Stronger Athletes

Strength Training Injuries From Cleans

December 3 "A committee is twelve men doing the work of one." -John F. Kennedy

Cleans Don't Care Who You Are, They’ll Injure You Just the Same

The professional athlete Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.

The professional athlete: This is obviously a red-siren, MAJOR setback for Cap and the Avs. He has, in essence, missed eight of the last nine games now. He has yet to play a full game in any of the three he's allegedly been healthy enough to play in those last nine.

This is serious. A bad back can very often mean the end of a player's career. Knowing the Avalanche and their medical staff, I would bet the ranch that they will now shut Sakic down for at least another few games and try to get this thing cured.

Not knowing the location of the injury, I can't say how bad it is for Sakic, but as someone who has had back surgery to his low back before (1997), I can personally vouch for the fact that you're NEVER the same again.

Sakic suffered the injury doing "cleans", an Olympic weightlifting exercise. This is the second time an Avalanche player has hurt his back.

Several months later Joe retired from hockey all together. [the quote above mentions another player with a back injury. That injury was sustained performing the squat. Squats are generally less risky than cleans, but we've expressed concern about squats here and here.]

And now the other end of the spectrum. The average “Joe”.

Joe Average: I’m enjoying the Crossfit workouts, but I seem to have managed to pull/separate something in my right shoulder during the cleans from 2-3 days ago. I couldn’t lift my right arm above my head for a day or so, and it’s still very sore when I raise my arm.

I’ve never done Olympic lifts before, and I think I was lulled into a false sense of “bad-assedness” by the fact that I was strong enough to handle the appears my joints disagree.

The poor crossfitter now feels anything but bad ass.

Why do I bring up these two stories? To illustrate that the clean is a dangerous exercise no matter who is performing it. A professional athlete under the tutelage of a strength coach can be injured just as severely as a rank amateur doing crossfit.

Some lifts no matter how much they are coached cannot be made safe enough to be of serious consideration as part of a strength program for athletes – any athletes – unless the athlete is an Olympic Lifter, but then they must accept the risk as that is their sport.

What about the others though? Is the false promise of untold speed and athleticism that is sure to be derived from the “quick lifts” enough to make the risk worth the “reward”. To a lot of coaches and a lot of uneducated lifters alike, the answer is yes it would seem.

To a logical person looking at the situation it seems absolutely absurd that one would take that risk considering that so many better strength building movements are available and that there is no transfer of performance in the clean to the venue of play.

It is because of the continued use of the Olympic lifts to train athletes that we will continue to put out these educational posts showing the damage that can be done with improper training and tell about safer methods of training.



Reader's Comments:

Lincoln Brigham, writes:

Wow, you guys make sure you never let facts get in the way of your point of view.

Sakic retired after he MANGLED HIS FINGERS IN A SNOWBLOWER and this was 20th season. And of course there’s no proof that his back didn’t already have problems from 30+ years of HOCKEY before it seized up. He was already down to half his normal number of games per season. But your story loses a lot of sizzle if you mention that, doesn’t it?

Trying to use an injury caused by squats as a reason not to do cleans is sinking pretty low, even for you guys.
[Try to avoid the personal attacks, Mr Brigham. Please review our contact us page, paying close attention to the "Keeping it professional and mature" section. SA]

The guy going heavy on his very first day doing the Olympic lifts? That’s just stupidity. Apparently this guy didn’t feel the need to follow the Crossfit "Start Here" instructions. Olympic lifting can’t cure stupid.

It says right in the Crossfit "Start Here" FAQ "If some or many of the exercises are unfamiliar to you and you are only modestly acquainted with elite athletic training, we recommend that you follow the WOD and substitute other exercises for those where you don’t have either the equipment or skill and then devise a plan for acquisition of the necessary skills or equipment needed to participate completely. "

That means even you could do the Crossfit workouts without having to do cleans

Our Reply:

You’re right, someone is missing facts. Apparently though, Mr. Brigham, it’s you.

"It’s all back. My hand’s doing well," Sakic said. "It’s irrelevant. When my back’s ready to play, I’ll be back.”

When you stated "Trying to use an injury caused by squats as a reason not to do cleans is sinking pretty low, even for you guys."

Apparently you missed it when we said “the quote above mentions another player with a back injury. That injury was sustained performing the squat. Squats are generally less risky than cleans, but we’ve expressed concern about squats in the past here, here and here.” I put that in there specifically so people, like you perhaps would not think I was trying to imply that the second injury too was caused by cleans.

Sure Sakic took a lot of hits in Hockey. How much of the damage was done in his years of cleans? That’s harder to quantify. Perhaps without cleans he could have had a longer career. We’ll never know.

As for the Crossfit… even having cleans as an exercise in Crossfit is asking for trouble. How many that come to cross fit have done any or have been trained in properly doing one? Just look at some of the videos online of the cross fitters doing cleans. It’s a back surgery waiting to happen.

***No Liability is assumed for any information written on the website. No medical advice is given on exercise. This advice should be obtained from a licensed health-care practitioner. Before anyone begins any exercise program, always consult your doctor. The articles are written by coaches that are giving advice on a safe, productive, and efficient method of strength training.***

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