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Personal Trainer Exercise of the Month – the Olympic clean

Hadyn Luke posted this on Friday 14th of December 2012 Hadyn Luke 14/12/2012

Tags: Exercise library

The Exercise of the Month on our fitness blog is the Olympic clean.

The “clean” is a derivative of the Olympic lift, clean and jerk. A personal trainer may employ this exercise in the training programme of a range of clients, from everyday gym goers and weekend warriors to semi-professional athletes and Olympic athletes.

The key muscles used in this exercise are:

  • quadriceps
  • glutes
  • hamstrings
  • gastrocnemius
  • soleus
  • erector spinae
  • trunk muscles will all be used in a static fashion.

A personal trainer should also ensure that the client has good flexibility in the ankles, knees and hips, both for the lifting parts of the movement and for the catch, which also requires flexibility in the wrists, hands and elbows.

Because it uses pretty much every single muscle and joint in the body, it helps an individual to develop:

  • good whole body co-ordination
  • an element of strength
  • an element of power (explosive strength)
  • eccentric strength
  • balance
  • proprioception (full body awareness)

If a personal trainer is showing a client how to carry out an Olympic clean, they will often break it down into its component parts. These are:

  • set up
  • first lift
  • transition
  • second lift
  • catch and the finish

Each movement within an Olympic clean will allow the client to develop a different kind of strength and ability.

The set up – The fitness instructor should ensure that the client’s feet are about shoulder width apart and underneath the bar. This is so that they are as close to the bar as possible but with some space to manoeuvre. They should then bend at the knees and hips and grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

In the ideal position, the weight should be going through the middle of the feet, the hips should be slightly wider than the knees, the shoulders should above the bar and the head and spine should be in a neutral position.

The first lift – From that position, the personal trainer should ask the client to extend their knees and hips, keeping the weight through the middle of the foot and holding the angle of the back. As this part of the movement is strength related, the client will need a good initial starting strength to carry it out. This movement will continue until the bar reaches just under the knees.

The transition – this is when the bar is moved from just below to just above the knees. The knees should push back slowly to allow the bar to travel in a straight line. Once the bar has passed the knees, they should move forward again. The back angle should remain as it was when the exercise started until the bar is above the knee. From this position the hips, knees and back will extend slightly so your client can adopt a more upright posture.

The second lift – This is a very explosive, fast movement. The personal trainer should ask the client to aggressively extend their hips, knees and ankles so they end up on their toes in an upright position. The aim is to move the bar upwards as close to the body as possible. At the top of the movement, they should shrug.

The catch and the finish – The upward momentum will allow the bar to hover briefly in the air and the client should move underneath it and catch the falling weight in a front squat position. The weight should be going through the back of the foot, the bar should be resting on the client’s clavicles and their elbows should be kept high to promote a straight spine. The exercise ends with the client standing up.

Breaking down the movements
With it being a complex lift, a personal trainer will usually break down the Olympic clean into several practice movements. To start with, a client should be comfortable carrying out a front squat and should have developed flexibility in the wrists, shoulders and elbows. The fitness instructor would also work on getting the client to perfect the second pull as a stand-alone exercise, before putting this together with the front squat to form a hang clean. From there, they would practise setting up the bar and developing the movement from the first lift, through the transition into the second pull.

The benefits of the Olympic clean
The Olympic clean is a good way to develop explosive power, as the majority of the exercise requires concentric muscle strength, in other words, the muscles will go from a lengthened position to a shortened position very quickly. The client will also need good eccentric strength for catching the bar in the front squat position, as they will be in their furthest range of motion, when their hamstrings, quads and glutes are at full stretch. Finally, they will need to demonstrate a slower kind of concentric strength to stand up and finish the exercise.

In addition, the exercise depends greatly on trunk strength, erector spinae strength and on the ability of all the muscles within the body being able to contract and relax at exactly the right time to lift, drop and catch the bar.

The Olympic clean also creates a large energy debt, which means that once a client has carried out three or four reps, they will have expended a large amount of energy and be experiencing EPOC, leading to an oxygen debt, which means the exercise also has an aerobic/anaerobic/conditioning benefit. 



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