Introduction To The Clean And Press
There is absolutely no doubt that the clean and press is the king when it comes to building explosive power. There are very few resistance exercises that compare to the clean and press for power development. As well as building power, the clean and press has the potential to increase endurance, strength, coordination, and cardiovascular capabilities.
Power is simply a combination of strength and speed and being powerful can have a whole host of benefits – specifically for those who regularly participate in sport. It is also a useful addition for general strength and circuit training.
Do be aware that the clean and press is a technical lift and therefore, be willing to spend a good amount of time practicing technique with lighter weights. It would be unwise to immediately load the barbell with heavy weights and attempt the clean and press without having laid the foundations for the movement first.
Clean and Press Benefits
The clean and press is an Olympic lift which requires action from a whole host of muscles. Firstly, the muscles of the legs – the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves – must contract powerfully to transfer power into the bar and then power up to a standing position. The muscles of the upper body – like shoulders, chest, back and arms – contract to pull the bar high in the clean and assist in driving and stabilizing the bar during the press.
Additionally, all the muscles of the core contract to stabilize the body throughout the movement (1). Due to the explosive nature of the clean and press, there are many forces at work which the body must deal with in order to successfully complete the movement from start to finish.
As mentioned, power-based exercises are of high importance for athletes and individuals who participate in sport. Specifically, if the sport involves quick bursts of activity – such as sprinting and jumping – power exercises, such as the clean and press, are essential (2).
Even for those who do not necessarily participate in a sport, the clean and press can be highly beneficial. As made clear, the movements of the exercise place a great demand on a vast number of muscles the length and breadth of the body. As a result, a high number of calories are burned and the muscles are forced to adapt and improve.
A high calorie burn can be specifically beneficial for those who are looking to lose weight. This is because, for weight loss to occur, a calorie deficit must be established. Burning a high number of calories will contribute towards this.
Clean and Press Form
- For the clean and press, start by placing the feet directly under the hips. Ensure that the bar is close to the shins when stood upright – a distance of approximately 2 inches from the shins will suffice.
- Push the hips backwards so that the trunk tips forward, reach down and grab the barbell with an overhand grip. The hands should be approximately shoulder width apart on the bar.
- Before lifting, drop the hips, drive the chest up, lift the head and brace the core muscles tightly.
- When lifting, drive hard through the heels and look to drive the knees back. Wait until the bar is slightly above knee height before powerfully extending through the hips and simultaneously pulling the bar upward. Be as rapid as possible with the pull and ensure to keep the bar close to the body throughout.
- Drop under the bar quickly and catch it on the shoulders while keeping the elbows high. Drive hard through the heels and rise up to standing.
- Take a moment, brace the core once again before quickly dipping the hips and pressing the bar directly over the head. Once again, be as fast as possible with this motion.
Common Clean and Press Errors
Although there are a number of benefits associated with the clean and press, if performed incorrectly, the chance of sustaining injury is relatively high. Analysis shows that the spine, shoulders and ankles are most at risk of injury during the clean and press (3). There are a number of errors which may result in injury, if not rectified.
Shifting Too Far Forward
During the exercise, the weight should remain on the heels at all times otherwise, it is easy to tip excessively far forward which may increase the chances of a forward fall and consequent injury.
Often, an inability to keep the weight on the heels results from a lack of mobility around the ankles. Therefore, if an individual finds that they are consistently coming forward in the clean (or in any squatting exercise), it would be worthwhile focusing on increasing ankle mobility which has been found to have a positive impact on squatting ability (4).
Rounding The Back
Failure to engage essential core musculature or lifting with the spine rather than the legs can lead to spinal rounding. A combination of the forces generated and lower spine rounding can cause serious injury to the spine.
A herniated disc (often referred to as a “slipped disc”) can be a very painful and restrictive injury which can take a long time to recover from (5). To avoid this injury, ensure the back is flat during the entirety of the movement – if this is not possible, strip the weight from the barbell and focus on improving technique. Additionally, improving one’s core strength may help to resolve this issue.
The final error to be aware of is placing the hands too wide on the bar. Not only will this place excessive tension on the wrists but it may also lead to a shoulder strain. The grip should be no more than 2 inches wider than the shoulders.
It is recommended to spend time warming up the wrists and shoulders before starting cleans and presses. Taking time to improve the joints range of motion will not only help with exercise performance but will also reduce the risk of sustaining injury.
Clean and Press Variations and Application
There are a number of clean and press variations that can be completed to align with current levels of fitness, gym experience and abilities.
As suggested, beginners and novices should start with a light bar and focus on technique first. Preferably use a room with mirrors so that it is possible to see how well the body is moving. Alternatively, film a number of reps and watch the video back and assess.
It is possible to complete the clean and press with a dumbbell as well as with a barbell. Undoubtedly, the barbell clean and press is most demanding in terms of strength and power as it is possible to significantly load the bar up. This is partly because the barbell provides stability during movement.
With dumbbells, both sides must work independently of each other which prevents the stronger side dominating and driving the movement. Additionally, dumbbell exercises are a lot more challenging to stabilize. This may be thought of as a negative thing, however, a decreased stability actually forces the core muscles to contract more powerfully to control the movement.
A final benefit of dumbbell exercises is that the movements can be performed unilaterally (one arm at a time). Once again, this will place a greater demand on the core as balance and coordination become more of a test.
If looking for an additional challenge, look to superset the clean and press with a second leg based exercises (such as squats or lunges). A superset involves performing two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. Supersets are ideal for time-saving but most importantly help to drive up strength levels and increase calorie burn.
Finally, the clean and press can be added into a high intensity circuit to contribute towards the calorie burn and for improving one’s cardiovascular capacity. The clean and press is the perfect circuit training exercise as it is a demanding full body exercise.
Here is an example of a very simple circuit incorporating the clean and press:
|Exercise||Time / Reps|
|Treadmill Run / Elliptical||4 minutes|
|Clean and Press||8 reps|
|Repeat||x 4 – 6|
Clean and Press Safety
Those who have experienced injury to a joint or have problems with the neck, back, shoulders, wrists, hips, knees or ankles, should consult a medical professional before proceeding. Additionally, due to the high number of forces at play, this exercise is not recommended to those who are pregnant.
Finally, should sharp pain ever be experienced during the exercise, stop immediately. Sharp pain is an indication that damage is being done and therefore, exercise must cease and a medical professional consulted, if pain persists.
Although the clean and press is a highly technical lift, it is certainly one worth learning considering the vast array of benefits it can bring and the number of ways it can be utilized. Caution should be exercised however and time dedicated to learning the movements required – especially for beginners.
1-Calatayud, Joaquin; Colado, Juan C.; Martin, Fernando; Casaña, José; Jakobsen, Markus D.; Andersen, Lars L. (2015-11). “CORE MUSCLE ACTIVITY DURING THE CLEAN AND JERK LIFT WITH BARBELL VERSUS SANDBAGS AND WATER BAGS”. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 10 (6): 803–810. ISSN 2159-2896. PMC 4637915. PMID 26618060.
2-Hoffman, Jay R.; Cooper, Joshua; Wendell, Michael; Kang, Jie (2004-2). “Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18 (1): 129–135. ISSN 1064-8011. PMID 14971971.
3-Aasa, Ulrika; Svartholm, Ivar; Andersson, Fredrik; Berglund, Lars (2017-2). “Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review”. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 51 (4): 211–219. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096037. ISSN 1473-0480. PMID 27707741.
4-Kim, Si-Hyun; Kwon, Oh-Yun; Park, Kyue-Nam; Jeon, In-Cheol; Weon, Jong-Hyuck (April 7, 2015). “Lower Extremity Strength and the Range of Motion in Relation to Squat Depth”. Journal of Human Kinetics. 45: 59–69. doi:10.1515/hukin-2015-0007. ISSN 1640-5544. PMC 4415844. PMID 25964810.
5-“Herniated disk: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia”. medlineplus.gov.