Hang cleans* can be tricky business for athletes who are just starting a legitimate strength training program. Without a good strength coach on hand, getting the clean technique down can be a daunting task. But the good news is that the learning curve is relatively steep and once you start getting the proper feel for the basics, it won't be long until you're ready for more complex variations and higher weights. This article is intended to call out five important elements of a good hang clean. Take them to heart and you will be on your way to cleaning up your technique (see what I did there???).
*At Volt, we heavily emphasize the Hang Power Clean in programming for our athletes, but the same tips can apply for regular ol' hang cleans as well.
1. LOAD THE HAMSTRINGS
To achieve the power output you are looking for out of the clean, you have to make sure you're utilizing the most powerful extensors in the body. How do you do that? Get in a good hang position with the hamstrings and glutes engaged. This results in an efficiently-recruited posterior chain and you're set up to produce maximal force. To get into the hang position, hinge your hips backwards until the hamstrings are good and taut. A common mistake is to bend the knees as if you are sitting down, which just ends up pushing the knees forward. Don't sit down. Push your butt back instead. Sitting down pulls recruitment away from the hamstrings and puts the majority of the work load on the quadriceps. That's not what you want.
Need an easy way to tell if your hang position needs work? Check the path of the bar as it descends. As you hinge into the hang position, the bar should drop straight down - unimpeded by your thighs. If you hinge into your hang and your quads push the bar forward, you're not getting enough displacement in the hips traveling backwards. Imagine that you have string tied to the back of your waistband. As that string is pulled, it shifts your hips straight back and the bar descends towards the ground. A good hang position helps ensure the successful execution of the hang clean and enables maximal development of the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the hamstrings and glutes.
2. STAY OVER THE BAR
Many athletes, knowing that the hang clean is supposed to be an explosive movement, rush through the lift in a misguided effort to achieve more power. Not good. Rushing the clean often results in the bar hitting off the thighs at extension rather than staying close to the hips, causing a medley of frustrating problems. If you are coaching an athlete through the clean, remind them to be patient when getting into the hang position. Tell them to focus on keeping their chest over the bar. And for goodness sake, remind them to breathe. Focusing on keeping the chest over the bar longer allows the bar to travel higher up the thigh and helps the athlete develop better timing for the extension. And while being fast and explosive is inherent to the core of a good hang clean, staying patient and finding the right timing will make the movement easier to perform, thus resulting in more power generated in the long run.
3. DRIVE THROUGH THE HEELS
Again, the issue boils down to patience and timing. Yes, we do want to hit full extension in the hips, knees, and ankles. But we don't want to push onto our toes until the very end of the pull. Just like the concept of keeping the chest over the bar, being patient enough to wait to drive onto the toes will save you from a sloppy bar path and a bad receiving position. While pulling the bar, focus on pushing through the floor directly through the heels until the bar reaches hip-height. Extending onto your toes too early will take decrease the power generated by the hip extension, pushing the bar away from the body, and causing your pull to be weaker and less efficient overall. If you're having a hard time developing a feel for pushing through the heels, I recommend trying out a pair of Olympic lifting shoes or flat, minimal shoe styles. Standard running shoes can be too soft in the sole and impede the ability to feel feedback from the platform, interfering with proper timing and overall stability in the catch. Stiffer soles with less cushion allow you to get every ounce of force out of the pull and help limit the amount of lateral roll in the ankle.
4. USE THE LATS
Properly getting the bar to hip-height can be a big challenge when it comes to perfecting the hang clean. Often times, novice lifters will lose tension in the upper body before, during, or after the final extension. Correcting this can be tricky, but one easy way to feel and build tension is to actively use your lats when pulling the bar. We spend a lot of time in our lives working on releasing tension, but in this particular case, tension is a good thing. Engaging the lats stabilizes the shoulder and the upper back, allowing the torso to stay over the bar and the weight to stay closer to your center of gravity. Maintaining tension allows more force to be enacted INTO the bar. If the arms and shoulder get lax, by the time your hips extend you've lost a decent amount of the force needed to pull the bar upward. Engaging the lats also helps to keep the bar tight to the body, avoiding the pitfall of an ugly bar path. You don't want to swing the bar out in front of your body, put rather pull the bar straight up. Engaging the lats and keeping tension in the upper body will help keep the bar path nice and linear. I know it's a relatively advanced cue, but once you figure out the feel you'll find that your hang cleans are going to be crisper and easier to perform.
5. CATCH WITH AUTHORITY
If all the above tips are in play, the only thing left is to do is receive the bar in the front rack position. But this is easier said than done. An efficient catch makes it easier to perform subsequent reps (thereby increasing your overall workload) and allows for an easier transition into overhead movements. The key to a better catch (assuming you already have good shoulder/wrist mobility) is to "actively meet the bar" with your shoulders and torso. Hello, bar. I'm Jace. Pleasure to meet you.
Similar to the concept of using your lats to maintain tension during the pull, "actively meeting the bar" simply refers to maintaining strong muscle tension as the bar is traveling upward after extension. Novice athletes can get the tendency to "float" the bar, releasing tension in the upper back and shoulders as the bar travels upwards. What happens next? Well, the bar comes down hard, forcing the wrists and torso to absorb a tremendous amount of force. Meeting the bar with the torso involves pulling the body under the bar and simultaneously driving the elbows forward. The forward elbow position creates a strong shelf and stabilizes the upper back. The more stable the upper back, the less the torso will be pulled forward from the force of the bar, creating more stability on the catch and making the subsequent drive to standing easier. The bar should meet the torso right as the legs are ready to push upwards to return to a standing position. The timing can feel weird at first, but with practice you'll be much more comfortable with the bar in the front rack position.
Hopefully these tips will lead you down a better hang clean path than the one you were on before. And this stuff is worth working on! The more efficient you become at weightlifting, the better you'll be at producing force quickly and the more adept you'll be at getting into stable and safe positions. The end result: more power generated.
Feel free to post any questions or comments in the comments section!
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