When considering the concept of stability before mobility during movement, the squat clean is no exception. If a movement begins in a stable manner, more often than not the rest of the sequence will fall into place.
In the setup of the squat clean: the athlete’s gaze should be focused on a single point along the horizon with the head in neutral; the bar and athlete’s weight should begin over the midfoot; the shoulders should be above the level of the hips and slightly in front of the bar; and the back creates a stable arch – all prior to initiating the first pull of the clean (i.e. initial separation of ground and weight). Here we use slow-mo to identify a proper first pull vs. a faulty one. Once initiated, the torso and hips should raise in one accord, with the angle of the back remaining fairly constant throughout the lift.
Common faults seen in beginner and intermediate lifters set-ups include, but are not limited to: the shoulders remaining behind the bar, the athlete’s hips being set too low causing improper hamstring tension, and a kyphotic/rounded posture in the thoracic spine. All of these faults can potentiate the athlete’s hips rising first. This position will predispose a lift with the back, rather than their full posterior chain. When considering the Olympic lifts, think of your back as the lever for the weight, not the lifter.
Clean pulls are a great tool to utilize proper initiating mechanics, and should be prescribed at the latter end of a lifting session in the ball park of 1x5 (95%), 1x5 (100%), 2x5 (105%) of their max squat clean.
Now that we have established a frame of correctness for what to look out for with the full clean, parts 2-4 will break the lift down segmentally. Remember, if you or your athlete is trying to improve their clean with a poor first pull, it will be like building a house upon sand…not stable.