Mobility: Tidying up the bottom of your Clean

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On Saturday we performed a heavy single clean (full squat receiving position). As Jesse explained we will be doing another one in a month as a re-test. You will be working through technique pieces in class over the next month that will help with your overall technique, but there are also other factors like mobility that have a substantial effect on your success. When people put significant effort into their mobility (clinical assessment, treatment and then specifically prescribed mobility) the feedback I get is that the movement they have been working on just feels smoother or easier even when it’s heavy. I often hear “I don’t know what happened I just felt really good today”. Mobility creates a subtle (and over the longer term significant) change in positioning that can have a dramatic effect on the flow of the movement.

Jesse at Coach B.'s gym in Southern California, 2011

Jesse during our visit to Coach B.’s gym in Southern California, 2011

The difficulty in receiving a heavy clean in a full squat is that it asks a lot of multiple joints all at the same time in a dynamic moment with little margin for error. Tissues that don’t move well affect how a joint articulates and therefore how the joints stack in that demanding position. Understanding your own mobility limitations is important so that you can most effectively mobilize (general work outside of training time and specifically before your session with the lift) to prepare yourself. The frustration for people with doing mobility seems to be the time it takes. It takes commitment and time to do a really good job of rolling and stretching an important and stubborn piece of tissue or joint range. But the reality is that you don’t need to mobilize everything in your body all the time. Lots of your tissues and joints are doing just fine. The key is to know YOUR pieces. Your areas of focus can definitely change over time (especially as a particular joint in the chain gets more efficient), but what we notice as health care practitioners is that through repeated assessment it becomes clear what really needs to be focused on as the key pieces. For the most part this is determined by what positions your body goes through daily (sleep, work, exercise) and has been through over a lifetime.

So when we look at a complex movement like the clean we need to identify how your joint and tissue limitations are affecting the overall movement. If you have a history of ankle sprains you probably have some scar tissue in the joint and some overworked muscles around the joint, and that can really limit how your ankle (and therefore knee… and hip… you get it) articulates in a squat. If you commute to work and then sit at a desk all day your hips are probably your zone to work on. And if you have a history of shoulder injury or sit at a computer a lot your rack position probably needs some work.

With that all said (I just realized that was really a synopsis of what I do in clinic every day!) here are some mobility pieces that I like to recommend for the parts associated with the clean. I won’t go into detail here about HOW to do these because we do them regularly in class. If you don’t understand one just ask a coach to go through it with you. I will break it up by zone. You don’t need to do these every day… a few times a week should suffice and be careful not to grind away on tissues that have just been worked hard in a workout (you can create a treatment inflammation response on top of a workout inflammation response which can overload the tissues ability to repair).

* The goal of rolling and stretching just prior to a workout is to get the blood flowing and to reduce the limitations in range of motion that will inhibit the required movements.
* The goal with rolling and stretching immediately post workout and while the tissue is sore is just to get the blood moving and gently re-align the tissue.
* The goal of rolling and stretching at home in front of the TV (when you aren’t workout sore there) is to break some stuff down and give it time to repair before you next use it. This is the time to really get at those sticky nasty spots.
* I am a huge fan of rolling and then immediately following that up with a stretch of that tissue or joint range to help realign it. People seem to really love the foam rollers and lacrosse balls exclusively but that is only one piece of effective mobility.


* Like I just mentioned above, how you approach (intensity) each of these mobility pieces depends on your timing and goal.
– Roll the bottoms of your feet with a lx ball
– Stretch the bottoms of your feet by carefully sitting on your heels with your toe pads on the floor
– Foam roll (or I like the black PVC best) your calves getting at all angles… sides, top corners, achilles
– Do your calf stretches of choice but I recommend doing them in a straight knee position first and then bent knee position after
– Roll the fronts of your shins (I like to use a rolling pin for this and put my foot up on the coffee table)
– Banded ankle mobility (check in with me to see if you are doing this correctly…. less is more and often I see people wiggling around and bending too much with this one… its a gentle glide!)
* I often do a set of goblet squats pre doing this ankle stuff and then again post to feel the difference it makes.


* Again, the specifics of what you need out of this depends on you, this is just a general guideline for the clean.
– Pre cleans sessions use the foam roller to mash around the glutes (especially the sides) and the quads and TFLs (which I call hip pockets for a simple reference).
– Also foam roll your hamstrings, adductors and quads. The part of the adductors I mean here is the part at the back and inside that gets stuck to the hamstring especially up near the top. I roll this like the hamstrings and then rotate my leg in to get the adductor magnus (there are muscle diagrams upstairs if you need a reference).
– Wide leg banded adductor stretch with a really flat low back (I save this one for post workout and recovery sessions only).
– Glutes stretches (seated twist, figure 4). Get us to go over these with you if you aren’t totally sure you are doing them correctly).
– As part of your at home mobility I am also a big fan of using the lx ball to get into the TFL hip pocket by laying on my side (almost on my front though) with the hip slightly flexed (be careful… this one can be really nasty if you haven’t done it much).
– Couch stretch for quads and bench (or sideways couch) hip flexor stretch (again check in if you aren’t sure what you are doing).


*This one is also complicated… there are a number of different limiting factors:
1. Your Spine:
– If you are stuck in a rounded upper back position from working at a desk a lot (get one of us to actually check the curve of your spine before you approach this one) and are missing proper mobility in T-spine extension you need to open this up. This isn’t a common as you would think in our environment so talk to me, a coach, Karen or Tonya and we’ll get you going in the right direction with that.
– If you have a flat T-spine that is actually stuck in extension (more common that you would guess) we need to get you mobilizing this differently to allow for proper scapula and shoulder movement. Again talk to us.
– If you don’t fit into either of the above two you probably don’t have to spend much time on spine mobility for the clean and can work more on shoulders….
2. Your Arms:
– Roll your lats well. Go upstairs and look on the muscle picture so see how big and expansive the lats are. They like to stick to the ribs so visualize that you are peeling them off the ribs (add some lateral movement with the roller while you also mash it down).
– Banded lat stretch, and do lots of ranges here to find the sticky spots… again feel like the tissue is mobilizing away from the ribs (this will also help with breathing in workouts as your ribs will have better mobility for expansion in heavy breathing)
– Roll your triceps… and while you are at it hit all that messy stuff at the back of your shoulder. There are so many tendons that cross each other at the back of your armpit that if they get all stuck together it makes it very difficult for the arm to move forward into the rack position. The “lots of ranges” part of the banded lat stretch above helps with this zone. Turn around and face away from the bar with your arm overhead to get stretch the tricep.
3. Your Shoulder Blades:
– The scapulas need to glide well (into a rotated and forward position) to get a good rack position. Using the lx ball to roll along the inner edges of each shoulder blade helps to get this tissue moving (this will also help with retraction required to receive a weight over head).
– It’s also key to keep the traps and levator scapulas mobile so that the top corner of the scapula can rotate properly. Using the ball in the traps and then following it up with the KB trap stretch is great.
4. Your Wrists:
– Make sure the above shoulder pieces are in check first and then investigate the wrists
– Use the travel roller (my favourite for this) to roll your entire forearms from top to bottom and all around the sides and near the elbow. There are way more muscles in there than you would ever guess.
– To stretch your wrists plant your hands flat on the floor with your fingers pointing towards you. You can add some rotation by playing around with where your elbow pits face.
– Partner rack mobility exercise pre cleans session.


You don’t need to do all of this all the time. Figure out your pieces and project those. Let us know if you need some guidance. This is a general guide so if there is something that pertains to your squat clean mobility that I haven’t covered let us know and we can point you in the right direction. Make sure you are doing your mobility correctly to make it effective.

Good luck!