The complete Clean & Jerk guide

clean & jerk tutorial

In this article we'll dissect and develop the clean and jerk. Whether you're a beginner or a veteran, this guide will help you to boost your barbell skills.

What is the Clean and Jerk?

The clean and jerk is a movement used in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit. It is made up of two parts: the clean, lifting the barbell from the floor to the shoulders and the jerk, moving the bar from shoulders to overhead.

Primarily executed with a barbell, these lifts can also be performed using dumbbells or kettlebells which make it more accessible and even easier to include in your workout routine.

Due to the explosive nature of the exercise the clean and jerk is arguably one of the best exercises to develop speed and power while strengthening the hamstrings, quadriceps, low back, abdominals, shoulders, and traps.

clean and jerk with dumbbells

Here, we will discuss the key aspects of these two lifts and their variations with the aim of helping you to improve your understanding and technique.

How to Approach Learning the Clean and Jerk

Given that the clean and jerk are actually two lifts performed together, it can be challenging to execute both parts well.

A solid clean helps to set up a successful jerk but even then, nothing is guaranteed!

It’s not always necessary to perform the lifts in sequence. In fact, off the competition platform, it’s quite typical to train these two lifts separately.

This is because usually an athlete will have either a stronger clean or a stronger jerk.

If we always train them together, the stronger lift will always be limited by the other or the weaker lift will be overloaded.

By isolating the clean from the jerk, we can train each of the lifts within a load range that will allow us to make progress.

Determining Intensity

Many training plans are programmed taking into account your one rep max.

Your one RM or personal record (PR) lift refers to the maximal load with which you can perform any exercise.

While WODs tend to have a prescribed weight (with the option to scale as necessary), most training plans are programmed with percentages relative to your PR.

When working towards improving the speed or technique of Olympic lifts, you’ll usually want to stay within 50-70% of your 1 RM snatch or clean and jerk.

The lifter will be able to control the weight, move consciously, and apply necessary corrections to the lifts.

You should also stay within this range when performing reps at high volume (like in workouts) to ensure that you will be able to move with good form even while fatigued.

Strength and accumulation training happen within a 70 to 85% range. This offers a tougher intensity stimulus, but the lifter should still be able to control the load well.

clean and jerk guide
Split jerk from blocks

Lifts will usually be in sets of two to five reps with rest in between.

Training above 90% should not be done often and is usually reserved for competition or new PR attempts.

If you're new to Olympic lifts or you don’t know of your one RM, a good solution is starting light to warm up and reinforce the technique and then gradually work up to heavier weights that still allow for quality and consistency.

For many novices, this will probably mean starting with a PVC pipe and working up to an empty bar.

Whether your max clean is 90 pounds or 90 kilos, everyone must start from somewhere.

Neglecting the natural progression will result in injury or developing bad habits. Proper execution in both clean and the jerk relies heavily on timing, positioning, control, and force output. There's no sense in going too heavy too soon.

The Clean

The good news is if you can snatch you can clean. (And if not, have a look at our guide here!)

Like the snatch, the objective of the clean is to guide the bar’s path from the floor to the hips taking advantage of and aggressive hip extension to further accelerate the bar upwards.

In the clean, the athlete will take a narrower grip on the bar. That’s because instead of taking the bar directly overhead as in the snatch, the clean ends in front rack position; the bar supported across the athlete’s front deltoids. This sets us up for or jerk or overhead press later.

A lot can happen between the floor and front rack so let’s look at the points of performance.

The Set up

The First Pull

  • For the clean, set your feet about hip distance apart distributing your bodyweight evenly across your base.
  • Hold the bar with your hands at about shoulder width apart.
power clean and jerk
  • If you’re new to the Olympic lifts, you’ll want to get into the habit of using a hook grip.
  • Wrap your thumb around the bar and your fingers around your thumb.
  • It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s the best way to secure the bar in your hands especially when you work with heavy loads.
how to increase clean and jerk
The Hook Grip
  • Once we have the bar in hand, keep your arms long, turn your elbows out, and brace your core.
  • Lower the bar to mid-shin keeping your hips lower than your shoulders and a straight back. (Lowering the bar in this way isn’t mandatory to execute the lift however it helps to reinforce the bar path. When there are plates on the bar, we can set up directly from the floor).
  • Your feet should be rooted into the floor with your shoulders just barely ahead of the bar.
  • Direct your chest and gaze straight ahead.
  • Begin to extend your lower body activating your glutes and hamstrings and pushing your feet firmly into the ground.
  • Continue to keep your abs and lumbar tight as you rise, and your shoulders in front of the bar.
how to clean and jerk
First pull
  • As the bar passes your knees, you can steadily accelerate.
what is clean and jerk
Hang position
  • Elevate your chest as you open up your hips.
  • When your hips and knees are almost completely straight, it’s time to prepare for the fastest part of the lift, the hip extension.

Like the snatch, there are variations of the clean that begin below the knee, above the knee (also known as hang, or launch position), and right below the contact point.

If you're just starting out, practice initiating your lifts from hang position and as you become more confident and consistent in your mechanics, work towards starting from the ground.

When the lift starts from the floor there is more room for error.

You have to maintain good posture, stay balanced, and time the pulls, extension, and turnover well in order to pull it off. Be patient, and slow down just a bit when you're practicing so that you can be conscious of these elements.

Hip Extension

Explosive hip extension is the driving force of this lift.

It involves maintaining the bar close to your body during the first pull and then using your lats to bring it in even closer so that it can make contact at the upper thigh precisely when you open your hips.

The brush of the bar facilitates power transfer allowing us to move the weight to the desired position with serious speed.

what is a clean and jerk
Triple extension

Front Rack

In an optimal rack position the bar will be mostly rest on the lifter’s shoulders, but the weight is supported by the trunk.

Although the hands are also placed under the bar, they shouldn't really take on much of the load.

They do, however, help to lock the bar in front rack as you stand from the clean and/or initiate overhead lifts.

This is where being able to hold the bar with a full grip becomes invaluable.

how to do a clean and jerk

Better grip equates to better control over the bar however many athletes lack the flexibility in the wrists, shoulders, and lats required to keep the trunk vertical and the bar parallel to the floor.

As a result, they may have to compensate by using an open-handed grip, allowing the bar to rest only in their fingers.

power cleans

Even this can cause a lot of discomfort for some lifters, putting excessive load on their wrists and elbows.

A comfortable and sturdy front rack position is crucial to be able to execute the clean so make your mobility a priority!

Front Squat

Were you able to support the bar properly in front rack position?

Great, because any limitations you have supporting the bar in front rack while standing will only be intensified as you squat down.

  • Start with your bar in front racking position.
  • Your feet should be about shoulder width apart with your toes a little turned out.
  • Brace your core and keep a straight back.
  • Send your hips back as you bend your knees as much as possible.
  • Ideally, your hip crease will be lower than your knees, and your trunk vertical while preserving your lumbar curve.
  • You should be able to maintain the bar parallel to the floor.
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom, drive with your legs to stand up, staying as upright as possible.
squat clean

Even if you’re able to get into these positions, any experience of discomfort calls for some special attention to prepare your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, lats and thoracic spine.

Stay consistent with your mobility drills (incorporate into your warmup!) and you’re sure to see improvements in your lifting technique.

Working on your mobility is imperative to performing the Olympic lifts correctly.

The Execution

Muscle Clean

The muscle clean is a technique exercise that can help the lifter practice the transition to front rack, known as the turnover.

It can also be used to improve the strength, timing, and fluidity of the turnover.

  • Set up for your first pull as usual.
  • Keep the bar close to the body and accelerate it towards the hips.
  • Once your hips are extended, shrug your shoulders, lift your elbows, and keep your wrists in.
  • When the bar reaches chest level, flip your elbows up and around the bar aggressively bringing it into front rack.
  • To avoid the bar from crashing down on you, stay tall and don't bring the bar up too high.
  • You’ll want to be in a vertical position just before your turnover.
  • Gently receive the bar in front rack with an upright torso.
clean and jerk lift
Set up / Triple extension / Standing front rack

Power Clean

To execute this variation, the lifter must be able to produce enough power to raise the bar and enough speed to catch it almost immediately after.

It’s a very forceful lift, but because there is less range of motion than in the full clean, training this exercise can be useful for those who lack mobility.

  • Like the previous variation, the power clean includes controlling the first pull from the floor and driving bar towards the hips before reaching triple extension (open angles in your ankles, knees, and hips).
  • From there, you must pull yourself under the bar jumping your feet out slightly to catch the bar in a high squat. Generally, a power clean is received in a squat parallel to the floor or higher.
  • Although the bar is received lower than in a muscle clean, you should still go for full extension before pulling yourself under the bar and landing in the receiving position.
clean and jerk technique

Power cleans are often used in Crossfit because they can be performed quickly and they are easy to cycle.

Barbell cycling, or touch-and-go is a way of linking several repetitions of a lift without releasing the bar. This allows the lifter to perform the lift at a greater volume in less time.

This is an advanced technique that can be applied to all lifts however, since the bar is almost always in motion, it is not recommended for novice lifters.

It is much more important to practice each lift until consistency and proper technique is achieved.