The Real Purpose of the Power Clean

A key principle of our Bedrock program is that of  the minimum effective dose, or the minimum amount of work required to drive the maximum amount of adaptation.  This is why understanding the different layers of an exercise and its purpose becomes so critical in exercise selection and program design.  I.E.- What is the least amount of exercises I can have my athlete perform to get me the biggest bang for their buck? BIG ROCKS BABY! Here’s why the Power Clean is one of the biggest rocks you can use in your program:

Power

In field sports, success is largely predicated on the athlete’s ability to get to the point of attack before their opponent.  So what training quality is largely responsible for that? Power!

Power = Force (Mass x Acceleration) x Velocity (Distance/Time).

Research has shown that the Clean, specifically the explosion phase of the Clean, is the single best of exercise for developing power.  On the practical side, exercises like dynamic medicine ball work, shock training (jumping), and sprinting are used to train the application of power, as opposed to train the development of power.

Now, while power development is probably the most commonly known reason for the Power Clean, I mentioned earlier that it is not the ONLY reason why we use it in the development of athletes and athleticism.

Coordination

An athlete’s ability to seamlessly and effortlessly move through space can be affected by his or her timing and rhythm, or lack thereof; this ability is what we term “coordination.”  Coordination can be broken up into two trainable components directly related to an athlete’s timing and rhythm: neuromuscular and biomechanical efficiency. Because of the dynamic nature of the Power Clean, it is an extremely potent exercise and developing and improving both.

Neuromuscular efficiency refers to the ability of the nervous system to properly recruit the correct muscles to produce and reduce force, while dynamically stabilizing the body’s structure.  

Most beginners have very little neuromuscular efficiency.  If a beginner hasn’t performed a Power Clean before, then his or her brain has yet to create a “movement map” for the body to follow.  Similar to athleticism on the field, the Power Clean is about timing and rhythm, and the first step to developing timing is the ability to coordinate the firing of individual muscle fibers, i.e. intra-muscular coordination.

The other side of this coin is biomechanical efficiency.  This refers to the movement and coordination of different muscle groups seamlessly and effortlessly to achieve maximum effectiveness.  Another term for this is Inter-muscular Coordination – ie- the coordination and rhythm of different muscles in the body to work together.

When learning a new skill, the brain has to create a “movement map” for the body to follow.  When learning to Power Clean, a beginner may be gaining the the timing and neuromuscular efficiency to fire the legs in the explosion phase, but will initially lack the rhythm and the biomechanical efficiency to coordinate the arms effectively in the pull or for the legs shift from exploding to absorbing and reducing the impact and force of receiving the bar in the rack position.

Once the timing of the individual muscles at are needed to fire (intra-muscular coordination) is mapped out, the rhythm of the body working together to achieve max power and quality movement (inter-muscular coordination) begins.

Force Reduction

While force production is widely discussed in the performance world, force reduction is often glossed over in the conversation.  An athlete’s ability to stop on a dime, cut, change direction, land, and absorb an impact force is largely determined by their ability to decelerate and reduce force. Additionally, deceleration is a major mechanism for prevention.; as we’ve said, before, speed doesn’t always kill, but uncontrolled deceleration does.

Force reduction is a major training quality developed when receiving the Power Clean, having to fight to maintain posture and position in a solid Universal Athletic Position (UAP) while simultaneously stopping the weight from pushing you down into a squat.  If you are having your athletes only do clean pulls or extensions, they are missing out on training and developing these athletic components that will help ensure they stay on the field and in the game.

Between the development of power, improvements in neuromuscular and biomechanical efficiency, and training proper force reduction, you can begin to put the pieces together on the potency and effectiveness that the Power Clean can provide to your athletes.

HOW THE POWER CLEAN IS INCORPORATED INTO BEDROCK

When you have a understanding of the specific training qualities that certain exercises can provide, it makes their selection and program design much clearer and simpler, especially when trying to adhere to the scientific training principles of Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) and Specificity.

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of the why, we’re going to dive into the how of incorporating the Power Clean into Bedrock through the lenses of the SAID Principle and the Specificity.

Just like we SAID 😉

To make sure we’re all on the same page, the SAID Principle requires a coach to first understand the metabolic, structural and performance demands of their athlete’s sport and/or position, and then reverse engineer these demands to develop a training program that will best prepare the athlete for their given sport.  In short, SAID provides the structure of training, and a template for sets and reps, based on the specific adaptations you are trying to drive. Using this framework, let’s break down the thought process behind the sets and reps used for the Power Clean.

We know certain rep ranges will drive specific physiological adaptations. For example, sets in the 1-3 rep range will target and help improve an athlete’s Central Nervous System (CNS) efficiency. With this in mind,  we assign the Power Clean a 5x3 rep scheme. Initially, however, CNS Efficiency is not the adaptation we are driving.

With beginners, technique, rather than weight, will be the limiting factor..  At first,, we are looking to teach and improve an athlete’s proper movement and technique, building those movement maps.  For beginners, the adaptation we are driving is inter and intra-muscular coordination; over time, movement and technique will improve..

As the athlete becomes more technically proficient, they will be able to progressively overload the Power Clean and place themselves in a position to greatly improve CNS Efficiency over time.

The Simplicity of Specificity

The Principle of Specificity is the keystone that holds the SAID Principle together. Specificity requires the coach identify the training qualities that need to be developed (strength, speed, power), and then select the exercises that will provide the best transfer of training to meet the demands of the sport and/or position.  Using this as our lens, we’ll breakdown the thought process behind the selection and use of the Power Clean.

Most field and court sports, and even aquatic sports, will require an athlete to jump or sprint;  this ability boils down to an athlete’s capability to produce force and power in the twinkling of an eye.  As we discussed earlier, the Power Clean has been shown through research to generate the largest amounts of power compared to any of the barbell exercises.

Depending on the sport, athletes will be required to give and take a hit. Additionally, almost, if not all field sports, will require an athlete to stop on a dime, to cut, change directions, and land.  Just like taking a hit, this comes down to an athlete’s ability to decelerate and reduce force. Utilizing the Power Clean to train deceleration and force reduction will have a powerful transfer of training these requirements.

Finally, all field and court sports will require an athlete to seamlessly and effortlessly combine primal movement patterns through space to accomplish a known or novel task, better known as displaying athleticism.  This comes down to an athlete’s inter and intra-muscular coordination. Again, while amazing displays of athleticism in sport are open loop, there can still be a strong transfer of training when improving an athlete’s inter and intra-muscular ability during a closed loop exercise like the Power Clean.

Based on all these demands, the qualities that the Power Clean make it perfectly suited to to train and develop any athlete, from novice to professional.  BIG ROCKS BABY!!!

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Don Ricci

Block One Coach at Power Athlete
Don was a two time National Champion and All-American water polo goalie at the University of Southern California prior to getting involved in coaching strength & conditioning and weightlifting.As the owner and Head Coach of DELTA Weightlifting in Sacramento, CA, the Power Athlete Methodology has been a crucial component in developing better overall athleticism with his competitive weightlifters with international level athletes and national medalists to show for it.In addition to proudly being a Power Athlete Block One Coach, Don is also a USA Weightlifting International Coach and a USA Weightlifting Lead Instructor for the Weightlifting and Sports Performance Coach (Level 1) certification courses.Don has coached and trained athletes from virtually every sport at levels ranging from youth beginner to National Team level.

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