The Clean – The Importance of Learning The Front Squat First!

The Clean – The Importance of Learning The Front Squat First!


The clean can be one of the best movements for developing explosion there is if taught correctly. Yes, there are alternatives that can be used but each have their own drawbacks. Cleans are also one of the most misunderstood and time-consuming exercises to teach. To properly teach a clean understanding the purpose and different movement patterns associated with the clean is a must. Contrary to what seems to be popular teaching practices it's a lot more than just lifting a barbell up to your chest. It's a step by step process and if you try to overload someone with the whole movement all at once most of the time it will be too much for them to process and they will just shut everything off. This is where we commonly see the really nice rounded back, reverse curling, sumo squat exercise that, I guess, kinda resembles a clean.

Clean Movements

Let's take a look at the hang power clean. The hang power clean has three basic movements. The pull, the extension, and the catch. To teach cleans we work backwards with our clients. Teaching the last movement first and working our way down. The reason for this is because you can't do a single variation of the clean without having to end up in the catch so why waste time trying to teach anything else if you have to be able to perform this movement first.

The Catch

The catch should be the same position that you would be in to do a front squat. Bar on the chest, elbows up, knees bent, and back straight. If you can't perform this position then your clean is going to be ineffective and dangerous. A common mistake often seen is the bar is caught away from the chest with the elbows below or behind the bar. (See pictures below for examples.) This puts a huge strain on your elbows, shoulders, and back. It's also going to limit the amount you can clean because you are basically having to hold the weight up with your shoulders in a reverse curling motion instead of the weight sitting on your chest supported by your legs.

The Importance of Front Squat

To get athletes ready for this position, before we even attempt a clean, we start with front squats. Only after they have demonstrated an appropriate ability at front squats will we move to cleans. The advantage of doing a front squat over just learning the position is that this teaches them the position throughout their whole range of motion. This way no matter where they catch the weight they are always going to be in a position that they are used too and comfortable with. It's really important to make athletes spend time at the bottom and get comfortable there. This way if they do transition into a full clean they aren't going to be stuck or falling over. Some of the ways to do this are with paused squats and squat holds. Building up strength in your front squat is going to help increase your clean. If you can't stand up with it, you can't clean it.

Common Issues

A common issue we encounter during this process is wrist mobility which limits them from being able to keep their elbows up while holding the bar. This issue can be fixed with wrist stretches but it may take some time, practice, and quite honestly some pain. Wrist stretches hurt but they will be hugely beneficial in the long run including reducing risk of injury. Our motto is to fix the problem if at all possible and not ignore it. One of our favorite stretches is wall walks demonstrated in the picture below. Turn your palms up, keep your arms straight, and walk your hands up the wall while keeping your palm in contact with the wall. Then flip your hands over and do the reverse. We like to go as far as you can until your palm just comes off the wall and then push and hold for 30s. This needs to be done every day until mobility is achieved. You can do these before and in between sets of front squats. There are countless other stretches a quick google search can turn up for you as well. Once this flexibility has been achieved we start to work on front squats.

In Conclusion,

Front Squats are an imperative part of the clean and learning them should be the first step taken before advancing to the other movements. By taking the time with getting this positioning correct you will see huge improvements in your cleans and explosion!

If you enjoyed this please make sure you look for our next article focusing on the pull and extension.

Remember, form over ego always wins in the long run!

Nathan Long

Spark Fitness and Performance

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