The 1 Exercise for Pro Athletes

In Fitness, Weightlifting by Rachel Smith

What is the number one activity that most sports involve?

Running, fast stepping and/or jumping, right?

If your sport involves one of these things, you should be doing this exercise!

What is it…?

Clean pulls!!!

Clean pulls?!?

Yes!  Clean pulls are your best friend.  They beat the deadlift and take the icky catching part out of actual cleans (necessary if you do weightlifting or crossfit but nothing much else).


Clean pulls work the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core/back and levator scap/upper traps.  They are a functional, compound activity which mimics jumping or pushing off the ground to begin running.  You can smooth out muscle imbalances while adding inches to your vertical jump and acceleration to your run or direction change.

mucles_used1It beats deadlifts for a few reasons:  Unlike deadlifts, the clean pull works the calf muscles to great capacity and adds a shrug to the movement, working the levator scapulae and upper traps.  (Great for rugby – go the Onkas!!)  It also adds a power element to the deadlift because you are incorporating speed into the action, which gets the glutes firing fast for maximum drive.

How are they performed?

Take the starting position for a deadlift.  Your feet should be about hip width apart and your shins should be touching the bar.  Your shoulders are above and slightly forward of the bar.  You should ideally be wearing weightlifting boots or CrossFit (did I just say that?) boots.  For a bit on the difference, see here.

Your bottom should be DOWN and your chest should be UP with shoulders DOWN and BACK.  You should have a small inwards curve at the bottom of your spine (i.e. bum stuck OUT).  Your weight should be travelling through your heels, rather than the toes.  Begin as per deadlift (overgrip on both hands is necessary, you can’t do half/half with this one).  You can use straps if necessary or if you have learned hook grip, feel free to go for that one.

Keep the chest up and bum down as you rise from your position, taking the bar with you.  Once you have taken the bar just past your knees, the hips, knees and ankles explosively extend, along with shoulders shrugging, to lift the bar with velocity and momentum to the highest point it will go.  The bar should lightly scrape along your thighs.  The arms themselves do very little, just anchoring the bar to your body.

The momentum of the bar from the clean pull takes the bar into the zone in which your arms are bent – it is not a bicep curl!  If you are using an Olympic platform with Olympic weights, feel free at this point to drop the bar and reset your position to repeat.  I don’t really like regripping so I just hang onto the bar and let it take me back to the floor to do it all over again.

Reps/sets will really depend on what your goals are.  If you are aiming for explosive movement as most athletes are for sport, you will probably only want to be doing sets of 3-5 or less.  Let the training period you are in define the amount of sets you complete (more in pre season building phase and less during season).

As a slightly different activity, to put more focus on the upper traps and less on the levator scapulae (for those who are interested), use a wide grip on the bar and do it as a snatch pull.  The movement is the same, the only difference is the grip width.  Do it like the weightlifters do – aim for approximately 1 body width to either side of your body.  If you’re not sure, get on YouTube and check them out!

Start training these and you will absolutely feel the difference within 4 weeks, training 3 times weekly.  Watch your vertical jump improve!

Be Strong,

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About the Author

Rachel Smith


Rachel completed her Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of South Australia in 2006 and left private practise to open BodySmith Fitness with her husband, Matt Smith, in 2014. Rachel was awarded her Black Belt and Diploma from the Japan Karate Association in 2012. Rachel spent 6 years in competitive Olympic Weightlifting and in 2006 was ranked 7th in Australia in her class. Rachel spent 10 years in Gymnastics growing up, which set her up to springboard into her other pursuits. 😉 Rachel has extensively researched Health and Nutrition and this is her passion; to help people in their Fitness journey.