Recently I posted a link on my facebook page to this video from a Mike Boyle staff training in which he is discussing the starting position for the hang clean.
This is a valuable video because coach Boyle makes points about the quality of the lift being easily assessed through the aesthetics of the lift. This is something that is very important to learn. The Olympic lifts no matter the weight should always look good, if the looks of the lift are wrong then there is likely too much weight on the bar.
Coach Boyle’s discussion of the position themselves led to several posts on my facebook wall regarding what is the best place to start the lifts when in the hang position. We all know how it should “Look” when you finish an Olympic lift pull, but there are a ton of variations to the start position so, I thought it might be valuable to talk about those variations.
This is the highest position that we see athletes start the Olympic lifts. The bar will start nearly on the hip crease in the snatch, and just below in the clean (based on arm length). This position works on the athletes ability to “finish” their second pull, meaning that they complete the movement to hip extension, and then work on pulling under the bar to the catch(or however you would like to phrase it).
Pros: Getting in this start position leads to very little room for variation. The athlete is forced to complete the rep in the right way or they will not make the lift. This is an excellent drill to use to work on the catch position in lifts (power, full, split).
Cons: The movement is so short that there is little room for error. Only very experienced lifters will have the timing to make this lift work well for them. The position takes away from some of the ability to move big weights.
The hang position with the bar on the high thigh is a very popular way to start for both athletes and in training for competition weightlifters. This position is actually the one that is taught in many certification courses as a great way to train beginners on the lifts.
The start position is usually ½ way or more up to the top of the thigh but below the hip crease. The start position is nearly at the finish of the 2nd pull and will lead to a very quick and explosive lift.
Pros: This start position is excellent for training athletes to become more proficient at the Olympic lifts. The start position is relatively easy to attain because the counter movement is short which makes it hard to miss. Due to the high nature of the start position the speed of the lift is very quick making coaching cues simple, (“explode”, “Drive” etc,). As a technique tool it reinforces the 2nd pull and even assists in making the athlete more efficient at the 3rd pull, more so than any other start position for the Olympic lifts.
Cons: This is a great position from which to start. In my experience though many athletes have a difficult time generating much power from this start position early on. Technical difficulties for novice athletes from this position are usually things like, jerking their head back from the start, or over scooping the knees forward to initiate the movement. The correct start position is fairly quad dominant and doesn’t rely as much on the athlete’s ability to extend the hips as other hang start positions. As with other hang start positions multiple reps are difficult on the grip (not that big of a con, but still needs to be mentioned).
Above Knee/RDL Position
This is a common position to see athletes do cleans and snatches. In fact, this is the primary position from which I teach my athletes how to clean or snatch. The start position is directly above the kneecap (or 3-4 inches above in the snatch).
Pros: This start position is easy to attain for most athletes, it mimics the pattern that they will go through when you ask them to jump as high as possible. The easy to attain start position and similarity to other athletic movement means that athletes will have early success with the lift. In terms of training this usually means that the athlete will be able to lift more weight, correctly, and sooner than with other positions. One big positive with this lift is that athletes are made to assume a more hip dominant position to start, training the posterior chain more effectively than hang start positions higher on the thigh.
Cons: Because the position is lower on the thigh, athletes that are extremely quad dominant in their movements have difficulty getting to the start position. Often times they will try to squat, or knee bend their way to the start. Athletes that lack lumbar and core stability will try to achieve the start position through a back bend. The longer counter movement actually makes grip even more of an issue than some shorter hang start positions.’
Each position has pros and cons and has valuable uses in training for different athletes. I have even found that some athletes need to learn from the mid-thigh position before moving to the RDL position, while others are much more comfortable learning from the above knee position before the mid-thigh position. All of this comes down to having a toolbox that allows you to pull out the right progression for the right athletes at the right time.
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