Clean Pull (How To and Alternatives)
Clean Pull is an Olympic lift that is a variation of the full Clean. Clean Pulls essentially forego the catch of the Clean and instead focus solely on the drive and extension. For this reason, it’s my favorite Olympic lifting variation.
Athletes are able to really emphasize being explosive and, because no catch is needed, move a little more weight than they could with a full movement.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do Clean Pulls including coaching points to watch for and some alternatives in case you need them.
How To Clean Pull
- Bumper Plates
- Start with feet hip-width apart with toes straight ahead (or ever so slightly pointed out).
- The bar should be over the middle of the feet. I always used the knot in your shoelace as a visual cue, but essentially the bar is close to (but not touching) the shins.
- Grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width.*
- The grip is a pronated grip (both palms facing down) and the lifter can choose, although highly recommended, to use a hook grip. A hook grip is where the thumb is wrapped around the bar first and then the fingers are wrapped over the thumb.
- The wrists should be slightly curled so that the knuckles are pointed straight down to the ground. This will also naturally rotate the elbows, pointing them laterally away from the body.
- Shoulders slightly over the bar, arms straight, hips slightly higher than the knees. Because of differences in body composition, torso lengths and limb lengths, every lifter will not look exactly the same when it comes to the starting body position.
- Back should be flat or have a slight arch. Shoulder blades should be pulled back and the upper back including the lats should be engaged. I like use the coaching cue ‘big chest’ or ‘superman chest’ with athletes so they get the idea of retracting their shoulder blades which coincides with “puffing out their chest.”
The ‘First Pull’ simply refers to the portion of the movement that involves moving the bar from the floor to the knee.
- The last thing that should happen as the lifter is setting up in their starting stance is to take a deep breath in and engage, or brace, their core. This helps the lifter both protect their back as well as aid in the transfer of power from their legs to the bar.
- Raise the bar off the floor at a constant speed using the legs by driving the feet through the ground. Arms should stay straight and the barbell shouldn’t be ‘yanked’ off the ground.
- Hips and shoulders rise at the same time (torso angle remains constant)**.
- As the bar comes up, keep the bar close to the shins and the feet should remain flat, driving the feet hard into the floor.
- Finally, as the bar passes knee level, wrists remain curled and elbows rotate out to the side, core and back should still be tight and engaged.
Second Pull (and finish)
The second pull involves getting the bar from just above the knee to the power position. The power position is the point where the athlete is nearly vertical and where the final triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles will occur followed immediately by the shrug and pull from the arms.
- Once the bar crosses the knees, the bar is then pulled explosively, bringing the shoulders back and up.
- As the lifter continues to drive vertically, the shoulders will end up slightly behind the bar and the hips, knees slightly bent and ankles will have just a bit of flexion left in them.
- From the power position, this is where the final explosive hip extension occurs along with the full extension of the knees.
- The foot drive shifts from the whole foot to now extending up through the balls of the feet.
- The triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles is followed instantaneously by a quick, aggressive shrug.
- Bar is pulled vertically close to the body as the traps shrug to elevate the bar.
- Now, either retrace back to the floor or drop the bar and then reset.
*An easy way to get your grip in the right position is to place your hands one thumb length away from the start of the knurling of the bar. This width will work for 90% of lifters. Wider athletes may end up sliding their hands just a bit wider and vice versa for narrow athletes, but it’s a good starting point for anyone.
**One of the biggest mistakes with clean technique is that lifters will shoot their butt up first, locking their knees out and then they end up pulling the bar with their back instead of their legs. This is most often caused by lifters trying to rush the first pull too much. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
Another common mistake is the lifter ‘swinging’ the bar away from their shins, usually because they are worried about the bar hitting their knees. However, the knees will naturally slide back out of the way as you extend.
By swinging the bar out it throws off the vertical bar path of the bar and pulls the lifter out towards their toes. Both are problems that will hinder your clean.
Clean Pull Variations
Trap Bar Pulls
Trap Bar Pulls are exactly the same as Clean Pulls except they’re done with a Trap Bar instead of a Barbell.
Set up with the same body position and execute with the same drive.
FYI: Trap Bar weights can vary. Keep that in mind if you’re working off of percentages in your lifting program.
Snatch Pulls are another very similar Clean Pull variation. The only thing that changes Snatch Pulls is the grip. The grip is a wider grip – the same width you would use for Snatches.
Snatch Pulls from the floor do require more mobility from the lifter to achieve a solid starting position.
Clean Pull Alternatives
If you don’t feel comfortable with your Clean Pull technique, or maybe you just don’t have access to bumper plates – either way here are a few alternatives.
Kettlebell Swings will also work the triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles – and are much more technically friendly.
You can start to learn how to set your back, brace your core and hinge at your hips while still working on developing power. This would be my first recommendation for someone who doesn’t feel ready for Olympic lifts with a barbell yet.
Med Ball Cannonballs
Med Ball Cannonballs are another triple extension movement that uses a Medicine Ball instead of a barbell or kettlebell.
Assume the same athletic position – chest out, knees bent, hips hinged – as the starting position of a Hang Muscle Clean. From that position, simply throw the medicine ball as high as you can. Let it hit the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat.
More Links and Info
Looking for more Olympic lifts and Olympic lift variations – all complete with step-by-step instructions and alternatives? Make sure to check out the Olympic Lifts Section of the Exercise Library.