Why Clean?

The term “functional movement” has become a buzzword that gets tossed around so much that it almost starts to lose its meaning. In CrossFit we define our terms. This includes function movements.

Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements—i.e., they are multi-joint. They are natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of body and external objects. But no aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly. Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high power.

– Greg Glassman, Understanding CrossFit, CrossFit Journal Issue 56, April 2007

At CrossFit 781 we also want what we do to have practical application to your life. We believe that what we practice matters only as much as it extends outside the gym. Squats, deadlifts, and burpees are all great examples of exercises that are both highly functional, as well as practical. Being proficient at these will help you lead a long, independent life. I would argue though that there’s an exercise that is even more functional, capable of producing a great deal of power, and practical, that you will use every day. That exercise is the clean.

At its simplest, the clean is merely shouldering an object, and it can be practiced with just about any implement. The clean finishes what the deadlift starts. Yes, there’s great value in being able to safely and effectively bend, or hinge, at the hips to pick something up. If you need to carry that item for any distance though, you’re probably going to want to bring it closer to your chest. Whether it’s a bag of sand, dog food, other gardening or building materials, a pet, or a small child, being better at cleans will make the task easier. I’m not going to say improving your clean will make household chores more fun, it might help you get them done faster though.

In addition to building strength, speed, and power, cleans also develop coordination. This coordinated movement that we learn with a barbell can be modified and applied at will outside the gym as needed. Coordination anywhere is coordination everywhere. Picking up a new skill better enables you to add others. Being more coordinated makes us more fall proof too, another key to lifelong independence. Although we are talking about coordination, and the technical nature of a clean, the lift is not so complicated that it limits force development. It can be progressed, and begin benefitting your strength relatively quickly.

The engine that drives the clean is your hips. Sound hip function and the ability to explosively extend your hips are key to movements like running, jumping, and throwing. This is why you will see professional athletes from many different sports practicing, and progressing the clean. In CrossFit, building up your clean and improving your explosive hip extension will benefit just about every exercise you do. From cardio machines, to kipping gymnastics, and of course weightlifting.

The clean is a full contact exercise. To execute a clean successfully you will need to meet the bar and absorb the weight, before halting the downward progress, and standing back up. Being ready for an impact force has obvious benefits for full contact field sport athletes. Even if you aren’t planning to tackle or be tackled, this is incredibly useful to you, as it will improve bone density, convective tissue strength, and muscle mass, all making you more durable. This way even if you do happen to fall, your body will be better prepared.

Cleans are fun! They’re also incredibly functional, and practical. Remember, we’re not doing cleans just to be better at cleans. We’re doing them to be able to say “yes” to more activities and adventures. What we practice matters only as much as it extends outside the gym.

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