Someone once told me that it takes 300 repetitions of any single foreign movement for your body to master muscle memory. That is, the ability to "just do it" without any thought at all. I was also informed that if you are taught how to do that movement wrong then your are doomed to have to reteach your body. This being said, it takes about 1500 repetitions for your body to reconfigure that already set muscle memory for that certain movement.
This should just begin to show you how important your coach or trainer can be. I have been doing crossfit for about 2.5 years now and I have always had trouble with my Olympic movements. Its only within the last year that I have noticed it is because I was poorly coached. When I went to my Level 1 CF certification back in August I was holding my head high. Truly this would be a breeze. I knew the handbook in and out and I was well versed in all the movements with impressive weights. Or so I thought.
Once we began breaking off into small groups and they started critiquing us one on one I realised just how wrong I had been doing my movements all along. You know that person that you watch doing the movements and your like "Ouch, that was ugly." well unknown to me, I was one of those people. (Just look at my stance in the above photo) I think the power clean might suffer the most from bad coaching. Being that it is one of the easiest lifts and everyone seems to just assume that since they can do it they are doing it right. Not so my friends.
I love those who over load there bars and roll the weight around in front of there feet as they prepare to Power Clean and impress with what they believe to be 'perfect form'. Then they, not too surprisingly, muscle it up and catch it in such an awkward position that you find yourself wondering how much flexibility they have in their adductors. I am going to list some common mistakes people are plagued with when learning and executing their cleans. I myself
1st mistake I see allot of is that the athlete doesn't seem to have a correct starting position with consistency. In any movement you learn, from as easy as bringing your fork to your mouth or completing your follow throw on your free throw, consistency is a must. As stated in the opening the technique that we consistently use is the one we will revert to when the going gets tough. I am a big advocater of keeping it simple. No need to roll the weight around and raise and lower your gluts 2 or 3 times to prep for lift. Walk up to the bar with confidence, get close so your toes are just poking through the other side(ensures your body has a close relation to the bar), begin to lower into a deadlift like position(ensures that the hips are behind the bar/weight and will stay loaded through out the movement), and then tighten your core and squat to the bar(this ensures that you have a consistent torso angle upon lifting and keeps your shoulders over the bar through initial pull. (*If you can not get into this position properly then you need to work on your mobility and I suggest reverting to a Hang clean position until you are able*) You are now ready to just lift.
2nd mistake I often see is people who repeatedly miss they lift. They seem to believe, or their coach has lead them to believe that if they overload there bar to try and max out that it is OK to miss it a few times. The thought is that when they lower the weight back down, they will get it with much more ease then before. This is ludicrous. Again I revert to what I stated in the beginning. If you overload the bar your body goes into panic mode and more often then not tends to sacrifice form to achieve the lift. This is never the route to go. I always say keep the weight at a manageable number and only increase as your strength level allows you to. Plus too much weight too soon causes uneducated lifters like I was to force the muscle up technique and once your body is comfortable with the feeling it will be very very hard for you to increase your weight. The power your hips and legs provide in this movement is crucial to maxing out your weight.
3rd most common mistake (ex specially in beginner lifters) is when the pull too fast from the ground. What they fail to understand, or their coaches fail to tell them, is that there are two lifting parts to a power clean. The first is to be slower and more controlled to sustain correct positioning above the bar. I know as the weight gets heavier your first thought is to pull hard and fast and yes, speed and power are very important for these lifts, but the most important part of this lift is from the point when the weight hits about mid thigh. This first pull needs to be used to align the bar with your center of gravity. Always make sure the knees go back on this first initial pull. You do not want to find yourself with your alignment curving towards the front of your center of gravity. This will cause you to be misaligned forward of the toes and keep you from getting your full power and full hip extension on the second part of the lift. Also leaving you with a very poor 'catch' position, resulting in many missed lifts.
4th mistake I have seen is not finishing this second pull. Something that I was never taught early on was that the lower you can go while trying to catch the lift the higher your percentage rate of catching and finishing the lift will be. Whats the key to being successful at Olympic lifts? Being explosive in pulling the bar to full hip extension in the point. These lifts are fast and it is hard for coaches to catch the fact that you are not coming to full extension. My suggestion is to video yourself doing the movement from the side and/or mark the spot on the floor where you feet begin. If you find that upon completion of the lift your feet have moved drastically forward then you may want to concentrate on the second part of your pull and full hip extension. Complete extension will more often then not cause you to catch the weight in the exact same position you started, or slightly behind it. Never in front.
5th and finally, the spread eagle catch. This is my favorite because I am still trying to stop my guilty self from doing it from time to time ( remember how I said it takes about 1500 reps to correct a wrong). The fact of the matter is, that when the weight gets too heavy for me I find myself more afraid to drop under it. I sacrifice form and rather then drop my butt under the weight I spread my feet while in the air and hope I land low enough to get under it enough to catch it. This rarely works for me and is a huge way for me to injure myself. If you find yourself with more of a sumo dead lift stance or a split stance when you complete your lift, you may want to drop down in weight and practice dropping under it until it completely feels natural for you.
Try as you might some of these faults will always haunt you. But tackle them one at a time and you will eventually see massive results in your lifts. I am so lucky to now have Crossfit Bluegrass there team of coaches really actually cares and has helped me tremendously on improving my previously ingrained sloppy lift technique.