Progressions can be useful in training many different movements, especially the more complex. They allow us to gradually refine an athlete’s mechanics, solidifying a single point of performance before moving on to the next. The CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide contains several progressions that are taught in most CrossFit gyms around the world, one of which is the medicine-ball clean progression.
When working with and teaching complex movements, it is important to stay connected to the potential difficulties of the learning process. If not careful, personal experience can work against the well-meaning trainer. Once a trainer has taught, seen, and possibly performed thousands of Olympic lifts and gymnastics movements, these difficult movements become second nature. If a trainer is not careful, the challenges most newer athletes face in learning these movements can be overlooked. Using a progression when teaching complex movements, especially to beginners, can ensure a trainer does not assume a level of competence based on his or her own experience and expertise.
The MEDICINE-BALL CLEAN progression uses four introductory steps before the athlete experiences the full movement:
- Medicine-ball deadlift
- Deadlift and shrug (fast)
- Front squat
- Shrug and drop
- Medicine-ball clean
First, the deadlift position is revisited to ensure the athlete can maintain midline stabilization and distribute even pressure across the foot. The heels should not rise from the floor. Hopefully, these skills are already well practiced so the trainer can move quickly to the deadlift and shrug. Performed relatively quickly, the emphasis here is on the timing between the upper and lower extremities. The hips and legs should extend fully before the shoulders elevate for the shrug. This movement also primes the athlete for full extension of the hips and legs before pulling into the receiving position.
Next, the athlete revisits the front-squat position, holding the medicine ball at the chest. The emphasis here is on developing a confident receiving position for the clean. Ensure the athlete is reaching a bottom position that is below parallel, with knees tracking in the direction of the toes and the ball close to the body.
Now that the receiving position is understood, the goal becomes developing the timing from the pulling phase of the movement through the transition to the bottom of the squat. To simplify this, the athlete first deadlifts the ball to the hips. Keeping the ball close to the body, the athlete shrugs the shoulders and assertively pulls into the bottom of the squat. After standing up out of the squat, the ball is lowered to the hips and the movement repeated.
The athlete is now ready to combine these elements into the full clean. Emphasis should be placed on full extension of the hips and legs before the athlete drops to the bottom of the squat. Encourage your athletes to “get tall” before they “get small.”
A common question is, “Why clean a medicine ball?” For those seeking a broad, general, and inclusive fitness, the movement pattern of the clean is far more important than the piece of equipment used to perform it. We are teaching the invaluable skill of bringing any object from the ground to a position of support at shoulder height. The timing, basic positions, and transference of power from the hips and legs is consistent regardless of the object being elevated.