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Katie
Katie Chasey is a personalized training programmer and the head coach of the RXBound Training Team, where she is an Olympic Lifting, Russian Kettlebell, and all around Strength and Conditioning Coach.

She has an extensive background as an elite-level show jumper, volleyball player, and swimmer and has competed in a variety of sports both in the United States and internationally.

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Why I don't Deadlift to Clean: Comparing the Clean Pull and the Deadlift

by: Katie Chasey

Too often in gyms across the country, I hear one of two things regarding the clean pull and the deadlift: I hear athletes and coaches describing the clean pull as a kind of deadlift with a shrug at the top or I hear the deadlift described as a clean pull without a shrug, and performed with an alternate grip (switch grip). In fact, these descriptions are all incorrect. It is simply far too simplistic of an explanation regarding the mechanics involved with both. In no particular order, here are some of the technical differences that I've noted, which make the deadlift a poor choice for specifically training the clean:

The Olympic Weightlifting Clean Pull: A Skill Component of the Clean


The purpose of the clean pull is to improve the first pull portion of the clean. The clean is the first portion of the clean and jerk. In reality, the clean pull has nothing at all to do with the powerlifting deadlift. Rather, the clean pull is an exercise for the perfection of only the clean (one of two of the Olympic Weightlifting lifts).

The clean pull is technically demanding and its primary goal is to get the bar into good second pull position. When comparing the deadlift to the clean pull, you might wonder what the point would be for someone who isn’t planning on performing the second pull. And there you have it - that is a great question! (This is why the two are unrelated). Another aspect of the clean pull (as it transfers into the clean) is that it requires an extremely strong low back and can help train this key part of the body as well.

The Powerlifting Deadlift


While the deadlift might also be considered technically demanding, it is much less so as standing the weight up is more natural for the body. In this scenario, the lifter lifts the weight up without too much consideration for post-positioning (which is necessary to move weight in the clean and jerk and the snatch). Thus, deadlifting has much more application in daily functional life outside the gym than it does inside the gym. Benefits of the deadlift are that picking up heavy weight trains the legs and the lower back (with a hip extension component) and is very good for a 'systems response' (hormones, etc) in the body.

Shoulder Positions

Furthermore, in Olympic weightlifting the shoulders stay ahead of (or “over”) the bar until the explosive shoulder shrug happens at the top. This is the “clean pull to explode [shrug high up on toes]” component. Once the bar has passed the knees during the first stage of the pull, the weightlifter adds in an explosive shrug at the top of the acceleration of the bar. In powerlifting, the shoulders need to be kept back to ensure that the line of action occurs over the center of mass of the lifter and as the bar passes over the heels.

The Alternate Hand Grip Versus the Hook Grip


In powerlifting it is common to see that an alternate hand grip is used where one palm faces away from the body and the other faces inward. In Olympic Weightlifting, both palms face the body and the hook grip is the most commonly used and most proper grip. All too often I see people practicing the switch grip deadlift thinking that this practice/skill work will transfer somehow into the perfection of the pull of the clean. Not so. This grip is only used to grip for a deadlift, therefore making it distinct form any other bar movement set-up. It is unrelated as a lift for many reasons and the grip is yet another.



Weightlifting Mechanics Versus Powerlifting Mechanics


The flat-footed pull of the deadlift restricts the load of the barbell from shifting forwards and towards the balls of the feet. In other words, it is not appropriate for the powerlifter to rise up onto the balls of the feet. Too often I see the dead-lifter fall forward, causing a rounding in the lower back. In the pull of the Olympic lifts, the “double knee-bend” that is often used is not only cause for disqualification in the deadlift (flexing and extending the knees is not allowed once the bar has left the platform) but would also result in a lost lift. Therefore, the legs, knees, low back, and feet are also unrelated in these two lifts.

A Little Science: Power, Strength, Force, Acceleration, and Velocity


Force production is the basis of power.
Strength is the production of force against resistance.
Power is the capacity for the fast production of force against resistance (maximum contractile force applied so quickly that it causes acceleration). Acceleration is the rate of change in the velocity of an object (completely dependent on force production because force is required to produce a change in velocity)
For the greatest rate of change in velocity the greater the amount of force is required. Remember that higher velocity is the measure of acceleration,

Therefore:


In Olympic Weightlifting, the entire body of the lifter is involved in the acceleration of the bar off the ground. It is the momentum of the bar through the air that allows for the bar to be caught in (not pulled into) the rack (“catch”) position. In both of the Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch (specifically the pull portions of each) and in the powerlifting deadlift, this upward momentum is also important.

The difference however is that when the Olympic lifter stops his/her application of force on the bar as they drop under the bar for the catch phase of the lift, momentum is stopped. In the deadlift, all of these elements are performed slowly. There is no explosive power involved.

As a coach, I am a firm believer that if I am going to teach an athlete the Clean and Jerk or the Snatch, I will teach them the Clean Pull and the Snatch Pull, not a powerlift like the deadlift. I strongly believe that the deadlift does not transfer over explosive power output and speed required to perform the Olympic lifts properly. While there is some controversy out there regarding my methodologies on this, for me it is as simple as saying that you will not teach a sprinter to get faster by running long distance every day.

IS there SOME value to deadlifting? Absolutely. As I mentioned, it is great for the legs and can help with lower back strength and system response. Stronger is always better but it doesn’t necessarily make for a technically stronger Olympic lift.