Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Clean - Bob Hoffman

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The Clean
by Bob Hoffman (1957)


Olympic weightlifting begins with the clean. You must first get the barbell moving before you can do a press, a snatch or a jerk. The clean has handicapped many otherwise strong lifters. Some big fellows, such as Doug Hepburn, can actually press more weight than they can clean to the shoulders. In today’s topflight competition a man must be good on all three lifts in order to win, and the clean simply must be mastered if you intend to call yourself a weightlifter.

There are several styles used in executing the pull-in to the shoulders, broadly divided into two techniques – the split and the squat. Yet there are also many slight variations in both styles, and each individual lifter must practice until he finds the exact method suited to his build and temperament. I have always enjoyed the split style myself, and am inclined to favor it over the squat style because it seems somewhat safer, but many of the best lifters use the squat technique, and no discussion would be complete without considering both methods.

Actually the important part of the clean is the pull, and this is the same in both cases. The amount of weight you can clean is determined by pulling power. Basically a clean is nothing more than a high deadlift.

Let us describe the correct procedure. Approach the bar, place your feet well under it, so you get as close to the bell as possible. Foot spacing is important, for if your feet are too far apart you cannot pull as high. Our old rule is to stand in the same foot position in which you can best do a standing broad jump. Next, make sure of a firm grip on the bar. This can best be done by hooking, wrapping the finger ends around the thumb to prevent slipping. At first this seems strange and even painful to the beginner, but the resultant confidence in your grip makes learning this method worthwhile.

Now lower the body by bending the legs, keeping the back flat and as near perpendicular as possible. In the lowest position this should approximate a 45 degree angle. Grip the bar securely, a bit over shoulder width apart. The arms at this stage must be considered as simply appendages to attach you to the bar – they must not be flexed – rather they should seem to be like ropes with hooks on the ends. You do NOT pull with the arms.

Take a deep breath, get set, tilt the head back a bit, and start the pull easily but firmly – lifting exactly as though you were going to do a dead lift. Pull it to knee height, then turn on the power. Remember to keep the bar as close to the legs as possible – do not let it wander out in a so-called S curve. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The S curve boys make a terrible mistake – they go out around the knees when the knees are already out of the way, and then they pull with such a backward drag that the bell may hit the chest hard enough to throw the lifter off balance. They make this same mistake in snatching and lose the weight behind them. Do not swing a clean or snatch – this is doing things the hard way.

Only AFTER the bar has passed the knees do you pull with the arms. You keep the bell close to the body all the way, and timing at this point is important. You are now at the top of your pull, with the whole body erect, leaning even a bit backward with the force of your last pull, and you are high on your toes – pulling with everything you have!

As the bell reaches its highest point, the lifter makes his dip. If a squatter, he jumps straight down and a little forward, spreading his feet to the side as he does so, in order to lower himself as close to the floor as possible. He actually “jumps” down beneath the bell, whips his elbows forward and upward and catches the bar on the deltoids. He is now set to rise.

A split lifter lowers himself by splitting the legs fore and aft, stepping well forward with one foot and back with the other. You arch the chest, keep back straight, and drive the elbows under and up beneath the weight as it turns in to the shoulders. The position you should be in at the bottom of the split clean is that of a one-legged squat on the forward foot, with the back leg for balance. Most splitters do not do this. An easy way to learn to go low is to try the squat position in front of a mirror. In the full squat, thrust one leg back. Learn to drop into this position automatically and your split clean will improve.

Norb Schemansky is one of the finest clean lifters in the world. He has clean & jerked 425 pounds. Notice his positions in the sequence pictures above. Clyde Emrich is unmatched among the heavier squat lifters. The action pictures show just how he does his clean with 415 pounds. The third set of pictures shows Ike Berger with 315 pounds. Berger has about the best position available, and we could find no better model anywhere for demonstrating the squat technique. Dave Ashman, in the fourth series, cleans exactly like Paul Anderson, with feet spread wide, arms inside the knees. This is a position that possibly may be better suited to some of the much bigger men than with hands outside. You need a very powerful back to clean in this position. This style was first seen back in 1936 when Anwar Ahmed, the Egyptian lightweight, used it, thus proving there is nothing new under the sun.

As we have said, the most important part of the clean is the pull. At York, all our lifters over the years have practiced to improve their pulling power with heavy high pulls and with power cleans. But they also practiced day after day to improve their lifting form. Correct style combined with strength will set the highest records. You can go lift just so much with correct style, and just so much with terrific strength. It takes a complete combination of the two to meet the challenge of heavier and heavier weights.

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