This post is about the #1 reason we are more committed to using the Hang Clean for Power Development than ever before.
Some variation of the Clean is used in nearly every high school weight training program that I come across. I’ve used the Hang Power Clean for 8+ years here at CVC, but a few years back I got to the point where I was seriously considering taking it out of our program all together. At that point I did some serious soul searching and evaluation of how the lift was contributing to the development of our student-athletes. I finally decided, emphatically, that the lift had to stay in our program but not before I weighed (pun not intended) all the pros and cons. In this post, I want to discuss what I feel to be the pros and cons of using an Olympic lift like the Hang Power Clean in a High School training program.
I’m the kind of guy that always wants to know the bad news first, so it made sense to me to first discuss the reasons why I almost pulled the Hang Power Clean out of our training program.
1- Difficult to Coach
When I was taking my USA Weightlifting certification course (taught by legendary Weightlifting Coach Mike Burgener) I remember him saying that the elite weightlifting coaches feel like it takes an athlete 10 years to master the skills of that sport. If it takes an elite level weightlifter 10 years to master the Clean and Jerk and Snatch, it’s safe to say that my high school athletes will not master the lift during my time with them (Spoiler Alert: this is why we use the Hang Power variation of the Clean and no longer Snatch or Jerk).
2- Injury Risk
The Hang Power Clean demonstrates a greater bar speed than the powerlifts (Bench, Squat, Deadlift). In fact, when you miss an attempt, the bar is often flung up in the air and/or bounced on the ground. This bar speed adds a layer of injury risk that we cannot afford to take lightly. On top of that, the catch position in the Clean and the Snatch is often one that can be problematic for overhead athletes in sports like Baseball, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball, and Swimming. Also, catching the bar in good position requires a lot of wrist and elbow mobility for the Clean variations and shoulder mobility and anterior core control in the Snatch and the Jerk. Sometimes students struggle in these areas which increases the injury risk (Spoiler Alert #2: we use the “Hang” and “Power” positions to mitigate this risk).
3- Hypertrophic Response (Adding Muscle Mass)
Or lack thereof …. Quite frankly I don’t see much of a hypertrophic benefit to the Olympic Lifts outside of some potential benefit to the upper traps. The reason being that the Olympic lifts are explosive and require only minimal eccentric contraction thereby not creating enough time under muscular tension and muscle damage to induce the addition of lots of muscle mass. This isn’t a huge problem except that I am limited on time and want to get as much bang for my buck as possible. In a sport like American Football (which tends to drive training programs at the high school level) where body mass is an important component of on-field success, this is a variable that must be addressed.
4- Programming Inefficiency
Because the Clean is neuro-muscularly taxing and requires muscle groups from the entire body, it does not fit well into the type of exercise pairs or tri-sets that I use to make a program more time efficient. If you’re not careful, the Olympic lifting can take up a ton of time in your training program. This sounds like it might not be a big deal, but I think the time you spend on things should reflect the priority you give them. In our case,, the Hang Power Clean is important, but not important enough to get more attention than some of our other lifts (side note: we typically perform 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps, twice per week).
The PROs … and the #1 reason we are more committed to the lift than ever before.
1- Power Development can be Quantified
Mike Boyle taught me the importance of being able to quantify progress. He argues that being able to chart improvement is a key characteristic of great exercise selection. Now, I get it, progress in some areas can be difficult to quantify (core function for example), but for a category as important as power, I want our primary tool for power development to be an exercise that we can quantify every single day in every single set. In the Hang Power Clean, we can quantify a student-athletes’ performance by the amount of weight they’ve successfully lifted with acceptable technique. This cannot be said for many of the other options that I’ve considered over the years (i.e. Plyometrics, Dynamic Effort Lifts, Swings, Resisted Jumps). In my experience, this quantification helps to motivate student-athletes as well as helping them progressively overload their musculo-skeletal systems.
I want our primary tool for power development to be an exercise that we can quantify every single day in every single set.
2- Dynamic Deceleration
The ability to effectively catch the barbell in the Hang Power Clean is often a limiting factor for the completion of a successful lift because it requires so much coordination and eccentric strength to decelerate the body into the proper position. Some have said that this is a negative because it limits the total amount of power that can be produced in the lift. I believe there is some merit to this argument because in my experience the catch can limit the amount of weight that is successfully lifted. However, I think there is a benefit to this particular challenge that we should embrace. That is, the ability to control the body while in the act of maximal power production. Body control is a huge factor in reducing the risk of athletic injuries, so it makes sense to me that we allow it to limit the amount of power a student-athlete can produce. In a sense I’m saying, “if you can’t control the power, it’s dangerous to be producing it”. That might be a tiny bit extreme, but it’s at least worth considering, and in my mind, it eliminates the concern that the catch is an undesirable limiting factor.
3- Potentiation of the Vertical Jump … Drumroll please … the #1 Reason we Hang Power Clean
I’m not sure where everyone is at in terms of scientific fluency, so I’ll define potentiation simply as an exercise or activity that makes the exercise or activity you do immediately after it better. The terms describes the idea of potential energy stored in the muscle. How does this apply to the Hang Power Clean and the Vertical Jump? Bottom line, a few years ago we began to notice that when we tested Vertical Jump performance in between Hang Power Clean 1RM attempts, our Vertical Jump numbers shot through the roof. I eventually made the connection with the theory of post-activation muscle potentiation and realized that’s exactly what was happening to our Vertical Jump numbers. Now, we always test Clean and Vertical Jump on the same day, and we will tell our student-athletes to do at least a few heavy Hang Power Clean attempts before coming over to test their Vertical Jump. In my opinion, it is logical to assume that if the Hang Power Clean potentiates incredible Vertical Jump test numbers then it is also very likely a great tool for increasing the Vertical Jump. I consider the Vertical Jump to be the Holy Grail of Athletic Performance Assessments, so with that knowledge now in tow we’ve never looked back.
Anyway, it’s interesting because as you can see, I was developing a long list of “reasons not to clean” until I realized that the clean was the best tool I had for achieving the thing that was most important to me. Since we re-committed to the Hang Power Clean and committed more time and energy into coaching it effectively, we have seen a steady rise in our Vertical Jump numbers. At one time, it was rare for us to have a student-athlete jump over 30″ and our best ever vertical jump was 32″ for a long period of time. Now, using the potentiation of the Hang Power Clean as well as progressively overloading that lift on a regular basis in our training regimen, we have numerous student-athletes jumping over 30″ and even had one hit 41.1″ this past semester (5″ over the PR he had established 6 months prior to consistent training).
If you’re working with athletes and you use the Hang Power Clean and have the ability to test Vertical Jump performance, try out the idea of potentiation and let me know what you find.
PS – if you need a tool for testing Vertical Jump, I highly recommend the Just Jump System which you can get from Perform Better by following the link below.