Gearing up and shifting mindset from performing traditional bodybuilding movements, to more functional compound exercises, like the squat clean can be physically and psychologically challenging. Despite fitness and exercise fads, new apps, and trendy training protocols, basic functional movements will always be best for building more raw strength, power, and lean muscle mass. In this article, you will learn how to squat clean, maximize the benefits and minimize your risk as you progress through the movement and master the squat clean.
The squat clean is a classic Olympic weightlifting movement. Squat clean is a compound movement which stimulates multiple joints and muscle group across your upper and lower body, increasing total body strength, power, and performance. Starting from the floor the squat clean is simply a deadlift, combined with a shoulder shrug, and front squat. It may sound simple, but when executed properly, it can be quite complex. The movement itself is not the only barrier you have to deal with for proper execution. It’s the mind-body connection of generating enough force and the act of catching the bar in a front-rack position that poses the greatest challenge.
Lifting heavy weight from the floor, shrugged to a front squat is going to require quite a few muscle groups. From the set-up, (similar to a deadlift) you’ll be engaging your core, upper back and traps, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. As you power through this explosive phase of the lift, you’ll engage your hips, core, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulders for the catch in a front rack position. Not to mention, several secondary muscles and joints. Your quads, calves, and glutes will be doing most of the heavy lifting from the floor back to a standing position.
The squat clean provides many proposed performance benefits, which can support bigger gains in strength, muscular endurance, and optimized athletic performance.
One of the muscular groups which is emphasized in the squat clean is your core. The core is comprised of your abdominal muscles, as well as your lower back muscles. Core stability and lower back strength is greatly developed with compound movements such as the squat clean.
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.
Squat cleans are bilateral, meaning they utilize both sides of your body at even planes. When performed correctly, squat cleans can help improve muscular areas of weakness, thus improving posture.
One of the greatest benefits of the squat clean comes through the development of total body strength. Squat cleans 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.
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].
Mobility is a highly overlooked benefit and requirement in the squat clean. Flexion and extension of the wrist, hips, and ankles, known as dorsiflexion and plantar flexion, is crucial to perform and execute a squat clean without resulting in injury. Conventional bodybuilding movements do not typically benefit mobility, since they are static in range of motion.
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 movements such as the squat and the clean, produce more power, explosiveness, raw strength, and mass. Not to mention mobility and better core strength and stability. Collectively these benefits translate into maximal athletic performance.
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].
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced to intermediate weightlifter, squat cleans require precision in form for proper execution. Mind-body and physiological connection to the combination of movement patterns from deadlift-shrug-front-rack-squat, can become incredibly complex. Perform squat cleans with 3-5 unbroken reps, for 3-5 sets to start. This of course can be modified for time, reps, intensity etc.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, directly under the barbell, like a deadlift. Your knees and hips should be bent, your back in alignment and chest open in a seated position.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip drawing your shoulders down and back in a neutral position.
- Pull the bar from the floor, pushing through your heels and extending your hips and knees.
- Generating more peak power and force, when the bar passes your knees extend your hips and ankles, explosively.
- 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.
- As you catch 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.
- Carefully lower the bar and either drop or rotate back to starting position to begin your next rep
The squat clean can add a ton of raw power and strength to your performance. Not to mention, when performed gracefully, it can be one of the most impressive movements done in the box. Take your time and progress through the movement slowly, the squat clean is by no means a beginner exercise. Master the deadlift, shoulder shrug, and work on your squat depth and form. Once those movements are perfected, you can begin with high pulls, then work your way into a barbell from light weight to land in a front rack position. Mobility is also crucial to your success in a well executed squat clean.