PT Classroom - Common Errors In The Clean And Cues to Fix Them ׀ by  Bill Lyon, PT, DPT, CSCS


Bill Lyon, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW-L1 received his doctor of physical therapy degree from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. He has more than 9 years of experience in performance training and strength & conditioning and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA as well as a Level one Olympic lifting coach through United States Weightlifting. Bill is a physical therapist with United Hospital System in Kenosha where he works primarily in an outpatient physical therapy setting.


Common Errors In The Clean And Cues to Fix Them

If you work with an athletic population, odds are you will see athletes that either are Olympic weightlifters as their primary sport, or utilize the moves to help build power and strength to improve at their given sport. When we see athletic patients after an injury, it is important that we are able to rehab patient to prior level of function, and this includes performing the Olympic lifts in their training program. In this article I will highlight some of the most often seen mistakes during the full clean and power clean exercise, and simple cues to help correct them.

Knees not “through elbows”

A very simple cue for the athlete to obtain a proper starting position is to make sure that their knees are “through the elbows.” This position makes sure there isn’t excessive forward lean, the weight is not too far anterior during the pulling phase, and allows for complete and proper power transfer from the lower extremities into the floor.

Transferring weight to the toes during the pull
If the athletes starting position is correct, this often isn’t an issue. As the athlete begins to pull through the phases of the clean, it important that the weight stays distributed across the bottom of the foot and more toward the heel. Should the weight transfer to the toes prior to the very end of full extension, it is now too far anterior, and will shift the majority of force production off the hip extensors and onto anterior musculature. This will likely result in the weight translating anterior from the body, forcing the athlete to jump forward to catch, or a missed catch, and overall will decrease the power production. Simple cuing for proper “knees through elbows” and neutral spine positioning at start position will help eliminate this problem.

Letting the bar move away from the body
A common mistake seen is to let the bar path drift forward, away from the body. This decreases the power of the pull and sets up for the athlete to have to hop forward to get under the bar, and often a missed catch. Cuing the athlete to “keep the bar close,” “brush the body,” and “activate the latissimus” during the lift will encourage keep the bar track close to the body and help decrease anterior translation.

Premature bending of elbows
Always remember that the power of the Olympic lifts is developed from the hips and lower extremities. Many athletes will try to pull the bar upward, like an upright row, rather developing the extension through the hips. The arms are merely a connection of the trunk to the bar. A great analogy I was told was to think of the arms as chains attached to the bar. If the athlete begins bending the elbows and trying to pull the bar up with their arms, they have lost the ability to translate the force of the hip extension to the bar. Cueing the athlete to think of the arms as chains and “pull themselves under the bar” rather than pulling the bar up will help fix the issue.


Opening hips too soon
During the first pull of the clean, the angle of the hips and trunk should stay approximately the same as the athlete extends the knees. The point of the first pull in to begin developing power and position the bar optimally for a forceful hip extension from the power position. We commonly see athletes beginning to extend and open the hips prior to the power position and this will decrease force production. Cueing the athlete to maintain the same degree of hip flexion and angle of the trunk in relationship to the floor will help fix the issue.


This is one of the most often seen errors and one that could be potentially injurious to the lower extremity. “Starfishing” is when the athlete abducts into a foot spread position to get under the bar for the catch rather than flexing at the knees and hips as they should. This position applies significant stress to the knee, especially as the load of the lift increases. Making sure to cue the athlete to “get under the bar,” working on just the catch portion of the lift, and including front squats as a supplemental lift to groove the pattern and build the strength necessary for the proper position will help decrease this tendency.


A few simple cues to your athletes can help clean up some common mistakes seen during the clean. Proper form will decrease improper stresses to the joints and muscles and provide for return to regular training program and return to sport. If your patient requires more training on the Olympic lifts and you are not comfortable or properly educated on the execution and coaching of them, make sure to refer out to a sports PT, ATC, or Olympic lifting/strength coach that is!

Last revised: June 21, 2015
by Bill Lyon, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW-L1

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