06/09/2021 # Home
The medicine ball is somewhat less intimidating than a bar, weighs less, and seems to be more suggestive of the practical functionality of the clean than is clean with the bar. The medicine-ball clean efficiently demonstrates to the developing athlete the critical sequence of the hip accelerating the object to maximum extension, the hip retreating toward the squat, and, finally, the hip squatting the object to full extension. It’s a very crucial movement to practice for mastering all the Olympic lifts.
The clean and jerk and the snatch, the Olympic lifts, present the toughest learning challenge in all of the weight training. Absent these lifts, there are no complex movements found in the weight room. By contrast, the average collegiate gymnast has learned hundreds of movements at least as complex, difficult, and nuanced as the clean or snatch. In large part, because most weight training is exceedingly simple, learning the Olympic lifts is, for too many athletes, a shock of frustration and incompetence.
Sadly, many coaches, trainers, and athletes have avoided these movements precisely because of their technical complexity. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the technical complexity of the quick lifts exactly contains the seeds of their worth; that is, they simultaneously demand and develop strength, power, speed, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
When examining the reasons offered for not teaching the Olympic lifts we cannot help but suspect that the lifts’ detractors have no first-hand (real) experience with them. We want to see someone, anyone, do a technically sound clean or snatch at any weight and then offer a rationale for the movement’s restricted applicability.
Were they dangerous or inappropriate for any particular population, we would find coaches intimate with the lifts articulating the nature of their inappropriateness? We do not.
At CrossFit, everyone learns the Olympic lifts—that is right, everyone.
We review here the bad rap hung on the Olympic lifts because we have made exciting progress working past the common misconceptions and fears surrounding their introduction, execution, and applicability to general populations. The medicine-ball clean has been integral to our successes.
The Dynamax medicine ball is a soft, large, pillowy ball that ranges in weight from 4 to 30 lb. available in increments. It is non-threatening, even friendly.
Working with Dynamax balls, we introduce the starting position and posture of the deadlift, then the lift itself. In a matter of minutes, we then shift our efforts to front squatting with the ball. After a little practice with the squat, we move to the clean.
(A similar approach is used to teach the shoulder press, push press, and push jerk.)
The clean is then reduced to “pop the hip and drop–catch it in a squat” and it is done. The devil is in the details, but the group is cleaning in five minutes. It is a legitimate, functional clean. More so even than cleaning with a bar, the medicine-ball clean might in fact have a clearer application to heaving a bag of cement into a pick-up or hucking up a toddler to put in a car seat.
The faults universal to lifting initiates are all there in as plain sight with the ball as with the bar. Any subtleties of matured and modern bar technique not possible with the ball are not immediate concerns, and their absence is plainly justified by the imparted understanding that this is functional stuff and applicable to all objects we might desire to heave from ground to chest.
In a group of mixed capacities, the newbies get the light balls and the veterans get the heavy ones. In 30-rep doses whoever ends up with the 30-lb. ball is going to get a workout regardless of his or her abilities. The heavier balls impart a nasty wallop far beyond the same work done with a bar or dumbbell of equal weight; considerable additional effort is expended adducting the arms, which is required to “pinch” the ball and keep it from slipping.
We use the medicine-ball clean in warm-ups and cool-downs to reinforce the movement, and the results are clearly manifest in the number and rate of personal records we are seeing in bar cleans with all our athletes. Yes, the benefit transfers to the bar—even for our better lifters!
In the duration of a warm-up, there are uncountable opportunities to weed out bad mechanics. Pulling with the arms, not finishing hip extension, failing to shrug, pulling too high, lifting the heels in the first pull, curling the ball, losing back extension, looking down, catching high then squatting, slow dropping under, slow elbows—all the faults can be practiced during the warm-up.
With several weeks’ practice, a group will go from “spastic” to a precision medicine-ball drill team in perfect sync. In fact, that is how we conduct the training effort.
We put the athletes in a small circle, put the best clean available in the center as a leader, and ask the athletes to mirror the center. Screw-ups are clearly evident by being in postures or positions out of sync. Attention is riveted on a good model while duplicating the movement in real-time. The time required for “paralysis through analysis” is wonderfully not there. Thinking becomes doing.
Individuals generally impervious to verbal cues become self-correcting of faults made apparent by watching and comparing to others. It is not uncommon for shouts of correction to be lobbed cross the circle from participant to participant.
Coaching cues and discussion are reduced to the minimum and essential as the process is turned into a child’s game of “follow the leader.”
Where this becomes “dangerous,” “bad for the joints,” “too technical to learn,” or any other nonsense routinely uttered about weightlifting, we do not know.
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