When interested in better performance of the clean, a great place to narrow our focus is the second pull phase and the catch phase. Now while there are other elements of a successful lift, these two parts can make or break it. The second pull is the start of the explosive part of the movement, and the catch is the culmination of the all the effort/technique to get the bar up to the proper height. (You don’t want to miss at this point because of poor positioning, when you’ve done everything else correctly!)
Preceded by the setup, the first pull and transition…the second pull starts in the power position. The power position is characterized by the bar at hip height, weight in the heels, knees are pushed under the bar, torso upright with arms straight keeping tension on the bar, and shoulders are back (not rolled forward). Slight bend in the knees, hips, and ankles allows for potential of triple extension which accelerates the bar. If you are locked out too early in any of these joints, you can’t generate enough power to propel the bar vertically.
Full extension of the legs must be achieved before starting the shrug and the clean pull. Shrugging too early completely skips the most powerful phase of the lift. You should strive to keep the bar as close to you throughout the movement as you can, with a straight vertical bar path. After the shrug, pull the elbows up and back. The proper bar height, and high elbow position, will allow for a rapid rotation of your elbows underneath the bar. If the elbows are too low, the movement will turn into a reverse curl, with loss of power and the bar traveling too far away from the body. You want the shrug and high elbows to help actively pull yourself under the bar, instead of short pulling and trying to rush under a weight that is not high enough.
If form has been on point thus far, then all that is left in hitting the lift is the catch phase. Bar height is important here, because if the weight is a couple of inches too high, it will crash into shoulders and cause instability. The feet should jump out an inch or two from pull width to catch width. Too wide and you can’t get any bend in the knees to absorb heavier weight. Maintaining an upright torso with elbows high, our classic front rack position, we want to avoid the bar traveling too far in front of us. The bar traveling too far in front will result in a jump forward in an attempt to try and chase the bar. If the elbows dip low and/or we round our backs at this point, the bar will want to miss forward, or we won’t be able to stand up with it.
The Olympic lifts are some of the more technical movements in all of sport. The clean definitely exemplifies this notion, but it is all the more gratifying when hard work pays off in constantly improving technique, successful lifts, PR’s, and visible progress. These movements are not meant to be mastered overnight, but that shouldn’t be met with any dismay but rather enjoyment of the journey.