YOU be the Judge Part 7: Power Clean, by Dr. Lon Kilgore

Editor’s Note: Dr. Lon Kilgore has already exposed the NSCA’s self-contradictory instructions on the deadlift and the squat. Today he turns his sights to the NSCA’s self-contradictory power clean instruction.

Interrogative: What should professional fitness trainers teach their trainees about the start position of the Power Clean?

Evidence: The NSCA Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning, the NSCA Basics of Strength and Conditioning, and the NSCA official Website, all offer different instruction to trainers on start position when having their clients Power Clean.

church of NSCA - hyperextension (1)

To wit;

Instruction 1 – Feet at hip width to shoulder width apart

Instruction 2 – Feet at hip width apart

Instruction 3 – Toes pointed outwards

Instruction 4 – Toes pointed straight forward

Instruction 5 – Bar one inch from shins

Instruction 6 – Bar touching the shins

Instruction 7 – Bar over the balls of the feet

Instruction 8 – Hips lower than shoulders

Instruction 9 – Hips higher than knees

Instruction 10 – Trapezius relaxed

Instruction 11 – Chest up and out

Instruction 12 – Shoulder blades pulled together

Instruction 13 – Shoulders over the bar or slightly in front of the bar

Instruction 14 – Head in neutral position

Instruction 15 – Head in line with vertebral column or slightly hyperextended

Instruction 16 – The exercise is called the “Power Clean”

Instruction 17 – The exercise is called the “Barbell Power Clean”

For instruction 1, this statement suggests that a range of positions between the feet lying under the acetabulum to the feet lying under the acromioclavicular joints is acceptable. Instruction 2 contradicts instruction 1 and states that the feet must be under the hips and not under the shoulders.

Instruction 3 implies that external rotation of the feet (pointing them out) is correct. Instruction 4 contradicts this and states that the feet must be pointed forward along the sagittal plane.

Instruction 5 places the bar one inch (2.5 cm) in advance of the shin. Instruction 6 contradicts this and places the bar touching the shin. Both instructions have a profound impact on ankle angle (and subsequently knee and hip angle) as instruction 7 places the bar over the balls of the feet (metatarsal-phalangeal joints) – the ankle angle becomes more acute if instructions 6 and 7 are linked, more obtuse if instructions 5 and 7 are linked.

Although not directly contradictory, instructions 8 and 9 present hip height without regard to the huge range of positions possible from the instructions given, thus making virtually any hip height between a back position nearly parallel to the floor and a nearly vertical position “correct.”

Instruction 10 requires a relaxed trapezius which is in direct contradiction to instruction 11 (from the same text) and instruction 12. Both of these latter instructions require contraction of the trapezius muscle.

Instruction 13 makes no reference to specific anatomical points thus making the instruction inaccurate and easily misapplied. Instruction 14 suggests that the cervical spine should be held in normal extension (neutral) and this contradicts with part of instruction 15. The portion of instruction 15 where there is a large issue is that there is a suggestion that the trainee hyperextend the cervical spine. This is absolutely inappropriate instruction as the definition of hyperextension is the “extension of a joint beyond its normal range of motion.” To hyperextend is to injure.

Instructions 16 and 17 are not per se specific to start position, however the name of the exercise is important in teaching exercise positions and in this instance the nomenclatures between texts conflict.

A power clean at the NSCA's National Conference:

A clean at the NSCA’s National Conference:

Summary: The self-proclaimed world authoritative materials promulgated by the NSCA are inconsistent in recommendation, incomplete in scientific support, lacking definition, inadequate in anatomical description, and impractical in application. A clear and uniform description is not discernible. The said publications and recommendations create an environment where education of professionals on foot and ankle placement during the deadlift is inconsistent and poorly described. Further, the name of the exercise is not consistent between publications thus increasing the amount of confusion.

The authorship, editorial, or graphical issues present may ultimately have negative effects on individual fitness results and the safety of the public, as correct technique cannot be reliably determined from the published statements, texts, and videos.


About the Author
Professor Lon Kilgore graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor of science in biology and earned a Ph.D. in anatomy and physiology from Kansas State University. He has competed in weightlifting to the national level since 1972 and coached his first athletes to national-championship event medals in 1974. He has worked in the trenches, as a coach or scientific consultant, with athletes from rank novices to professionals and the Olympic elite, and as a collegiate strength coach. He has been a certifying instructor for USA Weightlifting for more than a decade and a frequent lecturer at events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. His illustration, authorship, and co-authorship efforts include the best-selling books “Starting Strength” (first and second editions) and “Practical Programming for Strength Training” (first and second editions), recent releases “Anatomy Without a Scalpel” and “FIT,” magazine columns, textbook chapters, and numerous research journal publications. He is presently engaged in the most difficult task of his career: recreating the educational track to becoming a professional fitness practitioner. The second stage of this effort is the creation of a one-year university qualification in fitness practice at the University of the West of Scotland.

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