Jun 4th, 2013
Category: Athletic Performance Training
How to Increase Your Speed Part I: The Hang Clean vs. The Power Clean
Nearly every athlete that I have trained, from youth to professional athletes, has requested to become faster. Most assume that increasing speed comes from practicing sprinting. Although sprint practice is vital to increase speed, increasing ones power capability through strength & power lifting is equally (if not more) as vital. Sprinters should focus on developing their glutes, hamstrings, and calves to increase sprint speed. However, the quadriceps musculature group is vastly important in order to achieve faster sprinting. The quadriceps group is involved with deceleration and the amortization phase (transition between concentric and eccentric motions) of sprinting; basically, the quadriceps is involved in all the eccentric actions while sprinting (i.e. impact portion of sprinting).
Sprinting / running is a bipedal ballistic action, which consists of a series of unilateral plyometrics. During sprinting, about 40% of the power output comes from the gluteal muscles; about 25% of the power comes from the hamstring group; and roughly 5% of the power output comes from the calves. A muscular analysis (EMG) of sprinting highlights the importance of these muscles effects on the power output during sprinting. The analysis also sheds light on the importance of core and lower back strength / stability.
With numerous muscles and synchronizations required during sprinting, defining a program that incorporates strength and power exercises that elicit a barrage of muscles in a synchronized movement pattern is advantageous. However, with more than one movement that can do this, it is important to figure out the most efficient strength and power exercises to utilize.
1) The Power Clean…
One’s ability to produce a high power output during sprinting will dictate the speed in which one will be able to travel (i.e. other variables are in play). Increasing ones power, in relation to sprinting, requires a strength and conditioning program that focuses on strength and power lifts, which emphasizes the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. An obvious exercise of choice, and one that is commonly used by strength coaches worldwide, is the power clean. The power clean is a complex multi-joint movement that requires maximal amounts of total body coordination. Sprinting requires a transfer of power from your lower body, through your core, and into your upper body. This same transfer of power (i.e. synchronized coordination) is highlighted during the power clean.
Synchronized Coordination is not the best attribute of a proper power clean. The power cleans best attribute involves the triple extension. The triple extension is executed during the portion of the power clean where your hip, knee and ankles go from flexion to full extension. The triple extension portion of the power clean is the functional component of this exercise. For this reason, the power clean is highly transferable to nearly all athletic movements. If performed correctly, the power clean has the potential to increase any athletes speed. Note: it is worth mentioning that during the triple extension your traps should be fully shrugged and your arms straight.
The power clean is a difficult movement to master. The majority of persons whom perform power cleans do not often execute it correctly, especially the triple extension. Most athletes, especially at the high school level, are never taught how to fully extend their hips. These athletes will often leave their hips behind, and miss out on the most athletically transferable portion of the power clean. Another major mistake athletes make is by starting the movement with their arms bent. The arms must start in full extension, and remain fully extended, until the triple extension has been executed and the bar begins it vertical ascent. Athletes who perform the power clean should receive proper training from a certified Strength and Conditioning Coach (cscs) to ensure proper technique.
2) The Hang Clean…
An emphasis must be place on power (high speed) movements, particularly ones that activate the hamstrings and glutes, in order to
increase speed. The glutes and hamstrings, according to studies, account for nearly 65% of power output during the action of sprinting. Therefore, the focus should be placed on high speed movements that engage the hamstrings, glutes, and the triple extension. One movement that involves all three, and even utilizes the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) (1), is the hang clean. The hang clean exercise begins with the bar held at the waist. The arms are fully extended and the knees should be in slight flexion (bent). The first movement of the hang clean is a counter movement. Push your hips back and let the bar descend until it reaches slightly above your knees. Note: this counter movement must be performed quickly to activate the SSC; do not let the bar travel below the knees because this takes the SSC out of the equation. As soon as the bar travels down to slightly above the knees, explosively counter back until your hips, knees, and ankles are fully extended (triple extension). After completion of the triple extension, the bar will ascend upwards as high as possible. Counter the bars ascending motion by quickly performing a squat until you are low enough to catch the bar across the shoulders. Relax your grip on the bar and rotate your shoulders upward / forward.
The hang clean has even proven to be an effective tool in increasing ones vertical jumping ability. There is a surplus of evidence that has proven a strong correlation between vertical jumping and sprinting. This correlation is in large part because of similar muscular action, mainly the triple extension.
Hang cleans can be performed with lighter weight and more repetitions. I often prescribe 4 sets with a 4-5 repetition range. This repetition range places the weight around a 70-75% 1 rep max (1RM). When I prescribe this repetition range to my athletes / teams, I often have them engage in complex training (i.e. superset). Upon completion of the hang cleans my athlete’s superset with hurdle jumps, box jumps, depth jumps, and various other explosive plyometrics… The plyometrics that are prescribed require a short ROM (to activate the SSC) and involve lower repetitions. Although this form of training has proved effective for all of my athletes, utilization of a 1-2 repetition range at 1RM, with no super set, is critical as well. Performing two repetitions above 90% 1RM significantly increases strength and power. Therefore, do not leave that weight and/or repetition range to be performed exclusively by power cleans.
Note: this movement requires a lot of technique. Key points for the strength and conditioning coach to look for during the counter movement is the hips pushing back; the knees in slight flexion; zero rounding in the lower back; the bar not traveling past the knees; and a quick transition from the counter movement to propulsive movement that turns into triple extension.
As effective as the hang clean is, the power clean is equally as effective (some might argue even more so). The power clean has several advantages. Two that come to mind involve the zero momentum start and the larger range of motion (ROM). The power clean requires a larger range of motion, which can increase soft tissue elasticity. Soft tissue elasticity has been linked to a decreased risk of injury during sprinting. Squats, along with various other exercises, can also increase soft tissue elasticity, as well as increase more strength and power (i.e. sprinting speed). Read How to Increase Your Speed: strength & power lifts – part I to gain access to more exercises that increase speed.
- The Hidden Gem in Speed & Agility
By, Mark Wine CSCS
Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2012