Olympic weightlifting, which consists of the clean and jerk and the snatch, is one of the most purely athletic events in the games’ lineup of sports. The strongest, most technically gifted lifters are the ones who walk away victorious, their sinewy necks, traps and delts adorned with shiny medals. This sport is simply about who can separate a loaded barbell from the floor and hoist it overhead with the greatest precision and consistency.
Though both lifts require skill and practice, the clean and jerk — which is a supercharged hybrid of a deadlift, a clean and a push press — can help any lifter build strength, size, speed and athleticism. “The clean and jerk is used in athletics to develop explosive force and power,” says Rob MacIntyre, CSCS, strength consultant for World Wrestling Entertainment and a certified USA Weightlifting coach. “It trains your whole body rather than focusing on a single bodypart, helping you coordinate all the muscle that you have built doing bodybuilding exercises.”
“It’s well-known in athletics that someone with a 400-pound clean and jerk is much more dangerous than someone with a 400-pound bench press,” MacIntyre says. “But no matter how strong you are, mastering the clean and jerk takes time. It takes a high level of skill and athleticism to be proficient at it.” Here are his top five tips for conquering this bad-boy Olympic lift.
1. FROM THE FLOOR
Getting the bar off the floor is the first task. To do it right, think like you’re performing a deadlift. “Keep your elbows out over the bar and fists pointed at the ground,” MacIntyre says. “Keep your back flat and squeeze off the ground like a deadlift. Don’t try to start fast.”
2. THE CLEAN
“When the bar passes your knees, forcefully extend your ankles, knees and hips like you’re jumping while quickly shrugging with your traps with your arms straight,” he says. “Next, pull yourself under the bar. To do this, your elbows must remain pointed up — as in an upright row — rather than back, once your arms bend. This helps keeps the bar close to your body. Then quickly catch it in a front-squat position across the shoulders, dropping into a full front squat. Remember to whip the elbows forward under the bar as fast as you can so that they are pointing forward to give you a good shelf for the bar.”
3. THE JERK
“Adjust your hands as needed, grasping the bar as you would for an overhead press,” MacIntyre says. “Take a deep breath, squat down slightly and explode upward like a push press but with more force. Drive yourself under the bar while splitting your legs, one forward and one back, as in a partial lunge. Recover by moving your feet back underneath you, standing with the bar overhead. This completes the lift.”
4. FOLLOW GYM ETIQUETTE
“There is no eccentric motion to the Olympic lifts,” MacIntyre explains. “Once it’s up, you simply drop the bar.” That’s fine if you’re working out in an old-school weightlifting gym, which has the proper rubber-coated plates and the reinforced flooring, but for most of us, that’s not the case. Instead, bring down the weight in the same pathway you lifted it — it may compromise your total, but that’s better than compromising your gym membership.
5. STRENGTH IN PHASES
If the lift seems too daunting to practice in its entirety, consider performing it in pieces — deadlifts, shrugs, upright rows, etc. — until you master each phase. Hang cleans, which are cleans performed from an already-standing position, the bar at midthigh, are a good way to master the crucial clean and catch,” MacIntyre says. “This allows you to concentrate on the explosive part of the lift without worrying about pulling from the floor.”
Rob MacIntyre, CSCS, is a Florida-based strength consultant for World Wrestling Entertainment, a personal strength coach to actor/wrestler John Cena and a certified USA Weightlifting coach. For more information, visit hardnockssouth.com.