to this man as wise, lets go ahead and assume that I agree with him.
It’s true. If you want to be better at the Olympic lifts squatting is the life blood of champions.
The crazy thing is, even if you aren’t doing the full lifts (floor start, A2G catch), squatting still helps. One of my elite pole vaulter’s does the hang clean exclusively but she was missing all of her lifts at the receiving position. Slightly forward catch and dumping the weight anytime she got heavy.
The solution was simple she had to squat more. After adding 20k to her front squat, and with no technical changes to her clean, she made every clean she attempted.
I do have some bad news for you. You have to be able to squat deep for their to be carry over. Power lifting squats just don’t work for Olympic lifting improvement. Olympic lifting squats need to be front squats or high bar, narrow stance back squats.
Like these (this is Clarence Kennedy a European Jr. lifter, he’s good)

Some pulls

Plenty of people argue against pulls as part of the training program. The typical objection is that they teach people to extend up too much rather than move under the bar (I am in favor of them, they are my plateau busters).
Pulls shouldn’t make up all of your program, but including them periodically will go a long way to making your O lifts improve.
Remember the snatch grip deadlift and clean grip deadlift are pulls as well, just approach the lift like you are moving the bar from the ground for an O lift and not a normal deadlift (Like this).

The Lazy Olympic Weightlifting Program

The bare minimum Olympic weightlifting program could look as simple as what is below.
Two movements per day.
This is designed to be something that you could do while also doing all the curls, bench press, and leg presses you want.
Week 1: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Snatch + OH Squat 4 (1+1)x3
Front Squat 4 4
Week 1: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Clean + Front Squat+Jerk 4 (1+1+1)x3
Clean Deadlift 4 4
Week 2: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Snatch + OH Squat 5 (1+1)x2
Back Squat 5 4
Week 2: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Clean + Front Squat + Jerk 5 (1+1+1)x2
Snatch Pull (or from deficit) 5 3
Week 3: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Snatch 4 3
Front Squat 4 3
Week 3: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Clean and Jerk 4 3+2 (1+1 style)
Back Squat 4 3
Week 4: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Snatch 5 2
Snatch Deadlift (or from Deficit) 5 3
Week 4: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Clean and Jerk 4 2+1 (1+1 style)
Front Squat 4 2
*On combos (including clean and jerk) the first number is for the first movement, the second number is for the second movement.
**Loading should be done with the greatest amount of weight that one can handle for each prescribed set.
***This program can be repeated, replacing the combos to start the training program with full movements or your chosen variation


Getting better with the Olympic lifts does not mean that one has to spend hours upon hours on the platform (becoming GREAT does). Rather, focused attention to the craft and the movements that assist the craft the most.

Top 10 Exercises to Achieve an Athletic Build

An athletic build is desired by many, it is similar to that of a bodybuilder but they are not the same. While a bodybuilder is built for size and strength an athletes body is built for power, speed, quickness, explosiveness and agility. Typically the body of a bodybuilder is more bulky, sometimes VERY bulky. The body of an an athlete is usually more slight. Then there is a grey area where some athletes look like bodybuilders. If you want an athletic build you need to train like an athlete does. These are the top 10 exercises athletes do to give you an athletic build.

1) Power Cleans

Power cleans and other types of cleans are a mainstay in most athletic programs. Cleans are a total body exercise that use  your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, deltoids, traps, and forearms, as well as the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement. Cleans develop power and explosiveness essential to an athlete. If an athlete could only do one exercise this would probably be it and if you can only do one exercise to achieve an athletic build this should be it as well.
power clean athletic build

2) Squats

Squats are the king of the lower body exercises. Any athlete who needs power in his lower body is doing squats. Don’t be one of those people with a built upper body and chicken legs. Squats  target a number of different muscle groups all over the body: the core muscles including the abdominals and lower back, the glutes, and the thigh muscles. Hit the squats hard and hit them often.
Squats for athletic build

3) Bench Press

If the squats are king of the lower body the bench press is the king of the upper body. Athletes that need upper body power use this as a mainstay of their training. The bench works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the abs are used to help generate power and stability. Whether you do it with a barbell or dumbbells the bench press is a must.
Bench press for athletic build

4) Sprints

Sprints are another biggie in an athletes training, athletes not only want power and explosiveness but as the old saying goes “speed kills!”  Speed can be a huge asset to to many athletes, whether it is going deep on a  passing route, a fast break in basketball, or stealing second base in baseball, having speed is essential. Not only does sprinting build speed but doing sprints in interval training will burn fat like crazy which we talked about in this article. If you haven’t noticed pretty much all sprinters have athletic build.
Athletic buildsprinter athletic build

5) Core Training

Athletes need to have a strong core and I am sure you are looking to have a six pack with your athletic build so you will need to do core training. Hanging leg raises, planks (both front and side) and crunches will get your core tight and strong.
Athletic build

6) Chin ups

Chin ups are common exercise for many athletes as part of their training to improve pulling movements, they will also help you get that nice  V-shape we all love.
chin up athletic exercisechin up crossfit athletic

7) Shoulder Press

Strong shoulders are a must in many sports for pushing movements. Shoulder presses not only work the deltoids but the triceps, lats and traps as well,  they are also a must for an athletic build.
Shoulder Press

8) Rows

Rows build strength for pulling movements useful in wrestling, football and other sports. They work primarily the lats and traps as well as the biceps and shoulders. Doing rows add thickness to the back muscles.
athlete barbell row

9) Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench is used for athletes to strengthen pushing movements, unlike the bench press the close grip bench press focuses on the triceps as the primary muscle rather than the chest.
Close Grip Bench Athlete Build

10) Lunges

Lunges are widely used to build strength in the quads, glutes and hips. They will also help you get a nice round butt we all like.
walking lunge athletic build

Honorable mention- Plyometrics

Plyometrics are very popular with athletes to build explosiveness, quickness and agility. They involve many different jumps and other movements. The most common type of plyometrics you see a conventional gym is usually box jumps. Use caution when doing these as they can lead to injury if you are not in good shape or do them incorrectly.

box jump plyos athletic
There you have the top 10 exercises you need to get you an athletic body. Notice all the exercises on the list are compound movements that use multiple muscles at the same time.  Athletes generally do not do isolated movements like bicep curls or calf raises as part of their every day training, you can feel free to mix in movements like that if you desire however.
Ryan Douglas

A Power Clean Primer For Beginners

A Power Clean Primer For BeginnersThis article is an encapsulation of a teaching progression that I developed over the course of 3 years while teaching the “Olympic lifts” to over 65 Crossfit facilities in the US and Canada.
It’s designed for people who are new to the Olympic lifts, and/or for those who do have some experience but still find themselves struggling.
With that out of the way, the goal of the following sequence of drills is rapid competence. Not mastery, not perfection, but competence.
How rapid? One session. Honestly, I’m not very patient, and I assume you aren’t either. So my goal here is to get you up and running, doing decent power cleans in the very first session, so that you have a chance to taste the fun and unique satisfaction of this lift.
And trust me, it really is fun. Once you get that initial taste, my bet is that you’ll then do the hard work it takes to go from competence to mastery, which, admittedly, takes a lot longer.
Since my approach is all about expedience, please excuse my choice to omit specific recommendations about breathing, grip, stance, and the “double knee bend” (whatever that is). You can worry about those details later, and/or we can hash them out in the LiveSpill.
Remember, we’re after rapid competence here – like speed-reading, my job here is to help you get the gist of the story very quickly. After that, should you so choose, you can go back with an eye for more detail.

Let’s Get Started

The following series of 8 drills is designed to be learned in the order presented. But before we get to the first drill, a quick word about the weights you should be using for each drill.
I obviously can’t recommend specific weights, since all of you will have different strength levels. The key for each drill is that you want to select a weight heavy enough to get the proprioceptive feedback you need to facilitate learning, but not so heavy that you’re forced to do “whatever it takes” to complete the drill. If you’re not sure, err on the side of going too light, at least at the beginning.
Most people can successfully work their way through all 8 drills in a single session, while others may require a few sessions to digest the skills. Further, the earlier drills can usually be ditched very quickly – within a few weeks in most cases.
Wherever you happen to fall on the skill continuum, what’s most important is that you learn these drills in the order they appear below, and don’t be afraid to drop back a level or two if necessary.

The 8 Progressions

Drill #1: Learning The Shelf Position

The “shelf” refers to the position the bar ends up in on your shoulders at the completion of a power clean. If you’re not familiar and comfortable with this position, your pull will be inhibited. So in this series of progressions, we start at “Point A” and only later will we tackle “Point B.” I want you to be very comfortable with the destination before you go any further.

As you watch this video of me, you might notice some asymmetry – I have restricted flexion in my left elbow, which puts my elbows in different positions on the catch. That’s okay. The main thing is that you have a pain-free, comfortable, stable position for the bar on your deltoids –  your collarbones.
Typically, most lifters will need to catch the bar with high elbows to achieve this position. Go ahead and test it for yourself: first shelve the bar with high elbows, noticing where the bar sits. Then, slowly lower your elbows – at some point, you’ll feel the bar contact your collarbones, and at the same time, you’ll notice (especially if you’re using significant weight) the bar starting to slip off of its perch. When this happens, obviously your elbows are too low.
Be forewarned that many people will experience a significant stretch on their wrists as they practice the shelf position. Usually this fades over time, but sometimes it never does. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, taping your wrists and/or modifying the width of your grip can help a lot. Another very helpful trick is to protract your shoulders (push your elbows forward) as you receive the bar. Doing so creates a “shelf” for the bar to rest on.
Finally, keep in mind, during an actual clean, the bar only needs to be there for a moment. After that, you can drop it.
One last point on this drill: at this stage anyway, don’t be concerned about having a full handgrip around the bar as it lands on your shoulders, In truth, you’re better off allowing your hands to open up at this point (like mine are in the video). In the power clean, the hands become dormant once the pull has been completed (more on this later).
Okay, on to the next drill…

Drill #2: Clean Pull From Above The Knees

(By the way, even if you had trouble with the shelf, you can still move on to this next drill, since learning it doesn’t depend on your ability to properly rack the bar on your shoulders.)
This drill is perhaps the most pivotal of the bunch. If you can shelve the bar properly, and if you can do this drill, you’re capable of doing a great clean. It’s as simple as that. Watch this video first – I’ll meet you on the backside:

As you just saw, this drill very much resembles what some people call a “Romanian Deadlift,” or a stiff-leg deadlift. Keeping the bar against your thighs at all times, simply sit back, allowing the bar to slide down your legs, and then, once the bar approaches your kneecaps, reverse the motion, acceleratively “jump-shrugging” the bar.
There are three main points I need to make about this drill.
First, as you sit back, get your shoulders out  the bar as it approaches your knees,  directly over top of it. In other words, the main body action as you lower the bar to your knees is hip flexion, not knee flexion (although it’s natural and appropriate for the knees to “unlock.”)
Second, it’s not really a shrug. Yes, the shoulders elevate, but it’s a passive elevation, not active – they elevate because your straight arms are being pushed up by the bar’s upward momentum, which causes the shoulders to rise.
Third, the bar must become weightless for a split second at the top of your pull. This is one of the most significant differences between cleans and any other lift you’ve probably done before.
In fact, you’ll notice that in the video, I have metal 5-pound plates on the bar. The only reason they’re there is to provide me with auditory feedback – if you’ve done the pull properly, you’ll hear that distinctive “ka-chink” sound on each rep. If you don’t hear it, keep practicing until you do.
Before we go on to the next drill, watch this quick demonstration that I learned from coach Mike Burgener. It’s something that all beginners to the clean should be shown before they start practicing the lift. The first “rep” simulates the energetics of a deadlift, and the second “rep” simulates what happens during a clean (i.e., the bar becomes weightless).

Drill #3: Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Above The Knees

Once you’ve got a consistent, relaxed clean pull going for you, the next step is to integrate it with an actual power clean. Do two clean pulls from above the knee, and on each rep, notice how the bar “wants” to travel up to your shoulders, but for now at least, you’re not letting it.
On the third rep, do exactly the same thing, but this time simply allow the bar to coast up to your shoulders, and then shelve the bar once it’s arrived.

The idea here is that you use the two clean pulls as a rehearsal to “groove” your power clean technique. You should understand that the pull is the active phase of the clean, and everything after the pull is the passive phase.
Here’s me performing a clean with no arm contribution after the pull just to get the point across:

Drill #4: Clean Lift-Off From Floor

At this point it’s time to graduate to starting your drills from the floor, which is more difficult than the above the knees position because you’ve got to navigate around your knees with the bar.
The first step is to learn how to start the pull in a hip-dominant manner, which is demonstrated in the video below. While this movement will look similar to a partial deadlift, the thing to notice is that the angle of my back (relative to the floor) stays constant as the bar moves from the starting position to knee height.

Most novices, however, do something different: they raise the shoulders faster than the hips, which leaves the knees flexed, which in turn reduces the power you’d otherwise have in your posterior chain.
Here’s a drill to help you understand and master the idea of a hip dominant pull. Using an easy weight, do 6 reps, where the odd-numbered reps are “incorrect” (knee dominant) and the even-numbered reps are “correct” (hip dominant). Here’s what that looks like:

There are three main ways to tell if you’re doing this drill correctly. First, on the “correct” reps, you’ll feel a lot of tension accumulate in your hamstrings. Second, you’ll arrive at a position where your shoulders are , not over top of the barbell as it reaches the bottom of your kneecaps. And finally, as the barbell reaches knee level, it’ll want to drift forward, away from your legs, requiring you to pull it back to yourself.
On the “incorrect” reps, you won’t feel much hamstring tension, and as the bar reaches your knees, your shoulders will be directly on top of the bar, not in front of it. Once this drill feels comfortable, move on to Drill #5.

Drill #5: Clean Lift-Off/Clean Pull Complex From Floor

Just like we did earlier, we’re now going to use the clean pull to groove your technique for the clean. The only difference is that now we’re starting from the floor as opposed to above the knees.
The only “new” technical element to absorb here is tempo – most novices will tend to quickly rip the bar right from the floor, which hurts your efficiency in a number of ways. The better approach is to pull the bar slowly until it reaches your kneecaps, and  increase the speed.

Think of it like a golf swing – club speed is important, but only at the point where it contacts the ball. Good golfers use the entire swing path to accumulate speed, and good lifters do the same thing with the bar.
Think of the tempo of a simple baseball throw: it starts slow, almost lazily slow, but then accelerates and finally snaps at the end. That’s a good representation of proper bar speed on the power clean.
If this drill is coming along well, it’s time to move on to the next step. If not, go back a step and brush up your technique before moving on.

Drill #6: Clean Lift-Off/Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Floor

This is a 3-rep drill, where each rep is a rehearsal for the next. Everything else should be self-explanatory at this point, but stay on top of the tempo issue – all 3 reps are slow from the floor to the knee. You’re not strong down there anyway, so wait until you reach the “power position” before you pull the trigger!

Everything feeling good? If so, time for the next step. If not, well I guess you know the story by now.

Drill #7: Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Floor

All we’re doing here is removing the first set of training wheels – the lift-off. If doing so doesn’t seem to hurt anything, move on to the eighth and final step. If not, back down a level for now.

Drill #8: Power Clean From Floor

Congratulations! You’ve arrived at the final step – a power clean from the floor. I have no new technical concerns to alert you to here, since we’re not really doing anything new at this point. The real trick at this stage is to spend the majority of your practice time on the level or levels that are appropriate for your current level of skill.

For most people this means clean pulls, either from above the knee (if you think you’re really struggling) or from the floor (if you feel pretty good but just want to clean things up a bit).

Problem Solving

Now that we’ve gone through all 8 steps, let’s address a handful of common issues/problems and how to solve them.

The Scoop: Complete vs. Incomplete Hip Extension

You might’ve noticed in the last video that my thighs make significant contact with the bar. In fact, all competent weightlifters demonstrate this maneuver. Less skilled lifters, by comparison, do not.
Most coaches think it best to not teach this maneuver, as it should simply be the byproduct of good technique (i.e., complete hip extension). I’m on the fence on that issue, but I want you to do a little test to help convince yourself of how important complete hip extension is, and then I’ll share a few tips to help you fully extend your hips on the power clean.
Here’s the test: Perform a vertical jump (it doesn’t have to be maximum effort) without fully extending your hips. (Don’t do this while anyone is watching because you’re going to look completely incompetent.)
Feels like shit doesn’t it? I’m betting you found it difficult to pull off at all –  how important full hip extension is on a vertical jump.
It’s just as important on the power clean – not fully extending your hips hurts your clean just as much as it hurt your jump.
Now, a few tips if you’re struggling with this.
First, go sloooow until the bar passes your knees. If you go too fast here, it’ll be difficult to time the proper extension because by the time you push your hips forward, the bar will already be too high.
Second, get those shoulders out in front of the bar as it reaches your knees – you can’t extend your hips unless you first flex them right?
Finally, it’s okay if the bar isn’t touching your shins (although it should still be very close to them), but by the time the bar passes your kneecaps, keep it pinned to your thighs as you pull. This helps you feel where the bar is, which in turns helps you figure out your timing for the scoop.
Here’s a video I did on this maneuver a few years ago:

The Finish: The Clean Pull From Supports

Many novice lifters have trouble understanding how to “finish the pull.” The drill below works absolute miracles right from the first rep. I’m really not sure why, but I think it helps the lifter feel safe enough to fully commit, since he won’t be racking the bar on the shoulders, nor does he need to worry about getting it back down to the floor.
You’d think you could just do clean pulls from above the knees, but it doesn’t work nearly as well.
Incidentally, in no time at all you can go really heavy with this – I routinely used to do 405 for triples when I was competing in Master’s weightlifting.

The Catch: Learning How To Avoid Grinding And Crashing

Lots of new lifters struggle when it comes to racking the bar on their shoulders during power cleans. Often, they don’t trust their precision and fear slamming the bar into their throat, chin, or face. The result is that they use excessive hand contribution to “guide” the bar to its proper finish position. Only problem is, you can’t do this with real weight, and it also punishes your wrists and elbows.
Other lifters simply fail to properly estimate the amount of pull they need to get the bar to their shoulders – they’ll get the bar almost high enough, and then painfully grind it the rest of the way. Ouch. Don’t do this either.
Here’s me grinding 225 – you’ll notice that I didn’t pull the bar high enough to catch it with high elbows (I rotated the elbows up afterward, but by then, its too late):

The remaining issue is when lifters overestimate the amount of pull they need. The bar sails up past the face, and then crashes down onto the shoulders. That’s an owie, too – power cleans should never hurt, no matter how heavy they are.
It’s just a matter of putting your time in to correct these problems, should you experience them. Keep practicing.

Practice vs. Training: Appropriate Load Selection

One frustrating reality for power clean novices is the necessity to keep loads manageable until technique becomes stable. During this time of course, cleans can’t be used to develop strength or power because the loads will be, by necessity, too light.
When this is the case, simply use clean pulls (from above the knees or the floor, or even better, from the rack, depending on your skill level) for power development – they’re 95% as good as cleans for this purpose.
Another strategy is to use the various drills as part of your dynamic warm-up routine. Why use non-skill movements for this purpose when using these drills kills two birds with one stone?

I Want Your Feedback!

I hope you found this article useful, and I’d love to hear from you in the LiveSpill area below.

Olympic Lifting Made Simple

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Having started my life in the iron game as an Olympic lifter, I’ve always been influenced by the training done by the most explosive athletes in the world.
The Olympic lifts have a rhythm to them like no other. After a big fast pull, the weight rockets up high overhead before slamming back down to the ground. It’s physical poetry in motion.
Even as a teenager and just learning about lifting, I knew that the Olympic lifts were for me. Big weights? I’m interested. Fast? Sounds like something my type II muscle fibers can get down with. Slam it to the ground at the end? Where do I sign up?
So at the ripe old age of 15 and just two weeks into my training, I sat down and planned it all out. Soon, through the simplicity of the overload principle, I would have the world beat. By only adding 1 kilogram to each lift (the snatch and the clean and jerk) every week, I would have the world record in the snatch in only 2 years and the world record in the clean and jerk in 2.5 years.
Well, you might’ve noticed that my bio fails to list world records in either the snatch or the clean and jerk. The reason? The simple overload principle fails to deliver indefinitely as gains don’t always come on a weekly basis. Gains do come, however, with improvement in your movements and improvements in strength.
Recently, I decided to return to the competitive platform for the first time in over 10 years. I needed a program that would drill my movement patterns, but also help me get strong at both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
So I put together the following program and have used it on myself and five other lifters that were all training for their very first meets.
We all PR’d – me at a bodyweight that was 30 pounds lighter than the last time I lifted competitively. This program is simple, to the point, and ready to use.

Getting Off On The Right Foot

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Before you start, I strongly encourage you to hire a good lifting coach to evaluate your movements. You don’t want to be wasting energy off the floor or in the second pull – a good coach can quickly identify this and help correct it.
That said, the Olympic lifts aren’t difficult to learn – I can teach a group of athletes how to Olympic lift in just a couple sessions. What I’m talking about is becoming good at the Olympic lifts, as opposed to that meathead in the gym who reverse curls the weight to his chest and then muscles it overhead.
Your typical reverse curler may have the muscle mass and power to Olympic lift, but it takes more than 3 sets of 3 once a week to be legitimately good at the lifts. The Olympic lifts respond to efficient patterns just as well as they respond to big ass traps and huge quads.
The ideology at work here mirrors that of legendary Soviet weighlifting coach AS Medvedev. In his book,A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting, Medvedev outlines every lift used over the course of six years to take a weightlifter from novice to elite level. Much of the first two years is done with imitation lifts, no more than 50% of bodyweight, with technical efficiency as the only goal.
I’m not going to make you spend two years or even 20 weeks working with a bar, but this program is based on the idea of movement efficiency and developing technical patterns to improve at the lifts.

The Program

The program is as simple as it gets, 4 lifts per day with 1 complex before training. That’s it. The program only has the lifts you need to be doing to get better at the Olympic lifts.
All of my athletes still do core work and corrective work, and I’m certain you’ll need it, too. Throw this stuff in at the end or beginning of your training session, but don’t overdo it.

Imitation Complex

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Each day you’ll begin with an “imitation complex,” during which you’ll only think about complete technical efficiency. No wasted thoughts of a “big pull” or worries about whether you can come up with the front squat or overhead squat.
In these complexes your goal should be to imitate the best lift you can picture in your head. You should use just the bar for at least one set and then go up to a maximum of 50% of bodyweight for any additional sets, so for a 200-pound guy that would be 100 pounds, max.
Remember, this isn’t about getting strong; this is about learning to do the lifts the right way. As you do these complexes, imagine the best Olympic lifter in the world walking in at the end of your third set. If you’d be embarrassed by how badly your form has deteriorated, then you need to go down in weight.
The imitation complex for the snatch and clean are below:

Snatch Clean
Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Snatch Pull x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Clean Pull x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Power Snatch x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Power Clean x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Full Snatch x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Full Clean x 6 reps
Overhead Squat x 6 reps Power Jerk x 6 reps
Split Jerk x 6 reps

This complex could be adapted to suit your individual needs – it doesn’t always have to start at the mid-shin level – though most lifters have difficulty moving around the knee. This complex ensures that you’re comfortable off the floor and around the knee.
Here’s a video of me doing the snatch complex before a workout. It’s just the bar, and it isn’t easy.

Power/Positional Work

The first lift in your Olympic lifting session will be a variation on the traditional Olympic lifts, either from a modified starting position or into a modified receiving position.
When using the power variations, for the ones that you catch “high” or in the quarter squat, your focus will be on developing an efficient second pull. These lifts produce massive amounts of power and bar speed, as you must catch them in the high position.
The positional movements work on different phases of the lifts and transitions of your Olympic lifts.
A power lift should be alternated with a positional lift – one from the hang or from the blocks – each session. So in the first week, you may do all your first lifts from the floor as a power clean and power snatch, in the second week you may do all your lifts from hang start positions.
Be sure to choose your positional lifts based on the areas that need the most attention. The area that gives most people trouble is the phase where the bar passes the knees, or even at the highest position of the second pull (the power position).
If you know you have an area where you struggle, then focus more on positional work get the kinks worked out. You’ll have plenty of time to work from the floor later in the program.

Full Lift

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
The second lift in the program is one of the full, competition-style Olympic lifts. You’ll pull from the floor and receive the bar in the low squat position. When using the clean you should finish with a jerk.
If you have difficulty receiving the bar in the low squat position, then break these lifts down to combination lifts: a power clean + front squat or a power snatch + overhead squat.
As you get more comfortable a couple weeks into the program, start working to receive the bar as low as you can and ride the weight down to the bottom position.
The video below shows an easy progression from complete combination lift, to riding the bar down, to an actual low receiving position.

Partial Lift (Snatch and Clean Pulls)

When it comes to getting stronger at the Olympic lifts, partial lifts are the way to go. Unfortunately, like all Jason Statham movies, these lifts are under-appreciated. Partial lifts (the snatch and clean pull) allow you to overload the lifts without increasing the impact on your body.
Rather than finish in the racked position, you’ll finish with arms extended down and in full hip extension. These lifts can be done with up to 110% of your rep-max for whatever rep scheme you’re doing. So if your 3-rep max is 200 pounds in the snatch, then you can use up to 220 pounds for a 3-rep snatch pull.

Strength/Jerk Work

Becoming more efficient in the movements of the clean and snatch is one thing, but we need to get stronger, too. Having great technique in the lifts is cool but it doesn’t mean much if you still get buried in the hole.
Alternate your strength work between back squats, front squats, Romanian deadlifts, and presses. You still need to be squatting once a week – twice per week isn’t necessary, and if you still have energy, do some extra pressing. You can also do jerks from the rack to develop your technique in this area as well, especially if your aching legs need a break.

What’s the Program Look Like?

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
I don’t like rigid programs and most lifters don’t want to train that way, either. This program is no different; the actual movements should change based on your needs as a lifter.
If you’re rock solid in the clean and jerk but need a lot of help with your snatch, then don’t spend your time improving by miniscule percentile points in the jerk. Do some damn snatches and put something respectable over your head.
If this is the case, three out of every four days should be a snatch day. If both lifts need work then just alternate days that you snatch and clean.
The rep scheme, however, is more rigid (hey, we gotta live with some rules right?). All days should look very similar in terms of repetitions. You’ll still need to vary the movements on each day though.
The specific loads aren’t something I program, but here’s my rules for any given rep scheme on any given day, and one that applies really well for the Olympic lifts:

  • Work up to the highest load you can do for a given rep scheme with great technique.
  • Any sets on that day that fall within 10% of your best set should be counted as a work set.Ê So if your best set with great technique was 200 pounds in the snatch, then any set above 180 pounds (within 10%) will count as a work set.

Here’s an idea of how you can vary the movements over the course of 4 weeks using a simple undulating periodization. This program would be perfect for someone with familiarity with both lifts and some decent overall strength numbers.

Day 1

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 2-3
A Power Clean Power Snatch Power Clean Power Snatch 3 3
B Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 3 2
C Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from below knee
Clean Pull
from deficit
Snatch Pull
from floor
3 3
D RDL Front Squat Back Squat RDL 3 5

Day 2

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 2-3
A Power Snatch Power Clean Power Snatch Power Clean 3 2
B Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 3 1
C Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
3 2
D Front Squat Back Squat Front Squat Jerk from rack 3 3

Day 3

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 2-3
A Hang Snatch
from below knee
Hang Clean
from below knee
Hang Snatch
from above knee
Hang Clean
from below knee
3 5
B Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 3 3
C Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from hang
3 5
D Back Squat Jerk from rack Press behind neck,
Snatch Grip
Front Squat 3 5

Day 4

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 2-3
A Power Clean
from high blocks
Full Snatch
from high blocks
Full Clean
from hang
Power Snatch
from high blocks
3 3
B Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 3 2
C Clean Pull
from below knee
Snatch Pull
from deficit
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from deficit
3 3
D Press behind neck RDL Jerk from rack Back Squat 3 3

In week 5 you should pick two days to work up to a heavy single in both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Use these numbers to base your workouts for another 4 weeks.
This program can be repeated immediately after you complete it the first time and you’ll continue to see gains, so long as you select the movements that will help you improve the most.

Wrapping Up

Improvement with the Olympic lifts isn’t simply about strength – if it were, then every man wearing Zubaz pants would’ve just returned from a triumphant performance at the Olympics in London.
These movements are also about being efficient in the movements – meaning you first need to learn them well, and then focus on improving how well you perform them through repetition.
Get a coach to critique your lifts, try this program, and dominate the platform.

10 Movements For Explosive Power

10 Movements For Explosive Power
Building power in the gym means moving weight fast to recruit the most motor units possible. This typically involves a healthy dose of power cleans and perhaps a few variations of the other classic Olympic lifts, but I’m here to help you broaden your training horizons.
When it comes to building serious power and explosiveness, you have options and it’s not just ‘change for the sake of change.’ The more athletes I’ve worked with, the more I’ve been forced to expand my power training toolbox beyond just the basics – and the results have been far better than simply power cleaning till the proverbial cows come home.
Each of the following movements should be programmed early in your daily training session, just as you would any explosive movement. You’ll get the most out of these power training movements while fresh.
Your goal with each movement is to recruit the maximum number of motor units before fatigue sets in.

1. Hang Snatch

10 Movements For Explosive Power
You didn’t expect a lover of the Oly lifts to choose something other than a variation of an Olympic lift for first on the list, did you? Sorry to disappoint if you did, but the hang snatch wins out for the best explosive power movement.
In terms of power output, the snatch matches the clean closely (1), but for pure coolness the snatch wins every time. And let’s be honest, coolness is a big part of a great training program.
The snatch may be heavy on technique, but once you get the ‘hang’ of it (after some serious coaching, I hope), you’ll find its power-creating potential to be unparalleled; power that carries over to the rest of the weightroom. I’ve never met an athlete that’s strong enough to snatch 225-pounds that couldn’t squat, clean, and bench with the strongest carnivores in the gym.
I chose the hang snatch over the power snatch because it’s much easier for most to achieve a respectable start position from the hang than it is from the floor. The snatch from the floor takes a ton of mobility at both the hips and ankles, and for many athletes this is an area that requires a serious intervention.

2. Kettlebell Swings With Band Resistance

10 Movements For Explosive Power
The traditional kettlebell swing could also make my list, as it’s one of the first tools I use to teach young athletes the power of a well-executed hip hinge movement. However, most athletes will find themselves quickly running out of ‘bells as they start to get stronger. Adding band resistance to this movement can add 30-70 pounds of resistance at the top while addressing the end range of hip extension.
It’ simple to add band resistance with a half-inch to one-inch band. Just loop it through the handle and then back through itself, then step on the end of the band with each foot and you’re all set to swing. This movement has the added benefit of not requiring you to buy giant, novelty-sized kettlebells.

Bonus “No band” Movement: Kettlebell Spikes

What happens when you don’t have any bands that fit the bill? Simply enlist an awesome partner to help you perform the kettlebell “spike.” At the top of each swing, have your friend mimic the action of a band and spike the kettlebell back toward the ground. This requires you to resist a tremendous eccentric force, so prepare to feel it in the old hammies tomorrow.

3. Split Jerk

At some point, putting a bar overhead became unfairly vilified, much like Ivan Drago after he steamrolled the beloved Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match. This is a shame, as the jerk creates more power than any other movement in the gym, and Apollo should’ve realized that “exhibition” in Russian loosely translates to “ass whipping.”
The jerk has been shown to generate more power than both the clean and the snatch (2), and is a tremendous movement for developing power through quad-dominant movement.
The power jerk is an awesome move as well, explosive and total body, but splitting the feet takes the movement to the next level. Much of what you do as an athlete revolves around being able to adapt to changing conditions, and changing from a bilateral stance to an offset, semi-unilateral stance trains you to be adaptable.
It also trains your lead leg to be strong in absorbing force. If you have any aspirations of being fast or athletic, this movement is a must for your training program.

4. Medicine Ball Throws

Let’s just get this out of the way: throwing things is a good time. It’s also an unbridled expression of power. Throwing a medicine ball is unlike anything else that we can do in the gym. No deceleration period, only acceleration.
This is also the first movement on my list that trains power in the transverse plane. Transverse plane power is necessary for nearly every athlete, from the high level football player during a change of direction to the beer league softball player-during all non-beer drinking activities.
Throwing a medicine ball is also an awesome core movement to redirect force from the ground through the upper body. The linkage between hip rotation, core stability, and the expression of power through the upper body is hard to miss and tough to beat. Make sure you generate power through the lower body and rotate the back foot to finish the movement.
In the video below one of my athletes is doing a medicine ball side throw, but you could do the same drill with a pressing motion to make it even more effective in your upper body training.

5. Power Clean From Blocks

10 Movements For Explosive Power
No list of explosive training movements would be complete without some variation of the power clean. For the same reasons that I chose the hang snatch (mobility requirements) over the power snatch, I’m going with the clean from blocks over a power clean from the floor.
For most athletes, cleans from the floor are difficult to do with good form. Starting the lift off blocks provides the same explosive benefits without exposing your back to injury.
There’s a performance benefit as well. By eliminating the eccentric lowering of the bar to the start position, power cleans from blocks also help develop .
In the video below I’m doing power cleans from a low block (to work on my transition around the knee), but you could do them from any height that suits your needs.

6. Clean/Snatch/Trap Bar Pulls

10 Movements For Explosive Power
The Olympic pull is one of the best tools available to improve power, and is an absolute must if you have any interest in being a better Olympic lifter. At higher loads, the pull is a great way to develop power and get acquainted with moving serious weight in the Olympic lifts.
Both the clean pull and snatch pull help improve your feel with either lift, and you can also do a similar movement with a trap bar. The big advantage with the trap bar is that it allows you to keep the load closer to your center of gravity as opposed to in front of the body in the traditional pull.
The pull is great for athletes with flexibility limitations or when trying to reduce the impact on the upper body. Just be careful not to let the quality of the movement diminish when the weights start to get heavy.
In the video below I’m doing pulls from a deficit first and then contrasting it with a pull from the ground level. Only athletes that have sufficient mobility should try pulls from a deficit.

7. Crossover Sled Drags

We’ve been able to figure out a ton of ways to increase power; unfortunately, most of these methods occur in the sagittal plane. And if you’re an athlete – or work with athletes – improving power in only the sagittal plane will only get you so far. To be truly powerful, in every direction, you need to train in multiple planes.
The crossover sled drag is an awesome tool to train in the frontal (side to side) plane. This explosive move is just like the first step that aspiring NFL players take when they test their lateral movement at the NFL combine. Heavy crossover sled drags also train your backside like nothing you’ve ever done before and leave you super sore when you stumble out of bed the next day.

8. Rotational Lunge Swings

This movement was first introduced to me by coach Robert Dos Remedios and immediately became one of my favorite training tools. A simple rotation of the sandbag (or kettlebell, if no sandbag is available) while descending into a reverse lunge will challenge your strength and core stability in the elusive transverse plane.
Then, when you add in the power of a swing, what you wind up with is a really cool explosive movement – the swing requires decelerating the implement at the bottom of the movement before you explode from the lead leg into hip and knee extension.

9. Seated Box Jumps

While most plyometrics take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle to produce power, the seated box jump removes all eccentric loading and allows athletes to focus on only the explosive, concentric action of the movement.
Taking out the swing of the arms will force you to focus on developing power from the ground up. To take this movement to the next level, hug a weight to your chest. Now you have a loaded plyometric movement that doesn’t trash your joints. Not too shabby.
Like any box jump, make sure you’re truly able to land on the box to which you’re jumping. Choosing a box that’s too high doesn’t make you more of a man, though it will remove some flesh from your shins when you miss.

10. Supine Medicine Ball Reactive Throws

Most of the movements used to train explosive power have a distinct lower body bias. Training the lower body to be more explosive will make you more athletic andÊ teach you to recruit the muscles needed to power through a squat and sprint faster, but explosive upper body power is also important to being freakishly strong in the weightroom.
The supine medicine ball reactive throw is an awesome tool to improve upper body power. These throws train you to maintain a good position through a fast eccentric phase, and then explode through the concentric motion to finish strong. Try using these throws in a superset with the bench press and watch yourself power through the lockout.

Wrap Up

10 Movements For Explosive Power
Don’t believe the rhetoric that you can’t build or improve explosiveness. It can be done, and it begins with hitting the old school staples like the power clean and snatch with gusto.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the only tools in your toolbox. You have at least 10 other drills (to be discussed later?) at your disposal, and the more expansive your assortment of explosive movements, the better you’ll be at rising to whatever athletic challenges may be in your future.


1. USA Weightlifting Club Coach Manual. USA Weightlifting. Colorado Springs, CO (2010). Print.
2. Stone, M.H. Position paper and literature review: Explosive exercises and training. Natl. Strength Cond. Assoc. J. 15(3):7, 9Ð15. 1993

Heavy Lessons

by Charles Staley – 6/04/2012

Heavy Lessons

Those who know me from my seminars or my writings know that I’m a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts.

Sure, I’ve written about the power lifts, and have coached several powerlifters, but I’ve never competed in the discipline – until this past April 1st, that is. This article is a summary of my experience, and what I learned from it.

Just to set the stage, back in August of last year, I re-injured my left elbow trying to improve my jerk technique. I had (for unknown reasons) developed some calcification in that elbow, which had gradually reduced both my full flexion and extension in that joint.

So I found myself at a crossroads – I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to clean and jerk again, and at the same time had grown disappointed by my limited progress in the “O lifts” in recent months.

I needed a change, a new challenge.

In September, my friend and client Gene Lawrence (a world champion powerlifter in the master’s division) told me about an upcoming raw powerlifting meet: the 100% Raw! Federation’s Southwest Regional Championships in Prescott Arizona, which would be held on April 1st, 2012.

I had about six months to prepare, and the competition was only a few hours away from my home, so after some deliberation I decided to enter.

Before I share some of the important lessons I learned from training for and competing in my first powerlifting meet, I’d first like to tell you why it took me so long to finally “pull the trigger” on this adventure.

I had (and still have) an enormous amount of passion for the sport of weightlifting. I worried that dividing my attentions would hamper my efforts in that sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I’ll share with you shortly.

I felt I wasn’t strong enough to avoid complete embarrassment in the powerlifting world. Although I’d deadlifted 500 pounds a few years earlier, my lifetime best squat was about 365 pounds. Furthermore, while I had done a sloppy “touch and go” 300-pound bench press in my mid-thirties, at age 52, I hadn’t done any form of bench press in years due to shoulder issues. In fact, on the day I sent in my entry form, I probably wasn’t capable of a legal (paused) 200-pound bench.

I wasn’t sure I was capable of performing “legal lifts” in powerlifting. First, after several serious knee surgeries, I have very limited flexion in my right knee. I knew I could squat “close” to parallel, but different federations have different depth requirements, and I wasn’t certain that I could train at or compete with proper depth in the squat.

Second, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bench press intensely and consistently enough to prepare for competition due to the aforementioned shoulder problems. In the past, any time I got more than 5-6 workouts into a bench press program, my shoulder would flare up and eventually stop me in my tracks.

Initial Training Approach: Linear Progression
Heavy Lessons

After a short layoff from my usual training in weightlifting, I started my preparation on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – almost 6 months to the day from the competition. (I started documenting my training right here at T Nation on October 31st, for those of you who might like to reference my training journal).

My initial training approach involved bench pressing and squatting on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlifts every other Wednesday, using a simple “linear progression” approach popularized by Mark Rippetoe here for the bench and squat. I’d work up to a challenging set of 5 on day one, and then 3×5 (with slightly less weight) on the second weekly workout, starting off with very light loads.

On deadlifts, I worked up to a single work set of 5 reps per session (again starting very light). I planned a progression of 5 pounds/session for the bench and squat, and 10 pounds/session on pulls.

Here’s what my initial training week looked like:

Power Clean
Squat 1×5
Bench Press 3×5

Snatch variant

Power Clean
Squat 3×5
Bench Press 1×5
Dumbbell Curl


For squat and bench, I paired a 1×5 lift with a 3×5 lift, rather than doing 3×5 for both lifts on the same day. This was for the purpose of evenly distributing workloads.

I haven’t listed loading parameters for the Olympic lifts, chins, and curls. That’s because I purposely made these decisions intuitively, based on what felt good at the moment. If I felt great on a particular day, I’d try for something big. If not, I didn’t stress about it.

I allowed for occasional variety when it came to the non-competition lifts. The Big 3 lifts, however, were set in stone. I think that training programs should have a “compulsory” as well as an “optional” category, meaning that you should be able to discern between tasks that are central to your goal versus drills that are less critical to your core mission. Therefore, you’ll see that I eventually dropped curls, skipped chins, and so on. Great programs are characterized by a “flexible structure.”

While it may seem excessive to squat twice a week while deadlifting during the same week, keep in mind that volume on Mondays and Wednesdays was fairly low (1×5 for each).

Some readers may notice the complete lack of a general/dynamic warm-up, foam rolling, stretching, and so forth. Personally, I’ve never experienced much benefit in any of these activities, and decided to finally listen to my inner voice on these issues. That said, if you feel you benefit from any of them, certainly use them.

My plan was to run this progression until I hit a wall (which I knew was inevitable), and then devise a new strategy when that happened.

For quick reference, my first 1×5 workouts featured the following loads:

Bench press: 170 x5
Squat: 225 x5
Deadlift: 340 x5

That should give a sense of how light I started off, although these opening workouts weren’t especially easy. I was both embarrassed and nervous on the bench press in particular, given my shoulder history.

That said, I had no pain on those initial workouts, nor did I experience any significant pain or injury during this six-month training period. The only injury I suffered was a moderately-tweaked low back on a 185-pound squat early in the cycle, and a period of 3-4 weeks where I was experiencing moderate left pec discomfort on bench presses. That’s it.

Never before have I experienced a pain/injury-free six months of training, and I sure wasn’t expecting it to occur at age 52.

Reaching A Plateau On Linear Progression

Heavy Lessons

Right around mid-February, I could sense that my linear progression honeymoon period was coming to an end. It was taking all I had to continue making my 5-10 pound jumps, and an additional concern was that April 1st was coming up fast, and 5’s seemed a bit non-specific for hitting big singles in competition.

I had benched 225 x 4 (missed the planned 5th rep) squatted 300 x 5, and pulled 363 x 5, but by this time my discipline had already eroded. I was already “experimenting” (or “pussing out” to be more forthright) by either taking heavy singles, or sometimes going more than 5 reps. Basically I was just sick of 5’s. I needed a new approach before I started losing my discipline altogether.

Enter Chad Waterbury

I’ve known and respected Chad Waterbury for years and asked him if he’d help my with “last minute” peaking strategies. Chad looked at my training journal and told me that in his discussions with people like Franco Columbo and Pavel Tsatsouline, he’d developed a strong affection for a “Medium – Heavy – Medium – Maximum” type of progression.

Medium days were 3 x 3, heavy days were 3 x 2, and maximum days were mock competitions essentially, a chance to evaluate your progress. In terms of progression, each type of workout, when repeated, should be done with slightly more weight.

I immediately implemented Chad’s suggestions, and after about 10 days could feel a renewal, physically and psychologically. My numbers started moving dramatically – before I knew it I was hitting 380 on the squat, 465 on the deadlift, and 255 on the bench, and I felt less drained at the same time. I was peaking. Things were coming together.

In my last month of training, I managed to chalk up a 403 squat, a 255 bench, and a 475 deadlift (see the videos below). I simply wanted to hit these numbers (or slightly more if possible) during official competition, when the pressure was on, without getting hurt. I felt ready go, but I had a lot of unknowns ahead of me…

So How’d I Do?

In terms of expectations, I only had a few:

I really wanted a 400 squat and a 500 deadlift, and I didn’t want to get hurt in the process. I had no idea what to expect on the bench. But I felt I had to be ready for anything, given that this was my first experience in the sport, and also considering that the warm-up room was scantily equipped and crowded.

I had to be prepared for a rushed and/or incomplete warm-up. I had to be ready for the possibility that my squats might not be deep enough, or that I might not be prepared for the various technical rules I’d face on the bench, including the pause, keeping the feet motionless, and so on. I’d trained for all of this, but you never know exactly what you’re up against until it actually happens.

Here’s an event-by event breakdown of my meet:


My last warm-up was with 315, which I had to take from a very low position due to the much shorter guys who were sharing the rack with me. Nonetheless, it felt fine and I was confident overall.

I opened with 340, which felt about as heavy as I expected, and much to my relief I got three white lights – my depth was legal.

My second attempt was with 369, and now that I knew my depth would pass muster, I felt energized and confident. I probably could’ve hit it for a triple if I’d needed to. Three whites.

I went to the administrators’ table and asked for 402, one pound less than my PR in training, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I would’ve been super happy to hit 400, but had I tried, say, 415 and missed, I’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the meet.

402 was heavy and slow. I struggled out of the hole, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the head judge to signal me back to the rack. I think my spotters and I got the bar back on the stands about a second before I nearly passed out from pressurizing against that load. Three whites! I was off to a great start – 3 for 3, no red lights.

You can see my 402 attempt below:

Bench Press

My last warm-up backstage was with 205, and it felt uneventful. My first attempt was 225 pounds – a weight I’d hit for 4 reps in training. I smoked it easily for three whites.

Second attempt: 245. This went up okay, but not as well as I’d expected. Somehow my placement on the bench was off – I reasoned that

I needed to be closer to the uprights for my final attempt. Due to the difficulty of this attempt, and also because I was 5 for 5 at this point, I asked for 253 for my final attempt – 2 pounds less than my training PR.

As I positioned myself on the bench, I remembered the positioning error I wanted to correct, and moved a bit closer to the uprights. Two fifty three went up with ease – the adjustment paid off better than I’d anticipated. On the bench, I again went 3 for 3, and no red lights. My only small regret is that I was probably good for 260, which would’ve been a new PR. That’s what the next meet is for I guess.

You can see my 253 attempt below:


Heavy Lessons

By this point in the day I was pretty wiped out, and my low back and hamstrings were toasted from the heavy squats. One of the unknowns I knew I’d be facing today was that I’d never maxed out my squat and deadlift on the same day.

There was a war going on in my head: a struggle between wanting to play it safe and hit 500, and the desire to get a new PR, say 510 or so. At this point I’d gone 6 for 6 with no red lights, so I decided to commit to a “perfect meet” – going 9 for 9, no red lights, and at least meeting (if not exceeding) training PR’s.

My last warm-up in back was with 405. It was clear that I could’ve hit at least 5 reps with that, so I felt ready for my 440 opener. After I set that down, I was warned by the head judge to lower the bar with more control, which took me by surprise, but nonetheless, I earned three whites for my effort, and asked for 469 for my second attempt, which I handled successfully. The trick of course, is to optimally bridge the gap between my second attempt and my goal for my final lift, which was 501.

Walking out to that 501-pound barbell, I had confidence that I’d already hit that weight before in the past, but also felt pressure that until this point I’d been running a perfect meet. To say that I was determined to make this lift would be a gross understatement.

Internally, I’d worked myself into such a frenzy of effort that I honestly don’t remember feeling the bar in my hands. As I began pulling, I felt relief that I at least got the weight moving upward, but it felt significantly heavier than I expected. I kept pulling, however, knowing that my deadlifts usually move faster than what it feels like.

As the bar passed my knees, I thought, “Okay, I’m home free now,” but my improved leverage was offset by the mounting fatigue. The pull was a grind from start to finish. Finally, I locked it out, and remembering my earlier admonition from the head judge, did my best to lower the bar under maximum control. Hands on knees, I looked back at the scoreboard – three whites! A perfect meet!

In summary, the only change I would’ve made would’ve been to take a heavier final bench attempt, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I felt I’d performed a perfect meet, but what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than winning my first powerlfting meet (oh, did I forget to mention that detail?).

Lessons Learned

Injury Avoidance: I had virtually no pain during this 6-month training cycle, despite performing nearly every “challenging” lift in the book (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, two Olympic lifts, rows, and chins) hard and often. There are three plausible explanations for my injury-free experience.

First, I started well below my abilities. Second, I progressed very gradually – only 5-10 pounds per session. Third, I didn’t do any “junk” work, which limited my overall wear and tear.

I didn’t do accessory single-joint lifts, nor did I perform “advanced” techniques like eccentrics, plyometrics, chains/bands, partials, or forced reps. I simply did super-basic exercises using tried-and true programming principles, and I did it consistently and progressively.

I never took a single ibuprofen, never iced anything, and I never missed a single workout or failed to hit my numbers because of pain or injury. In short, my training was remarkably low-tech and the only thing exciting about it was that I got bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner; and I did it without injuring myself in the process.

A note about bench pressing: I noted that my traditional experiences with all forms of bench pressing were characterized by shoulder pain and injury. I can attribute my sudden good fortune to only one thing: since September 28th, all of my benches have been done with a pause, as is required in competition.

I believe this pause helps mitigate the high tensions that occur when the shoulder is at its weakest position (when the bar touches the chest). If you’re having issues with your shoulders when you press, put your ego aside and implement the pause – it took me until age 52 to figure that out, so consider this a head start!

Body Composition: Body comp has never been my strong suit. When my focus was primarily on the Olympic lifts, things like squats, presses, and pulls received only cursory attention – by the time I got to squats, I often had nothing left in the tank.

But by putting my primary focus on “big” multi-joint movements done for higher volumes and longer time-under-tensions than what I was used to, lo and behold, I actually started developing a physique. And while I’ve never particularly cared much about aesthetics, I have to admit it’s fun to at least look like I spend time in the gym.

Improved Olympic Lifts: Perhaps the most pleasant outcome occurred as I gradually started reintroducing power snatches and clean and jerks into my prep. Not only did I discover that I could still perform a workable clean and jerk despite my elbow issues, but in late April – after just five sessions and not having performed a single C&J for more than 6 months – I reached 95% of my best C&J ever, despite weighing significantly less and having not practiced that lift in months. I also reached 98% of my best snatch, after only a handful of sessions on that lift as well.

An even more remarkable surprise was that, for years, both snatches and jerks have been problematic on my shoulders, particularly my left shoulder. Remarkably, I found that suddenly, I’m performing very heavy snatches and jerks completely pain free.

This was one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my entire training career. I attribute this to the 6-month break away from these lifts that allowed my old shoulder injuries to heal, but I also believe that bench pressing contributed to my overall shoulder integrity. Furthermore, I became much stronger as a whole, which certainly contributed to my shoulder health and integrity.

Prologue: What I’m Up To Now…

Heavy Lessons

My current goal is to be ready to do either a powerlifting meet or a weightlifting meet at short notice, any time of the year, while continuing to improve my body comp and staying injury-free at the same time. In other words, I want to be a bit more well-rounded as I get older, and I’m having a lot of fun getting stronger in my 50’s without nursing injuries in the process.

The take-home lesson is, there’s lots for all of us to learn, even if we’re well-known experts who’ve been training for decades. I humbly hope that this story has inspired you to reach out and seek new challenges for yourself – no matter how good you are, no matter how much you may know, no matter how old you are, there are new heights for all of us to reach.

5 Great Lessons

5 Great Lessons

Dan John Strength Coach
I’m a big Dan John fan.
I’ve been one for many years. I read Dan’s first book, From the Ground Up, and his second, Never Let Go, long before we finally met. I’ve also read many of his published articles at T NATION along the way.
Recently, I started listening to the audio recording of his Intervention seminar and my appreciation for what Dan John brings to the strength and conditioning table has grown even more. He inspires while he educates, and it’s that inspiration that prompted me to write this article.
Dan John gets it. He’s walked the walk as an athlete and as a coach for nearly 30 years. And it shows.
Here are a few pearls of wisdom that I’ve taken from Dan’s books and seminars. The key to being a great coach is to never think that you’re too good to learn and change. As you’ll see, there’s no one better to learn from than Dan John.
1. If It’s Important, do It Every Day. Reading Dan John is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes a while to get the meaning behind what he’s talking about. When I first read this concept I thought, “Man, Dan is losing it! You can’t squat every day!”
As I continued to read, I realized that we’re talking patterns, not lifts. The message was I took this to heart and now ensure that my clients’ programming includes some type of single-leg knee dominant exercise and single-leg hip dominant movement every day.
In Dan’s words, we do a squat and a hinge every day. For us, it might mean that on an upper body training day we split squat or lunge and do reaching one-leg straight leg deadlifts as a warm-up. The take home point is, we make sure we’re doing legs and core work every day.
2. Loaded Carries. I had Dan as a guest speaker for our annual Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning Winter Seminar this year. The big thing I took from Dan that day was the importance of loaded carries. Stuart McGill had already convinced me that carries were just moving planks, but even though I liked the idea, we hadn’t really incorporated them. When Dan was done, I’d officially drank the loaded carry Kool Aid.
This year we added suitcase carries and farmers walks in as a “rest” between our sets of sled pushes. Was it the perfect place to put them? I’m not sure, but we had our athletes out on a long length of turf and it made sense. This was a case of simply looking at another great coach’s program, comparing it to ours, and correcting an obvious weakness.
3. Goblet Squats. I doubt that Dan invented the goblet squat or even the term “goblet squat.” I only know that he was the first person who exposed me to – and sold me on – the idea.
Dan John Strength Coach
One weakness in Dan’s early writings was a lack of video or pictures. Back then Dan would go on and on about goblet squats and I’d look at the page thinking, “I have no flippin’ idea what he’s talking about.” Keep in mind, youngsters, that this was before message boards, YouTube, even TNation.
I remember finally getting around to trying goblet squats in my business in the summer of 2010 after years of hearing Dan go on ad nauseum about their supposed greatness. I went into our facility and instructed our coaches to switch the worst squatters from whatever type of squat we had them attempting to goblet squats. Some were trying to learn to front squat, others were simply bodyweight squatting.
The addition of the dumbbell in the goblet position was nothing short of a miracle. Every single athlete, all chosen for his or her lack of squatting technique, improved dramatically. I was sold – so sold that we decided the first loading position for any athlete in any squatting movement would be the goblet position.
4. Standards. I’m a numbers kind of guy, so I love the idea of standards. This was another gem that I’d taken from Dan’s talk at our winter seminar that was reignited in my mind as I listened to the Interventiontape during my drive in to work.
Dan has a way with words. In Intervention, he uses the line I thought it was funny. I also thought it was brilliant. Dan’s “standard standard” is simple:

Dan John Strength Coach
Many readers will take issue with this, but if you train athletes this couldn’t be truer. The reality is that if you can bench press 300 pounds, you can also front squat it and clean it. If you can’t, the reason is simple. You aren’t trying hard enough.
Dan goes on to provide a standard for high school football:

While not overly impressive numbers, they do add up to a good athlete who’s spent some time in the weight room doing the right things.
Dan went on to describe one more standard in the loaded carry category. If you can farmer’s walk your bodyweight (split between two dumbbells) for 50 yards, you’re pretty strong.
Standards. You can argue them till you’re blue in the face, but the fact is, they make sense. I also have a standard with my Boston University hockey players, although slightly different.

If my guys can do that, I know they’re working hard in all areas. If they’re exceeding the bench in the hang clean and RFESS, all the better. I always tell my guys,
Our last standard?

The chin-up is the combination of bodyweight plus the weight on the dip belt. If you can do this, you’re unlikely to get a shoulder injury and are also quite strong. Our average player will do 1 chin-up in a test situation with 90-120 pounds attached.
5. Reps. The last bit of Dan John wisdom relates to the idea of reps. Dan has what he calls The Rule of 10.
In Dan’s world, the Rule of 10 applies primarily to the deadlift, clean, and snatch. According to Dan, a good workout in these total body lifts calls for 10 reps. It could be 5-3-2 or 2×5, but the total is 10 reps.
Dan goes on to say that in what he calls “half body lifts” (bench press for example) you can do up to 25 reps, but to me the rule of ten can apply to every lift. In an 80-20 world, 80 percent of the workouts should have sets adding up to 10 reps. 20 percent of the time could be higher or lower.
Dan notes that most classic workouts tend to total about 25 reps. However, my feeling is that after warm-ups most good workouts still come down to about 10 good quality reps.

The Big Takeaway

Dan John Strength Coach
There are lot of books and reading you can be reading, whether it’s business, self help, or even boring old strength and conditioning. My advice is to read some Dan John. There’s plenty there far beyond the iron and dumbbells to make you a better lifter, coach, and person overall. After all, thirty years of experience is one heck of a deep well to draw from.

A 12-Step Guide to a Flawless Power Clean

Huge Freakin' Legs

The Olympic lifting body — not a bad thing to have.

Terrible Clean

The evidence that most coaches aren’t teaching the Olympic lifts.

Rack Position

The Rack Position.

Receiving Position

The Receiving Position.

Finish Position

The Finish Position.

Hang Position

The Hang Position.

Start Position

The Start Position.

The power clean often spreads like a game of Telephone around gyms and garages—the further it moves from the original source, the less it resembles a worthwhile movement and instead becomes a way to get thoroughly jacked up through crappy instruction and even crappier execution.
With the sport of weightlifting being so obscure in the US, it can be extremely difficult for guys to find a qualified coach, which is why many use it as an excuse to replace them with less-than-optimal alternatives.
The power clean, if performed correctly, will provide a unique stimulus for improving hip and knee explosiveness, which will translate to more strength and more muscle. And in my opinion, it can absolutely be learned without a coach.
But like any skilled movement, the power clean will not be mastered quickly. No matter how well you learn, you will never be completely finished. That’s why your goal shouldn’t be immediate mastery, but relatively quick development of safe and effective technique so you can put it to work in your training program.
Meet The Power Clean
A clean brings a barbell from the floor to the lifter’s shoulders. The power qualifier describes the height at which the bar is received and arrested: with the upper legs above horizontal. That is, in a clean, the athlete receives the barbell on the shoulders at some height between standing and squatting, continues into the bottom of a squat position, and finishes the lift by standing again.
In a power clean, the athlete pulls the barbell identically, but must receive it on the shoulders and stop moving downward before sinking past a parallel squat. In other words, the power clean means the athlete must pull the bar higher, get under it quicker, and stop moving immediately.
Check Your Ego, Son
No matter how strong you are, you must start with an unloaded barbell for the initial learning stages. Some of you may even need to use a lighter technique barbell.
Don’t concern yourself with weight at this point—be patient, learn the movement well, and very quickly you’ll be capable of lifting far more than you will if you insist on loading up immediately. Go hide in the corner of the gym if you’re embarrassed. When you re-emerge, you’ll be proud of your power cleaning ability.
The following steps should each be performed until you become comfortable with them and can do them consistently. Keep the number of consecutive repetitions to a maximum of five.
From the Top Down
While it may seem odd to learn the power clean backward, I want to point out that you can’t go to a place that doesn’t exist. Without a receiving position, we can’t pull under the bar. Without a pull under the bar, we can do a power clean. So let’s start there.
Receiving Position
The receiving position for the power clean is the same as the clean, which is (or should be) the same as the front squat—meaning, the bar is on your shoulders. Receiving power cleans in the hands and arms is a great way to set yourself up for hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries.
Also, we want to “receive” the bar rather than catch it. To catch something requires that you’re not contact with it immediately prior. In contrast, we want to maintain a tight connection to the bar throughout the movement until the last possible moment when the bar is finally supported on our shoulders.
Step 1 — Grip the bar with your hands about a fist-width outside your shoulders—your hands should not be in contact with your shoulders at all in the top position. From here, relax your grip, lift your elbows, push your shoulders forward and slightly up, and let the bar roll onto your fingers and into the space between your deltoids and your throat. (If this space doesn’t exist, you’re either not pushing your shoulders forward and up, or you need to work on your scapular mobility.)
If the bar is placing too much pressure on your throat, pull your head straight back—do not tilt it back. If the bar is in contact with your clavicles, you need to shrug your shoulders up a bit more.
To be sure the bar is supported by your shoulders and not your hands, remove your hands from under the bar and extend your arms in front of you. The bar shouldn’t move.
This is the position in which you will be trying to receive the bar.
Pulling Under
One of the most common mistakes is not actively pulling under the bar after accelerating it upward. With lighter weights, you’ll be able to simply drop under the bar in time. As weights get heavier, you will not be able to accelerate the bar as much, and the lower resulting momentum means less time before the bar changes direction, which in turn means you have less time to change direction and position yourself under the bar. In these cases, an active and aggressive pull against the bar is necessary for you to beat the bar.
Step 2 — Standing tall with the bar at arms’ length in front of you, pull your elbows as high as possible, directing them to the sides as they rise. This will bring the bar to about lower chest level. Don’t lean forward over the bar, and don’t try to lift it—lift your elbows instead.
Step 3 — From this scarecrow position, pull your elbows back and whip them around the bar into the receiving position you practiced earlier. Imagine the barbell as the pivot point for your elbows and make sure it stays right up against your body. As your elbows come around, the bar will rise to your shoulders, and you can relax your grip and let it settle into the proper receiving position.
Step 4 — When you can rack the bar smoothly on your shoulders with some consistency from this scarecrow position, begin the drill from arms’ length and perform the entire movement smoothly. Make sure the elbows come up and out, not back. This is the arm movement of the pull under the bar.
Step 5 — When you’re comfortable with this, you can put it to use and move on to actually pulling under the bar. Starting again from the scarecrow position with your feet about hip-width apart, pick up and move your feet quickly to your squat stance as you perform the pull under the bar, pulling yourself into a quarter-depth squat. When you can do this smoothly, begin the drill with the bar at arms’ length.
Accelerating the Bar
Step 6 — With the bar at arms’ length and your feet hip-width and turned out slightly, tighten your glutes to extend your hips through the bar slightly and shift back to your heels as much as possible. This will place you with your legs approximately vertical and the hips slightly hyperextended. This approximates the position you should be in at the top of your pull (although your ankles will be somewhat extended during the real pull).
Step 7 — From this extended position, push the hips back, bend the knees slightly, and let the bar slide down your legs until it reaches your lower thighs. In this position your back should be extended securely, your shins vertical, the bar in light contact with your legs, and your shoulders slightly in front of the bar and your knees. Keep your head up and your eyes forward.
Step 8 — Re-extend slowly into the simulated finish position, making sure to actively pull the bar against yourself with your lats and shoulders, keeping your weight over your heels. Gradually increase the speed at which you go from this thigh position to the extended position, making sure to continue pushing against the floor with your legs as you extend your hips. You will naturally begin rising onto the balls of your feet at the top—just be careful to keep your weight back so you stay balanced in the same position.
Step 9 — When you’ve increased the speed enough, you will feel the bar popping up, and possibly slightly forward. Let it rise, but guide it up close to your body by keeping your elbows traveling up and out like you did when practicing the pull under.
Step 10 — Once you’re comfortable with this controlled pull, it’s time to put the pieces together and perform a power clean from the hang position. Set your thigh position carefully and ensure proper balance before initiating the lift.
Drive your legs against the floor and finish the hip extension completely with the glutes. The moment you’ve reached this finish position with the legs and hips, pick up and move your feet to your squat stance and perform the pull under into a quarter squat—do not try to pull the bar higher by shrugging it up.
Congratulations, you’ve just done a hang power clean.
As you continue practicing, keep in mind that the actual depth at which you receive the bar will increase with the weight because of your decreasing ability to accelerate and elevate the bar. If you perform your pull under correctly, you will always be in the right place to receive the bar because of the connection you’re maintaining.
From the Floor
While the hang power clean itself is an excellent exercise for hip and leg explosiveness, I still like pulling from the floor.
The goal for the pull from the floor is to put you right into the same hang position you’ve been lifting from. We want a photo of you taken at the moment the bar hits the lower thighs during a power clean to look identical to a photo of you in your hang starting position. To do this, your position off the floor may have to deviate a bit from your normal deadlifting position.
Step 11 — With your feet about hip-width apart and turned out slightly, place the bar over the balls of your feet. Get your clean grip, set your back in a complete arch, push your knees out slightly, and drop your hips until your shoulders are directly above the bar. From the side, your arms should be approximately vertical.
Your knees or thighs may be in light contact with the insides of your arms. If you can’t keep your back extended in this position, you need to work on your flexibility and back strength. Keep your head up and your eyes straight ahead. The bar does not need to be touching your shins.
Step 12 — Break the bar from the floor without jerking and shift to your heels immediately. As the bar passes your knees, make sure to actively pull it back toward your legs. It should remain in immediate proximity to your thighs, and it should come into contact by mid to upper thigh. As you reach the thigh position from which you lifted previously, accelerate aggressively to the top of the pull.
Initially, the pull from the floor to the hang position can be done very slowly to ensure proper positioning. You can even perform partial lifts from the floor to the thighs with a pause in the hang position. As you get more comfortable and consistent, the speed of this pull can be increased. At any speed, there should never be a point at which the bar slows or pauses.
Like Your Momma Always Told Ya: Practice Makes Perfect
As you continue performing power cleans, don’t hesitate to return to any of these drills to practice elements of the lift that are giving you trouble. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to run through several reps of each drill as part of your warm-up.
If you decide to include power cleans in your training program (and why wouldn’t you after learning all the steps?) make the commitment to continue improving your execution.
Because the better your power clean, the better your body will look and perform.

How to Master the Power Clean by Bryan Krahn

If you learned everything you knew about training from your local Bally’s or 24 Hour Fitness, you could be forgiven for thinking that a squat is an exercise performed in a Smith machine with a padded tube wrapped around the middle of the bar, or that a pull-up is something you need a special body-weight-neutralizing machine to perform, or that “mixing things up” means doing preacher curls before incline curls, instead of the other way around.
You aren’t that guy, of course, but just for a moment imagine that you are. Picture yourself in the gym one morning or evening, going through your usual lower-body routine of leg presses, leg extensions, and leg curls, when you see a guy do something completely foreign to your eyes.
He loads an Olympic barbell with a 45-pound plate on each side, and sets it on the floor. Since you’ve rarely seen anyone in this gym lift a weight from the floor, you have to stop what you’re doing and watch.
He crouches over the bar, with his knees bent and back more or less parallel to the floor. First he pulls it past his knees, which doesn’t seem terribly odd. But then he suddenly straightens his body and shrugs his shoulders while rising up on his toes, flinging the bar up the front of his legs and torso before ducking down into a squat as the bar lands on the front of his shoulders. He descends into a full squat, then rises back up until he’s standing straight with 135 pounds of metal sitting next to his collarbones.
You aren’t sure what you just witnessed. It looks like something you once saw a 4-foot, 10-inch Bulgarian do in the Olympics, except that lift somehow ended with the bar over the little guy’s head. You’ve certainly never seen an American lift like this.
The lifter bangs out three more reps before he sets the bar on the floor and steps back to catch his breath. You notice that everyone in the weight room has stopped to watch, including the gym’s trainers, who seem convinced the guy has broken a rule, even if they can’t decide which one.
Six Reasons to Get Your Clean On
As I said, you aren’t that guy. You’d know a power clean if you saw one. But, unless you played sports in college or dabble in CrossFit, chances are you haven’t yet tried them, or done them with the frequency and intensity it takes to see results.
Should you?
If you’re an athlete, power cleans and other modified Olympic lifts get an enthusiastic thumbs up. The movement pattern may not precisely mimic anything you’d do on a field or mat, but the total-body power it helps you develop is useful in just about everything.
“Athletes have to react to any change in their playing environment quicker than their opponent,” says TMUSCLE contributor Matthieu Hertilus. “Lifting explosively can help.”
For bodybuilders, the answer is also yes, but for different and somewhat more nuanced reasons:
1. Cleans recruit more muscles than standard gym exercises
“Very few, if any, other strength exercises involve more articulations,” says veteran TMUSCLE coach Christian Thibadeau. A power clean involves movement at the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints. That means you’re using your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, deltoids, and forearms, as well as the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement. Cleans, Thibaudeau says, “are unparalleled in terms of implicated muscle mass.”
2. Cleans makes you a better lifter
Even the most serious lifters in today’s gyms rarely attempt exercises more complex than squats, deadlifts, and bench presses — all of which are great exercises for strength and size development. But adding power cleans to your programs can make you better at those lifts.
“When you build explosive strength, you train the muscles to more readily activate the higher-threshold motor units,” says author, coach, and neurophysiology nerd Chad Waterbury. “The best bench pressers in the world have tons of explosive strength. If you’ve ever watched a world-champion bench presser train, you’ll notice how fast the barbell accelerates compared to the lesser mortals.”
You’ll also develop better balance and coordination, improving your form on front squats and other classic muscle-building exercises.
3. Cleans get you yoked
Well-developed glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors are crucial for athletes as well as bodybuilders. But you can develop those posterior-chain muscles with deadlifts, squats, good mornings, glute-ham raises, and just about any other lower-body exercises you’ll find in the powerlifting playbook.
Power cleans bring one more set of muscles into the mix: upper traps.
“The traps have to fire explosively in conjunction with the legs to accelerate the bar upward with enough force to get you underneath the bar,” Hertilus says. “Look at some of the best middleweight Olympic weightlifters and you’ll see the density of their traps.”
4. Cleans help you get ripped
Even when performed for relatively low reps with long rest intervals, power cleans are metabolically taxing, due to their explosive nature and enormous muscle recruitment. You can intensify this effect by bumping up the reps and decreasing rest periods.
But, with apologies to our friends at CrossFit, it’s not a good idea to go apeshit with the volume. Power cleans are among the most technique-sensitive lifts you can tackle, and when volume comes at the expense of form, you’re putting yourself (and possibly those around you) at risk for an injury. Even if you don’t get hurt, you don’t want to reinforce faulty recruitment patterns by lifting with sloppy form while you’re fatigued.
5. Cleans work your core
You need a strong core for all the major multijoint lifts that employ heavy loads, like squats, deadlifts, and weighted chins. That’s especially true for power cleans and other explosive lifts. But once you’re ready to add cleans to your routine, you’ll find your core strength improves rapidly and dramatically. “Lifting explosively requires the recruitment of many additional muscles to stabilize your body,” Waterbury says. “This builds total-body stability and strength.”
6. Cleans just look cool
Anyone can do a biceps curl or leg extension. They’re the first things they teach newbies at commercial gyms. Power cleans are at the opposite end of the exercise hierarchy. You need a solid base of conditioning, coordination, and weight-room experience before you learn the exercise, and then you need focus and effort to master it. It’ll be a while before you’re ready to pull heavy weights from the floor to your shoulders.
But once you’re there, you’ll be among a small percentage of lifters who can do one of the best exercises in the world for strength, power, muscular development, and overall conditioning.
And you’d better believe the other lifters in your gym will notice.
A Sober Approach to the Clean
Sometimes you’ll hear the power clean described as the sum of its component parts — a deadlift followed by an upright row followed by a front squat. And if that’s the way you approach it, you’ll probably have trouble mastering the exercise. It’s better to think of it as a vertical jump with a controlled landing.
“The key is pushing the ground away from you as forcefully as possible, and pulling yourself underneath the bar to catch it,” Hertilus says.
Starting position
Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart, with toes pointed outward slightly. Squat down and grab the bar with an overhand grip, your arms just outside your legs. Keep your back flat or slightly arched, your chest up, and your shoulder blades retracted.
The initial set-up is similar to the deadlift, except you want your shoulders farther out in front of the bar, as you see in the picture to your right. You should feel tension in your hamstrings; it means your posterior-chain muscles are loaded for the lift.
First pull
“In the clean, there is the first pull and then the second pull. They are continuous, but distinct,” says strength coach Charles Staley.
Although the first pull looks like a deadlift, the technique is different. Staley cautions you not to try to rip the bar off the floor. “The lift starts off slowly and then culminates into an explosive, full-body extension,” he says.
Start by pulling with your legs, straightening your knees so the bar can travel on a straight upward path while staying close to your body.
“This is also a good time to emphasize a small yet crucial detail, which is to turn the elbows out,” Hertilus says. That will help you avoid using your arms in the second pull, which will slow you down and minimize the work performed by your traps.
Your shoulders are still out in front of the bar, with your hips high.
As the bar rises above your knees, thrust your hips forward, pulling your body upright. Your knees will bend slightly as the bar moves past them, but this isn’t something you need to focus on.
Second pull
This begins the “power” portion of the power clean. As you straighten your knees and hips, you’re going to pull so hard that you come all the way up on your toes. This is the “vertical jump” part of the lift. When your lower-body joints reach full extension, rapidly and violently shrug your shoulders to give the bar maximum upward velocity.
At this point of the lift, your arms are still straight, with your elbows turned out, as the bar moves straight up along your torso. It’s important not to pull with your arms. They’re the equivalent of lifting straps at this point — you just need them to hold the bar, not accelerate it.
As your shoulders get as high as they’re going to go, reverse directions and pull your body back under the bar. This includes two simultaneous movements:
• Bend your knees and hips to a quarter- or half-squat position.
• Bend and rotate your arms under the bar so your upper arms are parallel to the floor and the bar rests on your front deltoids.
Even though you’re catching the bar, rather than projecting it upwards, there’s nothing passive about this part of the clean. You’re forcefully pulling your body back down. Olympic lifters stomp the floor as they come down off their toes. In the video to your right, in which Hertilus demonstrates the power clean from four different starting positions, you can hear the stomp on each repetition. (It makes almost as much noise as the bar does when it’s dropped from shoulder level.)
Stand up to complete the repetition, then lower the bar to the floor … unless you can get away with dropping it, which is a lot more fun.
Variations on a Clean
As you can tell from the detailed description of the exercise, it’s not something you can expect to do competently the first or second time you try it. It takes time. You may want to start with these variations:
Clean shrug from hang
This exercise focuses entirely on the second pull, helping you learn to extend your body while forcefully shrugging your shoulders to generate maximum upward momentum on the bar.
Start with the bar just above your knees, which is the transition stage of the power clean. You want your hips bent so your torso and thighs form a 135-degree angle. Put another way, your arms, which hang straight down toward the floor, form a 45-degree angle with your torso.
Push yourself away from the floor as fast and powerfully as you can, straightening your knees and hips and coming all the way up on your toes. Shrug your shoulders to complete the second pull.
Instead of dropping down and catching the bar, stop the exercise there, and lower the bar for the next rep.
Quick warning: No matter how many shrugs you’ve done recently, nothing prepares your traps for this exercise. You will be sore the next day, and the day after, and quite possibly the day after that.
Hang clean progression
In the video to your right, Hertilus demonstrates three versions of the hang clean. The first starts with the bar just around mid-thigh level. The second begins just above the knees, and then the third starts just below the knees. (The fourth lift is the full power clean from the floor.)
In case you’re wondering what he’s doing in between variations on the video, it has nothing to do with the exercise. He’s just adjusting his grip. When you start doing power cleans from the floor with heavier weights, you’ll want to reset your grip with each repetition.
The bar will roll across your palms to the ends of your fingers when you catch it on your shoulders, and it doesn’t always roll back to the correct position in your hands when you lower it. You may, for example, find you’re holding the bar with eight or nine fingers, instead of the perfect 10. It’s not a problem to lower the bar with a digital deficit, but you sure as hell don’t want to try to lift it without all your soldiers on the front line.
You can also start the hang clean from an elevated position, with the bar resting on blocks or the safety bars of a squat rack.
Clean Programming
Chad Waterbury provided us with this workout progression to master the power clean.
Weeks 1-2
Do the workout three times a week, with at least one day in between. On all exercises, use a weight you’re pretty sure you could lift six times with good form. (Obviously, you’re going to use trial and error here; nobody walks into the gym knowing their 6RM for front squats or calf raises, much less clean shrugs.)
Clean shrug
Front squat
Hanging leg raise
Calf raise
Weeks 3-5
Again, do the workout three times a week, with at least one day in between, and on each exercise use a weight you’re pretty sure you could lift six times with good form. On the hang clean, start in Week 3 with the bar at mid-thigh level. For Week 4, start with the bar just above the knees, and in Week 5, start with the bar just below your knees.
Hang clean
Dumbbell or barbell reverse lunge
Dumbbell single-leg deadlift
Ab-wheel rollout
Calf raise
Dumbbell single-leg deadlift
Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand holding them in front of your thighs. Bend forward at the hips, lowering the weights toward the floor, as you extend your right leg behind you. Do all the reps, then repeat the set with your right foot on the floor and left leg extending back.
Weeks 6-9
Chad put together two workouts, the first one for bodybuilding and the second one for strength.
On the bodybuilding program, you want to use a weight you could lift six to eight times with good form. Do the workout twice a week.
Power clean
Bulgarian split squat
Ab-wheel rollout
Calf raise
For the strength program, use weights you could lift four to five times with good form. Do the workout twice a week.
Power clean
Bulgarian split squat
Ab-wheel rollout
Complex Strategies
Another way to learn the clean, or to practice it regularly if you already know how to do it, is to incorporate the exercise into barbell complexes. You can do these at the beginning of your workout as a warm-up.
In a complex, you do multiple reps of a series of exercises without putting the bar down. So if the complex calls for four reps of Romanian deadlifts, high pulls, and jump shrugs, you’ll do all four reps of RDLs before you do four reps of high pulls, then four reps of jump shrugs. Then you put the bar down to recover for the next set.
Hertilus put together three complexes to hit your muscles in different ways and to emphasize different parts of the power clean. Pick one of the complexes to do at the beginning of your workout, and do it three times. Take as much time as you need between sets; excess fatigue hurts your form, and bad form has a way of reinforcing itself over time.
Focus first on form, and then on speed. Load is your last consideration. You don’t want to sacrifice form or speed for the sake of using a more impressive-looking weight.
Complex 1 (catch emphasis)
Drop clean x 3High drop clean x 3
The drop clean is a variation on the hang clean in which you start with your legs and hips extended and the bar at arm’s length, resting on your front thighs. It’s the same position you’d use to start an upright row or reverse curl.
From there, you jump — if you pause the video of Complex 1 to your right, you’ll see Hertilus’ feet come off the floor on each rep — as you shrug your shoulders to move the bar upward. Then you drop under it for the catch.
The high drop clean starts with the bar halfway up your torso. Your shoulders are elevated and elbows bent. Jump from that position, and catch the bar.
Complex 2 (transition and second pull emphasis)
Romanian deadlift x 4Hang high pull x 4Jump shrug x 4
You know how to do Romanian deadlifts — push your hips back and lower the bar until it’s just below your knees.
As you reach the bottom position of the fourth RDL, do a hang high pull: pull the bar to your mid thighs (the transition), and then pull it to your upper chest. It’s an explosive upright row.
After the fourth rep, go to jump shrugs. These are the same as clean shrugs, described earlier, except you’re jumping as high as you can off the floor on each rep.
Complex 3 (full power clean progression)
Hang clean from upper thighs x 1Hang clean above the knee x 1Hang clean below the knee x 1Hang clean at the ankles x 1
Start with the highest possible starting position for the hang clean, with the bar at your upper thighs. This is a bit different from the drop clean shown in the first complex, since your torso is leaning forward slightly at the start.
From there, do one rep each of the hang clean above the knee and below the knee. The final movement is more or less the starting position of the power clean. If you were using 45-pound plates, or lighter bumper plates with the same diameter as 45s, this is where the bar would be at the start of each rep.
Is It Safe?
Anyone who’s been around the iron game a few years knows the risk-reward calculus: The more challenging the lift, and the more ambitious the load, the higher the risk for injury. An explosive exercise like the power clean, which requires a lot of practice to master, presents more risk than, say, the abductor machine.
If you aren’t used to doing explosive lifts, Hertilus warns that the foot slam on each rep can lead to knee inflammation. And there’s always some chance of lower-back injury if you aren’t able to brace your core properly.
You might also find the exercise tough on your wrists. Waterbury says you need to be able to extend your wrists about 70 degrees backwards to be able to do the exercise with perfect form. That could mean some remedial flexibility work for your wrist flexors. “Those muscles are typically as tight as guitar strings on weekend warriors because they spend so much time gripping, and so little time stretching,” he says.
Hertilus recommends lots of front squats, using the clean grip rather than the crossed-arms bodybuilding style. “You start in the squat rack [as shown in the photo at right], and progress to taking the bar from the rack and holding the position,” he says. “It’ll feel awkward at first, but the more times you do it and the longer you can hold it comfortably, the better you’ll be able to handle catching a clean.”
Another concern is the risk to other people. Commercial gyms aren’t set up for explosive lifts, which require much more room than conventional exercises. An Olympic bar is seven feet long, and you need some space on either side — three feet is ideal.
If you went to a facility that specializes in training athletes, you’d probably see several Olympic weightlifting platforms, which are eight feet wide and set several feet apart from each other, usually with a rack of weight plates in between. And that’s in a gym where everyone knows that the lifter might plan to pull the bar from the floor to his shoulders.
So you have to employ some caution and common sense when doing power cleans in a commercial gym. You probably aren’t going to have enough room to do them safely during peak hours, and even in off-hours, make sure you have at least three feet of clearance at either end of the barbell.
Another potential problem is the gym’s management and staff. They probably aren’t used to seeing Olympic lifts, and may not even know what they are. Set a bad example by doing power cleans in a crowded area or dropping the weights when you’re finished, and there’s a good chance you’ll be told they’re officially banned. You might find yourself banned as well.
Cleaning Up
Here are the most important points to remember about mastering the power clean:
• Do them at the beginning of your workout, right after a general warm-up with mobility drills. You don’t want to do an exercise with this many moving parts when you’re fatigued.
• Be patient. With traditional bodybuilding routines, you can cycle in new exercises with little or no learning curve required. Anybody can do a hammer curl without specialized instruction. Nobody masters the power clean the first or second time out.
• Go light. Start with a broomstick, or the lightest barbell in your gym. Your ego will survive a few workouts with an unloaded bar.
• It’s easy to add weight once you’ve got the movement nailed, especially if you’re a strong guy to begin with.
• If you meet someone with experience in Oly lifts who’s willing to give you free instruction, accept the offer. No matter how carefully you study articles and videos, there’s just no substitute for hands-on coaching.
• And if you get a chance to train at a facility that specializes in Olympic lifting, or to take a class, jump on it. Your local university might have a weightlifting coach with a cool French Canadian or Eastern European name who’s forgotten more about coaching these lifts than most of us will ever know.
I know a few older bodybuilders who spend every fall performing Olympic and power lifts exclusively. It’s just about moving big weights fast, and they love it. After a few months, they return to their bodybuilding routines feeling stronger, refreshed, and ready to shave their forearms again.
Power cleans, in other words, won’t take the place of bodybuilding exercises, but they’re a great complement. They increase your strength, power, coordination, and overall weight-room competency, on top of building muscle mass in your legs, glutes, spinal erectors, and upper traps.
Plus, they’re fun in a way that other exercises aren’t. If you’ve spent years grinding out sets and reps with a controlled tempo, you can’t believe how liberating it is to move a barbell as fast as it’ll go.

With enough time and enough effort, Olympic lifts like power cleans can help you add some serious muscle.
Starting position for the power clean.
Midway through the second pull, you can see the full extension of the lower body and the violent shoulder shrug that propels the bar upward.
The catch: Notice that the knees and hips are in a quarter-squat position, and the upper arms are nearly parallel to the floor.
You can develop wrist flexibility by practicing the hold in the catch position with the bar in a power rack.
How to Master the Power Clean

With enough time and enough effort, Olympic lifts like power cleans can help you add some serious muscle.

How to Master the Power Clean

Starting position for the power clean.

How to Master the Power Clean

Midway through the second pull, you can see the full extension of the lower body and the violent shoulder shrug that propels the bar upward.

How to Master the Power Clean

The catch: Notice that the knees and hips are in a quarter-squat position, and the upper arms are nearly parallel to the floor.

4 Position Power Clean

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The first three movements are variations on the hang clean, starting at the upper thighs, above the knees, and below the knees. The final movement is the full power clean from the floor.

Complex 1

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Complex 1 emphasizes learning the catch from two different starting positions.

Complex 2

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Complex 2 helps you master the transition and second pull.

Complex 3

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With Complex 3, you do the clean from four different positions.

How to Master the Power Clean

You can develop wrist flexibility by practicing the hold in the catch position with the bar in a power rack.

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>How to Master the Power Clean by Bryan Krahn

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