How To Do A Barbell Clean And Jerk

Most commonly seen in Olympic weightlifting, the clean and jerk is one of the most difficult exercises to master. 

Renowned for being a key exercise for building strength, it’s widely used in various disciplines such as CrossFit, and is a great way to build muscle and progress. 

It’s also an incredibly complex move. However, there are so many benefits to be had from doing them as well as working up to them. And they’re an excellent way to supplement your training.  

To show you how to get to grips with the clean and jerk, we invited Norwich CrossFit Spitfire coach Sheena Valentina into the Mirafit studio. This was a great opportunity to break down the individual elements that make up the clean and (split) jerk.  

Below, we also go through some of the best exercises you can do to supplement your training. These will help you build up to doing a clean and jerk, as well as improve it. 

Get kitted out 

In the video, Sheena uses our Technique Bar. This is a 4ft 2.5kg weight bar used for practising weightlifting moves. It’s ideal for repetitive work where you want to concentrate on form and technique while avoiding fatigue from using a full-size 20kg weight bar. 

It has a knurled centre to help mimic a traditional weight bar. And it can also be used with up to 20kg of 2” Olympic bumper or plastic plates. 

Beginner's guide to the clean and jerk 

Before you begin your clean and jerk, you need to make sure you’re set up right:

  • Feet should be hip width apart 
  • Hands need to be slightly wider than your shoulders  
  • Make sure your feet are flat and your toes are pointing forwards 

Hang position 

Firstly, you need to go down into a hang position: 

  • Dip down and push your glutes out 
  • Keep your arms straight and as you bend and lower the bar down to knee height 

Power clean 

Then you’re looking to power clean the bar up: 

  • From the hang position, bring the bar back up as you push your hips forward 
  • Move up onto your toes 
  • Shrug your shoulders up 
  • Pull the bar under as you get ready to adjust your grip 
  • Move quickly to press under the bar 
  • As you do this you need to spring up from your toes and move your elbows around quickly 
  • The bar will land in the finished clean grip position 
  • Once you have ‘received’ the bar, your elbows should be raised and horizontal with the floor  
  • And your hands will be slightly wider than your shoulders  
  • The bar will be in contact with your front delts 

Split jerk 

Following the power clean is the split jerk: 

  • Dip back down with the bar still in the power clean position 
  • Next you need to press the bar up so that your arms are straight and your chest is elevated 
  • Your feet should move into the split jerk at the same time – this is where you drive one foot forward and one foot back 
  • Your front foot should be flat as you land and your back foot on your toes 
  • Then bring your front foot back so that it’s level with your back foot 
  • Stand up straight with the bar straight up above your head 

To reset, bring the bar back down into the clean position while standing up straight. And then finish with the technique bar back down by your thighs. 

Clean and jerk benefits 

Although difficult to learn, there are so many benefits from including the clean and jerk in your training: 

  • All over body strength – the clean and jerk uses practically every muscle in the body. So, doing them regularly is not only an efficient way to train, but will also help you build overall muscle. 
  • Builds power – training explosively helps to build speed and power. 
  • A functional way to train – the range of movement needed for the clean and jerk allows you to work your joints as well as your stabilising muscles. Doing this, in turn, helps to improve your functional fitness levels. 
  • Metabolic movement – the clean and jerk is a compound movement. It’s performed quickly and involves a lot of exertion in one go. Doing this stresses the body – but in a good way – as it helps to burn energy as well as improve your metabolic rate. 
  • A new challenge – if you’ve been working out for a while and you’re looking for a challenge, doing a more complex move such as the clean and jerk is going to benefit your training tenfold. Not only will it give you a new focus but breaking it down and working on each specific part will really help you improve your other lifts. 

Exercises to help improve your clean and jerk 

Whether you’re looking to start doing the clean and jerk, or simply want to improve your current form, there are lots of exercises you can do to improve. 

Below are our top nine exercises you can do to get better at doing the clean and jerk. Each one targets a specific area. Make a note of your weight loads and work on your weak links to progress your form. 

As well as using a barbell to practise, it’s also a good idea to use dumbbells and kettlebells to help avoid imbalances. 

The exercises: 

1) Deadlifts 

These will help build up your hamstrings and lower back. They’re also great for working on your grip strength as well as your power clean. 

2) Goblet squat 

Doing these specifically with a dumbbell will help you work on your wrist flexibility, as well as your quads and hip flexors. 

3) Dumbbell shoulder presses  

Shoulder strength is vital for driving up into the press part of the jerk. And training with dumbbells will help you focus your control as well as avoid any asymmetries. 

4) Wrist rolls 

Grip, wrist and forearm strength are not areas we regularly target but they’re fundamental for complex lifts like this. That’s why it’s so important to work these areas in order to progress. Build wrist strength using a wrist roller and a kettlebell to help you improve your cleans as well as shift more weight.  

5) Kettlebell overhead lunge 

Lunges are great for targeting your glutes. Especially as they don’t rely on hip flexibility to work the posterior chain. Do these while holding a kettlebell over your head. This is great for working your stabilising muscles as well as your shoulder strength and mobility.  

Finally, using a kettlebell is also great for building wrist strength. Use one kettlebell at a time and swap sides after each set.  

You can perform walking lunges with these as well. 

6) Knee raises 

Hanging from a pull up bar, bring your knees up to your chest. These exercises will work your lower core as well as your wrists and grip strength. 

Add in some pull ups and you’ll be working your back too. 

7) Bent over rows 

Another great exercise for working on your form as well as your lats and middle back. 

8) Shrugs 

Getting the barbell from the hanging position up into a finished clean position is one of the hardest parts of the clean and jerk. And upper back and shoulder strength really come into it. Shrugs are a great way to help you get better at this move. 

You can use dumbbells, a barbell or even a shrug bar

9) Barbell power clean 

Breaking down the clean and jerk is key for improving your form, strength and technique. By practising power cleans, you’ll inevitably improve your clean and jerk.  

Start off with a technique bar and then work up to a barbell when you feel ready. 

Looking to get into CrossFit? Check out our CrossFit equipment to help you get started. 

And if you have any questions, you can find us on Instagram @MirafitOfficial.