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Why we like the Clean Pull

Most Strength and conditioning programs will utilize an exercise which develops the triple extension. The triple extension is comprised of the ankle, knee and hip joints extending in unison. This movement is common in the vast majority of sports and athletic movements. For that reason it is obviously a good idea to try and develop it. Possessing a powerful triple extension will allow an athlete to run faster, jump higher and hit harder. There are many exercises that can develop a powerful triple extension. The clean and snatch are two very popular choices along with most forms of jumping exercises. One exercise which is perhaps less popular but just, or even more effective is the clean pull. (See Below)

The clean pull is the first and second pull portion of the clean. It can also be performed with a snatch grip to create the snatch pull. We like the clean pull because it possesses all the beneficial aspects of both the clean and snatch while significantly reducing technical demands. The first and second pull movement can take quite some time to teach and become proficient at. Often athletes don’t have time in their schedule to focus on technical skills or a lift which is not their chosen sport. For that reason we want to get the benefit from an explosive triple extension movement but do not always have the time to teach it up to a level where it contributes to performance. In addition to time constraints Olympic lifts such as the clean and snatch require mobility and strength in some joints which some athletes do not possess.

Athletes can build massive amounts of power and force generating capacity while reducing injury risk. Many programs will incorporate cleans and power cleans as the benefits of these are well established. The issue is that unless the athlete has reasonable technical skill and mobility, there is a tendency to cheat the exercise. This is especially true where load is seen as a priority. Its benefits can be significantly reduced when this occurs. The clean pull allows athletes to move high loads in a relatively safe fashion. It eliminates a portion of the clean which many athletes have difficulties with.

Recommending an exercise because it is easier or less technical is not something that I’d normally recommend. The reality is that in many scenarios athletes can waste time on things which in the grand scheme of their training are unproductive. The clean pull is a fast and efficient way to develop power in an athlete. It can be used in many circumstances where the clean cannot. One such example is during season in contact sports where athletes regularly pick up minor sprains and strains. The wrist and shoulders are extremely common areas to suffer. This often eliminates many lifts which require athletes to catch overhead or even in front rack position.

In addition to them being a good alternative they can also be a great supplemental exercise. Athletes can often handle heavier loads when performing the clean pull vs. the clean. Building good strength in this portion of the lift can contribute significantly when cleans are then performed in full.

While we don’t suggest avoiding Olympic lifts they are not always necessary or suitable. They should be performed for an established reason and not because they are popular. Many athletes struggle with them and see little benefit. Clean pulls provide an excellent alternative in many scenarios. We firmly believe that the components that make up every program should have purpose. Clean pulls build a very powerful triple extension easily, safely and effectively. This is why we like them.

The Great Offseason!

For many sports in the Northern Hemisphere we are now entering the offseason portion of the annual cycle. For some this is simply a period in which they can cut loose and not worry too much about their training. For others this offseason could be a make or break point in their career. It can be very hard for an athlete to make progress in their offseason for a number of reasons. A lot of athletes fail to stay committed and motivated when they are outside of their team environment or without any immediate competition scheduled, others can be over eager and try to do too much. This can often lead to overtraining and burnout despite being outside of the competition period. Planning and organization is key to a successful offseason. The following article will discuss how to get the most out of an offseason and hopefully allow athletes to step up their ability for next season.

Step 1: Analysis

At the end of a competitive season athletes and coaches should review the performance of the season. Often mistakes are pretty clear at this point and athletes will have a good idea of their weaknesses. In order to maintain motivation and commitment it is important to identify areas where progress can be made. There is nothing more disheartening than finishing a season and being clueless as to where to improve. Regardless of success or failure, the notion of progress is a powerful motivator. Honest analysis of strengths and weaknesses is essential at this point. Building an offseason program is relatively simple if an effective evaluation has been completed.

Step 2: Rest

Often the first thing we tell an athlete to do is rest. A few weeks rest can be very beneficial at this time. Mental and physical strain stacks up over a season and often a couple of weeks rest can have a major impact on an athlete. The amount of rest depends on the time available but even a week can be enough to reset the athlete. Often this rest also makes an athlete restless and eager to train. This can be beneficial in an offseason where there is no competition to create that eagerness to work.

Step 3: The Program

This is obviously a very important component and will depend on the outcome of their end of season evaluation. The offseason should be approached with a triage perspective. Take care of the biggest weakness first. One caveat to this is timing. Some adaptations occur over very different time frames. For example an athlete may be a little undersized but definitely too slow. Addressing speed is essential but should not be done until the athlete is at a consistent weight. Hypertrophy may take more time and energy from an athlete. Often it can be hard to address hypertrophy inseason relative to speed and so the offseason period is more suitable to address it. Speed can then become a part of late offseason/preseason period. Careful planning is essential to ensure that the focus on one ability does not overwrite another.

There is great debate on the structure of programs and their efficiency. We take an approach with our athletes where we utilize block periodization in the offseason and then move towards concurrent and/or conjugate style during preseason and in season. The reason is most athletes tend not to lose their strengths significantly and if they do they usually regain them quite fast. In the offseason we use block periodization to really focus in on their weaknesses and make as much of an impact as possible. Sometimes this may neglect some of their stronger areas. When we move towards a conjugate style we hit on a little of everything. We then see a rapid return in their strengths while maintaining the progress made in their weak areas. The offseason then serves to fill in the holes in their abilities. For the majority of athletes this approach is effective in improving their performance from one season to another.

The offseason period can make a huge difference to an athlete. If it is individualized and shows the athlete a genuine prospect for improvement then motivation won’t be a major problem. Diligent monitoring of program will then make the program effective as it can be tweaked where needed to suit the needs of the athlete. The biggest mistake to make is to use a generic program which does not address the individual. This often makes situations worse as the athlete may fail to fix his weaknesses. There is nothing worse than the feeling an athlete has where no progress is being made. Consecutive seasons of stagnant performance can be a death blow to many athletes careers.

Clear goals, Clear Progress!

Our body has a remarkable abilty to adapt. There are hundreds of processes and systems which work in unison to keep us functioning. When we apply stimuli or stress to our body, it responds in such a way that allows it to effectively continue to function under that stress. This response is what we use to become faster, stronger or fitter. The downside of this adaptation is that there is usually a tradeoff between the systems. It is extremely difficult to train all capabilities at once. This is the main challenge for any coach or trainer. They must construct an appropriate training program which achieves an improvement in certain capabilities while not negatively affecting the others.

One common scenario is related to body composition. Often an athlete will need to increase body mass while simultaneously reducing body fat. These goals directly conflict with each other. To increase body mass we need a calorie surplus but to reduce body fat we need a calorie deficit. It is contradictory. Many athletes attempt this believing that if they increase muscle mass there will be an increase in energy expenditure associated with greater muscle mass. While in theory this is possible it is a very difficult task to achieve in a real world scenario. A more effective strategy would be to alternate between periods of surplus and deficit, carefully monitoring both variables to ensure gradual progress in both. This would result in small body mass fluctuations but over time it would achieve the goal.

Another example is the athlete who wishes to improve both aerobic and strength capabilities simultaneously. While it is completely achievable, progress will be relatively slow. This is simply because while one promotes the development of type 2 fibres, the other is promoting development of type 1 fibres. This is not the most efficient approach to the task. Depending on time frame it may be necessary, but it is not as effective as partitioning the goals and focusing directly on one capability.

There are many training program designs and methodologies which look to solve the challenge of training multiple abilities at once. The problem is that combining certain training goals can be extremely counterproductive. The strategy for an athlete should be to always look for maximum gains with minimal effort and interference with other capabilities. This is not to advocate a lazy athlete. Instead it advocates a smart athlete who looks to effectively promote some qualities without negatively impacting others.

In terms of programming for an athlete, it is important to keep things as simple as possible. Athletes should have few but specific targets to work towards. Often high level athletes have so many targets to hit that they get lost. A wheelspin effect is created where their efforts counteract each other leading to very little progress. As simple as it sounds athletes should have a clear goal and stick to the process which achieves it. When they achieve this goal, they should identify their next weakness and follow the process to improve it and so on. Keeping goals clear and simple is the most effective way to make solid and consistent progress.

Olympic Lifts and Team Sports!

Olympic lifting has long been a popular component of team sports’ strength and conditioning programs. There are great benefits to gain from it. It trains the triple extension movement effectively, which is the basis for many athletic actions. It also teaches an athlete to produce and increase their ability to produce power. Additionally it can help athletes build muscle, become more agile, and improve functional mobility.

So what’s the problem? In short these lifts are sometimes too technical for a team setting. For an athlete to really benefit from them they must be reasonable proficient in executing them. In a team environment there is usually a big spread in technical ability and experience. There are also a lot of individual needs and scenarios which make technical lifts problematic. These lifts require significant time to be focused on them in order to teach and learn the movement. Additionally, mobility can often be an issue that needs to be addressed first before an athlete can attempt new lifts.

There is a theory referred to as “Physical Literacy” it relates to how we learn to move in our early years and how coordinated we become. Some of us are more physically literate than others. It is usually the product of having more practice or experience. Children who played a wider variety of sports tend to be more well rounded in terms of movement and adapt to new skills quickly. We cannot assume all players are at a similar level, so constructing a team-based program there must be compromise. In some cases we have the time to develop players and teach them new skills, other times we only have a few weeks to prepare them for a coming season.

Time and experience must be considered when building Olympic lifts into a team program. Getting the best “bang for your buck” is the preferred approach when choosing exercises. Often when we have a short time frame and sticking to the basics is a more effective approach. Jump training covers achieves most benefits, and with a fraction of the skill requirements. It can be quite easy to spot a “muscle clean” over a fast and technically sound clean. This is what we try to avoid as there is no benefit to performing inefficient lifts.

As with any type of training, a logical progression must be in place. The mistake is when people try to rush things. We would rather have athletes do ten minutes of skill practice with just a bar and then some jump exercises, than a full session of sloppy Olympic lifts. There is a time and place for every exercise. The key is to narrow a program down to what’s effective, then look at adding things in the offseason when there is more time to give direct attention to weaknesses.