Biomechanically, both lifts look similar. Skill wise, they’re poles apart. They are two very different exercises that serve two differing purposes whilst just happening to look similar, much like sprinting and bounding. What most don’t pay attention to is the finer details, such as the finishing position of both lifts.
When you look at the finishing position of both lifts, if you ask yourself “What happens next?” you begin to see the differences. At the top of the deadlift, your job is done, you’re locked out and now preparing to control the barbell back down. Whereas in the same relative position in the clean, you’re only half way there, you’re now preparing to accelerate the bar upwards [via jumping, not humping]. This is where the “coaches’ eye” and experience play a role, in not only understanding the relevance and importance of each lift individually, but to look into the position their athlete is finishing each lift in.
Truth be told, you CAN use a traditional deadlift to improve a clean… to some degree, but subtle differences in the finishing position make the difference between a deadlift with a successful skill transition, or a deadlift used to simply improve pulling strength whilst also possibly being detrimental to the skill acquisition of the clean.
If you look at the two examples below, you will hopefully be able to see picture A’s knees and hips are completely locked out, and there is no way that bar is travelling any higher. Whereas in picture B, hopefully you can see the athlete is in positions that, if you Photoshop the bar out of the picture, looks somewhat like the athlete is preparing to jump / triple extend.
A fun tool to use when transition lifters from deadlifting to cleaning, is whenever you deadlift, to stop locking out. A coaching tip I would always use with lifters of all levels is “At the end of a deadlift you should still have enough flex in your knees and hips that, if you dropped the barbell, you should literally be able to jump “without having to re-flex/move downwards first”. That re-flexing point is crucial, if you/your athlete perform a deadlift, drop the bar (whilst staying completely still), but then had to re-bend their knees in order to jump…. You/they locked out…. X strike one.
Lifters can practice this until they’re blue in the face and you/your lifters may never perfect it, it’s not the end of the world because after all, it’s not a clean, and the clean and deadlifts are both skills within themselves. Will this make you better at cleaning? It has its merits. Is it “better” than cleaning? Absolutely not, that’s like if you’re trying to improve a footballer’s football-skills by asking them to go for a run. This is simply another tool to have in your coaches toolbox to help deviate from the norm/mundane and you may actually get a shock at how even your most skilled lifters struggle with this silly little game/task.
About the author
Liam has 10 years coaching experience in S&C and Olympic Weightlifting (as a BWL qualified coach), as well as teaching in HE and FE. His interests lie in biomechanics of Olympic Weightlifting and velocity-based training.
Thanks to Liam for writing such an informative piece!
Read more by Liam here.
Image sources unknown.