Along with the snatch exercise, the clean is easily the toughest exercise in CrossFit, though that statement might draw looks of disbelief from many CrossFit athletes.

Activities like thrusters or burpees can seem like they're harder, but the Olympic lifts are the most technically demanding moves in the sport. They also demand a high level of strength, power, and flexibility.

Developing your Olympic lifts will both help you perform better in events and unlock more athleticism. This can then be used to improve your performance in other activities and help you prevent injury.

However, many trainers in CrossFit rarely have a comprehensive plan for developing these lifts. Usually, the routine for improving the clean is to practice the lift repeatedly. Occasionally, they also program the use of some variants.

While practicing the lift and its variations are an essential part of improving performance, there are plenty of additional gains to be made with some small additions to your program.

This includes 10 easy tips that you can use to boost your numbers and improve the technique of your clean for competition.

These can help you improve your training as well as help you hit a new personal best at the gym or an event.

1. Include Deadlifts and Front Squats Into Your Program Regularly

This seems like an obvious tip, but you'd be surprised how many people neglect basic strength training before moving on to Olympic lifting. The deadlift and front squat are especially important because they mimic the movement in the clean.

Including these moves will help strengthen the muscles and develop the movement patterns needed for the clean. For beginners, lighter loads and more repetitions (8-15) should be used each set to work on technique and build muscle.

More experienced lifters should focus in using lower repetitions (3-8) with heavier loads to develop strength and power.

2. Start Doing Hip Thrusts

This exercise deserves a recommendation on its own. It is one of the most neglected movements for many lifters. This is possibly the best exercise for developing the glutes, because it activates these muscles better than squats or deadlifts. 

Hip extension is one of the most important aspects of the clean movement. Considering this, the hip thrust an essential exercise for its improvement.

3. Know When To Use Different Grips

The hook grip, where the fingers wrap around the thumb and bar, is the most popular grip in Olympic lifting. The style can offer greater grip strength and control through the clean. Despite its praise and popularity though, there are times where a traditional grip is better.

If you're doing out as many reps as possible in the exercise, a traditional grip allows a faster transition from the shoulders back down to the hips. This can allow more repetitions at greater speed than the hook grip.

When looking to lift as much weight as possible, you may want to to use the hook grip. But, if you're carrying out an AMRAP workout, you should consider using the traditional style of grip.

4. Include Wrist Wraps

Regardless of the type of grip you use, doing cleans can be tough on your wrists. This is particularly true for higher repetition workouts. Adding the right wrist wraps can help protect your hands and wrists from strains and injuries.

This might seem like a small addition, but when you consider the substantially higher volume of the lifts you'll complete in CrossFit events, staying injury-free is key for long-term success.

This is especially true of arm and hand injuries. Because of the high amount of activities requiring these limbs, protecting them is vital. This is true both for maintaining high performance and your ability to compete.

5. Include (The Right) Plyometrics Into Your Program

Plyometric exercises are great exercises for developing power. These moves use sudden deceleration in the form of drops or recoils before performing a rapid, explosive movement like a jump. Unfortunately, many people using plyometrics for weight lifting use inappropriate exercises.

Exercises like kneeling squat jumps, drop jumps and box jumps are all useful for lifters. These all focus on either hip extension or mimic the bottom or top of the squatting pattern seen in cleans.

These movements should all be incorporated into your routine to help improve the power and speed of your clean.

6. Alternate Between Heavy And Light Cleans

Doing heavy cleans will help you work on your strength throughout the movement, and help weed out bad technique. The light cleans, on the other hand, will help you improve your speed and power. They also help with correcting any technical issues.

As a general rule, programming light days after heavy days can help boost recovery and maintain training quality. Following a “heavy day” with a “light day,” known as high-low training, can help improve your results from training.

7. Include Banded Variations Of The Clean

Bands are a great tool for improving performance. These tools work by adjusting the force-resistance curve so that the bar gets heavier throughout the movement. This stands in contrast to normal weight training, where the start of the lift is usually the heaviest.

This change means you become stronger throughout the movement and not just the beginning. This helps eliminate the “stocking point” in most lifts, where the individual is weakest. This can be the difference between making a repetition or not.

For more experienced lifters, this is a very valuable addition to your program. More novice lifters should first wait until they've mastered the clean technique first.

8. Make Sure You're Using The Right Footwear

This might also seem like an obvious tip, but because CrossFit footwear can combine the characteristics of different shoes, it's​ worth mentioning. The most common type of shoes for CrossFit are minimalist-type shoes.

They are lightweight and flat soled with some cushioning, which makes it easier to do multiple exercises. However, this may not be optimal for weight lifting. For Olympic lifting, a high heel and hard sole are key to boost performance and reduce injury.

So, even if you are competing in a CrossFit event, try to choose a shoe with a higher heel to help improve your clean performance.

9. Include A Small Amount Of High Repetition Work

Olympic lifting and high repetitions are a huge taboo subject. It has been one of the biggest criticisms levelled at CrossFit because technique can break down with fatigue, which can then lead to injury.

Unfortunately though, one of the best ways to prevent technique breakdown with fatigue is to build endurance. This can't be done without including high repetition workouts. But, because Olympic lifting can cause a great deal of fatigue, these workouts should be used sparingly.

So, high repetition or set cleans should be included 1-2 times per week with light loads to improve endurance and prepare you for your next event.

10. Practice Hang Cleans (Especially After Heavy Strength Work)

Along with using heavy and light days and heavy lifting, mixing strength with power exercises can improve your performance more than either alone.

Heavy lifting increases muscle activation, and this activation then gives you a window where you complete a lift faster and with more power. Performing power exercises after heavy strength work allows you to get more out of your training.

The hang clean is also one of the best exercises for improving the full clean. It can also improve running speed and jump height. This is why you will often see many power athletes doing it. The hang clean exercise is done by completing the clean without lifting the bar from the ground. Instead, the lift is started just above the knees.

From here, you explosively extend the hips and slightly extend the knees. You then roll the elbows underneath the barbell and catch it on the shoulders. For those who are unfamiliar with the hang clean, a good tutorial can be found here.

Take Home Points

The above tips are all great ways to improve your performance in the clean or snatch movement, as well as boost overall athleticism. But, there are a few important caveats that should be recognized before implementing them. These can include:

  • Considering technique first. Clean performance can almost always be improved by working on your technique. Good technique should also be a prerequisite before increasing the load on the bar. 

  • Preparing correctly before a workout or event. This can involve working on flexibility with foam rolling. Completing a few repetitions with half the weight is also often overlooked. This can help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.

  • Considering your experience level when choosing your training practices. Some of the above tips, like the use of bands and plyometrics, are best suited to more experienced athletes. 

Experienced athletes are usually stronger and more powerful, so these methods may help them but they will not be as effective for beginners as more simple tips, like including deadlifts and squats, but will raise the chances of injuries.

Anne Ramos
Anne Ramos

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