The medicine ball clean is an explosive compound movement that allows you to perfect your full clean form with the light weight of a medicine ball. It primarily strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper traps, but is especially good for developing proper clean form, along with full-body co-ordination, agility and explosive power.
The medicine ball clean begins in a similar position to the deadlift and sumo deadlift high pull (SDLHP), except that the stance has to be widened to allow room for the medicine ball to sit between the feet. Proper placement of the medicine ball is with the centre of the ball aligned with the middle of the feet, over your shoelaces. If you imagine a bar passing through the middle of the medicine ball, that bar would be over the middle of the feet and close to the shins, just like the barbell during a deadlift or SDLHP.
The hands are placed on the sides of the ball, fingers pointing down towards the floor. Keeping the finger tips off of the ball, i.e. squeezing the ball between the palms, can be a good way to prevent “throwing” the ball upwards, rather than using the hips and shoulders to drive the ball up off the floor.
The hips are above the knees, weight is in the heels, the shins are vertical or near-vertical, and the shoulders are slightly in front of the ball, placing it directly underneath the scapular spines (under the tops of your shoulder blades). The shoulder blades are retracted and the back is held tightly with the chest up, maintaining the lumbar arch.
Even though the medicine ball is a fairly light weight, a deep breath should be taken and held to help support the torso. The abs, glutes, hamstrings and shoulder blades should be contracted tightly. The medicine ball clean should be performed just as the squat clean would be, and perfect practice makes for good habits.
The lift begins by driving the heels into the ground and explosively opening the hips. The hips must reach full extension before anything else happens. This means that you reach a full standing position. Thinking of making yourself tall can help.
Once the hips are fully extended, the shrug begins. The shoulders need to begin shrugging up fluidly with the end of the hip extension, so there is no hesitation or decrease in speed. You should try to think about including the shrug to make sure you don’t forget it and to help make it more automatic. The hip extension and shrug should pop the ball up out of your hands from the momentum of the power that has been generated. If you find that you are tossing the ball upwards rather than relying on your hips and traps, take your finger tips off the ball and squeeze it between your palms, and remember to keep those arms straight.
After the shoulders shrug, two things happen. First, the hips are used to help pull yourself down under the rising ball. Don’t just fall casually – use your muscles to control your squat underneath the medicine ball. Second, as you drop under the ball, your elbows must swing up underneath the ball so you can receive it in the rack position. The arms stay completely straight and don’t bend until the drop begins. As the elbows swing up, the hands rotate loosely around the medicine ball. The elbows should stay tight to the body and end up directly underneath the medicine ball, so think of swinging them close by your lats/ribcage. The elbows should move with lightning speed as slow elbows during the full clean can lead to a missed lift.
A common error during the clean is trying the curl the weight up to the rack position, rather than using the hips and traps to drive it up. The path of the medicine ball should be completely straight from the floor to the chest. A good way to work on this is to place the laces facing forwards and check their position after each rep. If the laces end up facing up towards your chin, you’ve curled the ball. Be sure to let your hands rotate loosely around the ball, without twisting or turning it during the lift. The laces should face forwards the entire time.
The ball should be caught in a full squat with the hips below the knees and weight firmly in the heels. Once the ball is caught, the lift is finished by standing up with the hips fully open. Place the ball back on the ground between the feet and reset the deadlift position before beginning the next rep.