Is it ok to Clean?


Yesterday I was sent a link to an article of why cleans may not be the best option for everyone. What was concerning is that many coaches are shying away from the olympic lifts more and more, and now lifting in any form besides single leg options with light loads is the new normal. No exercise is magical, and ten years ago I wrote an article about overzealous coaches demanding that everyone do olympic lifts, even the freshman swimmer with massive laxity and no training background. The pendulum swings back and forth, but we need a compass pointing to true north.

One athlete I worked with this year had a broken wrist in the past and only snatched, thus limiting the options for olympic lifting. This was fine because no exercise is a must, but as I have worked with better strength coaches, the olympic lifts have become more and more of a staple than in the late 1990s. Not much difference in my training can be seen on paper because I have no bias towards the lifts because I am not the one training, but I would say some changes are visible because I have improved as a coach. My change over the last 10 years is getting people to be better with less and less time. While rules may say I have x amount of hours, I tend to get athletes with less training background. If one were to see my program from 1990s, I would guess the changes are small enough to see evolution but not enough to say that principles have changed.

I love the olympic lifts, but had only a small percentage of athletes in swimming use them and have had as I wrote earlier some athletes not do them at all in spiriting. I am able to do choose what is right for the athlete without personal bias. So long as the reasons make sense, the choice to include the lifts or not include the lifts should never be questioned. So what about the reason they don’t transfer?

Every lift has limits to making athletes better. No way would doing a olympic lifting program make random basketball players into hordes of Lebron James. Tim Grover would not have had Michael Jordon score 45 points a game if he had him train like some Bulgarian lifter in the 1980s. On the other hand we need to see why some exercises have some trends and benefits before removing them. I read Brijesh Patel’s article and it was clear that he found that the cleans he was using was not working in getting his athletes to jump higher. Unfortunately this can be true as getting the numbers higher doesn’t mean much in sport. I can teach my guys to be more skilled and catch lower and it could add 20 pounds, but power may not be increasing. Yet I would love a few more questions and data sets to make a logical conclusion as a reader. The only data I see is 25 pounds on the clean and dates of training. This is not enough for me for agreement. We must show the data and not tell without solid evidence.

Lifting should support the sprinting and agility in sports, and when athletes are not improving at rates that are normal or beyond, one must look at the program first, before looking at the exercises. I have shared my averages to what I think transfers. A 172 pound triple jumper may not get much going from 185 to 210 in the clean, as I feel that the lift makes an impact near 1.3 x body weight. In fact 1.5 or higher seems to be the zone that coaches see some noticeable change. When I see facebook updates of 335 pound cleans I don’t’ get excited when they are linemen. What is the context?

Then we have execution of the lift, something hard to see without solid video of everyone, not just the stars, do over and over again. Is the bar trajectory close to the center of the athlete? I have seen many lifters adopt a technique with the bar rolling away in a loop because the movement was very low back dominant and the COP (center of pressure) was near their toes at the wrong time. Getting the numbers up to even the right ratio may not matter. For me to decide I would have to see solid video, not just verbal summary.

I find that it’s strange that full lifts were not considered after deadlifting and rack pulls were used to create the changes. People have gone to hang exercises (or boxes) but forget that lifting from the floor has unique muscle recruitment patterns that engage in muscle groups people are so desperately activating. The hang position only is not a problem, but one has to consider the differences of the lift because while they have some general qualities, each exercise does have mechanical considerations.

Then we have the program itself. Is it one bad ingredient or just the recipe? I am not saying that the program isn’t good or bad, I will never know. Just like Yale winning a D1 Hockey championship with the men having years of intensive olympic lifting, the program is not hurting the team’s success. If only they removed the olympic lifting they could be dominating for the next ten years? Unlikely. To say including a lift is a magic bullet is not true, but clearly it’s not holding them back.

In summary, people should not crucify anyone for a program that doesn’t include the olympic lifts, but teams should not see the exclusion of them as a sign of enlightenment. The clean didn’t’ work for him in his program and that may be true, but after seeing them work for myself and other colleagues I think it must be said that it’s not a direction that must be followed by everyone.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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