Updated: Jul 12
What is the clean?
The clean and jerk is the second lift completed during Olympic weightlifting competitions. It involves moving the bar from the ground to overhead, however it is a combined movement where the clean gets the bar from the floor onto the shoulders, and the jerk from the shoulders to overhead. Whilst great strength is required, it is also highly technical, which can make the weight feel relatively lighter. For example, keeping the bar close, relaxed arms, and a strong leg drive to hit full extension in the pull.
Photo of a clean
What are the variations of the clean?
Similar to the snatch, there are multiple variations of the clean. These include:
1. The squat clean: This is the most common variation, where the lifter receives the bar in a full depth squat, which usually allows them to lift the most weight due to the reduced pulling height that is required. Thus, this variation is usually used in competition so is practiced most frequently in training.
2. The power clean: This is where the lifter pulls the bar as high as they can and then receives the bar in a squat above parallel, usually decreasing the weight that can be lifted as the bar needs to be lifted higher. This variation favours lifters with a stronger pull than squat, as they are not required to front squat the weight to complete the lift. This will still be used in training however for multiple technical benefits which are dependent on the lifter, such as to encourage strong leg drive. It is also considered less physically demanding so can be used as a deload or technical piece for relative rest, compared to the squat clean.
3. The muscle clean: This is where the lifter pulls the bar as high as they can and then receives the bar with the hips and knees fully extended. This is a training variation that is not completed in competitions as the weight lifted is significantly less. Muscle cleans are not completed in training very often, however can still be used for technical benefits like the power clean, such as to focus on strong leg drive or keeping the bar close.
Which muscles are used in the clean?
The clean is a compound lift, where numerous muscles in the body are working at the same time. During the initial pull, the hamstrings, glutes and quads are concentrically contracting to lift the bar, whilst the lats and rotator cuff are working to keep the bar close to the body. As the lifter fully extends, the calf muscles contract bringing the lifter onto their toes, and the upper traps and levator scap contraction results in a shrugging motion. The athlete then bends their arms and pulls themselves under the bar, further recruiting the elbow flexor muscles (brachialis and brachioradialis), deltoid and rotator cuff. Finally, the athlete needs to finish the squat, where the quads, hamstrings and glutes are concentrically contracting once again. The core musculature is recruited throughout the whole lift to keep the athlete stable. In terms of efficiency, few exercises are better than the clean!
Photo showing anatomy of muscles used in the clean (both front and rear)
What are the benefits of the clean?
There are numerous benefits of performing the clean.
Global muscle strengthening: As explained above, the clean is working to strengthen every muscle in the body through the complex movement pattern. Building strength through compound movements helps to maintain function throughout aging.
Coordination and proprioception: The clean is a complex movement requiring constant, deliberate practice of various technical aspects. As a result, global coordination is improved as well as the body’s awareness of where limbs are in space, also known as proprioception.
Mobility/flexibility: The clean involves moving through a full range squat which helps to build strength throughout full range and maintain mobility throughout aging.
Power: In addition to strength, the clean is an explosive movement that is performed as quickly as possible, thus improving lower limb power and rate of force production/motor unit recruitment.
Chronic disease prevention: Engaging in regular exercise is great for overall health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancers etc.
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Blog and videos by Physiotherapy Student undertaking clinical placement from the University of Queensland, Australia, supervised by Principal Physiotherapist, Winnie Lu.