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Master the Clean & Press to Improve Strength, Power, & Build Muscle

Going fast is cool, being strong is great. But combining them into one movement can make your training more than the sum of its parts. The clean & press takes the explosive, kinetic power of weightlifting and the sheer strength of an overhead press and packages them into an all-purpose movement guaranteed to make you stronger, bigger, and deadlier in the weight room or on the field. 

In this article we will unpack the clean & press, explain how to perform it properly, offer variations and suggestions on programming, and much more. 


How to Do the Clean & Press Step By Step

While the clean & press can be done with a variety of equipment, we’re going to default to the barbell for these prescriptions. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though, and that goes for getting a heavy weight from the floor to overhead as well. 

Step 1 — Set Your Stance

Set yourself up so that you are close to the bar, with the feet underneath. The hips should be slightly higher than the knees, with the back flat and arms straight.


Coach’s Tip:. A good setup will allow you to maintain your form and control once the barbell leaves the ground.

Step 2 — Stand Up the Weight, then Squat

Push through the floor to get the load moving upwards. As the weight passes the knees, explosively open the hips (glutes), shrugs, and pulls themselves underneath into a squat position with the load supported on the shoulders. 


Coach’s Tip: Make sure to not pull immediately with the arms, but rather keep your arms long and extended. This allows the legs to be the primary muscle group used to lift the load from the floor.

Step 3 — Press Overhead

From the shoulders, perform a standard overhead press to move the weight from the front rack position to securely overhead. 


Coach’sTip: Be sure to keep the weight resting on the front of the shoulders rather than letting it fall to the upper chest.


Benefits of the Clean & Press

A book could be written about the immense benefits of the clean & press, however in this article we will do a very general overview of three of the main benefits a clean & press can offer coaches and athletes.

Total Body Strength and Power

The clean & press is one of the most rewarding movements you can do to build strength and power. It involves nearly every muscle in the body, allows for high amounts of loading, and challenges muscular strength, power, and neural control.

Whether done with a bar, kettlebells, or any other variation, the clean & press is a great choice for getting strong.

Application to Sports & Life

Powerful hip extension is utilized in jumping, maximizing force output in running, sprinting, and tackling, and is a key marker for athletic performance. Movements like the deadlift, squat, and clean are all part of a well-designed fitness and athletic training program 

Additionally, the clean & press (the general movement, not necessarily the exercise) is found in many acts of daily life, such as grabbing a child from the floor, moving heavy objects, etc. Lastly,improving control and technique in this movement may also help to reduce injury risks due to poor movement patterns.

Increased Athleticism

The clean & press is a valuable movement to teach athletes who want to jump higher, run faster, hit harder, and have a better athletic potential (in regards to strength, power, and fitness). 

While it is possible to make great strides in athleticism without the clean & press, including it in your training regimen can help you perform better in other fundamental exercises due to the overlap in technique and muscle recruitment. 


Muscles Worked by the Clean & Press

The clean & press is a total body movement that involves the lower extremities, upper body muscles, and core all working together. Here are some of the muscles that go the distance in this exercise. 

Quadriceps

The quadriceps are used in the initial lift off from the floor and the squatting portion of the clean (unless you power clean the weight). The quads are also used if you perform a push press, which can help you increase the amount of weight used. Strong quads help increase your ability to get out of the clean.

Back and Traps

The lats and traps are used during the pulling, squatting, and pressing phase of the lift. A strong back and traps are needed to maintain an upright position in the squat and offer stability in the overhead position.

Shoulders 

The shoulders, triceps, and upper chest are all active in both the strict press and push press variations, but you’ll still want to add different shoulder exercises into your routine to develop them fully. 

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are really only involved in the initial pulling and hip extension aspect of the clean. The posterior chain is responsible for extending the hips and allowing you to produce more power during the lift. You’ll want to also add the Romanian deadlift and good morning to your routine for optimal hamstring development.


Who Should Do the Clean & Press

While the clean & press is technically an Olympic lifting variation, its benefits clearly go beyond that of improving your clean & jerk. You don’t have to be a weightlifter to get value out of the clean & press as part of your exercise routine. 

Strongmen

Strongman athletes must learn this movement as it is a staple of their training, whether it be with the log, circus dumbbell, or axle bar.

The clean & press itself may vary slightly based on the equipment used, however it is necessary for each lifter to understand how to move a heavy object from the floor, the to shoulder, and overhead as efficiently as possible.

Powerlifters 

Powerlifting enthusiasts can benefit from including the clean & press into their training as it can increase overall athleticism, power output, and help them increase neural drive necessary for more explosive reps in the bench press

By pressing instead of jerking the weight overhead, the technical demands are lower. This means powerlifters can get many of the same benefits as they would from the clean & jerk without needing to spend a large amount of training time and energy on the technique.

Olympic Lifters

The clean & press could be used to help strengthen the muscles used in the jerk. By not jerking the weight overhead, there are greater demands of upper body strength needed, which could be a novel way to program more upper body strength training in an Olympic weightlifting program.

General Fitness Enthusiasts

The clean & press is an effective and efficient movement to take a load from the floor to the overhead position. Learning how to do so proper will ensure that you’re well-prepared for any task that may present itself during a workout.


Clean & Press Programming Recommendations

Getting results off the page and into reality takes a smart approach to programming. Below are three sets, reps, and weight recommendations for properly programming the clean & press based on your training goal. 

Note that the below guidelines are here to offer coaches and athletes loose recommendations for programming, and shouldn’t be treated as gospel. 

To Improve Technique

The clean & press can be trained with light to moderate loads to develop proper positional awareness, timing, and foundational movement patterning necessary for more advanced training progressions. The key here is movement quality, timing, and precision. 

Start by performing three to five sets of three to five repetitions with light to moderate loads.

To Increase Power Output

In athletic preparation or off-season training, the clean & press is often used to improve athletic power output across a wide range of sports. If you’re interested in improving force development so you can sprint, tackle, dodge, throw, or leap better, the clean & press has a home in your regimen.

Stick with three to five sets of two to five reps using a weight that allows you to be powerful and smooth, yet still provides a moderate challenge.

To Improve Strength

To increase maximum strength, athletes need to work on lifting heavy loads and pushing close to their maximum effort. Clean & presses can be great for pushing the limits of strength if performed properly and with the right resistance. 

Perform multiple sets of one to three reps, with 80% of your best or more, to increase overall strength.


Clean & Press Variations & Alternatives

In an earlier article we discussed five barbell clean & press alternatives that coaches and athletes can use to increase strength, power, and fitness. Below, we will recap some of those variations.

[Related: Jerry Pritchett on Bridging the Gap Between Strongman & Powerlifting]

Dumbbell Clean & Press

The dumbbell clean & press is done with either one dumbbell or two, and can also be done similarly to the circus dumbbell press, a common strongman lift. This is a great movement that can also build unilateral strength and power, and be used to train the movement if a lifter cannot perform the clean & press with both arms due to an injury or other external factor. 

Log Clean & Press

This log bar clean & press variation involves a log bar, a large training tool often used in strongman competitions, but is now making its way into functional fitness training. The log is much larger and more cumbersome than a barbell, making it great for introducing some novelty into your routine if you know how to work with it.

Fat Bar Clean & Press

This is very similar to the barbell clean & press. The difference is the circumference of the bar which increases the grip strength demand, making it a two-for-one stimulus and a great overall performance enhancer. 

Clean & Jerk

The clean & jerk is similar to the clean & press. However, the athlete can perform a jerk to get the weight overhead. This is a good option for lifters who are able to produce more power and have better technique, as the jerk is a more intensive technical lift than the press or push press. 

Final Word

There’s no easy way to do the hard work required to get strong. That being said, picking the right tools for the job can smooth out the pavement on the road to strength & size. By including the clean & press into your training, you can get a lot of bang for your buck and make the most of your valuable time in the gym. 


Frequently Asked Questions

There are a lot of moving parts in an exercise like the clean & press. If you’ve gotten this far and still have some nagging inquiries, rest assured — the answers are readily available. 

Can beginners do the clean & press?

Yes. clean & presses are a good beginner movement as it can be trained with a variety of loads and equipment to suit your needs. It may be easier to learn this movement from starting the lift from the hang, rather than the floor, as you can work on partial pulls first rather than learning the entire full pull.

What is the difference between a clean & press and a clean & jerk?

The clean & press has the lifter take either strict press or push press the load overhead from the shoulders, whereas the clean & jerk has the lifter jerk the load overhead, without pressing the weight out.

How many sets and reps of the clean & press should I do?

Like everything in the gym, the devil is in the details. The specific sets and reps performed in the clean & press depend on what you want the exercise to do for you. As a general rule of thumb, lower reps and higher weight produce more strength and power, while the inverse can be true for improving work capacity and technique.

Featured Image: Andy Gin / Shutterstock 

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