Clean Technique: How To Use Your Legs
The whole goal of the clean is to move the barbell from the floor, make good hip contact, and catch a large amount of weight. The reason why the clean transfers very well to various sports is because there is a big strength component, there is a large amount of power output, a large amount of speed, and there is a large amount of force absorption that goes into executing the clean properly.
Athletes who know how to utilize their legs properly and execute with their leg strength will find that the clean transfers really well to dynamic trunk control, explosiveness, vertical jump, and even one’s absolute strength because of the way athletes have to absorb the energy and squat out of the bottom position.
1. Foot Stance
First, we want to establish the proper foot stance. Typically we want to be about a foot’s lengths position away to get the width established. This is very similar to where the feet are in the back squat, probably slightly more narrow than the back squat. Or, the stance taken for a vertical jump will suffice for a starting position.
2. Knee Pushing Forward, Butt Back
As we start, we want our knees to be almost directly in line with the toes and the chest is in line with that as well. We will have knee flexion and hip flexion with a slight bit of dorsiflexion at the ankle joints.
The whole point now, the first position with the legs, involves us extending our knees to get the bar to the bottom of the knee. The whole key here is to extend the knees while holding hip flexion. This is predominantly from the hamstrings with the quads riding shotgun to lead to the knee extension which takes us to the next position.
3. Reciprocation Point
The reciprocation point is just above the knee; it is where we want to see contact start to be made with the barbell. We want the barbell to stay really tight to the hip to help the body stay vertical in the position. To get to the hip with the barbell tight, we want to see the bar stay tight to the knees. So below the knee, the knees will come back until the bar clears the knees in no man’s land before the knees come back through.
The whole point is that the knees will extend and they start to flex. That is a big concept. It will lead to a co-contraction with the quads and the hamstrings. So, staying tight with the whole lower back, we extend the knee, flex the knee, and hold hip flexion throughout. This is where we want to see the knees clear back and then reciprocate forward.
4. From The Reciprocation Point To The Hips Into The Catch
People think that the hips come through last. In most cases, the hips will come through and the knees will extend at almost the exact same time or the hips come through first and the knees extend on the finish. It is almost either together or the hips proceed the knees.
In this position, the extension of the hips with the hamstrings and the glutes allows us to come through. After the contact, there is a slight knee extension. We will also likely get up on the toes. With that said, we believe the best way to coach movements is to keep it simple; specifically, or a rant, use the cue to stay flat-footed in the pull as long as possible, bringing the hips through, extending the knees rapidly, and the by-product will be getting on the toes. Some athletes will plantarflex tremendously while others will barely do it. The point we are trying to make is that triple extension does not need to be coached; it just happens through repetition.
5. Receiving The Bar
What happens with the legs when we catch the clean? A big goal is catching a really good bounce out of the hole, absorbing the force, and utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle.
Think about wrapping the elbows, throwing on the breaks, and quickly accelerating to get out of the hole fast. We want to slide the feet. Jumping the feet all over the place limits our ability to throw on the breaks. Grounding the feet flat-footed, the knees will travel forward with knee flexion along with hip flexion. The quads and hamstrings will act in unison to help break against the bar’s gravitational force. As we hit the bottom position, will kick in the nitrous from the stretch-shortening cycle to lead to driving through the quads and through the heels as we stand up with the bar.
It is important when thinking of how we use the legs in the catch to brace quickly and wrap fast with the upper body. Drive the elbows up while pushing through the heels to help the quads and hamstrings co-contract together to absorb that energy. Ideally, we want just one bounce out of the hole to drive out fast.
Athletes who learn to absorb energy in the clean will teach their body how to use the stretch-shortening cycle to recruit rapidly out of the hole. Kinesthetic vocabulary acquisition of learning how to use the legs in the clean will transfer really well to the sports performance world.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.