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Are You Making these Five Clean & Jerk Mistakes? Here’s How to Fix Them

The movements in weightlifting are an art unto themselves. The clean & jerk involves catching the barbell at your shoulders, then extending it overhead. Total body power is used in the lift to maximize weight potential and strength. The technique is dynamic and allows you to lift extremely heavy amounts of weight if you can get your technique right. 

When first learning the lift, there are a few errors that commonly take place for athletes that don’t have the privilege of a coach, but with the right technical knowledge in your pocket you can avoid these precarious pitfalls. This article will discuss five typical errors of the clean & jerk, and provide detailed information on how to turn them into the strongest parts of your lift. 

man holding front rack
Credit: Flamingo Images / Shutterstock

Common Clean & Jerk Mistakes

Inconsistent Setup

Faults in the first pull are often traced back to a poor setup. The clean is only successful if the start position is exact every time, which is not necessarily easy to get right.

How to Fix It

If something’s going wrong at the start, you should focus on the lift before it comes off the floor. It’s tempting to build as much speed as possible right off the ground, but patience and control will pay off here.

To ensure tension of the start, use a static start position. Do so by holding still in the set position for 1-2 seconds right before the lift comes off the floor. Dynamic starts can give you some extra speed, but in this case, there is far less chance that the start position will be exact every time, especially when just starting out.

To improve consistency of your start, include a combination of both clean lift-offs and clean pulls in your training. The clean lift-off is a drill in which the barbell is lifted from the floor only to the knee for familiarity and strength at the start. 

To improve the integrity of your pull, make sure that your arms are fully straight before the weight comes off the floor. If the lift starts with bent elbows, there will be a slack sensation in the pull, leaking power from your push off the floor. 

Not Staying Over the Bar

The clean starts with the barbell out in front of your body, making it challenging to stay balanced with the weight. Staying over the bar is the best way to guarantee that your lift will remain balanced.

How to Fix It

Stay over the bar by vertically covering the barbell with your shoulders in the pull. This is done best by keeping central balance while pulling. Continue staying over the bar until the turnover to maximize height on the pull. 

To improve balance in the pull, distribute your center of gravity across your whole foot before pulling from the floor. Sitting too far back into the heels or putting too much weight on the toes are both common occurrences that you should avoid. Fully center your balance to your whole foot before lifting from the floor for a precise pull. 

To stay over the bar longer, don’t rush the first pull from the floor. The weight is most out in front when it’s below the knee. This part of the lift should be taken slow and controlled. Even past the knee, your shoulders should still remain over the barbell until the turnover.

To improve the length of your pull, keep your knees back after the bar passes your knee. It’s a common mistake for lifters to push their knees in front of the barbell after passing the knee, causing the upper body to counter-shift back behind the bar. This rushed stand up results in an unstable base. Keeping your knees back will result in a more powerful extension

Loss of Tension in the Catch

A critical part of the clean is the catch in the front rack position. The catch has to be tight and fast to be efficient. If your back loses tension at the change of direction in the clean, your front squat will lose out on a lot of power. 

How to Fix It

The catch of the clean happens just before the bottom of the squat. You can’t catch the lift at the very bottom of the squat because this will result in a “crash” effect of the barbell on your body. Catch the barbell before the bottom for an efficient and useful change of direction. 

To improve your technique of elbows under the bar, emphasize elbow contribution by including drills such as the muscle clean or hang clean into your training. The pull to the front rack is unique to the clean, so practice of this part should be emphasized.

To improve thoracic tension in the catch, train exercises such as heavy front squat, jerk dips, and upper back accessory movements for the purpose of increasing the total strength of your posterior chain. This will make it easier for you to hold tension in your spine at the bottom of the squat.

Improper Dip and Drive

After nailing the clean, you’re at an important part of the lift — the jerk. Even though the jerk may appear to be an upper body movement, the jerk is primarily a leg exercise due to the heavy weight load. The dip and drive motion that comes first is where the leg drive is created, which is arguably the most important part of the lift. 

The dip and drive transfers the weight from your legs to the arms. To do so, the dip and drive must be balanced and accurate. It’s a small and fast movement, but leaves plenty of room for potential error.

How to Fix It

In the front rack before the jerk, the weight is loaded out in front of the body, making it extra difficult to achieve a powerful, vertical drive. These are just a few strategies for keeping your weight back and maximizing power output. 

To improve your precision, make sure to take a noteworthy pause between the clean and the jerk to get fully set for the jerk. After the clean, reset your breath, find your posture, and adjust your feet to the correct jerk placement.

To improve your balance, distribute your center of gravity directly over your ankle bones before taking the dip. As you descend, it will be tempting to transfer the weight to your toes, so be mindful throughout the full dip to stay back. 

To improve your power output, align your torso in the dip by keeping your hips stacked underneath your shoulders. When your legs bend to dip, it’s possible that your pelvis can either shift out in front or behind, removing the substance from your drive. Keeping your hips underneath you by hitting the proper athletic positions will conserve your leg power for the catch.

Limited Mobility

You need impressive mobility for both the clean and the jerk. Mobility commonly limits the clean & jerk due to the postures you must take in order to perform well with the barbell. For example, the front rack position of the barbell is often inaccessible if it hasn’t been practiced before. The degree of mobility challenge varies between lifters, but it’s common to be limited somewhere by a mobility requirement in the lift. 

How to Fix It

The best way to observe your degree of mobility limitation is to practice the lift with a light barbell (a PVC pipe or wooden dowel may not suffice for the front rack position). Move through the lift and become aware of your posture and depth. Identify what mobility is specifically limited by the movement, then try these strategies to target the area over time. 

To improve ankle mobility, isolate the joint with static and dynamic stretching. Extra time may be needed to hold the stretch since the ankles are such a stiff and solid joint. When held for adequate time, you should be able to reveal a deeper range of motion.

To improve hip mobility, practice a combination of deep squatting along with purposeful hip, quad, and glute stretches. The hip joints are composed of many muscles, which means your tension is likely one area rather than the whole hip. Find the right stretch for you and use it to target your lift. 

To improve thoracic spine mobility, stretching and deep tissue release of the upper back muscles, such as the lats, will go a long way. The shoulder joint is easily restricted by both the anterior and posterior muscles of the thoracic region. Deep stretching of these tight muscles will quickly transform your front rack position and overhead catch. 

Benefits of the Clean & Jerk

Once you clean up the errors in your technique, mastering the clean & jerk will pay off in a number of ways. The many components of this lift present valuable benefits to your strength, size, and stamina.

Increased Strength

Clean & jerk practice is a way to get a barbell in your hands and facilitate increases in strength. This full body movement involves total muscle contribution, making it a productive way to maximize the strength capabilities of your body from head to toe. 

Power Development

The power involved in the clean & jerk is of a higher degree than most other lifts. As the weight on the bar gets heavier, more speed is needed to supply adequate power to the lift. Moving fast under a heavy weight will help you become more proficient in the gym overall. A big clean & jerk translates to a high vertical jump as well as confidence in the standard barbell lifts

Mobility and Stability

Training the clean & jerk simultaneously maximizes both mobility and stability due to the long ranges of motion. Compared to unweighted mobility work, the clean & jerk significantly builds stability strength against weight through the full range of motion. A combination of mobility and stability strength will result in improved functional ability. 

Core Function

The clean & jerk targets your core stability by holding your body in critical positions throughout the movement. The core also transfers power from your lower body to upper body for the functional purpose of completing the lift. Even though the lift does not exactly isolate your core, total body core ability and strength will improve with clean & jerk practice.

The difficulty of the clean & jerk makes it an impressive lift to behold. The technique is engraved with a specificity that is rarely practiced elsewhere. Few other movements take such a heavy barbell from the ground to overhead with this degree of power. If these noted mistakes are actively avoided, there is endless potential for your lift. 

The best way to effectively avoid mistakes in your own clean & jerk training is to continuously assess your movement. Narrowing in on your own mistakes will simplify your goals and increase your progress. Rather than focusing on everything at once, tackle one problem at a time. You’ll have picture-perfect technique before you know it.

Featured Image: Flamingo Images / Shutterstock

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