Exercise Spotlight: The Clean And Jerk

The clean and jerk is a large muscle, multi-joint exercise that is very difficult to master. However, it’s one of the best exercises for building total body strength, power and quickness.

The clean and jerk is one of the lifts contested in weightlifting, which is an Olympic sport. This dynamic lift works the large muscles of the upper and lower body and provides a strength and power base that will eventually help you improve in many power sports and develop well-rounded fitness.

Few exercises build sequential strength better than the clean and jerk. Modifications of this exercise, such as the power clean and push jerk, are relatively easy to learn and still build excellent strength and power. This article will include the elements of the clean and jerk, modifications of the basic lift, and a checklist to help you develop good technique.

OVERVIEW

This exercise is excellent for developing power in the muscles used for jumping and lifting objects from the floor. The main power for this exercise should come from your hips and legs. Think of the middle phase of the lift as a vertical jump, which makes you drive up the weight with your legs, rather than your arms.

Don’t try to use heavy weights at first. Rather, develop good technique using a broomstick, dowel or bar. Learn to use your hips, while maintaining a neutral spine. Develop good technique in the beginning and you will be amazed at the benefits these exercises can provide.

Exercise Spotlight: The Clean And Jerk

EXECUTION

The Clean

• Place the bar on the floor in front of your shins, feet approximately two feet apart
• Grasp the bar with palms facing you, hands at shoulder-width, and squat, keeping your arms and back straight and your head neutral.
• Pull the weight up past your knees to your chest while throwing your hips forward and shoulders back.
• After pulling the weight as high as you can, squat down suddenly and catch the bar on your chest at a level just above your collarbone.
• Stand up straight with the bar at chest level, with feet shoulder-width apart.

The Jerk

• Holding the bar high on your chest, bend your knees and then extend fully, driving the bar upward.
• Drop underneath the bar while driving your bent right leg forward and your straight left leg backwards.
• Holding the bar overhead with arms extended, stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Return the bar to the floor.

MODIFICIATIONS OF THE CLEAN AND JERK

People interested in cross training want to build explosive whole-body training strength and power, and well-rounded fitness. Performing modifications of the complete lift requires less precise technique than the clean and jerk and builds high levels of strength more quickly.

POWER CLEAN

Overview: This excellent exercise develops power in muscles for jumping and pulling objects from the floor. It develops strength and power from the basic athletic position and is a popular exercise in cross training programs.

Description: Place the bar on the floor in front of your shins. Keep your feet approximately two feet apart. Grasp the bar with palms facing you, hands at shoulder-width, and squat, keeping your arms and back straight and your head neutral. Pull the weight up past your knees to your chest while throwing your hips forward and shoulders back. After pulling the weight as high as you can, bend the knees suddenly and catch the bar on your chest at a level just above your collarbone. Stand up straight with the bar at chest level. Return the bar to the starting position. The main power for this exercise should come from the hips and legs. Think of the middle phase of the lift as a vertical jump— this makes you drive up the weight with your legs rather than your arms.

Variations: Variations include the high pull and squat clean. The high pull is identical to the power clean except that you do not turn the bar over at the top of the lift and catch it at your chest. This permits you to handle more weight with less stress on the wrists and forearms.

The squat clean is more difficult than the power clean. At the top of the pulling phase of the clean, bend your knees fully and catch the weight at your chest while in a full squat position. When you master this movement, you will be able to clean much more weight than you can power clean because you do not have to pull the weight as high.

JERK, PUSH JERK, PUSH-PRESS

Overview: To the novice, the jerk, push jerk and push-press look very much like a shoulder or military press. These lifts are mainly leg exercises. You hoist the bar overhead by driving with your legs and then dropping underneath the bar with a split lunge (jerk), with bent knees (push jerk) or legs locked out (push press).

Directions: Begin the exercise with the bar at the top of the clean position, resting on your chest approximately at the level of your collarbones. Take the bar to this position by doing a clean or taking the bar from a rack and place it at a chest-high level. This exercise is called “jerks off the rack.” Bend your knees, and then thrust the bar up vigorously using your legs and arms. Drop underneath the bar with a split movement, one leg forward with bent knee, and the other leg extended straight to the back. Then, bring your feet together so that you are in a standing position with bar overhead and in control.

Clean and Jerk Evaluation Check List

The Starting Position

• Load the barbell correctly with the appropriate weight and safety collars in place to secure the plates.
• Stand with feet spaced hip- to shoulder-width apart, with toes directly under the bar slightly pointed out, with no stagger, feet flat on the floor, knees straight and barbell two inches from the shins.
• Reach down for the barbell using a hook grip (thumb wedged between index and middle fingers). Grip the barbell as tightly as possible when using heavier weights. Once you have the proper grip, bend the knees so the bar is close to the shins.
• Keep your back flat, head neutral, chest out, shoulder blades pulled together, trapezius muscles relaxed, and arms straight with forearms pronated (palms toward the body). Keep your hips higher than your knees but lower than your shoulders, and with the barbell now is touching the shins.

The First Pull

• Tighten the torso muscles, and pull the bar off of the floor with a smooth, slow, easy pull.
• Keep the hips higher than the knees but lower than the shoulders, maintaining a flat back with the shoulders still over the barbell.
• Keep elbows locked with arms extended and forearms pronated.
• Keep your head in a neutral position with your eyes focused straight ahead (do not look at the ceiling) and maintain a flat back.
• Keep your feet flat on the floor, balancing at mid-foot.

The Second Pull

• You have reached the major power position of the lift— the starting point for the second pull— when you have raised the bar to the level of your kneecaps or slightly higher. At this point, pull the bar upward quickly, keeping your arms straight and the barbell close to your body.
• When the barbell reaches mid-thigh level, explode upward using as much force as possible. Extend up on your toes, shrug your shoulders upward and pull the barbell above your belly button— keeping the barbell as close to the body as possible.
• At this point, your toes should be fully extended and your shoulders fully shrugged. Keep your arms straight and the barbell close to your body.

Rack and Recovery

• With your body fully extended (ankles, knees, hips with spine straight and shoulder shrugged) bend your arms (upright row posture) and begin to drop under the rising barbell by rotating the elbows out in front and dropping to a full squat. Your feet may have to widen slightly at this point so that you assume a secure, balanced position.
• As the hips go below the knees, the barbell should come to rest on your deltoids and clavicles.
• As you ride the weight down to a front squat position, you have reached the clean catch position.
• Stand up, keeping the elbows up, the torso rigid, chest high and hold the barbell tightly across the deltoids.
• From this position bring the feet back to the starting stance.

Jerk

• Bend your knees, lowering your body about three to five inches. Straighten your legs explosively, driving the barbell up from the shoulders with your arms, while pushing upward on your toes.
• As the barbell passes above your head, push your toes forcefully off the floor and drive one leg forward about one foot and the other foot backward in the opposite direction about two to three feet in a “lunge” position.
• As your feet land, lock out the barbell overhead with your arms. This is the split jerk catch position.
• Return to the standing erect position by pushing back with the front foot and stepping up with the rear foot, pushing up hard to keep the barbell overhead.
• The finish position of the clean and jerk is when the barbell is locked out overhead with the feet in line, and the body held in an erect position.
• Lower the bar under control back to the floor.

References:
Fahey, TD. Specialist in Sports Conditioning. Santa Barbara: ISSA, 2008 3rd edition.
Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334-59.
Glassman G. The CrossFit Training Guide: CrossFit, Inc.; 2007.