Clean and Jerk – What You Need to Know

Do you want to master Control, Balance, Agility, and Speed and also gain Explosive Power? 

You do? Then add the clean and jerk power lift to your weekly fitness training.

The clean and jerk is one of two fundamental Olympic lifts, of which there are many derivatives. This two-handed, two-stage lift, has been around since 1896. That’s well before the other main Olympic lift, the snatch.

With the clean and jerk workout, you can lift up to 20% more load than you can with the snatch. The IWF outline the differences between these two fundamental Olympic lifts.

For your clean and jerk record, generally, this move has a narrow grip, takes around 10seconds from start to finish, and has an important final catch. The clean and jerk power lift is performed in two phases.

Phase 1, the Clean, ends when the bar is balancing on the shoulders and the athlete is upright, following a squat. Phase 2, the Jerk, is the lift from the shoulders to an overhead press. Let’s have a look at this process in more detail.

Popular Clean and Jerk FAQs: 

What muscles do clean and jerk work?

Clean and Jerk Muscles Worked

The clean and jerk benefits the whole body and targets many muscles groups, tendons, and joints, such as:

Legs

Quads in the thighs and hamstrings in the upper leg.

Back

Traps in the shoulders. 

Stomach

Abs and obliques.

Arms

Triceps, biceps, and forearms.

That’s a full range of benefits, including helping to improve posture and protecting you from heart disease.

How much should I be able to clean and jerk vs bodyweight?

If you’re a beginner then it’s important to build up your stamina slowly to avoid injury. Use a schedule such as the one suggested below:

Session 1 

Begin with 3 Sets of 5 reps at around one-third of your own bodyweight.

Session 2 

Keeping the same weight, continue with 3 sets but increase the reps to 8.

Session 3

When you’re at 3 sets x 8 reps comfortably, add more weight to around two-thirds of your own bodyweight.

Session 4

Keeping the weight and amount of sets the same, aim to increase the reps to 10. 

Session 5

Now you’re ready to aim for varying weights in each of your 3 sets, as follows: 

  • Set 1 x 10 reps at one-third of your body weight.
  • Set 2 x 10 reps at half of your body weight.
  • Set 3 x 10 reps at two-thirds of your body weight.

Session 6

Time for the ultimate goal of increasing the weights:

  • Set 1 x 10 reps at half your body weight.
  • Set 2 x 10 reps at two-thirds of your body weight.
  • Set 3 x 2 10 reps equal to your body weight.

Get some great tips from Jim Schmitz, US Olympic weightlifting coach.

How often can I clean and Jerk?

Beginners should look to achieving around 3 sessions per week.  Each session should include at least 4 different body training movements in a 40-minute session. 

Within these 3 sessions, including the Clean and Jerk, using the tips we’ve outlined in this article.

It’s advisable to include a warm-up session of light weights at 3 reps and medium weight at 3 reps. Then, go on to perform the reps and weights we’ve suggested, until you reach your maximum load. At that point, it’s a case of improving your technique and building up the muscles. 

Perform this workout every other day to make sure you rest the muscles you’re working on and avoid injury.

How to clean and jerk

CLEAN__JERK__Olympic_weightlifting

Stance

Standing straight, part the feet at hip-width distance, and turn out the toes slightly. Keep the head up and forwards and the back straight as you begin to squat down for the bar. 

Grab

Place the hands at shoulder-width apart on the bar, taking an overhand grip.

Technique

Step 1

This part of the move should be done in one motion. It is one smooth lift from the floor to the shoulder line, as follows: 

With bar slightly brushing up against the shins, lift it past the knees. Continue up and past the thighs, pushing the load through your feet as you lift. As the bar passes the midriff, your shoulders will shrug with the strain.

This is where your elbows need to rotate outwards and forwards. This will direct the bar to the collarbone level and keep it close to the body. You’ll find that your wrist falls backward. Take the weight through the top of the shoulders at this point. 

Pause and take a deep breath before the final move. 

Step 2

This is the part that pushes the bar into an overhead position. As you take the load from shoulders to overhead, allow your knees to bend a little, so you can take the load through your feet. If you have a heavy load, you may find it easier to do a slight squat of the body.

Once the knees have bent, the feet will jump slightly as the load is pushed upwards in the lift. Stretch the arms upwards as they hold the bar above the headline, with locked knees. At this point, your body will be in a straight line.

Step 3

This should be done at speed as you allow the bar back down again, using bent elbows. Wrists will move back to overhand grip as you take the bar down to the thighs. You can now put the bar to the floor, or drop it.

These instructions are for one rep only. Adjust your load for each rep if necessary. Some people prefer to use a squat move to help them with the lift, others prefer to use a smaller knee bend. Much depends on the weight of the load and how much power you need to put behind the Lift.

See these two different videos as examples: 

Example 1 is the clean and jerk with a squat.

Example 2 is the clean and jerk with a slight knee bend.

Conclusion

The Clean and Jerk is an explosive exercise. It’s also a versatile exercise that you can perform with other gym equipment besides barbells. Try the dumbbell clean and jerk, or even the Kettlebell clean and jerk. There’s no doubt that the dynamics of Olympic Lifting are technical and challenging. Done incorrectly, it could lead to permanent injury. 

It’s all about getting the complexity of the movements right, such as squatting while you hold a heavy load. Get that wrong and you could injure your back. The stance must be stable, or you run the risk of hurting yourself. 

Once you have mastered the fundamental movements of the Clean and Jerk, you can go on to learn many of the derivatives of Olympic lifting.

Is it worth it? Such training takes great dedication and commitment. Be prepared, keep it safe, and the rewards of improving your lifting skills and gaining strength are colossal. 

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