The Olympic clean and jerk routine is a fascinating watch during weightlifting events. A staple during the Olympic Games, this two-part lift is all about raw power. But what is the clean and jerk exercise, exactly? Despite consisting of only two moves, it still manages to give you a full-body workout since it utilizes several of your muscles all at once. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about this powerful weightlifting move. From proper form to benefits, as well as variations. Read on to master the clean and jerk.
What is a Clean and Jerk?
The clean and jerk involve two movements. The first move, the Clean, has a weightlifter picking up the barbell from the ground to his shoulders in one explosive motion. Afterward, he transitions to a frontal squat while extending his arms and legs to lift the barbell above the head. This results in an overhead press at the end. Ideally, the lifter’s legs should be generating enough power to execute the second move, also known as the jerk.
A clean and jerk power move is one of the best weightlifting exercises you need to learn if you want to strengthen your quads, back shoulders, and core. On top of these, it’s also one of the top glute exercises for men working on their lower bodies. Clean and jerk benefits also include improving your speed, coordination, and mobility, as well. All that said, it isn’t an easy move to execute. You need a proper form for the complex lift.
How to do a Clean and Jerk
1. Position Your Body and The Barbell
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly, ensure that your shoulders cover the barbell. Adjust your position such that your hips remain lower than shoulder-level yet are higher than your knees. To prevent unnecessary injuries, this is the starting position that you should always return to after each lift.
2. Begin To Lift
Using an overhand or hook grip, begin initiating your first lift. When conducting a clean and jerk, each pull is distinguished by the part of the body it passes. Your first pull is represented by the barbell lifting from the floor. The second pull occurs once the barbell has passed your knees. During this time, ensure that your back remains flat to avoid unnecessary strain and keep your core engaged. Do note that while the overhand grip is the standard when it comes to powerlifting, the hook grip offers a somewhat stronger hold onto the bar. As such, if you’re a beginner, opt for the latter first.
3. Yank Upward and Catch The Barbell
Once you’ve passed the second pull, remain active by elevating the bar higher and pulling yourself under it. In one swift motion, extend your hips as you lift the barbell up past your knees. While doing so, forcefully jump straight up and into a front squat position. Turn your elbows out and shrug the bar up to your shoulders simultaneously. This transforms into the front rack position with the bar resting on palms. Note that you should keep the bar as close to your body as possible and not to let your elbows touch your knees.
4. Jerk The Bar Overhead
To begin reseting your position, press your weight into the heels of your foot to drive your legs to stand up. Then, pause to reposition your elbows down, keeping your chest out and chin tucked. Gently bend your knees to dip down slightly into a front squat position once again. You can now drive your legs into the ground and explosively extend them, jumping slightly off the ground. As you do this, remember to extend your arms upward. Hold the position for a moment, making sure the weight is stable before standing up and transitioning into an overhead position. If you’re familiar with the push press, both movement patterns are similar to one another.
Hold again for a count, then drop the bar safely back on the ground. You may now take a rest or prepare your starting position for another set.
Clean and Jerk Variations
a. Power Clean and Jerk
The Power Clean and Jerk is a variation on the clean portion of the lift. In the standard variation, you need to transition directly into a full squat position after pulling up the barbell. However, in this one, it requires you to extend your hips forward and pull yourself under the bar before entering a high squat. In order to perfect your power clean form, make sure to focus on your hip extension. This allows you to land the front squat more solidly and safely.
b. Clean and Push Jerk
The Push Jerk is a variation of the second portion of the lift. It requires the lifter to use their hips in creating an upward momentum for the bar while moving into a quarter squat position to lift the bar.
c. Squat Clean and Jerk
The next modification is probably the most complicated one. The Squat Clean modification requires you to pull your entire body underneath the bar as you pull it closer to your shoulders. While it may sound simple, you’ll find that keeping your shoulders and hips in sync during this movement isn’t the easiest.
d. Kettlebell Clean and Jerk
This Olympic power lift is typically done with a barbell. However, if you don’t have one available in your home gym, you can also substitute it with kettlebells. You can do this move with either just one or two kettlebells. To begin, start off by getting a nice momentum by swinging the kettlebells and bringing it up to your shoulders as if you are zipping up a jacket or turning on a lawnmower. Make sure you rotate your wrist while doing so to catch the kettlebell in between your bicep and forearm. From here, bend your knees to dip your body downwards and then perform the jerk, while pressing the kettlebell up overhead.
e. Dumbbell Clean and Jerk
Dumbbells are also a great alternative if you don’t have a barbell at the ready. Instead of your front, you need to place one dumbbell along the outside of your legs, making sure that they’re positioned just above your toes. Bend your hips and knees, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Make sure your back is at a 45-degree angle, with your hips lower than your shoulders. From here, deadlift the dumbbells off the ground and swing the dumbbells over your shoulders. Afterward, perform the jerk portion by explosively jumping into an overhead position. You can easily incorporate this lift with other dumbbell back exercises to build stronger back muscles.
Muscles Worked By The Clean and Jerk
This full-body workout will engage almost every muscle, whether you’re trying out an Olympic clean and jerk, barbell clean and jerk, or just sticking to the basics. That being said, out of the 600 muscles in your body, this workout is best for those hoping to specifically strengthen their hamstrings, quadriceps, back and traps, and trapezius all at once! Listed below are the benefits each type of muscle can gain from the clean and jerk.
The trapezius refers to your shoulder muscles. During the clean and jerk workout, your main shoulder muscles and their supporting bicep and tricep counterparts will be engaged to stabilize your weight as the barbell is lifted over your head. As the overall clean and jerk workout primarily relies on your leg strength, it provides you the opportunity to exercise your arms and shoulders in intervals. This ensures that your arms and shoulders are fully engaged without the risk of overexertion or fatigue.
Your hamstrings should only be engaged during the second pull despite the clean and jerk workout relying on strengthened legs. This workout trains the back of your legs in a series of explosive intervals. Therefore, the clean and jerk should be paired with other hamstring-focused exercises such as Dumbbell Donkey Kicks, Stability Ball Hamstring Curls, and Romanian Deadlifts to achieve the best results.
Back and Traps
Your back and traps naturally contract during this workout’s pulling, squatting, and jerking phases. These sections of your body ensure that you complete the clean and jerk workout safely without causing unnecessary injury to your hamstrings and arms. Note that although this workout enhances your back and traps, a certain level of trained stability and strength is needed to complete each set successfully.
Your quadriceps consists of four individual muscles; three vastus muscles and the rectus femoris. They are located within your thigh and are collectively one of the most powerful muscles in your body. These muscles are engaged during the squatting phase of the clean and jerk workout. Having strong quadriceps will help improve knee stability, reduce the risk of knee injuries, and improve your overall athletic performance.
Common Clean and Jerk Mistakes and How to Fix Them
1. Incorrect Set-Up
An incorrect or inconsistent starting position is typically one of the main reasons you are having a hard time perfecting the Clean and Jerk exercise. Keep the bar close to your shins, but still, have enough space for you to grab onto the barbell with your arms vertical in a squat position. Moreover, make sure you grasp it using a shoulder-width grip. Remember to maintain a neutral spine and engaged core during the process, as well.
2. Failing to Perfect the Clean
The Clean portion of this two-part lift is arguably the most difficult. As such, it’s best to perfect the path of the bar from the floor to the hips, and up to the shoulders. Focus solely on the Clean first before attempting the two-part lift to ensure that you’ve learned the proper form and prevent injuries.
3. Yanking on the Bar
The first pull of the bar from the floor to the knee is important. Yanking on the bar to lift it without proper control of the bar and awareness of your position can lead to a slew of mistakes and even injuries. This often happens to lifters when they add heavier loads or when they start feeling fatigued. To avoid this mistake, take your time during the first lift. Moreover, remember to drive your shoulders back while lifting and the bar should fly up due to this movement.
4. Unstable Front Rack Position
A sturdy front rack position is crucial if you want to execute the Clean properly. An unstable position can be a result of poor mobility. This may be from a poor range of motion in your shoulder, back, triceps, and elbows. Including warm-up exercises that allow your body to work alongside your strength is imperative. Mobility exercises allow you to execute lifts and movements smoothly and without pain. Yoga poses for men can be a great starting point since it stretches your muscles and help improve your range of motion.
5. Poor Footwork
When it comes to the Jerk, proper footwork is key. Your feet should be rooted to the floor while you maintain an even stance with your weight evenly distributed. As you stand up from the Clean, make sure you keep your feet as wide as necessary. While you’re transitioning to the squatting position, make sure you keep your knees bent to absorb the landing force. This effort also reduces your risk of injury significantly.
6. Lack of Strength
Similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, this lift requires intensity. This is especially when transitioning from the pull to the overhead press. With that said, you need to generate enough force every time you do this. Simply going through the motions isn’t sufficient enough to properly reap in all the benefits of this move.
Clean and Jerk Benefits
1. Provides a Full-Body Workout
If you’re wondering what muscles does a Clean and Jerk works, well, the short answer is everything. This move requires total body movement and exert every muscle group in your body.
Beginning from your shins and hamstrings, all the way up to your biceps and shoulders, this lift will certainly have you breaking a sweat. During the Clean portion, your hamstrings play a crucial role when your shins move from an inclined to a vertical position. They also help stabilize you when you go from a hip extension to the hip drive phase. During the transition from the Clean to the Jerk, your quadriceps also play a key role.
Meanwhile, during the Jerk portion, your shoulders, triceps, and biceps, are the most active muscles used. Furthermore, your back and trapezius muscles are engaged as well during the pull, squat, and jerk phases.
2. Develops Strength
While the Clean and Jerk exercise isn’t primarily a strength workout, it does require extensive power and explosiveness. As such, it’s great for building strength in your upper and lower body. Its series of movements call for you to channel pure and intense power when lifting.
3. Promotes Cardiovascular Health
The Clean and Jerk doesn’t seem like your typical cardio exercise like the ones found in Tabata workout routines. However, just after a few reps, you’ll notice how taxing this exercise can be, similar to other cardio and HIIT workouts. With that said, this lift can be extremely beneficial to your Cardiovascular system. Research shows that anaerobic exercises like powerlifting, have shown to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, since this two-part life works the majority of your muscle groups, it can easily get your heart rate up.
4. Promotes Better Balance
The transition from the pull to the overhead press requires an exceptional show of balance. You need to focus on keeping your body weight distributed evenly, especially when it comes to your upper body. Not only does this prevent you from falling over and saving you from any injuries, but research suggests that proper balance can also help you achieve better endurance, which equals better athletic performance.
5. Enhances Performance During CrossFit
If you do HIIT workout routines, like CrossFit, learning how to do a Clean and Jerk can aid you to perfect the functional movement needed. Clean and Jerk CrossFit training allows you to build explosive strength while conditioning your body. Both of which can lead to better endurance, flexibility, and physique.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What’s better deadlift or clean and jerk?
Contrary to popular belief, the deadlift and clean and jerk are not interchangeable exercises. In fact, both workouts place emphasis on two completely different parts of the body, with very separate end results.
To perform a deadlift, the participant will need to position their bodyweight behind the bar and toward the heels. A proper deadlift should result in the hips and torso swinging forward into an upright position in as little time as possible.
The clean and jerk, on the other hand, requires participants to position their bodyweight in a central position. During this time, their goal is to keep their back consistently flat for as long as possible and to finish the exercise with a triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles.
2. What Are The Clean and Jerk Alternatives?
Simpler alternatives to the clean and jerk workout that beginners can try include the dumbbell snatch and push press. The dumbbell snatch is an explosive workout that is easier to learn and requires fewer steps. Simply, hold onto a heavy dumbbell, and use force from your hips to drive the weight upwards. This exercise will finish with the weight directly overhead. Meanwhile, a push press is a modified version of the traditional barbell overhead press. Instead of simply using your arms to lift medium weights over your head, utilize your legs to help propel your body upward from a slight squat position. This can help you lift heavier weights and engage more muscles at once.
3. How often should I do the clean and jerk?
If you’re hoping to improve your overall weightlifting performance and technique, you may consider practicing the clean and jerk more often. Ideally, you should aim for at least three sessions per week. During these sessions, you may practice the traditional clean and jerk or any one of its numerous variations to achieve the best results.
Why You Need the Clean and Jerk Workout
There are only a few moves out there that are as dynamic as the clean and jerk. Its explosive nature requires serious technical prowess in weightlifting allowing you to develop total-body strength. Despite consisting of only two moves, the exercise is so herculean it’s become worthy of the Olympics. It calls for incredible power, control, core strength, balance, and concentration. As such, the clean and jerk is an excellent way for you to build and demonstrate power and strength simultaneously.