Fitness Friday! Thoughts on the clean.

Welcome to Fitness Friday, where I bring up embarrassing personal anecdotes to motivate myself to get into shape.

On the fat front: after a few weeks of slowly gaining I seem to have returned to late December levels, measuring 33.5″ at the navel. Unfortunately I have not been writing down what I eat because I am traveling more and have less… no, forget it, I’ve just been lazy. So I do not know my caloric intake, but I seem to be snacking less and have given up on breakfast entirely. Avoiding breakfast makes calorie counting and meal planning a lot easier.

I am one week into my new exercise routine which I hope to run for eight to twelve weeks. It is basically barbell squatting and bench pressing twice a week, deadlifting once a week, with some dumbbell exercises thrown in for joint health and vanity. The exercises in bold are the ones I do with progressively heavier weights, the rest with whatever weight feels right that day.

I dropped the snatch from my routine so I could focus on the clean, even though the snatch is more fun. The two lifts are similar enough that if I make progress in the clean it should carry over. My clean has been hovering around 120lbs for what seems like forever. I think I am stronger than that, so the problem is likely technical. The main thing impeding progress seems to be the “bottom” of the clean.

To get a heavy weight off the ground and onto the front of your shoulders you have to preform two movements. First is an explosive upward movement that transmits your energy into the bar making it rise. The heavier the bar the less it will rise. If the point of equilibrium is lower than your shoulders, you have to preform a second movement, dropping down into a squatting position in order to catch the bar – this is the bottom of the clean. Then you stand up with the weight balanced in front of the shoulders.

It is a perfectly natural human movement. Picture farm boys throwing bails from the ground up into a hayloft: they will lift hard to create momentum and then bend their legs to get underneath it, then use their bent legs to drive the bail up into the air. But natural as it is, I’ve always had a hard time with getting into the bottom position on the clean. I always focused so much on the upwards explosion that I’m not be able to drop quickly enough into the squat. Maybe I didn’t throw enough hay bails as a kid.

I did play lots of pickup basketball though… badly, but I played. If you are on defense and the ball carrier fakes a shot and then drives to the basket you will find yourself preforming the rapid progression of crouch – extension – crouch that is the essential pattern of the clean. While in basketball if you lose contact with the ground you have little hope of making a defensive play, in the clean your feet actually do have to come a little off the ground so you can move them into a new, wider position.

Or an even simpler human movement, imagine yourself jumping off a platform and landing on your feet: your knees bend to absorb the force of impact. The higher the platform the more you bend your knees because of the increased force. In the clean, the increased force is not caused by distance traveled, but by greater mass.

I find that the more I focus on the simplicity of the clean the easier it becomes. For learning the upwards movement the most useful cue was “just get it on your shoulders, dumbass”, for the downwards it is imaging myself landing from a jump.



  1. Good post. The clean is a great move but technique is important. I do hang cleans quite a bit and struggle often, especially if I am tired after a few reps.

    1. I did a lot of hang cleans and snatches in the fall, using them as warm ups before doing other stuff. Made my traps huge.

      1. They are good for the traps.

        I have been eating clean for 5 weeks now and doing a lot more cardio so I have lost a good bit of muscle mass.

        Now I am tweaking my diet, lifting, and cardio so I can stay lean while putting some mkuscle back on.

        Not sure how that will go but the experiment is pretty interesting so far.

      2. So far I am failing: waist is the same and I’ve been having a hard time getting to the gym. Hopefully tonight…

      3. Getting there is often the hardest part. Fortunately I have quite a bit of freedom to leave work and go to the gym so it doesn’t interfere with my off time. If it were not for that, I would probably skip quite a bit.

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