When you think of the weightlifting movements, typically you think of cleans, jerks, or snatches. All three of these Olympic lifts are great exercises. However, there are several variations of these three exercises that can help develop muscle size, strength, and power, which will ultimately aid in performance of the weightlifting movements. Some of these variations may include the push press, power jerk, power cleans, and power snatch.
In addition, the Clean High Pull is one of the available variations This article will describe the benefits of the clean high pull, program design recommendations, and step-by-step instructions on how to correctly perform the clean high pull.
- Learn the various benefits of the clean high pull exercise.
- Review recommended programming variables for the clean high pull, including variables for power and power-endurance training.
- Learn a step-by-step approach to teaching the clean high pull exercise correctly.
Benefits of the Clean High Pull
Train for Power
Power is more important than maximal strength for most athletes (Haff, 2001). The reason there is a great emphasis on training athetes for power is that most sports involve high speed, explosive movements rather than slow speed actions with force being developed over and extended period of time. Power, or speed strength, is defined as the amount of work performed per unit of time (Hydock, 2001). Based on what research has shown us, the weightlifting movements produce a superior average power output as compared to the powerlifting movements (i.e., bench, squat, deadlift). In addition, the movement pattern used while performing the clean high cull is very similar to movements commonly seen in a variety sports. The majority of the power that is developed in both the clean and the snatch is experienced during the movement from just above the knee until the bar reaches approximately sternum height (i.e., the second pull).
Allows Heavy Loads
When performing a full clean and snatch, once the bar reaches sternum height the lifter quickly squats under the bar. This catch phase does not contribute to any of the power developed in these movements. As just mentioned, when performing the clean high pull the lifter only pulls the bar to sternum height and does not include the catch phase. As a result, typically heavier loads can be used when performing the clean high pull as compared to performing a full clean. This is especially the case for athletes who struggle with technique issues in the catch phase in which a lighter load must be used because of their limitations in catching the bar correctly.
The heavy load that can be used when performing the high pull, along with the fast bar movement speeds that occur in this movement, results in the high power outputs that occur when performing this exercise (an average of 52 watts per kilogram for male athletes). This is in comparison to the average 12 watts per kilogram developed by male athletes when performing the powerlifting movements (Garhammer, 1993).
Low Injury Rate
Another advantage of performing the high pull, as well as most of the weightlifting movements, is the extremely low injury rate associated with these movements (Hamill, 1994). As long as correct technique is performed, the weightlifting movements are as safe, or safer than, any other training activity. In addition, performing the weightlifting movements – including clean high pulls – may reduce injury rate (Piper & Erdmann, 1998). This reduced injury rate can be attributed to the increase in kinesthetic awareness and strengthening of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that occurs when performing these movements.
When training for power, typically the program design combines a low number of repetitions, approximately 1-5, with extended rest times around 2-5 minutes (Baechle et al., 2008). Combining low repetitions and longer rest times allows for heavier bar loads and reduced fatigue. This helps to ensure bar speed and technique can be maintained for each of the repetitions performed.
If greater bar speeds are desired, then training loads of 30% to 70% of 1RM can be used. This approach can be useful in sports in which the speed is more important than force development (high jump, volleyball). In contrast to this, when training for sports that require greater force development (football, wrestling), loads consisting of 70% to 100% of 1RM are appropriate.
By manipulating the number of repetitions assigned per set, the rest periods between sets, or both, the clean high pull can also be used to enhance power endurance. Athletes involved in power endurance events (e.g. 400+ meter sprinters and rowing athletes), require the ability to produce power over an extended period of time. In this situation, higher repetitions (13 or more) and shorter rest times (30 seconds or less between sets), or both, requires the load on the bar to be reduced (Baechle et al., 2008).
Regardless of the training goal (power or endurance) the clean high pull must be placed early in the sequence of exercises to be performed during the workout, for two reasons. First, the clean high pull is meant to be performed explosively. Because of this, the movement should be performed early in the workout before the body becomes fatigued. Second, the exercise requires good technique, and this will best occur when the body is in a non-fatigued state (Baechle et al., 2008).
Performing the Clean High Pull Correctly
The clean high pull is similar to performing the first three quarters of a power clean, up to and including the second pull. However, because all of the weightlifting movements, including the clean high pull, are technically difficult to do, and because great technique is required to get the most benefit out of the weightlifting movements, let’s take a step-by-step approach to performing this movement correctly.
There are variations of the teaching sequence thought to be best when teaching the weightlifting movements. I prefer to start from the bottom up, beginning with the correct foot position.
Figure 1: Foot position - Shoulder-width stance
- Biomechanically, the clean is very similar to performing a vertical jump. As a result, when teaching the high pull, it makes sense to position your feet as if you were going to perform a maximal vertical jump. Typically, this involves a shoulder-width stance with the feet pointed straight ahead (See Figure 1).
Figure 2: Hand position - Overhand grip
- Once the foot position has been established, you can now establish the correct hand position on the bar. Pick the bar up with a wide overhand grip with the thumbs resting on the bar and pointed towards the center of the body. Slowly move the hands toward the center of the bar until the tips of the thumbs just touch the outside of the legs. This will identify the correct hand position on the bar (See Figure 2).
Figure 3: Grip position - Hook grip
- The next step is to establish the correct grip. Once correct technique is learned, a large amount of weight can be used when performing the clean high pull. This places a significant demand on grip strength. Using a hook grip (thumb around the bar, fingers around the thumb and bar) provides the most secure grip. Initially, this grip may prove to be uncomfortable. However, this grip is beneficial when performing the movement with heavy loads (See Figure 3).
To make the learning process easier, it is best to begin learning the movement pattern from a "hang above" position, where the bar is resting on the thighs directly above the patella.
Figure 4: Hang above position
- With the feet and hands in the correct position (as described above), and using a hook grip, pick the bar up to a standing position and then lower the bar to the above-the-knee position. The arms should be long and rotated so that the elbows are pointed towards the end of the bar. The head should be neutral and the back should be arched (See Figure 4).
- In this position the shoulders should be slightly forward of the bar. If the shoulders are not positioned correctly (See Figure 5a), the correction can be made at the knee joint. Reduce the amount of flexion at the knee joint slightly, which will have the effect of moving the shoulders into the correct position (See Figure 5b).
|Figure 5a: Incorrect shoulder position
||Figure 5b: Correct shoulder position
Once the correct start position has been established you can begin teaching the movements that make up the high pull. It is important to emphasize the correct start position before you initiate each repetition until the correct start position becomes more familiar to the client and occurs automatically.
- The first movement to be taught is a jump shrug. Keeping the core tight, perform a jumping action, fully extending at the ankles, knees and hips as if trying to jump up and touch the ceiling. At the top of the “jump,” the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints should all be in a straight line (See Figure 6a).
- Using the momentum generated from the jumping action, aggressively shrug the shoulders straight up as high as possible without bending the elbows. Do not allow the bar to swing away from the body; the bar should maintain contact with the thighs to approximately mid-thigh height.
- When the correct start position and movement pattern for the jump shrug has been learned you can move on to the next step – the low pull. The low pull is simply a continuation of the jump shrug, plus adding a pull with the arms on the bar until the bar reaches the height of the belly button. At the top of the jump shrug, allow the elbows to bend slightly until the bar reaches the belly button. It's important to keep the bar against the body and the elbows above the wrists when performing the low pull.
- The final progression in the teaching sequence is to perform the high pull. Again, this is a simple continuation of the movements already learned. At the top of the low pull, continue to pull the bar with the arms until it reaches sternum height. Emphasize keeping the elbows above the wrists and the bar against the body as you move into a fully extended position at the ankles, knees, and hips (See Figure 6b).
|Figure 6a: Jump shrug
||Figure 6b: High pull
The clean high pull is an excellent choice of exercise when the goal is to enhance power production capabilities A high power-production is possible when performing this movement because it permits a combination of heavy loads and high bar-velocities. Much like the other weightlifting movements, the clean high pull is a very safe exercise once correct technique has been established. In terms of program design, this exercise can be used to enhance either muscular power or muscular power/endurance based on how the training variables (i.e., repetitions, rest times, training loads) are manipulated.A step-by-step approach to learning correct clean high pull technique will allow most lifters to learn the lift quickly and safely. Continue to emphasize correct technique with your client as improvements in strength and technique allow great loads to be used when performing the exercise.
- Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., & Wathen, D. (2008). Essentials of Strength & Conditioning. In T.R. Baechle & R.W. Earle (Eds.), Anaerobic exercise prescription (3rd ed., pp. 413-456). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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