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The Hang Power Clean

Ronai, Peter M.S., FACSM; Scibek, Eric M.S., ATC, CSCS

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000240
Columns: Do It Right
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Peter Ronai, M.S., RCEP, CEP, EP-C, FACSM, CSCS-D,is a clinical associate professor of exercise science in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT.He is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). He is an associate editor of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®. He is a member of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit & Expo program committee and a past president of the New England Chapter of ACSM. He writes articles regarding exercise programming for persons with chronic diseases and disorders and also about online tips and tools that exercise professionals can access to better serve their clients.

Eric Scibek, M.S., ATC, CSCS,is a clinical assistant professor of exercise science in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. He is a certified athletic trainer and a member of ACSM. His research interests are identification of dysfunctional movement patterns to predict injury and the efficacy of functional movement screening tools in doing so.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest and do not have any financial disclosures.

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EXERCISE TYPE

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The hang power clean is a total body, multiple joint strength and power development exercise. It is a derivative of the clean and jerk, one of the two events performed in the sport of weightlifting (13,14,25).

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BENEFITS OF THE EXERCISE

The hang power clean often is performed as a means of enhancing lower body power and rate of muscle force development (1–3,5,6,17–19,22,28).

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INTRODUCTION

The hang clean often is taught to athletes during the initial stages of power enhancement training with novices because of its relative simplicity in contrast to the full power clean and squat clean varieties (4,9,10,17,20,24,26,28). Training protocols using the clean and its variations have produced significant increases in vertical jump height, horizontal jump distance, lower body peak muscle force, and power, balance, and speed (1–3,10,17,18,20,22,25,26,28). The full clean, hang clean, and hang power clean variations appear in Figures 1A, 1B, and 1C, respectively. The hang power clean, which appears in Figure 1C, will be the focus of this column article. Variations will appear in future articles.

Figure 1A

Figure 1A

Figure 1B

Figure 1B

Figure 1C

Figure 1C

The clean has been performed safely in well-supervised training programs for children, adolescents, and adults (3,4,18,21,23–25). To perform the hang power clean properly, vertical acceleration of a weighted bar is accomplished by rapid and forceful extension of the hips, knees, and ankles known as triple extension. Synchronized triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles is essential for actions that include but are not limited to jumping, running, hopping, lifting objects from the floor, and rising from a seated position (14,25). The reported incidence of injuries occurring during well-supervised weightlifting in children and adults is minimal and less than that of persons competing in sports including but not limited to soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, and rugby (15,21,23). Please refer to digital video content file 1, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A36 for demonstrations of the full clean, hang clean, and hang power clean.

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PRIMARY MUSCLES ACTIVATED

The gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, erector spinae, soleus, gastrocnemius, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and deltoids (13) (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

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TEACHING AND SAFETY POINTS

The full power clean is a four-phase lift that consists of the first pull, transition, or scoop, second pull, and catch, or rack, phases. The use of PVC pipes, broomsticks, and unloaded Olympic weightlifting–type bars, teaching weighted plates, specialized safety racks, and lifting boxes can facilitate safe and effective learning of the hang power clean and its variations (10,11,27). To prevent injuries to lifters and to personal trainers, explosive-type exercises like the hang power clean and its variations are taught or coached with close supervision but not spotted directly like the bench press or squat exercises. Optimal viewing of the phases of the hang power clean can occur at an angle that is approximately 45 degrees to the front of the client's body. Clients should be screened for and free of musculoskeletal injuries before performing the exercises discussed in this article. Clients should demonstrate proper technique and movement before progressing to the next level of exercise complexity or the amount of weight lifted.

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STARTING POSITION

Proper alignment in the starting position is fundamental to performing all lifting tasks from the floor and should be taught to novices engaging in all forms of resistance training. With feet between hip and shoulder width and pointing outward slightly, squat down with hips lower than shoulders and grasp the bar with a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width pronated grip. Elbows are extended fully, pointed outward slightly with feet flat on the floor, bar within 1 inch of the shins and over the balls of the feet. Maintain a rigid torso and flat back at an angle approximately 45 degrees to the floor. Figure 3 depicts the proper starting position.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Verbal teaching cues for this stage of the exercise include “keep back flat or slightly arched”, “hold the chest up and out”, “squeeze the shoulder blades together”, “look straight ahead or slightly upward”, and “keep the shoulders slightly in front of the bar” (7,8,10 13,17,24). Common errors include rounding the upper back, looking downward, bending the elbows, and allowing the heels to rise (7,8,10).

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THE FIRST PULL

Proper alignment and technique during the first pull are fundamental to performing all lifting tasks from the floor and should be taught to novices engaging in all forms of resistance training. Maintain a constant torso angle of approximately 45 degrees to the floor. Keep the chest up and out, maintain a neutral neck and head position, and keep the elbows straight and turned outward. Keep the bar close to the shins and lift the bar by “pressing the feet into the floor” and forcefully extending the hips and knees. The shoulders and hips should rise together at the same time (7,8,10,13,17,27). During performance of the hang power clean, the lift begins with the bar already at mid-thigh level so the first pull is used only to raise the bar to the hang position above the knees and against the thighs (7,8,10,13,27). During the full clean, however, there is no pause between phases, and the lift begins from the floor (7,8,10,13,17,24,27). Verbal teaching cues include “keep the bar close to the shins”, “keep the chest up and out and the back slightly arched”, “keep the shoulders above the hips”, and “press the feet into the ground and stand up.” Common errors include pulling the bar off the floor too fast, rounding the upper back, letting the hips rise ahead of or faster than the shoulders, letting the bar travel too far in front of the body and straightening or extending the knees before the hips (7,8,10). Figure 4 depicts the proper performance of the first pull.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Three supplementary exercises to improve performance of the first pull include the hip hinge, Romanian dead lift, and plate or goblet squat and appear in supplemental digital video content file 2, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A37. Please refer to this video for demonstrations of these exercises.

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TRANSITION OR SCOOP

After the bar passes the knees, thrust the hips forward and slightly rebend the knees. Maintain a flat back with the chest up and out. Verbal teaching cues include “bend the knees slightly and keep them under the bar”, “keep the elbows straight and pointing outward”, “keep the chest up and out”, and “look straight ahead” (7,8,10,17,24,27). Common errors include rounding the upper back, looking downward, bending the elbows and swinging the bar away from the body (7,8,10). The Romanian dead lift, which was mentioned previously, also is a supplemental exercise for improving performance of the transition or scoop and appears in supplemental digital video content file 2 (see link above). Figure 5 depicts the proper performance of the transition or scoop.

Figure 5

Figure 5

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THE SECOND PULL

The highest rates of force development and power occur during the second pull, which resembles a combined jumping and shrugging motion. This phase is where the most rapid and forceful bar acceleration occurs (13,14,25). The bar is kept close to the body and against the thighs. The hips, knees, and ankles are extended fully and the shoulders are elevated forcefully or shrugged. The elbows remain straight until the end of the second pull when they begin bending in preparation to pull the body under the bar (7,8,13,17,24,27). The hang power clean begins in the second pull or mid-thigh position and the weight can be lifted from either the floor, a safety rack, or from specialized lifting boxes. Figure 6 depicts proper performance of the second pull.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Verbal teaching cues include “keep the bar against the thighs”, “keep the elbows straight”, “jump and shrug”, and “bend the elbows at the top of the shrug to pull the body under the bar.” Common errors include swinging the weight out in front of the body, bending the arms before the shrug is completed, and attempting to move the bar by performing a reverse arm curl motion (7,8,10). To simplify learning and to ensure safety in novice lifters, some strength coaches eliminate the catch during the hang power clean and substitute a rapid, mid-thigh pull known as a power shrug and by performing high pulls. The power shrug resembles a vertical jump combined with a powerful shrug at the top of the motion. The high pull is performed by pulling the bar upward against the body with bent elbows after completing the jump-and-shrug phases of the power shrug. Supplementary exercises to improve execution of the second pull, which include the power shrug/jump and shrug and high pull, appear in digital video content file 3, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A38.

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THE CATCH OR RACK PHASE

Once the hips, knees, and ankles have achieved maximal triple extension, the body is pulled under the bar by the elbows bending and the hips and knees flexing simultaneously into a quarter squat. To pull the body under a heavier-loaded bar, a full-squat position often is required. Heavier weights necessitate deeper squat positions during the catch/rack phase (7,8,10). This article addresses cleans performed from the hang position, which is equivalent to pulling the bar during the transition or scoop phase and catching the bar in the power or quarter-squat position. The bar should be caught or racked across the anterior deltoids and clavicles with the fingertips resting lightly against the bar to prevent it from rolling off of the shoulders. The arms should be positioned parallel with the floor by lifting the elbows once the arms are under the bar. The upright torso position is maintained with feet flat on the floor with the weight centered over the middle of the feet (7,8,10,13,17,24). Clients having difficulty catching the bar should concentrate on performing power shrugs and high pulls and by gently stretching their wrist flexor muscles in each forearm by pulling their wrist and fingers backward with their opposite hand. Verbal learning cues include “pull the body under the bar and bend the elbows”, “shoot the elbows forward and up”, “absorb the catch by bending the hips and knees slightly”, “keep the upper arms parallel with the floor”, “keep the feet flat”, “look straight ahead”, and “let wrists bend backward” (7,8,10,17,27). Figure 7 depicts proper performance of the catch or rack phase in the power position.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Common errors include swinging the bar away from the body, performing an arm reverse curl to pull the body under the bar, gripping the bar too narrowly, dropping the elbows and forearms, gripping the bar tightly, and landing with the torso flexed and the heels elevated (7,8,10). Supplementary exercises to improve performance of the catch or rack phase include the front dumbbell squat, front gripless squat (with arms reaching in front of the body), front squat with the rack grip, and the clean from the triple extension position. Proper execution of the catch/rack phase and clean from triple extension appear in digital video content file 1. The front squat in rack/catch position and the front gripless squat appear in digital video content file 4, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A39.

As a standard safety practice, the clean and its derivatives and variations are coached from a safe distance at an angle that is approximately 45 degrees with the front of the lifter's body, but never directly spotted. To prevent muscle fatigue and improper lifting techniques in novice lifters, short sets comprised of between 3 and 5 repetitions with rest periods of 3 or more minutes in duration are used typically during execution of the hang power clean and its variations (4,12,16,19,20).

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SUMMARY

The hang power clean is one of a number of derivatives of the clean and jerk used to enhance lower body power and rate of muscle force development. It often is taught before the full clean because of its relative simplicity. Its utility as a safe and effective power development tool is predicated on sound instruction and effective supervision.

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Recommended Readings:

Chiu LZF, Burkhardt E. A teaching progression for squatting exercises. J Strength Cond. 2011;33(2):46–54.
    Frounfelter G. Triple extension: the key to athletic power. NSCA's Performance Training Journal. 2009;8(1):15–16.
      Jones L. USWF Coaching Accreditation Course Club Coach Manual. Colorado Springs (CO): U.S. Weightlifting Federation; 1994.
        Ratamess N. ACSM's Foundations of Strength Training. Philadelphia (PA): Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012.
          Schilling J. Weightlifting exercises for lower-extremity power: an alternative with less risk. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2016;20(3):16–21.

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