The power clean is a staple in most high school and collegiate training facilities. In my opinion it is the best option to develop explosive power while training with everything else being equal. Unfortunately it is a very coaching intensive exercise that requires a qualified coach to make the exercise useful and safe. Here are five coaching cues that will help you teach your athletes to perform the power clean more efficiently.
1. Do Not Start With The Power Clean. There has to be a teaching progression when coaching any new exercise, especially one as complex as the power clean. Does the athlete have a hip hinge, great, then how about learning the power shrug, how does that look?, good, great, how about teaching the squat jump next. Have they learned how to catch yet? That is important too. Start with the bar in the hang position first and not from the floor. Again, everyone wants to put the carriage before the horse. SLOW DOWN! Take your time teaching your athletes the proper way to do things.
2. Tell Your Athletes To Wrap Their Wrists Around The Bar. This cue helps tremendously with the athletes learning to pull the bar into their body. When the bar drifts out in front of the body you have to jump forward to catch it. This will also limit your ability to produce power because you are likely bending your elbows to soon, which leads to tip #3.
3. Once The Elbows Bend The Power Ends. This is why it is so important to teach proper progressions. A perfect time to work on locking the elbows out is when the athlete is practicing their power shrug or jump squat. This is huge for not leaking out energy during the 2nd pull.
4. Punch The Elbows Up As You Catch The Bar. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen athletes catch the bar with their elbows pointed down to the ground. This is an easy way to stress the delicate structures surrounding the elbow and put a great deal of stress on the wrist as well. The upper arm should be parallel to the floor when the catch is completed.
5. Catch The Bar In An Athletic Stance. For some reason most athletes when learning the power clean do a great job at getting their knees and hips in front of them. If you cannot picture that, imagine someone doing the limbo and trying to get under a rope. Cue your athletes to finish in an athletic stance, with a little bend in the knees and hips.
If you put these five tips into coaching your athletes to perform the power clean I promise you will see results.
Let me know if there are any other tips for the power clean that you incorporate into your teaching methods.
Youth performance training provides a foundation of quality movement from which speed, power and strength will be built. These qualities are needed to perform at ones best in their athletic endeavors. Most of you would agree that to begin building a house you need a foundation, an area to build upon, something that everything else will be added to. It is the same thing with any athlete that starts a performance training program. We must build the foundation of the movements that are necessary to perform well in the training facility and on the field of play. You would be amazed with the inability of young athletes to perform basic movements such as skipping, jumping, hopping, shuffling, pushing and pulling.
The performance training program, if done properly, will make each and every athlete move better, get stronger, be faster and produce more power. These are things that most of you would expect to happen. The other side of things that is sometimes over looked is reducing the number of injuries. No one can prevent all injuries from taking place, but a great training program will greatly reduce the number of injuries that do take place. This brings me to the athlete’s specific goals.
Each and every athlete wants to be faster, stronger and more powerful, but they also want to be able to play their sport and not be sitting on the sidelines with an injury. There are specific goals that each athlete wants to accomplish. A first basemen playing baseball wants to produce more rotational power in the transverse plane from medicine ball work than a basketball player does. An offensive lineman playing football wants to produce more horizontal force in the sagittal plane from bench pressing than a quarterback playing the same sport does. These two examples are ones that are somewhat for more of an athlete that has already laid down the necessary foundation to proceed to a more specific training program, but I hope the point is getting across.
Knowing what each athlete needs at each point during their training cycle is key to developing an all around successful athlete. An athlete must first learn how to hinge their hips properly before any hip dominant movement is loaded. An athlete must be able to stabilize their torso before any lunge variation is added to their program. The list goes on and on. The point being, every athlete is treated as an individual with things that they need to work on that are specific to them.
Like I mentioned early each athlete has to lay the foundation before all the bells and whistles come out….they have to earn it. It is not given to them without them working hard and smart for it. Each training session builds upon the previous one. It is programmed and concise, it is not randomly throw together. There is always a reason why something is being done.
A great athlete is built over their career, not over the month before each sporting season starts. It is hard to be great, that is why so few do it and settle for a shell of what they could have been. Not everyone is born with the same physical gifts, but everyone is born with the ability to outwork their competitor.
Youth performance training not only teaches athletes to move better and be stronger, it teaches discipline, dedication, sacrifice and to have a work ethic that will help them succeed during their lives. It teaches them that they must put forth effort to see results, nothing is given to them. Not everyone will get a trophy for just showing up, it’s up to them to go out and earn it. Get your athletes committed to a training program that will help teach them all these qualities.
Speed is the most sought after commodity in the sport world. There is not a single athlete to have ever played sport that did not want to get faster. No matter the sport, they all wanted to increase their speed. I am still waiting for that first athlete that asks me to make them slower, that will be an interesting day. All kidding aside speed makes a huge difference in sport. It can be the difference between making the high school team, getting a college scholarship or signing a multimillion dollar contract. Speed is what separates the good athletes from the great athletes.
It seems that everyone wants to be faster, but there is some confusion about how to get it. So the question remains, how do we improve speed? I’m going to start with some basics physics to start answering that question.
Force=Mass x Acceleration
Force is the ability to accelerate an object.
Power=Force x Velocity
Power is how quickly we can accelerate an object.
Speed is how long it takes you to travel a certain distance.
Athletes that do not develop their ability to produce force and power will never be as fast as they would be otherwise. The greater your ability is to push into the ground (force production), the faster you will be. The faster you can apply that force into the ground (power production), the faster you will be. Developing the ability to produce force and power is what is going to make you a faster athlete.
All of these training qualities can be developed simultaneously to an extent; it is always on a spectrum no matter what the focus is of the training cycle. Force and power output should be developed significantly in relative terms before any large amount of time is spent on speed training.
So how do you as an athlete develop greater force and power production? Your training sessions should focus on multi-joint exercises such as squat, lunge and deadlift variations. It should also include clean and snatch variations, swings, medicine ball work and explosive jump variations. This is taking into account that you have been properly progressed to a point where you can perform these exercises.
Once force and power production is at a point where speed training should be focused on more heavily it is time to bring a more sport specific training protocol to speed development. Most athletes perform both linear and lateral speed specific movements during competition; the only athlete that focuses solely on linear speed would be a sprinter for track and field. Otherwise lateral speed most be developed.
Linear speed is pretty straight forward, run as fast as you can in a straight line. It can also include the ability to stop and start continuously with either a focus on a forward or backward run or both. Lateral speed involves the ability to change direction, make sharp cuts, and stop and start. Sprinters are the only athletes that will use linear speed a 100% of the time during their competitions. Everyone else will need to possess the ability to do both.
Training for linear speed could involve sled pushes, harnessed sled pulls and resisted sprints whereas lateral speed development would include lateral bounds, slideboard lateral sprints and crossover runs. These are just a few examples of what would separate our linear and lateral speed work.
Another interesting topic as far as sport specific speed training is that all speed specific work is done as a unilateral movement. There is never a time when both legs are producing an equal amount of force or power because only one foot is ever in contact with the ground. There is NEVER a moment when both feet are on the ground when we are sprinting, sure there are times when an athlete is making a cut or changing direction where both feet will be in contact with the ground for a split second, but when that happens there is still never a time when an equal amount of force or power is given by both legs.
So if the holy grail of sport training is speed why would we ever train in a bilateral pattern if we are seldom on two feet and never producing an even amount of force or power from both feet? There has been debate over this topic for years and will continue to be for some time. I am not going to dive into that debate today, but I will say I am not against bilateral training by any means. Unilateral and bilateral training are both training tools that should be used when appropriate.
Speed development will always be the first thing that an athlete wishes to improve upon, mainly because that is all they know. They do not understand that increasing their ability to produce force and power will in turn make them faster than any speed specific training program could. Specific speed training should be limited until the athlete develops the ability to produce a relatively significant amount of force and power. At that point a greater amount of time can be focused on speed specific training. Work on getting strong and powerful and your speed will increase!
How many athletes are required to perform a movement analysis before starting a performance training program? My guess is that most athletes are not. Let me ask another question. What happens when an athlete is asked to perform a back squat or any movement for that matter, which is dysfunctional in nature due to their physical limitations? Strength is added to that dysfunctional movement pattern, it is not added to the true functional movement pattern. I’m going to continue to use the squat as my main example because it is probably the most common exercise used in most high schools. The squat is an amazing exercise for building strength, but when it is performed before athletes are ready for the movement bad things can happen.
Below are some pictures that illustrate what an improper squat pattern looks like. These faulty squat patterns could be due to an array of reasons, some of which include short/weak hip flexors, imbalance of core musculature, excessive pelvic tilt, limitations with ankle mobility, weak glutes, etc. A complete movement analysis must be done to understand the complexity of these dysfunctional squat patterns.
All of the above pictures demonstrate a faulty squat pattern that needs some cleaning up. Below is a picture of a squat pattern that is ready to be loaded with external resistance.
If you are not performing a movement analysis of some sorts you are doing a disservice to your athletes. It is literally the foundation of any worthwhile performance training program.
How many unqualified lawyers have you had take on your law issues, how about unqualified accountants to take care of your taxes, anyone letting their kids go to school without qualified teachers? I’m sure you all answered none and of course not to those questions. Why would you use someone that was not qualified to handle your personal issues and take care of your child? You wouldn’t, yet everyday there are unqualified individuals acting as strength & conditioning professionals and attempting to coach your children.
A strength & conditioning coach is no different than anyone else that considers themselves a professional. A strength and conditioning professional should have degrees in a related field to strength & conditioning such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education. They should also possess certifications from accredited and well respected organizations within the field. The Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, The National Strength & Conditioning Association and The United States of America Weightlifting are a few of the respected organizations out there. Experience is something else that you might want to find out about too. Who have they worked with, where have they worked, do they have references that support their efforts.
There are so many reasons why it is important to have a qualified strength and conditioning professional be the one that is actually working with your child, but I will only discuss a few here.
The first one is so blatantly obvious, but it bears repeating, they are qualified to do the job! They have done the schooling, received the certifications and have the work experience. Are you hiring someone that does not have the proper degrees and certifications to be an architect to design the building of your home? Of course you aren’t so why would you use someone that is going to help build and develop your most prized possession, your child? You wouldn’t, end of story.
Second, which plays off the first point somewhat. The biggest thing about being in a profession is you are continuing to learn new things about your industry on a daily basis. It has been said that taking a year off from the strength and conditioning field would put you years behind the rest. There is that much to learn every year! So if you are not continually learning and improving your skill set, you are falling behind. It is a consistently changing field that requires a deep understanding of the material and how to properly apply it. A 100% commitment is required to be a professional in any field, strength and conditioning is no different.
Third and I’ll finish with this point, when unqualified individuals attempt to run a strength and conditioning program the chance of injury goes up exponentially. One of the most difficult things to do is “give credit” to how some injuries present themselves. Chronic issues will not appear immediately (duh) and might not even develop until a few years down the road. A chronic issue could develop because an athlete might be asked to perform a movement they are not ready for; they shouldn’t be doing at all or are asked to do too much too soon.
Injuries, whether acute or chronic are unfortunate, but something that is caused due to chronic repetition of improper form due to poor coaching or the athlete not being able to physically perform the movement could take an extremely long amount of time to correct. There is a saying that goes, for every wrong repetition you do, you will have to do it properly five times. So think about doing something wrong for two years and add up all those repetitions, it’s not correcting itself over night. The proper movement pattern has been broken down so much that the repetitions that are needed to fix it will be substantial. Do not let these poor movement patterns lead to a broken athlete.
When it comes down to it, I want all young athletes to receive proper coaching and be able to increase their strength, power and speed while reducing their chance of injury. Every strength and conditioning professional should be able to tell you why they are doing everything in their program, if not, find someone that can. Make sure that your young athletes are getting what they need and deserve.
Have you ever noticed young children outside playing? I mean really, really payed attention to every detail. You would have noticed a few things. First, and foremost they have a tremendous ability to squat down and pick things up with near perfect form. They possess the skill to lunge forward, push and pull objects and are beginning to gain the ability to balance pretty well. Overall their movement looks pretty awesome! Second, they are learning new skills; jumping, running, skipping and climbing, to name a few. What else you might notice is that they are having fun. Physical activity is fun!
The one thing we really need throughout our whole lives to be happy and healthy is physical activity. Unfortunately the time that is made for physical activity has decreased not only for our adult population, but it has been significantly limited for our youth population. Elementary and high schools have decreased their requirements for daily physical activity to the point where some students are no long required to even partake in any physical education sessions at all in high school. I guess once you reach a certain teenage year physical activity is no longer deemed as important.
There are a few options to deal with this problem, although I do not know how the logistics would work when you bring in political and social intervention. We know people are very hesitant to change their ways, especially when it doesn’t seem to benefit them.
First, increase the length of the school day so everyone has to participate in physical activity every day. Sure everyone had to work a little longer, but the pay off would be huge. Second, make it a requirement that all students must play a sport during the school year. Many private schools already make this a requirement and I do not see why it should be any different at the public school. Third, have your child participate in an activity outside of school. Whether it be a youth sport league or a youth training facility, make sure that they are getting the physical activity they need.
Just as important, if not more, make sure your children are learning good nutrition habits. You are the teacher and role model. Make good decisions about what you and your children are eating. Keep it simple; fill up on a lot of vegetables, protein, healthy fats and some high fiber fruit. If you are confused about what you should be eating, seek out a professional for help.
Let’s help get our next generation get headed in the right direction for a healthier, more enjoyable life. It all starts with developing physical activity and healthy eating habits at a young age.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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