There must be structure within a high school weight room. If there is not proper programming, coaching and supervision bad things will happen fast! Things must be planned for and be appropriate for the athletes. Unfortunately having an ideal situation in a high school weight room is few and far in between. This is mainly due to budgeting issues. Hiring a full time performance coach and the proper training equipment does cost money. To get around the issue of spending extra money most high schools will have the physical education teacher or sport coach run the weight room. This is not an ideal situation, but it is where most high schools find themselves.
Here are five things you can do as a physical education teacher or sport coach to make your time in the weight room safe and productive for your athletes.
1. Have Structure. There must be a plan in place to follow so when the athletes show up you look like you know what you are doing. There has to be credibility on your part as the one that is the acting performance coach. Athletes should be paired appropriately with other athletes to make things run smoothly. Each athlete should have their own pen and tracking sheet. Each athlete should respect the space and equipment that they are using. This is not the time to be horsing around, that is how injuries take place. Every weight room will have its own needs based on numbers, space, equipment and coaches, but make sure there is structure and things run smoothly.
2. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Teach what you know. If you do not know how to teach it DO NOT attempt to teach it! If you do know how to teach an exercise, but the athlete is not physically capable of performing the movement and you do not know how to fix it with other exercises DO NOT make the athlete perform the exercise! This seems like common sense, but is done 99.9% of the time. Teach what you know and keep it simple.
3. Program Appropriately. The majority of high school athletes could do quite well on a bodyweight routine for some time when starting out. Others might be ready for more challenging things. Whatever the case is make sure that the program is appropriate for the athlete.
4. Assign Weight Numbers or Percentages. The majority of athletes in the weight room will be boys. Every high school boy thinks they are stronger than they really are and want to lift the heaviest weights possible. When this takes place serious injury and missed playing time will likely follow. By assigning weights you will decrease the chance of an injury happening because a young boy will not be able to randomly choose how much he would like to lift. Percentages could be used for old athletes that have a few years of training under their belt and testing is more appropriate.
5. Track Progress. To make progress there needs to be a way to track training sessions to make improvements. This is as easy as having each athlete have their training program printed out and giving them a pen. This might seem obvious, but with high school athletes you need to stress to them that they actually have to fill in the sheet before they leave the weight room. Keep track of numbers and measure the progress that is being made so consistent gains can be made.
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.