The clean and jerk is a dynamic move, recruiting many muscles, including the quads, back, shoulders, glutes, and core.
One of the two competition lifts in weightlifting is the clean and jerk, which can also be a valuable addition to your workout program. Although the clean and jerk is not easy, it is worthwhile.
It’s a combination of a deadlift, clean, and overhead press. Learning it takes time, skill, and patience. You will be rewarded with more full-body strength, coordination, and power. Please continue reading this article if you want to learn more about the benefits of the Clean and Jerk.
This guide covers all the steps needed to do a clean and jerk properly and its benefits and variations.
What is the clean and jerk?
The clean and jerk is a composite of two weightlifting movements, the pure and the draw, and it is most often performed with a barbell.
During a clean, the barbell is moved from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids without resting on the clavicles. The lifter raises the barbell to a stationary position above the head during the jerk, finishing with straight arms and legs and the feet in the same plane as the torso and barbell.
The most common lift type is the Olympic clean and jerk, used in Olympic weightlifting events.
To perform a clean, a person holds the barbell with their hands just outside their legs, usually using a hook grip. The barbell should be above the knees before the lifter explosively extends, raising the bar as high as possible. The lifter should quickly drop into a squat and receive the barbell in a “racked” position in front of the neck and resting on the shoulders.
The lifter stands and sometimes slightly propels the bar upward from the shoulders to complete the clean. The grip is then widened somewhat, and the feet are brought closer together to prepare for the jerk.
The jerk starts from the “front rack” position, which is the position you end up in after completing the clean. The lifter bends their knees a few inches, keeping their back vertical, and then explosively extends their knees to propel the barbell upward off their shoulders. They then quickly drop underneath the bar by pushing upward with their arms and splitting their legs into a lunge position, with one leg forward and one leg back.
The bar is lifted overhead with the arms extended straight. Once the bar is stabilized, the person raises their feet in line with the rest of their body, coming out of the split position.
How to Execute the Clean and Jerk
Below is a step-by-step guide on performing the clean and jerk with a barbell. You can do a clean and jerk with dumbbells or kettlebells, but it is traditionally done with a barbell.
Step 1: Get Set
To set up for this exercise, stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet hip-width apart and turned slightly out. This will allow you to keep your knees/thighs out on the setup.
General concepts to consider when setting up your stance. Remember that your specific setup may vary based on your coach or athlete preferences.
This means that the barbell should be close to your shins at the start of the lift. This will ensure the barbell starts close to the body, providing a smooth bar path.
Step 2: Initiate the First Pull
The first clean pull occurs when the barbell is pulled from the floor. The first pull of the barbell ends when it passes the knee, which is the start of the second pull. The initial pull is essentially a deadlift. Maintain a straight back and keep your stomach muscles tight.
The purpose of the first pull is to generate enough momentum to allow for a strong second pull.
Start the second pull by forcefully extending your hips and knees to full extension, shrugging your shoulders hard, and pulling the bar close to your chin as you jump. Start the third pull by forcefully extending your hips and knees to full extension and jumping while at the same time pulling the bar close to your chin.
This could be broken down into two parts, but it happens so quickly that it’s one step. In this exercise, the barbell is pulled from the ground and brought up to the hips, passing the knees.
The lifter stands with their feet shoulder-width apart, then bends their knees and hips to lower their body and grab the barbell with an overhand grip, their hands just outside their legs. From here, they drive their hips and pull the barbell up their body, ensuring they stay balanced on their feet with their shoulders above the bar. The lifter then forcefully rotates its elbows underneath and into the front rack position.
Finish the second pull by using the traps to elevate the bar higher and pull oneself under the bar.
When you are resetting your feet, try to move them both at the same time and place them firmly under your hips. This will help you to maintain a solid front rack position.
Step 3: Catch the Barbell
As the bar is lifted explosively upwards from the hip drive, the lifter will quickly squat down and catch the barbell across their shoulders in a front rack position. The elbows should be pointing forward.
Form Tip: Be aware of your knees. A lot happens during a clean and jerk, so keep your knees actively pressed for a more efficient squat.
Step 4: Dip Down
The lifter starts in the front rack position and dips its knees a few inches. This creates a spring-like effect to help with the jerk phase of the lift. This part of the lift is a push press.
The dip should be performed at a smooth and slow speed to allow for a stretch reflex to take place. Dip straight down, keeping your torso still and in line.
Step 5: Jerk the Bar Overhead
There are two types of jerks: split jerks and squat jerks. For now, we’ll stick with the squat jerk. Try not to see the jerk as just an overhead press. The movement known as a push press is executed by dropping under the barbell to reduce the distance it travels overhead. To complete the exercise, you will a) bend your knees and lower yourself, b) push the bar over your head, and c) drop into a half-squat position as the bar rises.
Start the lift by driving through your legs and pushing the bar as hard as possible.
Step 6: Receive and Recover the Jerk Overhead
Extend your legs and push your hips back to return to standing. Lock your arms out and pause at the bottom of the jerk to stabilize the weight, then extend your legs and push your hips back to return to standing. Hold this position while you get set. Do not stand up until the weight feels balanced. Once you’re stabilized, stand up.
If you are about to drop the weight, keep your arms locked and let the bar fall forward so, the weight crashes onto the ground. Bouncing the bar off your head is not recommended.
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 exercise benefits your workout routine.
Total Body Strength and Power
To be a successful weightlifter, you must exhibit strength and explosiveness at every stage of the lift, from the initial pull off the ground to the hip drive to the jerk. Since the clean and jerk uses every muscle, it is an excellent exercise for gaining strength and power.
Focusing on the deadlift, push press, and clean will help you become stronger at pure and jerk overall, and doing neat and jerks will help you become stronger at those individual moves.
Improved Athletic Performance
The clean and jerk is a highly effective way to build strength, power, and coordination. The muscles in your glutes and legs get more robust, which lets you run faster and jump higher.
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 simultaneously. The central nervous system sends signals to the muscles to make them move.
The connection between the brain and muscles is called a “motor skill.” The Central Nervous System can be trained to be more efficient and responsive, similar to a muscle. The more you practice the movement, the better you’ll be at it.
Muscles Worked by the Clean and Jerk
The clean and jerk is a movement that works nearly every muscle in the body. The clean-and-jerk exercise work for the following major muscle groups:
The hamstrings are primarily involved in the hip drive, or second pull, clean and jerk phase. The clean and jerk is not an effective exercise for increasing the size of your biceps because the biceps are contracted explosively and for a short period. You may also want to consider the Romanian deadlift in your routine for optimal hamstring development.
The clean and jerk rely on the quadriceps for the squatting aspect and the dip and drive phase, respectively. Strong quadriceps muscles give you more power to lift weights out of the clean position.
Back and Traps
The lats and traps are used during the lifting, squatting, and jerk phases. It would be best if you had a strong back and traps to maintain an upright position in the front squat and offer stability in the jerk.
The jerk exercises heavily engage the shoulders and arm muscles like the triceps and biceps. Even though the legs are doing most of the work to create the jerky motion, the shoulders are doing some work to keep the stable weight overhead. You should still include various shoulder exercises to develop them further.
Who Should Do the Clean and Jerk?
Strength and Power Athletes
Even though the bench press is used by strength and power athletes to increase overall strength, add quality muscle mass to the chest and triceps, and improve sport-specific performance, you should not forget to add the Clean and Jerk.
- 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 are necessary 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 an exercise that is often seen in CrossFit programs, competitions, and workouts (in some form). The clean and jerk is an excellent way for CrossFit and fitness athletes to improve their overall strength and power. This exercise can also be used to train for competition.
Gym-goers that come every day can get the same advantages as mentioned earlier by using the clean and jerk. Although this is a technical move, it can be dangerous if not done correctly. It is essential to seek guidance from a trainer and to use a lighter weight than you think you can handle.
Clean and Jerk Variants
The power clean is a weight training exercise in which the lifter skips a full squat position.
From there, the athlete explosively pulls themselves under the barbell, receiving it on the shoulders in a catch position—knees and hips slightly bent, back upright. The hang clean begins with the barbell off the ground, and the athlete explosively pulls themselves under it so that the barbell is caught on the shoulders in a catch position— with the knees and hips slightly bent and the back upright. Both powers clean and hang cleans are considered ideal for sports conditioning, as they tax the entire body and have been shown to improve neuromuscular coordination and core stability.
The continental clean requires the bar to be lifted from the floor to the final clean position without touching the ground at any point.
The bar can be rested on the legs, stomach, or belt. Hands may be removed and replaced. In strongman training, the continental clean using an axle bar requires additional steps compared to other types of cleans.
How should I learn the clean and jerk?
Finding a qualified local coach (USA Weightlifting Accredited) is best to help you get started. If you’re struggling to do this, try finding a good coach online who can break the lift down and help you start with the basics, like proper form.
How often should I do the clean and jerk?
Most lifters looking to improve weightlifting performance and technique should aim for at least three weekly training sessions. These sessions should include the clean and jerk or variations of the clean and jerk.
You need to vary your training intensity and monitor your recovery and performance over time to find what works best for you.