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Starting Strength in the Real World

Stop Catching Your Cleans Like a Fool

by Phil Meggers, SSC | August 10, 2021

The process of receiving (i.e., “catching” or “racking”) the power clean often poses a problem for new lifters. Sometimes, this is because a lifter struggles to jam his elbows forward and up to provide a shelf for the bar to rest upon. But today, we’re going to examine the problem of not using your hips and knees effectively when receiving a power clean. There are two versions of this problem:

Version A

catching a clean wrong with straight legs

Here, the lifter receives the power clean and comes to a halt very abruptly on completely extended (i.e. straight) knees and hips. When we recover from the power clean and stand up to complete the lift, we do, of course, return to this position, but actually landing in this position creates two problems: first, it does not allow the lifter to cushion the landing at all with the hips and knees, and second, it prevents the lifter from dropping under the bar in order to rack the bar on the shoulders. Both of these problems become rather severe as the weight of the power clean increases.

Version B

catching a clean wrong by leaning back

Here, the lifter receives the power clean with flexed (i.e. bent) knees but with extended hips. In this case, the lifter looks like he is trying to perform the limbo with a barbell racked on his deltoids. In addition to looking ridiculous, this also creates some problems: first, it does not allow the hips to contribute to and cushion the landing process (leaving the knees to bear this burden alone), and second, you can’t effectively catch heavy weights in this position. In fact, as the weight becomes heavier, the growing discomfort in your lower back will remind you of this fact.

Solving both Version A and Version B is simple: you have both hips and knees, so bend them when you land.

correct clean rack and catch position

You may not have actually jumped since junior high, but believe it or not, your body “knows” how to jump and land like a normal human being. Thanks to your cerebellum, your body has an excellent and intuitive grasp of concepts such as momentum, impulse, force, time, change in velocity, etc., and because of this, most people – when jumping and landing – will naturally cushion their landings by bending their hips and knees. However, when you’re thinking really hard about performing a clean, your conscious brain – which is dealing with a host of other issues at that very moment – might tend to override a normal movement like the cushioned landing we’d like to see.

With this in mind, if you tend to receive your cleans looking like the lifter in either the Version A or Version B examples, give your brain a very specific job to do and try out one of the following cues the next time you power clean.

Cue: “Land softly.”

By telling yourself to land softly, you will remind yourself to bend the knees and hips as you catch your clean. A benefit of this cue is that it’s extremely simple and doesn’t require you to actually think about what your hips and knees are doing – you simply try to soften your landing a bit and let your body take care of the details. If this cue doesn’t work, then it’s time to move on to:

Cue: “Front squat”

Because this is a power clean, we don’t actually want you to catch your clean in a nice, deep front squat position (that would make the movement a “full clean” or “squat clean” instead of a power clean), so this cue is actually an overcue. Unless you regularly perform front squats, you won’t actually succeed in catching your clean in a full-depth front squat, but the act of trying to do so will cause you (hopefully!) to land in a partial-depth front squat position, which is exactly what we want.

Since most people naturally bend their knees and hips when landing after a jump, we don’t include direct instruction on how to land in the power clean’s teaching progression, since the jump is taught as part of the method. After all, we’d rather not complicate the teaching process by adding something that people generally do rather intuitively. With that said, if you find yourself committing a Version A or Version B error when you rack your cleans (and you’ll need to record yourself on video to check this if you don’t have a coach), then try out these two cues and see if they help clean up your situation.

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