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Ask Greg: Cleans Crashing at Heavier Weights
Greg Everett
April 4 2018

Eric Asks: I have the tendency of letting the bar crash on me on the clean. I've been using tall cleans to work on that problem. I feel like at lower percentages (<85%) I do better a job of meeting the bar. But as I go up in weight, I revert back to my old habits since I feel like I need to be more aggressive with my pull. Do you have any suggestions to prevent the crashing at higher percentages? (Max clean is 115kg at ~63kg). Thanks!
Greg Says: You’re going to find that all bad habits increase in severity as the weight increases—that’s normal. In other words, you don’t need to try to correct this problem any differently than another because of that characteristic, you just have to work on correcting the problem period.
Crashing in the clean is the result of not staying connected to the bar during the turnover—that is, you and the bar separate during that phase before reconnecting rather than staying together throughout that phase.
The simplest way to conceptualize the proper turnover in the clean is that you need to meet the bar with the shoulders at whatever height you’ve pulled it to. If you pull the bar really high, you need to keep your body relatively high; if you barely elevate the bar, you need to get down under it really quickly. In either case, and any in between, the mechanics of the turnover, if performed properly, will take care of that.

you need to meet the bar with the shoulders at whatever height you’ve pulled it to.

Usually what happens with the situation you’re describing is that the heavier weight decreases your confidence in your ability to get under the bar in time. In response, you try to pull the bar higher, and try to get yourself into a lower receiving position sooner, creating that separation I mentioned previously. That attempt to pull higher usually also means that you continue pulling longer—particularly leaning back farther. This means it takes longer to get into the receiving position, leaving the turnover slow and late, and contributing to the crashing effect.
You do have to pull a heavier bar harder, but because it’s heavier, not because it needs to go higher—it can’t go higher if it’s truly heavy for you, you’re just putting more force into it to elevate it enough. But you need to do it with the exact same motion—the movement doesn’t change, only the amount of force you’re applying. The top of the pull still needs to be an abrupt, explosive finish upward with a quick change of direction.
To work on these things, I really like the complex of power clean + clean (or hang clean), with the primary focus being receiving the bar on the shoulders at the same height for each rep. Typically without instruction, a lifter will receive the power clean high, and then receive the clean significantly lower. This is a perfect exercise to learn to stay with the bar no matter where it is. Learn to reach your chest up into the bar as you complete the turnover.
Tall cleans are definitely a good exercise for turnover mechanics, but lifts that allow you to use more weight in this case will probably be more effective. Cleans from a high hang position or high blocks can be helpful as well.
Watch this video for some visual help:
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April 4 2018
Im going to disagree alittle bit with the first line: "You’re going to find that all bad habits increase in severity as the weight increases"

I actually have a few that decrease in severity with some actual weight on the bar. With light-weight snatches and cleans, I have this odd tendency to throw my head to the right during triple extension and then back to the left as I pull under. It all but disappears with challenging weights, and my head goes straight up and then down.

My early arm bend in the snatch and clean diminishes as the weight increases.

When warming up with light-weight cleans, I will sometimes bend my arm after clearing the knees and then unbend them for triple extension. This mistake also disappears with heavy weights.

I find it challenging to to perform a full snatch with easy weights; it ends up being a power snatch to overhead squat. By necessity, this goes away with heavy weights. Not sure if this really counts as a technical mistake, but it is unintentional.