The Squat Clean, like the power clean is an advanced movement which you need to master as a functional fitness/crossfit athlete that requires the use of many muscle groups and coordinated skills. As a compound power movement, the power clean uses a large array of muscles from ground up.
Squat cleans have become a staple in CrossFit and functional fitness gyms as well as becoming more popular across all around athletes.
The squat clean consists of five phases, they are very similar to the power clean phases but during the turnover/catch phase lands in a squat rather than power. The phases are the set up, first pull, second pull and scoop, turnover and catch, then stand and release.
Phase 1 - Set Up
With any Olympic lift is it paramount to have a strong solid set up to use as a base for your lift.
To start with, stand tall with your feet at hip width and set the barbell a couple of cm in front of your shin. Squat down slightly, and bend over similar to a deadlift set up. Your hands are outside of your shins, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Raise your chest slightly and aim to lengthen the spine, engage your core so your back and midsection feel supported. Look ahead and slightly up.
Phase 2 - First Pull
Initiate the lift with a strong leg drive and straight arms. As the bar raises from the floor, the legs should straighten causing the knees to move out of the way and giving a straight path up for the bar. This movement should be done in a controlled manner getting ready to explode into the 3rd phase.
Phase 3 - Second Pull and Scoop
As the bar passes the knee we initiate the second pull and scoop. The knees rebend under the bar slightly while the hips extend causing the ‘scoop’. During the scoop, explode at your hip to cause an aggressive extension. As your hips and legs reach full extension, drive the ball of your feet into the ground, extend your calves and shrug your shoulders up slightly, this is classed as full extension.
Phase 4 - Turnover and Catch
Once you have reached full extension in phase 3 you must prepare to catch. After the rapid extension of phase 3 you pull your body down under the bar into a squat position (should be the same as your front squat) while rolling your elbows under the bar. Your elbows should rotate to point straight forward and the bar should be caught on the top/front of your shoulders in a front squat position. In the catch aim to have a solid body position bracing your back and core ready to receive the weight.
Phase 5 - Stand and Release
Once the bar has been received in the catch, ensure to take a split second to make sure the bar has been caught solidly and then stand it tall with your chest up. Finally to release, rotate the elbows back under the bar and roll/push the bar off forwards.
Here are the most common errors made with the power clean, as well as how to avoid them.
Wide Starting Stance
some people feel stronger and more comfortable widening their stance slightly, unfortunately by doing this, you actually put yourself in a weaker position off the floor, in addition to this it forces you to shift your hands wider on the bar which causes further issues. To avoid going too wide ensure your feet are roughly shoulder width apart.
Improper Starting Posture
The starting stance is very important as it forms the foundations of the lift, it is common to see people round their back or over squat in the setup. You must always maintain a flat, tight back at the start of a clean as it is an explosive movement that will put a lot of force through your back. If you suffer from either a rounded back or over squat in the setup, you should practise clean deadlifts, have someone help you get into the correct starting position and slowly complete the first pull a few times.
Bent Arms In The First Or Second Pull
This is a commonly called an early arm bend, it is usually caused as people try to get pull the bar higher with their arms, this causes an issue as, firstly it is loading the biceps with a heavy weight presenting the possibility of injury as well as potentially limiting the strength as your biceps are much weaker than your legs and back. To avoid this, try to think of your arms as locked out and try not to tense them up too hard, this will naturally help to keep them straight.
An early transition from the extension of the 2nd pull and the catch is a very common mistake. If you do not fully extend in the pull, you are cutting short your strongest phase leading to the bar not getting as much height and therefore you have to get lower to catch it, you can only go so low before it becomes a squat or worse still, a fail. To avoid this you should aim to wait as long as possible before transitioning and think about reaching as high as possible before pulling under.
Catching Too High
It is easy to catch a squat clean too high in a power position (hip crease above knees or knees at less than 90 degrees), this can be from poor mobility or movement pattern or just not knowing you are going low enough.
If this is due to mobility or movement it will take some time drilling the movements and getting to know your positions but it may be just that you need a friend to check and verbally give you cues as you perform the movement.
EMOM 10 (every minute on the minute)
3 Squat Cleans
Either pick a weight that you aim to do for all the sets or build up in weight as you go.
Good luck and let us know how you get on!