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Close up of hands lifting weight at the gym

Power Cleans and Weight Training for Young Athletes

By: Rosanna DeLutis, CSCS

What is the power clean? The power clean is an Olympic lift that is a power movement from a deadlift into a front squat. It takes two strength exercises and combines them with speed, resulting in a power movement.

Any young athlete who wants to include power cleans into their strength and conditioning routine should be evaluated for coordination, balance, strength imbalances, and lifting mechanics prior to adding these technical lifts to their workouts. Because adolescents are still growing, their coordination and balance is continuously changing. It is not unusual for an athlete to have trouble maintaining proper mechanics for a deadlift after a growth spurt. Taking a step back and regaining proper mechanics is essential.

Experts once believed that resistance training for young athletes was dangerous. This belief was formed due to children using improper technique, too much weight, and a lack of properly qualified supervision. Research now shows that resistance training is beneficial as long as it’s done with proper programming and supervision by qualified professionals.

The majority of high school sports programs are now including or requiring weight training for their athletes. Most of this is done at the school gym in a group setting under the supervision of a coach – who may or may not be professionally educated in the weight training of young athletes. Without proper education, an injury could be missed or mistaken for “soreness.” Many injuries can be avoided by knowing the appropriate progression of repetitions, sets, volume, and frequency. Without qualified supervision, these teens can exceed proper weight, creating improper lifting technique, and resulting in injury.

Young athletes should follow the following steps to progress to the power clean:

  • Must be able to properly deadlift.
  • Must be able to properly front squat.
  • Must be able to maintain coordination and balance.
  • Should start with a dowel (wooden or plastic rod) instead of a weight bar.
  • Should start with a low weight and increase slowly while maintaining proper movement.
  • Should proceed only with supervision from qualified professionals.

The disadvantages of progressing too quickly include:

  • Poor deadlift technique – i.e. using low back instead of gluts/hamstrings, which can lead to low back pain.
  • Poor front squat technique – i.e. not keeping heels on the ground, creating increased strain on the knees, and letting elbows drop causing strain on the lower back and wrists.
  • Too heavy of a weight load causing injury to muscles, bones, and/or growth plates
  • Muscle compensation leading to strength imbalances.

The power clean is a versatile exercise because it develops strength and power that will carry over into any sport, but only if the athlete is properly coached by a qualified strength and conditioning professional who has expertise in youth resistance training. For proper mechanics and progression, starting with one-on-one personal training generates optimal results. Professional supervision and feedback is vital for keeping young athletes safe and making them stronger. If you or your athlete is interested in scheduling a training session or evaluation with a CHKD exercise specialist, visit CHKD Fitness And Sports Training to learn more.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.