A Guide On How to Master The Clean and Jerk

by Evelyn Valdez

If you’re looking to build a strong physique, you might have a few weightlifting ideas in mind. The deadlift is one popular heavy lifting option for those who want to get stronger, but if you really want to challenge your body, look no further than the clean and jerk.

This full-body exercise involves lifting a bar from your feet to the top of your head, challenging every muscle along the way in an explosive and continuous movement. It’s not an easy task, but with enough practice and knowledge of each step of the exercise, you can definitely master it!

We’ll show you step by step how to perform the clean and jerk properly while minimizing the risk of injury, so you can safely reach your goals, as well as a few exercises to build your way up to it. But first, let’s talk a little bit about this movement…

About the clean and jerk

The clean and jerk is a heavy Olympic lift that consists of lifting the bar from the ground all the way overhead, with a brief pause in the middle for stabilization. The lift is divided into two explosive movements: the clean, which is when you lift the bar from the floor to your shoulders, and the jerk, the part where you push it overhead.

Since it’s an advanced lift, it offers great strength-related benefits, such as:

  • Improving your overall athletic condition by explosively moving through the exercise and getting your muscles used to quick movements
  • Increasing your total-body strength and power since you need to fully engage your muscles to produce enough power to be able to move the weight and perform the movement properly
  • Improving your motor skills and total-body coordination during both parts of the lift by having your brain and muscles communicate correctly to perform a swift and coordinated movement, which is incredibly helpful in all other lifts!
  • Targeting various muscles throughout the full-body movement, including your quads, hamstrings, and glutes on your lower body and your shoulders, triceps, upper back, and traps on your upper body, plus your core.
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    How to master the clean and jerk

    While the clean and jerk is mainly composed of two parts, the full movement can be divided into even more sections, and knowing how to properly execute each one is the key to mastering this heavy lift. But don’t worry! We’ll take you step by step through each one so you can perform the clean and jerk seamlessly.

    Step 1: Get in position

    The first thing you need to do is load the bar properly and place it on the floor. Remember that this is a heavy lift, so you need to make sure that the loaded weight is heavy enough to pose a challenge but not so much that you can’t keep proper form throughout the movement.

    Additionally, if you have limited wrist mobility or you’ve had a wrist injury in the past, using wrist wraps during the clean and jerk might be a good idea to keep your wrists safe and your movement well-supported and controlled!

    1. Stand front and center of the loaded weight and place your feet under the bar, hip-width apart and toes pointing slightly out for stability. The bar should be right over your midfoot.
    2. Bend at the hips and knees and grab the bar with both hands just outside your legs with an overhand grip. Make sure that your arms are pointing straight down so that your shoulders are over the bar.
    3. Your thighs should be near horizontal while still keeping your hips higher than your knees, and your shins should be almost touching the bar.
    4. Keep your back straight with your head looking forward. This will be your starting position.

    Step 2: Perform the first pull

    Once you’re in position, begin the clean part of the movement by performing the first pull. This is where you’ll take the bar off the floor and up to your knees, gaining momentum for the next step.

    1. Engage your core, keeping your back straight, and begin pulling the bar off the floor by extending your knees.
    2. Drive the bar along your shins without bending your arms just yet. All the pulling force should come from your legs.
    3. Lift the weight until it’s at knee level and your knees are slightly bent, with your torso near parallel to the floor. This is the end of the first pull.

    Step 3: Perform the second pull

    Right when the bar goes past your knees, you’ll initiate the second pull by using the momentum from the first step to drive the bar further upward and up to your hips to bring it closer to the end of the clean.

    1. Continue the pulling movement by driving the bar upward along your thighs, straightening your hips and knees in a single explosive movement.
    2. Use the power of your hip and knee extension to make the bar go past your hips, shrugging your shoulders without bending your elbows to keep the movement of the bar smooth.
    3. Make sure to keep a neutral spine during this part of the movement and quickly continue to the next step.

    Step 4: Turn over and catch the bar

    This is the final movement of the clean part, and it happens very quickly after the last step. In reality, it’s all just a single swift movement, but breaking it down into smaller sections helps to understand what to do with each body part as you lift.

    1. While your shoulders are shrugged and the bar is moving up almost by itself for a moment, quickly pull your body under the bar by twisting your wrists and driving your elbows forward.
    2. As you do this, drop into a deep front squat position to be able to catch the bar properly by bending at the knees and hips once again without letting the bar tilt.
    3. Keep your back straight and your arms almost parallel to the floor while you hold the bar over your shoulders with your elbows fully bent.

    Step 5: Stand up and recover

    This marks the end of the clean and the beginning of the jerk, but you have a quick moment to recover in between to prepare for the next push. This allows you to keep the bar under control before proceeding.

    1. From the deep squat position, push through your feet to a standing position, extending your hips and knees.
    2. Keep the bar over your shoulders as you go up until you’re standing straight, with your elbows pointing forward and the palms of your hands looking up in a front rack position.
    3. Use this moment to fix the position of your feet if you need it before continuing.

    Step 6: Jerk the bar overhead

    Unlike the clean, the jerk part of the movement is more straightforward. This is when you’ll push the bar upward to the end of the lift until your arms are completely extended over your head.

    1. Engage your core and begin the jerk by dipping slightly, then extend your knees and hips explosively by pushing off the floor to quickly drive the bar upward.
    2. As you do this, extend your arms overhead while you catch the bar and go back to a half squat position as the weight of the bar goes down.
    3. From this half squat position, making sure the weight is stabilized overhead, explosively extend your hips and knees again to stand straight.
    4. At the end of the movement, your arms should be locked overhead holding the weight. Your back should be straight in a neutral spine position and the bar horizontally aligned with your feet.

    …And that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve successfully completed a clean and jerk with the correct form. Make sure to go over each step carefully and learn what to do at each moment to minimize the risk of injury and be able to make the most out of this lift.

    Alternative exercises to the clean and jerk

    You can’t just wake up one day and perform a clean and jerk – you need to work your way up to it first! Luckily, there are many lifting exercises that you can try to both mimic the clean and jerk movement and build enough strength and power to perform it properly.

    Here are some exercises that you can try before the clean and jerk:

    • Deadlift: This heavy lifting movement is basically the first pull of a clean and jerk. It can help you strengthen the working muscles in this movement and master the starting position of the clean and jerk.
    • Front squat: Doing front squats will help prepare your knees for the hinging movement of the clean and jerk, as well as the weight. On top of that, it helps develop upper-body strength to keep the bar stabilized over your shoulders.
    • Overhead press: This movement is great for getting used to pushing the weight over your head and keeping your arms stable with the weight for the final part of the clean and jerk.
    • Kettlebell clean and jerk: Not only does the kettlebell clean and jerk go through the full range of movement of a regular clean and jerk, but it’s also unilateral, which helps build functional strength.
    • Dumbbell snatch: This exercise is similar to the kettlebell clean and jerk except that the weight goes straight from the floor overhead without stopping at the shoulders, allowing you to improve explosive power.

    Master the clean and jerk for an improved physique

    If you train hard enough, respect the limits of your body, and follow steps carefully, you’ll be on your way to mastering this Olympic lift in no time! Remember, never try to run before you can walk, so try some alternative exercises before to make sure you have what it takes to correctly perform this and any other heavy lift.

    Need a high-quality wrist wrap to safely practice your clean and jerk?

    Look no further than UPPPER Wrist Wraps! Our highly supportive, strong, and durable wrist wraps will help you get through the exercise with the support that you need on your heavy lifting days.

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