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A Bodybuilder's Guide To Power Cleans
| Apr 11, 2008
There was a time years ago when working out in the gym meant something more than a strenuous hour of super-setting hang-outs' with check-out-chicks' followed by 30 minutes on the treadmill watching a giant television screen among an endless sea of cardio equipment. Weight training equipment back then didn't come with speakers and silky voices cautiously encouraging you through your set. In fact silky voices of any kind were rarely heard and machines for the most part were frowned upon as the "easy" way out. They were believed to be less effective as basic movements with barbells and dumbbells for building those enviable mounds of thick dense muscle. A lot of things have changed since way back then, gyms are getting bigger, supplements are getting better, and there is far more knowledge out there about what works and what doesn't. Yet as much as things have changed, many simple truths about building muscle have prevailed. The simplicity of training with basic compound movements combined with lots and lots of hard work and good food was the accepted path to building muscle. Back in those days loudly proclaiming in front of everyone at the gym that you were about to "Clean and Jerk" or get that "Snatch" you dreamed about the night before, would not get you tossed out of the gym by the politically correct gym management. Rather, it would set you apart as one of the elite few that incorporated traditional Olympic weightlifting movements into your training program. Times and trends may have changed over the years and while the rules about building muscle have for the most part remained the same, some secrets to getting there seem to have been forgotten. Nowadays power cleans are usually reserved for athletes like football players that want to improve their explosive strength. But there is so much more this super-exercise can do for a bodybuilder. It could well be the secret bullet that adds mounds of thick muscle on your eagerly awaiting body. Not far away from your local gym some of the top athletes in the country and perhaps the world are using power cleans in their training routines to increase strength, speed and muscle size and density. An example is Mark Philippi CSCS, world champion powerlifter and 6-time world strongest man competitor, who owns and operates a training center in Las Vegas for elite athletes called PSI (Philippi Strength Institute). Despite his lengthy history with powerlifting's 3 lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift), he relies heavily on a wide variety of power movements including variations of power cleans to train his athletes now. Mark feels there is a distinct advantage to incorporating power cleans into a workout. "It's going to develop more power than a squat or deadlift because of the speed of the movement and the distance the movement travels, so you are going to get more work done at a faster rate." Mark also explains that power cleans work your entire body through the movement-legs, hips, lower and upper back, shoulders, arms and even chest to a small degree-making it the most complete all-round muscle and power building exercise there is.
Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
Mark teaches the athletes he trains about slow and fast twitch muscle fibers and explains the difference between a typical bodybuilding method of training with time over tension and power training like an athlete would experience training with power-cleans. "Slow twitch muscle fibers contain more mitochondria and myoglobin which makes them more efficient at using oxygen to generate energy without lactic acid build-up. In this way, slow muscle fibers can repeatedly and for an extended period of time fuel muscle contractions such as those required for endurance or time over tension training (slow repetition training) like most bodybuilding workouts. Fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers generally produce the same amount of force per contraction but fast twitch muscle fibers produce that force at a much higher rate which makes them more suited for explosive movements like sprinting or power-cleans." By incorporating power movements that recruit fast twitch muscle fibers into your regular bodybuilding workout which predominantly recruits slow twitch muscle fibers, you stimulate more growth by forcing your muscles to adapt to a different workload. Since power-cleans recruit such a wide variety of muscle groups to complete the movement, it is the ideal exercise to incorporate into your bodybuilding routine to stimulate growth of fast twitch muscle fibers.
Anatomy of a Power Clean
Power cleans are a complex exercise where the weight travels a great distance and a wide variety of muscle groups are used. So using proper form in the execution of the movement is absolutely vital to avoid injury and gain all the benefits possible from doing the exercise. Balancing and controlling the weight is key throughout the movement and gaining that control starts at the beginning in how you set up the lift.
Step One " The Pull
Positioning your feet, hands and body at the start of the exercise is known as "setting up" the movement. Properly setting up the movement is key to avoiding injury and performing a successful lift so strict attention must be paid to this portion of the movement.
Hands are positioned evenly on the bar, palms facing downward and shoulder width apart.
Feet are also approximately shoulder width apart, toes and knees pointing forward.
As you position your hands and feet you sit your hips down so they are slightly lower than your shoulders so you can more readily incorporate your hips and legs in the pull.
Your back should be flat and most importantly your head and eyes should be facing forward.
The bar is positioned just behind the toes but not on top of the arches of your feet.
As you set up the pull your core should be tight to protect your back by tightening your abdominal muscles. Mark suggests visualizing drawing your navel into your spine to tighten your abdominals.
The pull is a sequence of 3 events that must take place in the proper order for the movement to be performed properly. The first event is to drive upward using the hips and legs while keeping the back flat and head facing forward then simultaneously shrug the bar upwards with your traps and shoulders until the bar rises to a full shrug position where the arms will continue the pull until the body is fully extended.
Step Two- The Catch
The catch is the second part of the movement where the bar has been lifted in the air to a full body extension, the hips are fully extended and then the body drops beneath the bar as the elbows thrust forward to catch the bar in a low squat position with the bar resting in the hands on the top of the front deltoids. From this position the athlete stands up with the bar resting on his front deltoids just as you would with a front squat except the hands remain under the bar ready for the pressing position.
For the catch to be successful the body and hips must be fully extended in a straight line jumping motion with the bar shrugged and pulled as high as possible keeping the elbows high above the bar.
From this point the elbows are thrust under the bar and forward as the knees bend and the body drops underneath the bar to catch it as it falls.
The bar should come to a final rest with the hands or fingers underneath the bar as the bar sits across the front deltoids.
Once stable the bar is squatted upward to a standing position similar to a front squat.
The core muscles must remain stabilized by contracting the abdominal muscles to support the torso and the back must remain flat through the entire movement.
Step Three " The Press or Jerk
From the standing position with the bar resting on the front deltoids you have an option to either simply press the weight up over head or you can jerk it overhead to a position where the arms are fully extended.
Pressing the weight overhead is simply a matter of shoulder pressing the bar.
Jerking the weight overhead is slightly more complex and involves generating more power to perform the movement. The knees bend slightly and as the bar is rapidly pressed upward to where the arms are fully extended while simultaneously the hips drop lower while one leg moves forward while the other moves back in a scissor position. Once the arms are fully extended and the weight is stabilized, the feet are brought back together in a standing position.
When the exercise is completed the weight is dropped to the lifting platform provided rubber Olympic Weightlifting plates are being used. If not then the weight must be lowered slowly to the start position.
Mark Philippi's Power Clean Program
Mark Philippi recommends that power cleans be trained two times per week preferably on back day or if need be can be done on leg day. Warm up doing squats, pulls, and presses with an empty bar to prepare your muscles as well as rehearse the movements before adding any weight.
Exercise 1 " Pulls 2 sets of 5 reps
Pulls are just the first part of the movement from the floor to a full shrug
Exercise 2 " High Pulls 2 sets of 5 reps
High pulls are the same as pulls except you pull the bar as high as possible while keeping the elbows high and above the bar. This is the final position before transitioning into the catch.
Exercise 3 " Power cleans 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, 1 set of 2 reps, one set of 1 rep
This is the full power clean with either a press or a jerk at the end to bring the bar overhead at arms length. Mark will change the sets and even have some reps in a set performed with a press and the rest as a jerk just for variety. These last 4 working sets are heavy and each set the weight is increased but never to the point where good form is sacrificed
Exercise 4 " Stiff Legged Deadlifts 2 sets of 5 reps
These are a traditional stiff legged deadlift but not performed with speed or acceleration.
Exercise 5 " Bent Over Barbell Row 2 sets of 5 reps
Again this is a traditional barbell row with a wide grip and the bar is pulled into the midsection. Maintain a flat back with your head up to avoid back injury.
Marks Training Tips
Always train power cleans first because if you fatigue your muscles doing other exercises before doing power cleans technique can break down and you risk an injury.
Warm up with the empty bar on all components of the movement so you prepare the muscles as well as rehearse the technique before adding heavy loads
Train power cleans using rubber Olympic weightlifting weights so that if you are unable to complete the movement at any time you can simply drop the weight to avoid injury.
"Never try to save a bad lift". Drop the weight and try it again.
At the start of the movement you perform the pull by shrugging first rather than finishing the movement by pulling with your arms and keeping your elbows high above the bar.
Always keep your head and eyes facing forward and your back flat.
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