We’ve created a “cheat sheet” detailing three common errors in the clean and how to correct them. A big thanks to Andrew Davie, director of Rebel Barbell Club in NY for modeling both the errors and the fixes and to Greg Smith, coach at McKenna’s Gym in Stewartstown, PA for weighing in on proper technique.
Error # 1: Allowing the Butt to Rise First
Very few lifters can pull weight quickly off the floor while maintaining proper levers. Instead, most who try to do this end up with their butt shooting up too early. Coach Andrew Davie who is owner of Rebel Fitness in Nanuet, NY and director of Rebel Barbell Club explains, “It’s an error because you’re not coming up as one unified piece. You’re letting your hips accelerate and then you’re trying to make up the difference by using the lower back which is a weaker muscle group than your hamstrings and your glutes.”
The fix for this error is simple. As Greg Smith, coach at McKenna’s Gym in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania explains, “A tight back with hips and shoulders rising together should be a good start for fixing that.” Really setting the back tight before beginning the pull is an effective way to ensure the bar does not pull the lifter’s chest down while the butt shoots up. Think of it as pulling the shoulder blades down towards the butt and squeezing everything, including the butt, as tight as possible. Then, focus on maintaining this tightness and the angle of the chest slightly above the butt and over the bar as you begin the pull. The pull should be slow and deliberate until the athlete passes the knees and reaches the power position. Then, the lifter should accelerate. Because the lifter rose with their chest up and their back tight, they can utilize the force in their legs to finish the pull.
ERROR #2: Actively Sweeping The Bar Into The Hips With The Arms
With this error, the lifter is actively sweeping the bar into the hips using the arms. Davie explains, “Actively sweeping the bar back using your arms is going to over-tense your arms which tends to slow down the turn over. It’s also loading up a smaller muscle group (the arms) to do the work of a larger muscle group (the back).” If a lifter were to pull as high as Davie models in Photo B, they would likely attempt to correct this by banging the bar off the hips which is error #3. The positioning of the body from this point does not allow the lifter to contract the right muscle groups in order to properly execute the rest of the lift so more problems are created as a result of error #2.
Instead of using the arms to pull the bar into to the hip, the athlete should focus on rising with the chest. As the chest rises, the angle of the body will change which allows the bar to meet the hips naturally. In the photo above, Davie reaches the top of his pull without excessive arm bend. Instead, by leading with his chest and keeping his back tight throughout the pull, he sets himself up for a strong finish that will propel the bar upwards.
ERROR # 3: Banging The Bar Off Of The Hips
For a while, it seemed as though lifters were purposely getting into the habit of banging the bar off the hips in an effort to propel the bar to the catch position. It seems violent and we all know that the top of the pull should be a violent force. However, that force needs to be applied using the correct muscle groups while maintaining proper angles of the the body. Banging the bar off of the hips causes the lifter to shift their weight to their toes and this shift forces the bar to move outwards rather than upwards. Lifting is a game of physics and those who play it well know that keeping the bar as close to their center of gravity is the most efficient way to lift heavy weights. Every millimeter counts. So pushing the bar away from the body with a violent bang from the hips is counterproductive. Instead of the bar moving straight up towards the finish position, it travel forward and an athlete is forced to jump forward in the catch if they want to make the lift. The athlete may also roll to their toes in an effort to reach the bar which would often result in a missed lift.
Rather than banging the bar off the body, a lifter should brush the hips as they drive straight upwards. Pushing through the legs while driving the head towards the ceiling will allow the hips to open upwards and the force applied to the bar would continue the upward trajectory. In this scenario, maximal force is applied and the bar is kept close to the body increasing the likelihood that the lifter will successfully make the lift.
As always, we suggest finding a coach who will work with you to correct bad habits and better your lifting. These errors and fixes are a good starting point, but for a lifter to truly reach their potential, the guidance of a USA-W certified coach who can address individual issues is always best.