“Bump! Shrug! Pull!”
My trainer cues my hips, shoulders and arms to move as I struggle and almost cry in frustration to achieve what she is asking of me. There is so much going on that I cannot understand what she wants me to do.
I do my best to relax. Close my eyes. And, instead of forcing the movement to happen, feel it happen.
Suddenly, everything clicks. My hips explode forward, my shoulders and arms pull the barbell up to my chest, and I get under it and land in a full front squat. Sweat pours from my body, my heart rate spikes, my legs burn like hell.
Just nine more reps to go.
This is one type of Olympic lift known as the clean.
What Is an Olympic Lift?
An Olympic lift is a maximum-weight single lift of a barbell loaded with weight plates.
Squats, dead lifts and bench presses are basic Olympic lifts. Most weight lifters learn these three movements before they learn more advanced ones, such as overhead squats, snatches and cleans.
Learning to perform the various types of Olympic lifts is a discipline, one that may take years – if not decades – to master.
If you do not have experience with the basic movements above, invest time in learning them before moving on to the advanced ones. They are mandatory foundations for building a powerful and functional body.
If you are strong, mobile and not limited by injury, start performing cleans.
Performing the clean requires every inch of your body and every molecule of your concentration. It demands downright determination and toughness. The clean will push you to your limits – physically and mentally.
The clean is a full-body movement. Full-body movements take more muscle and effort to perform. As a result, they make you stronger, leaner and more functional.
How to Clean:
1) Set Up
Approach the bar with your feet hips-width-distance apart. Grab the bar with a double overhand grip. Use a hook grip instead of a standard grip.
Get yourself into the “power position”: hips back and down, chest lifted, chin slightly tucked, and arms pulling all of the slack out of the bar. If the bar weighs 200 pounds, apply 199 pounds of pressure. This will engage your whole body so that you are ready to exert your full power.
Drive your hips forward as you stand up with the barbell and bump it with the fronts of your thighs. Keep the barbell tight on your body. If your thighs do not bump the bar, the bar is too far from you.
As the bar comes off of your thighs from the bump, immediately start to shrug your shoulders up to your ears. Keep your arms straight as your shoulders come up.
Beginners tend to try to reverse-curl the bar up to their shoulders. This will work for the first few reps, but then their arms will begin to fatigue and to cramp from the excess load.
As your shoulders reach their peak and cannot shrug any higher, forcefully pull the barbell up to your shoulders. The bar should be tight on your body and move vertically, not like a crescent.
5) Get Under It
As you pull the bar to its peak height – your shoulders – slide yourself underneath the bar and into a full squat. As the bar goes up, you go down. The moment you get into a full squat, the bar should arrive on top of your shoulders, with support from your hands.
Keep your chest lifted, core tight and elbows high.
6) Drive Upward
With all of your force, drive your hips forward and stand up with the barbell.
These actions constitute one full rep. At first, the motions will feel awkward, maybe even impossible. This will change over time.
Once the clean starts to feel less choppy, start playing with adding weight to the barbell. You will know when this time comes. The smoother the motion becomes, the lighter the weight will feel.
As you develop proficiency, you can use the clean to achieve different goals:
Want to get stronger? Do lower reps – three to five – more slowly with heavier weights. Heavier weights will train your body to move heavier loads and will strengthen your core and foundation.
Heavier weights also will challenge your central nervous system. This will build its capacity, which will enable you to increase your physical and mental output. The concentration that heavier weights require will amplify your focus, performance, energetic efficiency and mind-body connection too.
Want to get leaner? Do higher reps – 10 to 20 – faster with lighter weights. High reps of cleans will turn your metabolism into a furnace, burning fat off of your body. They also will heighten your cardiovascular endurance and athletic performance.
These benefits all will empower you to move more easily and enjoyably through your life.
I incorporate cleans into my workouts a few times per month. I use them to build strength, to challenge my body and mind, and to burn extra calories from a long weekend.
If your exercise knowledge and ability are advanced, you can practice the steps above on your own. If you are still developing your exercise expertise, learn the clean via in-person instruction so that you can try it safely.
The road to learning how to do cleans correctly may be long and difficult, but the perspective this produces also makes it fun.
What challenges you strengthens you. Cleans will challenge you to your core. As a result, they will elevate your fitness, athletic performance, and physical and mental abilities to levels that you did not think were possible.
A Maur Unity collaboration, edited by Maura Bogue