If you’re like an average gym-goer, you don’t exactly want to be as jacked as a bodybuilder. Thing is, you don’t want to be a distance runner either. Instead, what you may very well want is to look like an athlete.
And to do that, you can’t just do zounds of curls and bench presses and pullups. Every so often, it helps to get explosive and powerful, just like pro sports athletes do, challenging your body to move at a high rate of speed. And one of the best exercises to do that is something called the clean-pull.
This isn’t a move you have to have in your workout, but it’ll definitely change your workouts up. It’ll help you in many other ways too, boosting your athleticism on any field of play, whether that’s the basketball court or the football field or the soccer pitch. Oh, and it just may make your deadlift a little more monstrous too.
What is The Clean Pull?
If you’re familiar with a power clean or a deadlift, then you have some general familiarity with the clean pull. The clean pull has you starting off in a position very close to a deadlift, and you’re “pulling” the weight up off the floor, using your hamstrings and glutes to power you.
But while the deadlift is mostly about lifting heavy weights, the clean pull will challenge you to focus on moving a lighter weight in a similar motion — and move that weight as fast as you can. During the deadlift, you’re focusing on generating maximum force to move a heavy load, helping you make strength gains. The clean pull is about generating maximum speed.
During the deadlift, your goal is to lift the weight off the ground to generate that force. During the clean pull, you’ll lift that weight off the ground as quickly as possible, generating force but paying attention to time to generate that force, too.
The move is also the first phase of the power clean or clean, an Olympic lift frequently done by CrossFitters. You’ll generate that force primarily by being explosive through your hips, creating what’s called “hip extension.” That hip extension is what helps you generate speed, and training it is critical in sports. That’s why the clean pull is a lift often used by NFL, NBA, and NHL players. For pro athletes, it gives them many of the benefits of power cleans and hang cleans, with less risk of injury or fatigue to the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
How to Do It
The clean pull seems like an easy lift, and in some ways it is: You essentially set up in a deadlift position with your head up, deadlift the weight upwards as explosively as possible, then pop your hips forward as powerfully as you can to send the bar flying as high as it’ll go. (While your arms hold the weight, they’re not truly supposed to lift the weight). But executing the clean pull takes practice and attention to detail. Let’s run through its steps.
You’re starting essentially in deadlift position, feet hips-width apart, bar over the lace of your shoes. Grip the bar with both hands using a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Ideally, you’ll want to use what’s called a “hook grip,” wrapping the thumb under the index and middle fingers so you can really keep the bar tight. This will also keep your forearms relaxed.
From there, lower your hips until your shins touch the bar; your hips should be slightly lower than your traditional deadlift setup. Think about having your hips below your shoulder-level, but above your knees. Pinch your shoulder blades and look forward (not down as you would in a standard deadlift).
Arch your lower back just slightly and try to keep your weight in your midfoot, not in your heels and not in your toes.
Now you’re ready to start a rep, and this can be broken down, essentially into three pulls. They’ll all happen very quickly.
The First Pull
The “first pull” involves moving the bar from the floor to just above the knee, and this is the most controlled pull in the clean pull. Keep your back tight and try to turn your armpits forward to engage your lats. Then pull the bar off the floor, shifting your weight back to your heels. Lead with your chest rising, and try to maintain the angle of your hips and shoulders. You’re not standing straight up just yet.
The bar should shift back toward your torso. It’s critical to keep it close and not let it shift forward; keep your shoulders in front of the bar as long as possible. Pro-tip: Be patient! Beginners try to rip the bar off the floor as quickly as possible, but that’s a mistake. Yes, the bar will accelerate, but this is your slowest pull, setting the foundation for the rest of the lift.
One thing to avoid. First off, keep those hips down! Don’t let your hips rise faster than your shoulders, something that’s commonly referred to as the “stripper pull.” If the hips rise too early, your hamstrings stop doing the work, and your lower back steps in, a mechanism for injury. Your weight also winds up in front of your foot.
The Second Pull
The second pull involves moving the bar from just above the knee to the upper thigh, our “power position” that will permit real acceleration. Now you’re focusing on aggressively extending at the hips and knees (essentially standing up) by shifting your hips forward. Pull the bar back toward your torso as you do this, keeping it in close contact with your quads. Your torso angle should become more vertical as you do all this.
Do your best to not let the bar lose contact with your quads. Think about keeping your lats engaged, and keeping pulling the bar back toward your hips.
The Third Pull
Now you’re finishing. The third and final pull has you achieving max acceleration on the bar by finishing what you’ve started: Now you fully open your hips, knees, and ankles (something known as triple-extension). At the same time, you’ll shrug your shoulders. Your weight should shift onto your toes (as if you’re jumping) as the acceleration of the bar forces your heels off the floor.
Think of this as a jump and shrug that gets the bar moving vertically. But don’t over-involve your arms. Your arms should stay straight, elbows pointed out. The momentum of the final pull will propel the bar upwards to finish slightly above hip level.
Two key things to note here. First off, don’t make this final pull too early. When you do that, you don’t let your hips open up, and you won’t truly accelerate the weight as powerful as it can be. Be patient, even though everything is happening fast. Secondly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking the bar needs to rise to a certain target. It doesn’t. This isn’t a Point A-to-Point B lift. You’re training explosion, not training to a standard.
The Clean Pull In Your Workouts
You can use the clean pull in a variety of ways in your workouts. It’s a great way to warm up with lighter weights on a day when you’re doing heavy deadlifts or even standard cleans, because it’ll train your body to move with explosion. Whenever possible, we want good-form explosion in our standard lifts.
If you use it this way, start with an empty bar and do 8 to 10 reps, then work up to a weight that you can do 3-5 reps with. Remember: This doesn’t need to be a heavy-weight exercise. Work up to 30 to 40 percent of your best deadlift.
You can also use this as a power-building move, doing it with half of your max deadlift and doing 4 to 5 sets of 2 to 3 reps each. Don’t rush these reps. After each rep, reset on the ground, find your form again, and then go.
No matter how you use it, you’re honing speed and strength and training more coordination than you think, too. The clean pull is challenging. But it’s a move worth learning because it’ll make your deadlifts better.