The clean pull, while similar looking, is a very different exercise than the conventional barbell/powerlifting deadlift. Often, lifters attack clean pulls with the same patterning, focus, and end goal as a deadlift, neglecting the core benefits and purposes of a solid clean pull.
Clean Pull: The success of a clean is highly dependent upon the proper bar bath, bar acceleration, and lifter alignment from the floor, at the knee, and hip. The overall goal is to develop a lifter’s ability to create strength and speed throughout a “S” curved bar path, and explosively finishing the barbell vertically at the hip, mimicking the third pull/transition under the barbell in the Olympic clean.
Deadlift: Unlike the clean pull, acceleration of the barbell from the floor and throughout the movement is less distinct and often slower when attempting a successful lift. The goal of this exercise is to take a given weight from the ground to the upright position, while maintaining a vertical bar path, rather than an “S” curved one. Overall strength is the primary goal, rather than strength, power, and motor patterning specific to a lift that is highly depended upon those three aspects.
The Feet and Shin Angles
Clean Pull: Clean pulls are performed in the same footwear as cleans, snatches, and jerks, mimicking the Olympic lifts. The heel of weightlifting shoes allows a lifter to position themselves over the barbell using a more vertical torso. That alignment allows for the lifter to drive the knees back and create the proper bar path in the first and second pulls.
Deadlift: To allow for the most vertical of bar paths, lifters typically wear flat shoes, allowing for the shins to be perpendicular to the ground. Although some lifters opt
to use weightlifting heels that allow for greater hamstring and ankle mobility in the setup, shin angles are still hitting near or at perpendicular to the ground.
Clean Pull: The clean uses a double overhand, hook grip. The clean pull also uses this to transfer directly to the clean. Some lifters also may use straps to assist in gripping during higher rep/fatigued sets as well, although others use clean and snatch pulls to develop stronger hook grips.
Deadlift: One of the most widely used grips for deadlifts is the alternated/over-under grip, which allows a lifter to trap the barbell to prevent rolling. While this grip has been shown to be extremely effective for increasing the amount one can handle, it does not transfer over to the clean, and therefore should not be used with clean pulls.
The Torso Angle
Clean Pull: To allow for the barbell to be pulled into the body through the first pull, lifters need to take a more vertical/erect back positioning at the start of the clean. Often, this torso angle is 30-40 degrees of hip flexion to allow for the barbell to be pulled back into the body.
Deadlift: To allow for the most vertical bar path off the floor, the back must be positioned so that the shoulders are out in front/directly over the barbell. Due to the shin angles being closer to perpendicular with the floor in the start, there’s a higher degree of hip flexion in the setup.
Floor to Knee (First Pull)
Clean Pull: The primary focus from the ground to the knee is to bring the bar path into the body, to initiate the “S” curve. During this phase, the lifters needs to drive through the floor while pulling the knees backwards via knee extension. The hips and shoulders (back/torso angle) must stay constant to ensure the barbell does not get driven forward (lack of knee extension) or the hips rising disproportionately to the shoulders (stripper pulls). Additionally, the bar acceleration is key to allow for maximal speed in the second pull.
Deadlift: Off the floor, the lifter needs to stay directly over the barbell to pull the bar directly vertical. Knee and hip extension need to occur simultaneously so that the barbell does not get driven forward or into the body. Unlike the clean pull, bar acceleration, although still needed, is not as critical to the success of the lift.
Knee to Hip (Second Pull)
Clean Pull: Following a successful first pull, the lifter will be positioned over the bar with near terminal knee extension. As the barbell passes the knee, the lifter must bring their torso/back angle back to a more vertical position by slightly rebending the knees and hips, often referred to as the “scoop” or “second knee bend”. A marked increase in bar acceleration is critical as the bar approaches the power position to allow for maximal force production.
Deadlift: At this point, the bar acceleration is minimal, if at all. The primary concern is to keep the knees back, lower back flat, and shoulders over/on top of the barbell; all of which will ensure a vertical bar path. Often, many lifters find themselves at a sticking point, which is then cued by driving the hips aggressively into the barbell, bring the torso into the final upright position.
The End Result
Clean Pull: At the end of a clean pull, many lifters will pull through, resulting in either the “jump and shrug” or “catapult’, depending on your weightlifting philosophy. Nonetheless, the key to this top of this pull is to bring the barbell into the hips and fully drive the hips open aggressively, lifting the body and bar vertically. This mimics the transition from the first, second, and third pulls of the clean. Additionally, by aggressively shrugging at the top, the full clean pull, with triple extension and shrug, will allow for the greatest application to the Olympic clean.
Deadlift: The end stage of a successful deadlift is to leave the lifter in the upright position. When terminally extending the knees and hips, often bar speed is zero or very minimal. Unlike the clean pull, there is no emphasis on driving the barbell higher to prepare for further segments.
The clean pull and deadlift, although training similar muscle groups and joint actions, have very distinct differences in the setup, execution, and objectives. Both have practical applications to lifters, however one must determine the effectiveness of each when programming for a specific goal. For weightlifters, the Olympic clean, while dependent on strength, relies primarily on bar acceleration and bar positioning, making the clean pull a very effective accessory lift to improve a primary lift.
For powerlifters especially, deadlift is often a primary lift that is used to increase overall strength of an athlete, and may be programmed to improve such.
Featured image: @martseim on Instagram