ParaWOD: how to clean it and jerk it, big wheelie style


It has been a while since my last post here at ParaWOD, but I assure you it is not because I haven’t been working out; rather, it has more to do with the fact that the workouts have mostly involved things I’ve already written about, and in this space I’m more concerned about adapting new ideas and new movements.

One of the movements that is a clear challenge for wheelchair users is Olympic lifting. Dead lifts, snatch, power cleans, and clean & jerk are all movements that require some thought into modification. To be sure, you can always switch from barbells to kettlebells and do it one arm at a time, and that’s great. However, there is something distinctive about moving the barbell that has impact on the totality of your body strength, balance, and core stability, so we encourage it whenever possible.

The biggest challenge comes out of the clean movement which, if you watch the normal movement, you can see that we don’t have the ability to do about 75% of what is going on. There is simply no approximation for getting the drive and mobility that comes from the legs and lower back. Furthermore, if you lack control over your abdominal muscles, as is the case with me, that weight is going to tend to pull you forward, instead of you pulling the weight back and up.

What I’ve been working on with my coaches at Crossfit Impavidus is to start the bar from boxes that are approximately level with my legs in a seated position. Rolling the bar forward on the box, I then use my extended arms, shoulders, and what control I have over my torso to reverse the tension and pull the bar back toward my waist, which goes right into an upward pulling motion.

Here is my attempt at a reasonably heavy for me weight of 55lbs:

The natural tendency, especially with lighter weights, is to use an overhand curling motion to get the weight up to your chin. However, this is not the clean movement we want; instead, the bar needs to come up the chest and into the shelf your shoulders make when your elbows go up. This shelf gives you a moment to pause, check your grip, and then ‘jerk’ the weight, or press it over your head, which should be the easiest part of the entire combination.

The biggest encouragement I can offer to you is that these combinations of body movements are the hardest for anyone to master, regardless of adaptability/scalability. You have to train your muscle memory to work in a specific sequence, even if you’re strong enough to power up the weight with just your arms. Practice the pulling movement again and again, working to pull as hard and as high as possible so that the weight goes up and you can naturally curl your elbows underneath. Getting the movement right will ultimately allow you to master the heavier weights, as well as make your Crossfit classmates envious of your wheelchair-bound power-lifting effervescence. Which is nice.

Many thanks to Impavidus coach Doug for his training!

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