Jan 28th, 2012
Zach in the jumping position during a Starting Strength Pulling Camp.
To understand why straight arms are an important part of a successful clean, it helps to understand what a clean is. Since I like succinct explanations, we’ll use this one: A clean is a jump while holding a barbell. Upon completion of the movement, the bar is racked across the front of the shoulders. While there are some differences between a standing vertical jump and a clean, this definition works remarkably well to instill a good fundamental movement pattern for the lift. Note that in the definition above, no mention is made of pulling or rowing the bar to the shoulders. This is important. The function of the arms in the clean is to efficiently transfer force to the barbell.
When we perform a jump with the barbell, the work of propelling the weight upwards is done by the legs and the hips. The arms can be thought of as ropes or chains that attach to the bar. When visualizing that scenario, we can see how a taught rope directly produces force against the resistance. If the arms are bent, we effectively inserted a spring into the system. As the jump occurs, the bent arms absorb some of the energy as the muscles struggle to maintain the flexion in the elbows. If the arms bend at any time before the jump happens, you are very successfully siphoning power out of the system.
Let’s look at the picture of Zach at the top of this post as he performs a power clean. This is the jumping position. Note how straight the arms are. The bar is in contact with his thigh, his knees are bent, his shoulders are in front of the bar, his feet are flat on the ground, and his arms are in full extension and ready to transmit the power generated by the jump to the bar. He’s not trying to row the bar. He is trying to jump the bar upwards.
Zach after completing the jump
The picture above this sentence represents the next frame in the series. The knees and hips and hips are extended and the arms are almost completely straight. Had I managed to click the shutter a few milliseconds sooner his arms would probably be more fully extended. This picture probably represents the beginnings of the transition from the jump to the rack and we see the arms bend slightly. However, you get the point. He is not pulling the bar up using his arms. Zach is powering the bar up with the force generated by the lower body. In order for this to happen effectively, straight arms are required.
So, keep your arms straight as you jump in the clean. The bar will move more quickly. More weight will be lifted. You will be happier. Your coaches will be happier. The world will be a brighter place for it.