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Teaching the Clean

One of the most technically difficult movements to learn and perform well, the clean is also one of the most beneficial. It’s a dynamic blend of strength and power development, full body mobility, and precise proprioception. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as one of the most athletic lifts.

Starting new athletes in the clean can be a tricky endeavor due to it’s many moving parts. Here at PLT4M, we like to start at the “top” with the most basic element of the clean and work our way down over time.

Thus, we begin by teaching the “High Hang Power Clean” – basically focusing on the jump and pull with a catch in our front rack position. We introduce this movement in parts:

Hands & Feet:
The athlete’s feet should be in a neutral position directly under the hips. Their hands should be at least “thumb-swiping” distance from the thighs on the bar, with the arms hanging long and loose from the shoulders.

Position 1/Jumping Position:
From here, we instruct the athlete to simply “soften” the knees, or bend them slightly. The torso remains vertical, we’re not looking to lean forward, here. It is just a little 2 inch dip of the hips.

Pull & Catch:
We tell the athlete to jump with the legs while pulling the bar up the torso. Cue them to try and pull their shirt up with the bar, keeping the elbows high and outside. Once the bar has reached chest height, we shoot the elbows through and assume a quarter squat position – also known as the power position.

Even breaking it down to these most basic pieces, you will see many different athletes exhibiting many different faults, From here, it’s easier to identify individual issues and fix with each athlete, rather that try and break the movement down even further.

Fault 1 – Scarecrow vs Zombie:
One of the most common issues you’ll see with new athletes is the tendency to reverse curl the bar as opposed to the proper high pull. First, cue the athlete to mimic a Scarecrow, not a Zombie (elbows high and outside – video here: https://youtu.be/r2bFx9iJBQI). If the visual cue doesn’t work, provide them with a tactile cue, placing a physical obstruction like a pvc pipe in the way, forcing the bar to travel upward instead of out from the body.

Fault 2 – Starfish Catch
The next most common issue relates to hip and foot position on the catch. Often, athletes will jump the feet out wide in an effort to stabilize the weight. While this is instinctual for many, it puts them in an unsafe position under load, and also limits their ability to move weight. Cue them to avoid this starfish catch, and jump from hip-width to shoulder or squat width (video here: https://youtu.be/gA2PyfCHeps). There are a number of ways to fix this issue. You can use a tactile cue by placing your foot or other obstacle in the way of excessive width, or a visual cue with a taped target area on the floor.

Once we’ve mastered the high hang power clean, we can much more easily begin to introduce the other variations – moving all the way down to a full squat clean from the floor.

Always remember that we are looking to instill great mechanics before we add serious loading. Set good habits and the weight will come!

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Teaching the Thruster

The Thruster.

Arguably one of our favorite movements, as well as one of the most challenging in almost any training scenario. The thruster is a true full body movement that combines a full-depth squat with a press to lockout overhead. It is a serious “bang for buck” movement when it comes to athletic development.

Most obviously, it develops raw strength through a complete range of motion. Athletes see gains in the below parallel front squat action as well as the shoulder to overhead press. Being such a compound movement, though, the thruster is also super demanding of the core. Midline stabilization is as much a part of the movement as anything else.

It also doubles as a power development movement. Basically, the thruster is a dynamic coupling of individual strength pieces. The power transfer from our squat through a strong hip extension (like a push press or jerk) to make the bar weightless is what allows an athlete to perform reps at volume without experiencing undue fatigue. We are working to improve power output and economy of movement.

Also worth mentioning is the mobility component. The front squat and the shoulder to overhead press both require and work to develop range of motion and stability within almost every joint in the body.

Lastly, and certainly not least, the thruster can be used in a conditioning or stamina sense for the entire body. At light loads, the movement can be performed repetitively at high speed (anaerobic capacity) or for serious aerobic volume. Or it can be performed at heavier loading for less reps within a larger set of movements. We are able to train an athlete’s ability to move his or her body, as well as an external load, under general fatigue, in a number of different settings.

Being such a useful movement, it behooves us to teach it in a comprehensive fashion. First, we must always begin by making sure our athlete has a solid understanding of proper squat and press mechanics. If we’ve mastered the air squat, and understand a simple push up, then we can add a pvc and begin to drill the thruster itself.

Instruct the athlete to bring the pvc up to the shoulders in a full grip. Elbows should be high, the goal is to keep the upper arm parallel to the floor in this front rack position. Have the athlete complete 5 good front squat reps. If these are good, we can work on the press.

With the bar back at shoulder height, instruct the athlete to take a slight dip (torso remains vertical, just a slight bend of the knees). Then, squeeze the quads and glutes violently to get the bar “weightless” and finish by locking out the arms with the bar overhead. Bar should always end over the middle of the athlete’s body – not out in front or behind.

Once we’ve gotten comfortable with the overhead portion, we can put these two pieces together. Cue the athletes to drive up with the legs aggressively out of the front squat and finish with a full lockout.

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Teaching & Scaling the Pull Up

While a staple of many fitness routines, the pull up can be a tricky movement to use with young or inexperienced students and athletes. It is one of the more daunting movements for some students and athletes, as it is extremely difficult to perform even 1 rep without first practicing and developing the requisite strength and body control. Often, kids will avoid the movement altogether.

As teachers and coaches, we cannot expect athletes to simply hop up on the bar and get better through failed attempts. Instead, we should develop a pulling progression that puts athletes on the path to getting their first strict pull up. This progression is built on movement variations of increasing difficulty that continually reinforce proper mechanics.

We begin by introducing good pulling technique through the inverted row (using rings, TRX bands, or a barbell). After sound technique is learned, and once an athlete can complete 3 or sets of 5 strict ring rows, he or she can slide the feet forward to increase difficulty. After fully mastering the inverted row, we can transition the athlete to the bar with the assistance of a band. With enough practice, this in turn will get the athlete to the point of pull up success!


Staying Hydrated

Proper hydration is a need not reserved for pre-season two-a-days or Friday night games. Water is responsible for regulating internal temperature, transports oxygen and nutrients, and aids in important metabolic processes. As an athlete, you must drink at least a gallon of fluid a day, preferably just plain-old water. Do your best to avoid liquids that actually cause dehydration like coffee or soda.

On intense training days, this need increases due to water loss through sweating. In addition to normal intake, you should aim to consume 1-2 cups of water immediately before exercise, and continue to drink water throughout the training session (every 10-15 minutes). If you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, it’s too late. Driving your body without water is like driving your car without oil. If you wait too long to fill up your oil, your engine will seize.

Athletes Eat and Train. They don't diet and exercise.

You Are What You Eat

In a world of fad diets and mis-information, it is important for young athletes to understand the basics of good nutrition. You ask a lot of your body through intense training, practice, and competition. It requires the proper fuel to recover, maintain, and improve.

The key to any healthy diet is balance. All of our bodies require certain amounts of three major nutrients, macronutrients or “Macros”, for healthy function. You all are no different. A balanced diet should consist of eating approximately 60% complex carbohydrates, 20-25% fat and 15-20% protein.

Carbohydrates are not a food group unto themselves, rather a class of nutrients that can be found in all of the basic food groups. That being said, you should try and get your carbohydrates from certain sources over others. Protein is primarily found in animal products, specifically meats. Fats, or Lipids, which often get a bad wrap, are actually an essential part of a healthy diet. They are essential for athletes to maintain peak health. Try to limit saturated fats (fats from animals) and increase fats from plant sources.

Use the following as a starter-guide on macronutrient choices:

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