First off, before I get into the reasoning of why I think no athlete should clean from the floor, I would like to clean up the terminology that is often butchered by many sport coaches and performance coaches.
An actual clean that is preformed during an Olympic lifting competition is known as a squat clean or clean for short. It is when an athlete pulls the bar from the floor and catches the bar in a squat position. A power clean is when an athlete pulls the bar from the floor and catches the bar in a slightly athletic stance with a slight bent in the knees and hips. They are not the same exercise and cannot be used interchangeably. Either of these exercises can be done from four positions, the floor, mid-shin, right above the knee or mid-thigh.
There are times when the clean can be broken down to work on certain aspects of the lift. For example an athlete can perform a clean pull. The clean pull is a great exercise in itself that lets the athlete focus on developing a big pull and getting triple extension. The catch is left out of this exercise and a larger load is usually used. This can be used with a beginner to really focus on teaching triple extension or an experienced lifter that wants to work on pulling heavier weight, usually right before they perform their cleans.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about why athletes should not be cleaning from the floor. If you think about it objectively, you will probably agree that an athletic stance looks very similar to the hang power clean. This is the clean variation that is performed from right above the knees in which you perform the catch in an athletic stance. Think about Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Ray Lewis and LeBron James for instance. All of who are amazing athletes. What do you visualize when you think of those athletes on their respected field of play? They are probably in a slightly athletic stance doing something extremely explosive and powerful. This is the stance that most athletes are going to be in when they are performing their sporting event. Why then would you have an athlete clean from the floor?
On that statement alone I think all athletes that are going to be performing the clean should be doing the hang power clean, but here are three additional reasons for good measure.
1. Most high school athletes lack the proper mobility and stability to get into the correct position to pull from the floor. So when a coach is telling an athlete that is physically incapable to get lower so they can get down to the bar bad things are going to happen. This athlete might not get injured that day, month or even year but repeatedly doing a complex exercise such as the clean wrong will catch up to everyone.
2. Let’s assume that a certain athlete can get down to the bar in the correct starting position. Highly unlikely, but let’s go with it to use as the next example. The transition from the first pull to second pull is something that most high school athletes struggle with. This transition takes place when the bar passes the knees. It is a coaching intensive part of the clean, which takes time away from other things that could be done that are probably more productive for an athlete focused on excelling at their sport.
3. The hang power clean produces almost TWICE as must actual power then the clean from the floor. Based on the work of Dr. John Garhammer the clean produces 2950W while the hang clean produces 5500W! This exercise is done to produce explosive power. The science not only backs it up, it blows it out of the water!
If you look at the information that I just presented objectively you will have to agree that your athletes should only perform the hang power clean. Once your athlete is done playing field sports, if they would like to compete in the sport of Olympic lifting, then by all means they can start working on learning the full squat clean, until then let them focus on what is going to make them a better athlete on the field which is the hang power clean.