Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Catching Cleans

Mario Martinez was one of the United States' great lifters and he battled the racking problem that Matt Foreman describes below.

We had a post a few weeks ago from Taylor and Dave Chiu on the necessity of adapting or lifting technique to individual characteristics. http://www.haskestrength.com/2014/03/great-lifting-site.html
While it is great to watch video and and analyze sequence photos of world class lifters and try to emulate their positions, we have to realize that sometimes we may lack the body proportions to hit these positions perfectly. There are also plenty of examples of top level lifters who have dealt with less than perfect genetics. Understanding this and working with  your own limitations is smart. Below is another great article by Matt Foreman that talks about catching cleans.

Okay, since we talked about the turnover phase of the snatch in the last article, why don’t we take a look at the clean? Actually, now that I think about it, many of the lifters I coach tend to have more difficulty catching cleans on their shoulders than catching snatches over their heads. Ever thought about that?

 Much of it is flexibility-related, which we all know. If an athlete is tight in the wrists, shoulders, elbows, and upper back, receiving cleans on the shoulders can be a real bugger. You start to see two big problems:
1.They have to open their hands and let the bar roll back on their fingers when they catch it on their shoulders, often letting their pinky fingers (and maybe even their ring fingers) pop off the bar. Men usually have more trouble with this than women.
2.They don’t catch the bar at the top of the shoulders, tucked into that “notch” we all see when expert lifters turn over their cleans. Instead, the bar lands on a forward area of their deltoid, possibly even down on the sternum.
I’ll bet I just described about half of you.

 These two problems lead to…more problems. One or both hands popping completely off the bar during the catch phase. Dangerous misses where the bar lurches forward and jams the wrists or, even worse, dumps off the shoulders into the lifter’s lap. Timing issues, long-term pain increases, etc. One way or another, you simply have to fix these glitches.

 First, the flexibility problems (or as everybody loves to say these days, “mobility”) have to be chipped away at. Flexibility doesn’t improve right away. It’s something an athlete has to put a lot of sustained, persistent effort into over a long period of time. I’m not going to start listing flexibility drills in this article because this website (and the internet in general) is crawling with them. You can do your own research.

 Second, there are technical issues you can look at that will improve your clean turnover/catch. As with my last article on snatching, I’m not going to make this a comprehensive analysis of the clean. We’re not reviewing every single aspect of the lift here, so I’m deliberately leaving several things out. Instead, let’s just hit a couple of technical cues and ideas that might help a lot of you:
•“Catch the bar at the base of your throat”- This is a cue I’ve used a lot in coaching. Many beginning lifters are scared to catch the bar in the right spot because they think it’s gonna crush their clavicles or something like that. So they receive the bar in some awkward position on their deltoids, trying to avoid the clavicle destruction thing, and it results in the bar being too far forward…which results in a crappy clean. Other people aren’t worried about their clavicles, but they still catch the bar in the wrong spot simply because they don’t know how to do it correctly. Thinking about tucking that bar right against the base of the throat, with the elbows up in the proper position, can help a lot. (NOTE: When I say “throat,” many of you think about the windpipe situation, where the bar can cut off the lifter’s airway and potentially cause a blackout. I haven’t found this to be a significant problem. It rarely happens, and any athlete with some basic ability will be able to find a way to keep it from happening regularly. It’s like hitting your chin in the jerk. [Editor's note: blackouts are caused more often by compression of the carotid arteries and/or vagal stimulation from the combination of holding the breath and exertion--releasing some air during the receovery of the clean and elevating the shoulders slightly in the rack position will prevent this.])
•It’s definitely possible for an athlete to do all the mobility work in the world and still not be able to catch cleans with a closed fist on the bar. Many people just don’t have the flexibility for this, and they never will. In that case, the goal is twofold: ◦Get the flexibility as far along as you can. If the athlete absolutely has to open the hand up and let the bar roll back on the fingers a little to catch the clean, so be it. Just try to minimize it as much as possible and do everything you can to avoid any pinkies or ring fingers popping off the bar.
◦If this is the case, you’ll have to master the “pop and adjust” technique after you’ve stood up with the clean and you’re preparing to jerk. I use the term “pop and adjust” simply for lack of a better description. You all know what I’m talking about because you’ve seen many lifters do it. It’s the thing that happens when athletes finish standing up with the clean and then drive the bar off their shoulders just a little bit, simultaneously adjusting their hands to a position that they can jerk effectively from. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, put in some YouTube time and you’ll find plenty of examples. Lots of lifters have to do this. I do it personally. It takes some work to get it consistent, but it’s actually not as hard as it looks.

Hey, it would be lovely if we all had that amazing flexibility you occasionally see, where a lifter can turn over a clean and tuck that bar right into the notch at the top of the shoulders with a completely closed fist on the bar. The people who can do this don’t know how lucky they are. They have an immediate advantage over everybody.

 But that’s not common. Most of you have birth defects that are gonna make this more challenging. Now you have another reason to resent your parents! Awesome!

Mario in action at the 1984 Olympics.........

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