04 Mar

A Systematic Approach to Learning the Clean


In Olympic weightlifting competitions, the clean and jerk combines two movements to lift the barbell from the ground to overhead. Historically, the clean and jerk can win or lose a competition. While the jerk is typically known as the defining “make or break” portion of the lift, this article will focus on the systematic approach to introducing and learning the clean. 

In the first of three parts focused on learning the Olympic lifts, I introduced the snatch utilizing Justin Thacker’s ABC Method. In this second portion of our series, we will again employ the ABC Method to systematically progress through the different portions of the clean. Justin devised this progression model through years of his own training and coaching experience, and has produced numerous national-level weightlifters, including holding the title of national-level weightlifter himself. I personally have gone through this model as a coach and as an athlete in my time working at The Lab Gym and find it far superior to any other model to teach the lifts. This bottom-up progression model works in a systematic manner by taking the lifter through multiple stages of progressions to teach not only how to move in the snatch, but also what each position should feel like. 

Similar to the snatch, the clean ABCs are broken down into the “Squatting Quad” Series, the “3-Part Pause” Series, “2-Part Pause” Series, and the “No-Part Pause” Series.  Each series performs the same movements, just with variations in where the lifter pauses within the lift. 

The “Squatting Quad” Series is essential to teach the lifter the proper leg drive required to vertically propel the barbell with the most amount of velocity. The squatting quad position has the lifter perform a full-depth squat with the barbell resting on top of the knees. The lifter will then push from the bottom of the squat in order to perform each of the following movements:

  • Deadlift x 3 reps
  • Clean pull x 3 reps
  • Clean high pull x 3 reps
  • Muscle clean x 3 reps
  • Power clean x 3 reps
  • Power to full clean x 3 reps
  • Full clean x 3 reps

In the “3-Part Pause” Series, the lifter performs each movement with the most amount of pauses. This is to ensure that the lifter is feeling where their body and the barbell should be in the given positions as well as the balance required to achieve the desired position. The lifter pauses at the start of the lift, at the knee, and finally in the power position and performs the same movements from the squatting quad series.

In the “2-Part Pause” Series, the pause at the power position is removed and the lifter will only pause at the starting position and at the knee. By the time this series starts, the lifter will have done a number of reps by pushing the bar into the power position with the legs and holding that position. The pause is then removed to get the lifter to push the bar the same way, except with driving the bar up past the hips with full knee and hip extension. The lifter will perform each of the movements from the above list. 

In the “No-Part Pause” Series, the lifter finally puts all of the pieces of the complex puzzle together. The only pause here is at the start position, but the lifter has accumulated lots of segmented repetitions of the same movements and is now required to push through all of those positions. By this point in the progression, the lifter should be solidly dialed in to the clean and able to replicate the desired positions required to optimally perform the clean. 

Give this progression a go by utilizing it as a warm-up to any sort of clean work. If you’re interested in Olympic weightlifting, or any other form of strength training, schedule a FREE strategy session with a professional coach and take your training to the next level by individualizing your approach to training, nutrition, and lifestyle. 

In Strength, 

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