When people think of the weightlifting movements, they typically think of cleans, jerks, or snatches. While all three lifts (better known as the Olympic lifts) are great exercises, there are a number of variations that also can be used to help develop muscle size, strength, and power.
One such variation is the clean high pull. This article will discuss the benefits of performing the clean high pull, along with suggestions for program design. Following that, we’ll take a step-by-step approach on how to perform the clean high pull correctly.
Benefits of the Clean High Pull
For most athletes, power is more important than maximal strength. Power, or speed strength, can be defined as the amount of work performed per unit of time. Research has shown that the weightlifting movements result in a superior average power output compared to powerlifting movements.
Further, the movement pattern used when performing the clean high pull is very similar to those commonly seen in many sports. The majority of the power developed in either the clean or the snatch occurs during the second pull phase (the movement from just above the knee until the bar reaches approximately sternum height).
In both the clean and snatch, once the bar reaches sternum height the lifter normally drops under the bar. However, this catch phase doesn’t contribute to the power developed in these movements.
As discussed, one advantage of the clean high pull over the full clean is that the athlete doesn’t have to catch the bar. As a result, you can typically use heavier loads. This is especially true for athletes with technique issues in the catch phase where a lighter than optimal load must be used because of their inability to catch the bar correctly.
This heavy load, combined with the fast bar velocity seen in this movement, is responsible for the high power outputs that occur when performing this exercise (an average of 52 watts per kilogram for male athletes).
Another advantage of the weightlifting movements, including clean high pulls, is the extremely low injury rate. As long as the weightlifting movements are performed with correct technique, they’re as safe as any other training techniques.
Further, performing the weightlifting movements – including clean high pulls – may reduce injury rate by increasing kinesthetic awareness, strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments while enhancing coordination.
When training for power, the program will typically combine a low number of repetitions (1-6) and extended rest periods (2-6 minutes). This combination of low repetitions and longer rest times allows for heavier resistance and reduced fatigue, allowing for the maintenance of bar speed and technique.
If greater bar speed is desired, then training loads of 30% to 70% of 1RM can be used. This approach can be used in sports where speed is more important than force development (high jump, volleyball).
Conversely, in sports that require greater force development (football, wrestling), loads between 70% to 100% of 1RM are appropriate.
By adjusting the number of repetitions performed, the rest periods between sets, or both, the clean high pull can also be used to enhance power endurance. Athletes such as longer distance sprinters (400+ meters) and rowing athletes require the ability to move powerfully over an extended period. Because of the higher repetitions (12 or more) being performed, the shorter rest times (45-60 seconds between sets), or both, the load on the bar must be reduced.
Regardless of the training goal (power or endurance) the clean high pull should be placed early in the sequence of exercises to be performed in the workout, for two reasons.
First, the exercise should be performed explosively. As a result, the movement should be performed before the body becomes fatigued from performing other exercises.
Second, the exercise must be performed with good technique, and this will best occur when the body is in a non-fatigued state.
Performing the Clean High Pull Correctly
It’s easy to say a clean high pull is like doing the first three quarters of a power clean, up to and including the second pull. However, because the clean high pull, like all weightlifting movements, is technically difficult to do, and because great technique is important to get the most out of all weightlifting movements, we’ll take a step-by-step approach to performing this movement correctly.
There are variations of the teaching sequence thought to be best when teaching the weightlifting movements. I prefer to start from the bottom up, starting with the correct foot position.
- Biomechanically, the clean is very similar to performing a vertical jump. As a result, when teaching the high pull, it makes sense to position your feet identically to how you’d place them if you were going to perform a maximal vertical jump. Typically this involves a shoulder-width stance with the feet pointed straight ahead.
- Once the foot position has been established, you can now move to the correct hand position. Pick the bar up with a wide overhand grip and the thumbs resting on the bar but pointed in towards the center of the body. Slowly slide the hands in until the tips of the thumbs just barely touch the outside of the legs. This will identify the correct hand position on the bar.
- The next step is to learn the correct grip. Once technique is perfected, a large amount of weight can be used when performing the clean high pull, placing a big demand on grip strength. Using a hook grip (thumb around the bar, fingers around the thumb and bar) provides the most secure grip. Initially this may be uncomfortable, however, this is the way to go if you’re serious about performing the movement correctly.
To make the learning process easier it’s best to begin learning the movement from a hang above position, where the bar is resting on the thighs directly above the patella.
- With the feet and hands in the correct position, and using a hook grip, pick the bar up to a standing position and then slide the bar down to the above-the-knee position just described. The arms should be long and rotated so that the elbows are pointed towards the end of the bar. The head should be neutral and the back should be arched.
- In this position the shoulders should be just slightly forward of the bar. If they’re not, the correction required is to reduce the amount of flexion at the knee joint slightly, which will have the effect of bringing the shoulders into the desired position.
Once the correct start position has been learned you can begin learning the movements that make up the high pull. It’s important to check your start position before you begin each repetition until the correct start position can be achieved automatically without thought.
- The first movement in the teaching sequence is a jump shrug. Keeping a tight core, perform a jumping action, fully extending at the knees and hips as if trying to jump up and touch the ceiling with your head. At the top of the jump the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders should all be in a straight line.
- Using the momentum from the jump, aggressively shrug the shoulders straight up as high as possible without bending at the elbows. Do not allow the bar to swing away from the body; the bar should slide up the thighs to approximately hip height.
- When the correct start position and movement pattern for the jump shrug has been mastered you can move on to the next step – the low pull. This is just a continuation of the jump shrug, but adding a pull until the bar reaches the height of the belly button. At the top of the jump shrug allow the elbows to bend slightly until the bar reaches the desired height. It’s important to keep the bar against the body and the elbows above the wrists when transitioning to this low pull position.
- The final movement to learn is the high pull. Again, this is a continuation of the movement pattern already learned. At the top of the low pull, continue to pull the bar until it reaches sternum height. Focus on keeping the elbows above the wrists and the bar against the body as you move into a fully extended position at the ankles, knees, and hips.
The clean high pull is an excellent choice when the goal is enhanced power production capabilities. A high power-production is possible with this movement because it permits heavy loads and high bar-velocities.
The clean high pull, like the other weightlifting movements, is a very safe exercise once correct technique has been learned. Considering program design, the clean high pull can be used to enhance either muscular power or muscular power/endurance.
A step-by-step approach to learning correct clean high pull technique like the one above will allow most lifters to learn the lift quickly and safely. After that, all that’s required is the necessary sweat!