It doesn’t get much more technical when it comes to Olympic weightlifting movements, than the clean and jerk. Dynamic and complex, the clean and jerk is essentially three movements combined into one fluid motion – the deadlift, squat clean, and overhead press, making this movement one of the most technical, yet effective movements for sheer strength and power. We’re going to talk about how to perform and execute a clean and jerk with the proper form as well as the benefits to your training protocol.
The clean and jerk is a compound Olympic weightlifting movement that combines three movements (deadlift, squat clean, and overhead press) into one fluid motion. All three of these exercises in isolation are proven to increase raw power, strength, athleticism, and mobility.
Primarily used with a barbell, the clean and jerk can be performed using dumbbells and kettlebells. Performing the clean and jerk with lighter loads and different implements will help in the progression of getting beneath the barbell and executing the clean and jerk with grace.
The clean and jerk recruits multiple muscle groups, joints, and stabilizing muscles, from your lower and upper body. Nearly every major muscle group is stimulated when performing the clean and jerk, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, core, upper back, lower back, and shoulders.
From the starting position you are recruiting major muscle groups such as the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and the lats, when you pull from the ground. As you shrug the weight into the clean the shoulders, upper back, and core is activated, while simultaneously landing in front rack position, which activates your calves, glutes, and quadriceps. Finally the push, activates your shoulders, core stabilizers, arms and upper back.
The clean and jerk can add a tremendous amount of benefits regarding performance and athleticism, specifically supporting bigger gains in strength, muscular endurance, and core stability, and mobility
Core strength and stability is fundamental in the clean and jerk. The core is comprised of several abdominal muscles such as the rectus abdominas, and internal and external obliques, as well as your lower back muscles, the erector spinae. Core stability and lower back strength is greatly developed with compound movements such as the clean and jerk.
With better core strength, comes increased stability, balance, and coordination also leading to better posture. Many people have what’s known as postural or muscular imbalances. These imbalances are formed throughout the course of performing normal day-to-day activities. Injuries, bad posture, genetic deviations, and a host of other variables can create muscular imbalances. And if not addressed, they will get worse with time. If not addressed, other muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments, will address those imbalances and compensate for a specific weakness, thus creating an even more pronounced imbalance.
Clean and Jerk is a bilateral movement meaning they utilize both sides of your body at even planes. When performed correctly, clean and jerks can help improve muscular areas of weakness, thus improving posture.
Through the progression of the movement from the floor to the pull, finishing with the push, posture, stability and core strength are all key components in a fluid and strong motion.
One of the greatest benefits of the squat clean comes through the development of total body strength. Clean and Jerks are a compound movement, meaning that it requires multiple joints, muscle groups, and secondary stabilizing muscles. With the recruitment of multiple muscle groups, comes a compounding gain in strength. It’s a deadlift, squat clean, and push press all combined into one movement. How could you not improve total body strength?
Numerous studies have shown that Olympic weightlifting movements such as the squat, deadlift, clean and snatch can greatly maximize peak power and strength [R, R].
By training these movements individually, then placing them together for the clean and jerk, you can easily build total body strength, especially when programmed in your training as cycles, clusters or at different time intervals.
Mobility is a highly overlooked benefit and requirement in the clean and jerk. Flexion and extension of the wrist, hips, and ankles, known as dorsiflexion and plantar flexion, is crucial to perform and execute each phase of the clean and jerk without resulting in injury. Olympic weightlifting is heavily reliant upon optimal mobility in the wrists, ankles, and hips, since they are dynamic in their range of motion and requiring an incredibly amount of peak power and torque.
Wrist mobility and ankle mobility in CrossFit and high-intensity functional training are crucial to catch the barbell in front rack position. Lack of motion in any joint in the body will increase compensation patterns and leave us more susceptible to injury.
Resistance training and classic Olympic movements produce more raw power, explosiveness, and strength. Additionally, when you add on mobility and better core strength and stability, collectively these benefits translate into maximal athletic performance, increasing performance in nearly all aspects of athletic ability.
A study published in the Journal Of Sports Physiology and Performance compared the acute effects of back squats and power cleans on sprint performance. 13 elite rugby players included back squats and cleans in their conditioning protocol. Both squats and cleans produced improved sprint times, velocity, peak power, and torque maximizing performance and generating more strength [R].
All movements involved will recruit multiple muscle groups, results in enhanced athletic performance through muscle hypertrophy, and in increase in lean muscle mass, resulting in better training adaptations.
Progression through the clean and jerk is vital to improving and perfecting form. Starting with a pvc pipe and working your way into dumbbells, kettlebells and lighter weight is important before loading a barbell.
For the pull we recommend using a hook grip. This is where the thumb grips the bar first then the fingers grip the thumb. Hook grip is not the most comfortable grip, and it does take a bit of getting used to, but in the long run you’ll be better off despite the initial discomfort.
Stand close to the bar, feet shoulder width apart, and hook the bar. Your eyes should be up, back straight and hips lower than they would be in a deadlift.
Pull the bar up with power straight until you reach mid thigh.
Keep the bar as close to your body as possible, utilizing your energy efficiently. Use your hips and shrug your shoulders, and your heels leave the floor.
drive your feet into the floor and open your hips as hard as you can while you drive your shoulders back behind you. This will cause the bar to come up high. Make sure to control this as you start the turn into front rack position.
Receiving The Bar Into Squat Clean
As you catch, or pull under the bar, rotate your elbows and wrists beneath the barbell, driving them in a forward motion in to a front rack position. The barbell should finish at your fingertips elbow and upper arms parallel to the floor. As you are rotating your elbows and wrists, you are simultaneously dropping your body under the bar into a squat position.
As you lower into the squat, keep your spine erect and neutral, tightening your core.
Drive from the bottom of your feet, keeping your back straight and extending your knees and hips to a standing position.
From The Clean To The Jerk
Adjust your hands as needed and make sure you are in a strong and comfortable position for the jerk or overhead press. As you near the top of the press from the squat clean, explode with as much power as you can to make the bar pop.
The bar should be in the palm of your hands, not on your fingertips when you jerk. Therefore before you press make sure the bar is settled, take a deep breath in, bend your knees slightly and drive up, pushing the weight into your feet and keeping your core tight and back straight.