Training Tips

7 ways a hang clean goes wrong

May 27, 2014

I need to rant a little bit. I was watching the Southern California Regional live stream the other day and it made me angry. I was expecting the athletes to be generally flawless in their movement, especially on something as simple as a hang power clean. What I witnessed was far from perfect. If it was not for the speed at which the competitors were moving through the workout as a whole, I would have thought I was watching a bunch of people who just learned how to hang clean.

In the final heat alone (the final heat – the best athletes) I witnessed so many mistakes not just from a technique perspective but from an efficiency point of view. It boggles my mind how these individuals, who have worked so hard for success, are setting themselves up for a subpar performance by not understanding simple technique and efficiency flaws.

The 7 things I saw go terribly wrong:

1. The bar traveling forward (away from the body) in every rep. It takes more energy to move a bar forward and up than simply just up. When you bring the bar away from you, it shows that you are not utilizing the 3rd pull to keep the bar vertical. This in turn overloads your hip musculature which these athletes needed later throughout the weekend.

2. Receiving the bar with knees bent in front of the bar. Not only does this cause sheering stress across the knee, but it forces you to use your quads to finish the rep instead of the hips. After 150 reps of pistols (in the case of Event 2 for individuals competing at Regionals), using the quads a little bit more like this will only make recovery that much harder; which could easily make the difference between a podium finish, and a non-podium finish. Send the hips back and use hips and quads.

3. Using no hips or knees, just back extension. The hang clean is a simultaneous extension of knees, hips, back and in some sort, ankles and shrug. If you are only using your back, you are going to cause high amounts of stress to your lower back, which overloads your high hamstring and glute muscles, foregoing use of the larger and more powerful hip and knee extensors in unison.

4. Leaning back when receiving the bar and stressing the lower back. This one was bad. One athlete was leaning back significantly on every catch, knees way in front of the bar, no hip flexion on the catch. This indicates a non-vertical bar path, a waste of energy (refer to #1) and more sheering stress across the knees and back (#2 & #3), causing more musculature to work, and more risk of overuse injury.

5. Using bent arms and wondering why muscle-ups were failing. Besides being a standard in the South East Regionals that arms needed to straighten at some point in the bottom of the clean, a few competitors lowered the bar with bent arms and popped it off the hip crease. This is good technique in some situations when it is allowed, but if you then head back to the muscle-ups and have to break up the set of 7 because you just over-used your biceps on the hang cleans, it wasn’t a successful understanding of the workout.

6. Never extending the knees on the vertical drive. Similar to only using back extension (#3), never extending the knees means you are not utilizing the knee extensor muscles and if desired, the plantar flexor muscles to get the bar up. It is always beneficial to use more muscles to accomplish a task because the relative stress is less compared to using a single muscle group. We’re talking efficiency aren’t we?

7. Slow elbows requiring shoulder flexion to raise the bar into a rack position. If your elbows are slow around the hang clean, and you need to drive them up once the bar has already landed in your front rack position, you are now using the muscular action of shoulder flexion to get the bar into the final position. The prime mover of this movement is the anterior deltoid, the same muscle required for dips. This athlete had trouble finishing his dips in the 3rd round and I know why, I wonder if he does?

All these errors were witnessed in the final heat of the Southern California Regionals for Event II. The heat consisted of some of the top competitors from the Open and even the CrossFit Games. This just shows that you can always get better. No matter how good you are right now, if you are not the best in the world, you need to try and fix something, because when it comes down to it, these small differences is what either makes you, or breaks you.

Rant end.



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