The clean and jerk is a two-part weightlifting move often done with a barbell. The lifter should move the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids without fully resting on the clavicles. The lifter starts by quickly raising the barbell above their head, ending with their arms and legs straight, and their feet in line with their torso and the barbell.
The most common type of lift is the Olympic clean and jerk, which is done in Olympic weightlifting events along with the snatch.
A hook grip is when a person grasps the barbell just outside the legs using their hands. The lifter brings the barbell up above their knees and then uses explosive force (mostly from the torso or genitals) to raise the bar as high as possible. They then quickly lower into a squat and bring the barbell into the “racked” position in front of the neck, resting on the shoulders. The person doing the clean stands up at the end, sometimes pushing the bar upwards from their shoulders as they stand up, and readjusting their grip and feet position slightly in preparation for the jerk.
The jerk begins from the “front rack” position, which is the finishing position of the clean. The lifter dips a few inches by bending the knees, keeping the back vertical, and then explosively extends the knees, propelling the barbell upward off the shoulders, and then quickly dropping underneath the bar by pushing upward with the arms and splitting the legs into a lunge position, one forward and one back. The bar is lifted overhead with straight arms and, once stable, the feet are brought back into the same plane as the rest of the body.
How to Do the Clean and Jerk
The following is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the clean and jerk with a barbell: You can clean and jerk with a set of dumbbells or a pair of kettlebells, but it is traditionally done with a barbell.
Step 1 — Get Set
To set up for the lift, stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet set hip-width apart and turned slightly out (which will allow you to keep your knees/thighs out on the setup). The barbell should be resting on your shoulders, with your hips lower than shoulder level but higher than your knees. There are some basic concepts that apply to all swimming setups, even though specific setups may vary based on the preferences of the coach and swimmer.
The barbell should be touching your shins at the start of the lift. Keeping the barbell close to your body during the pull will ensure a smooth bar path.
Step 2 — Initiate the First Pull
The first few inches of the clean occur when the barbell breaks from the floor and starts moving up. The first part of the pull ends when the barbell passes the knee, which is the start of the second part of the pull. The initial pull is essentially a deadlift. Make sure your spine is in a neutral position and your core muscles are engaged.
The goal of the first pull is to gain enough momentum for an explosive second pull.
Start the second pull by explosively extending your hips and knees, shrugging your shoulders, and pulling the bar as high as possible. As you extend your hips and knees, explosively shrug your shoulders and pull the bar up as high as you can.
This next step can be divided into two parts but happens so quickly that it is essentially one step. The barbell should be pulled so that it passes the knee and ends up right at hip level. The person then lifts the barbell upwards by driving their hips and making sure to stay balanced on both feet, with their shoulders above the bar. Then, the person lifting the barbell forcefully rotates their elbows into the front rack position. Pull the barbell up using your traps to elevate it higher, and then pull yourself under the bar.
It is best to move your feet and reset them under your hips at the same time so that you are in a strong front rack position.
Step 3 — Catch the Barbell
The lifter will hip drive the barbell upwards, quickly squatting down to catch the barbell across their shoulders in a front rack position. The elbows should be pointing forward.
Form Tip: Be aware of your knees. Doing a clean and jerk correctly requires using your knees to keep your squat efficient.
Step 4 — Dip Down
From the front rack position, the lifter is going to dip their knees down a few inches and then explosively extend them to drive the barbell up. The barbell is driven overhead in the jerk phase of the lift with a spring-like effect. This phase of the lift is performed by pushing the barbell overhead, similar to a shoulder press.
Make sure your dip is smooth so you can take advantage of the stretch reflex. Make sure your body moves in a straight line when you dip down, without your torso moving backward or forwards.
Step 5 — Jerk the Bar Overhead
There are two types of jerks—a split jerk and a squat jerk. For now, we’ll stick with the squat jerk. Don’t think of the jerk as just an overhead press. It’s also a full-body exercise that engages your quads, glutes, core, and shoulder stabilizer muscles. You can press from the rack OR from the floor You can press the rack from the floor, either way, it’s a push press that you drop under to reduce the distance it has to travel overhead. So you’re going to bend your knees and hips to lower your body, then drive the bar overhead and stand back up, sequentially.
Start the lift by pushing with your legs, and try to push the bar as hard as you can.
Step 6 — Receive and Recover the Jerk Overhead
Extend your arms and pause at the bottom of the jerk to balance the weight. Hold this position while you get set. Do not stand up until the weight feels balanced. Once you’re stabilized, stand up.
If the weight is too heavy and you feel like you’re going to drop it, keep your arms locked out and let them fall forward so the bar crashes to the floor. Instead, squat down Do not lean forward when trying to lift the bar as it may bounce back and hit your head. Instead, bend your legs and squat down.
Benefits of the Clean and Jerk
There are many benefits of the clean and jerk. The following are three reasons why the clean and jerk is a worthwhile addition to your workout split.
Total Body Strength and Power
You need to be strong and dynamic throughout the lift – from when you pull it off the ground, to when you use your hips to drive it upwards, to when you jerk it. The clean and jerk is a great full-body move for developing strength and power because every muscle will be used and activated during the exercise. Focusing on the deadlift, push press, and clean will make you stronger at clean and jerk, and doing clean and jerks will make those individual moves stronger.
Improved Athletic Performance
The clean and jerk is a very effective exercise for building explosive power, which is why athletes in many different sports use it as part of their training. The strength in the glutes and legs helps with sprinting and jumping. One study found that Olympic weightlifting movements can help improve your vertical jump.
Better Motor Skill Development
The clean and jerk is a move that requires the lifter to focus on many aspects at once. It is technically complicated and requires the lifter to be focused. The central nervous system controls the muscles by sending signals to them. This connection between the brain and muscles is what allows for motor skills. Like muscles, the central nervous system can be trained to be more efficient and responsive. The more you practice a movement, the better you will be at it.
Muscles Worked by the Clean and Jerk
The clean and jerk is a whole-body movement that works almost every muscle in the body. The clean and jerk is an exercise that works the following major muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, pecs, shoulders, and traps.
The hamstrings are only necessary during the hip drive, which is the second pull, in the clean and jerk. The clean and jerk is not the best exercise for growing your hammers because they are contracted explosively and for a short time. Romanian deadlifts and good mornings should be added to your routine for optimal hamstring development.
The quadriceps muscle group is used in the squatting aspect of the clean and the dip and drive phase of the jerk. Having strong quadriceps muscles gives you more power to complete the lifting movement known as the clean.
Back and Traps
The back muscles (lats) and traps are used during the pulling, squatting, and jerk phase of the lift. A strong back and traps are necessary to maintain an upright position during a front squat and offer stability when jerking.
The shoulders, as well as some of the arm muscles that help support it (triceps and biceps), see the most activity during the jerk. The jerk motion is mainly powered by the legs, but the shoulders also have to work hard to stabilize the weight overhead. You will want to add different shoulder exercises to your routine in order to develop them fully.
Who Should Do the Clean and Jerk?
What types of athletes can benefit from the clean and jerk, and why?
Strength and Power Athletes
The bench press is a common exercise for strength and power athletes looking to increase their overall strength, add quality muscle mass to their chest and triceps, or improve their sport-specific performance.
- Powerlifters and Strongmen/Strongwomen: Pure-strength athletes can integrate the clean and jerk into their training to improve power output and overall athleticism.
- Weightlifters: The clean and jerk is a necessary exercise for all Olympic weightlifters to train as it is one of the two movements performed in a competition. Practicing this movement and its various positional drills can increase technique and overall performance in competition.
Functional Fitness Athletes
The clean and jerk is a movement that is often found in CrossFit programs, competitions, and workouts (in some form). The clean and jerk is a movement that is often found in CrossFit programs, competitions, and workouts (in some form). CrossFit athletes and other fitness athletes can increase their overall strength and power by training with the clean and jerk. This exercise can also help improve their performance in competitions.
The clean and jerk is a great exercise for everyday gym-goers because it provides the same benefits as mentioned above. Although this is a technical move, if it is not done correctly there is a potential for getting hurt. A trainer can help you determine how heavy of a weight to use so you don’t over or underdo it.
Clean and Jerk Squat Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
Coaches and athletes should use the following sets, reps, and weight recommendations for the clean and jerk based on the training goal. These guidelines are here to give coaches and athletes suggestions for programming. The clean and jerk can help with muscle growth, but it’s not especially good for increasing muscle size.
To Improve Technique
You should train using light to moderate loads when clean and jerking to develop the proper awareness of position, timing, and foundational movement patterns that you’ll need for more advanced training progressions. Perform three to five sets of three to five repetitions with moderate to heavy loads or 65-80% of your one-rep max. The key here is movement quality, timing, and precision.
To Increase Power Output
This phase is often used for athletes who are looking to improve their athletic power outputs by integrating the clean and jerk. Do three to five sets of two to five reps using 60-80% of your 1RM.
To Improve Olympic Weightlifting Performance (Non-Peaking)
This weightlifting training range is most beneficial for developing Olympic weightlifters’ careers as it allows for adjustments to increase volume and intensity while also addressing maximal power output. On average, Olympic weightlifters will do 3-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions using 70-75% of their one rep max.
How should I learn the clean and jerk?
It is ideal to find a coach who is accredited by USA Weightlifting in your area to get some initial coaching. Try to find a coach online who can help you learn the basics of the lift if you are having difficulty.
I’m having trouble squatting with proper form due to weakness. How can I fix this?
Doing more cleans will not necessarily increase leg strength for the clean and jerk. In order to improve your front squat, not only should you increase the volume, but you should also treat it as a separate lift. start in a good position, lower yourself slowly, and then push yourself up explosively Do not move quickly through the movement as if it is only a step in the clean and jerk. This is true, but it is something that should be done with caution.
How often should I do the clean and jerk?
Lifters wishing to improve their weightlifting performance and technique should take part in at least three training sessions per week that include the clean and jerk or similar exercises. Make sure you are monitoring recovery, training intensity, and performance over time to find what works best for you if you want to train more frequently.