“Clean Dead Lift” does not just indicate clean grip and then you can deadlift however you want or feel you are the strongest at picking up weight from the floor (perhaps with back angle close to parallel with floor/high hips, and/or rounded back). It’s a deadlift with 100% intention of mimicking the clean start position, back tension and position maintenance, bar closeness throughout, and creation of desired above knee position on the way up and, why not, on the way down.
If you never practice this and you are currently stronger from a different position/movement (high hip, rounded back, bar away) then where do you think your body will want to go in the heat of a heavy clean?
So, with this concept in mind, let’s first consider what your “clean” start position is and make sure that it is A) as quality as it needs to be and B) as effective for the clean as it could be. (And remember, THIS will also be your clean deadlift start position.) The two most common changes I find myself recommending to others is more tension in the start position (and maintain as initiating from the floor) and repositioning the shoulders more on top of the bar.
The tension is usually a matter of the lifter simply focusing on it, emphasizing as one of their few and main cues, and therefore making the effort to feel it before they get the bar moving. It can also be lack of awareness of how to lock in, and/or insufficient mobility, which can be overcome by adjusting the shoulder position as mentioned above, adjusting the position of their feet, and/or ensuring that their knees are out sufficiently. (This is not so much that they are causing a break in the elbow, but touching the inside of arm with outside of knee with each giving pressure to the other.)
Further awareness can be created with many different drills and exercises, with my typical go to being “cat/cows” (very simple yet very effective; tell them to find the “cow” position as they set up for the clean right after performing a set of the cat/cows). These can also lend to increasing mobility for that tension in the start position if needed, but more specific and individualized mobility is usually in need here for anyone that is having trouble being cued, repositioned, or tricked into locking in. The most common areas I find needing mobility improvements for this purpose are hamstrings, internal hip rotation, entire thoracic, or upper back specifically.
For ensuring that the shoulders aren’t too far in front of the bar and/or hips are not too high, take a look at the sample sequence shown above. Keep in mind that “shoulders over the bar” doesn’t necessarily mean ideally in front (depending on who you’re talking to). How about more on top where one can use a better combination of the legs and posterior (versus more back/hamstrings with the hips set higher)? This will also allow one to achieve true leg drive and literal back angle maintenance, aka back angle at the floor matches back angle with bar above knee, and back is holding position as legs lift as opposed to back raising the load. Also, this creates a better chance to keep bar close (setting up with shoulders in front means bar will be tugging forward and body will want to follow).
Featured image: @olychad on Instagram