Barbell Clean and Jerk Basics

The barbell clean and jerk is a complex lift that helps build explosive power and strength and can even help improve mobility.

The barbell clean and jerk — on full display earlier this year at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — has gained a tremendous amount of popularity in recent years and for good reason. It is a complex lift that helps build explosive power and strength and can even help improve mobility. Some people refrain from doing the clean and jerk because it has a bit of a learning curve and requires patience and persistence to do correctly. But with the right approach, access to reliable coaching and belief that you can do it, the clean and jerk can be an invaluable strength tool. So if you are ready to build some serious muscle, improve your strength and boost performance, it’s time to put skepticism about this lift aside and get after it.


What Is the Clean and Jerk?

The clean and jerk is one of the two lifts used in Olympic weightlifting — the other being the snatch — and it consists of two stages. The first stage, called the clean, is a lift where the barbell is picked up from the floor and placed on the shoulders in one explosive motion. After a pause, the athlete goes to the second stage of the motion. In this second stage, the athlete thrusts the barbell into an overhead position while placing the legs in a partial lunge position (one leg in front of the other). The athlete then comes to a standing position to complete the lift. Although it is a complex lift, anyone can learn how to perform it.

The Clean-and-Jerk Breakdown

Assume a shoulder-width stance with the barbell resting right above the connection between the toes and the rest of the foot.

Bend at the knees, keep the back flat and grab the bar using a pronated, shoulder-width grip.

Start lifting the bar by driving your feet through the floor as in a max-effort deadlift.

Once the bar reaches the middle of your thighs, elevate your shoulders in a powerful shrugging motion while your feet jump up. As the bar continues upward, you “jump” (move quickly) under the bar and “catch” the weight in the front rack position. At the end of this step, you should be at the bottom of a front squat position; the bar is right under the chin, elbows are held high in front of you, upper arms parallel to the ground and your knees are bent in a squat. (Caution: If your elbows touch your knees this will invalidate the lift.)

Without pausing, you must quickly and forcefully extend at your hips and knees, exhaling as you pass the halfway point of the lift. At the top, pause briefly to catch your breath in preparation for the final part of the lift.

Dip down by bending your knees before you raise the bar overhead and push your feet back into the floor as you dip. Since you will be pressing up as you begin the move, at first the bar comes down a bit but then goes back up. This phase is akin to a heavy push-press with a little flair.

Place your feet with one leg forward and the other one back so that you “fall” into a lunge position. From this position, once the weight is stable overhead, step back into a standing position, hold for a count, then drop the weight safely in front of you.

Grinnell’s C&J Tips

1. If seriously considering competition, I would advise getting a qualified coach. Find one today at USA Weightlifting.

2. Always use a weight you can handle. An empty bar or a PVC pipe are good choices for learning the basics of the movement.

3. Focus on completing the lift and not on the weight. Try to avoid missing a lift when you’re first starting out — you aren’t going for max weight anyway.

4. Practice often. This is a skill lift that relies heavily upon your central nervous system. It’s not necessarily a “muscle” movement, so proper neural pathways have to be established to develop proficiency.