The Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk: Unilateral Power and Strength

By Matt Walter
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Learn how to perform the dumbbell hang clean and jerk

The dumbbell hang clean and jerk is a weightlifting exercise that targets multiple muscle groups. It is a challenging movement, but makes for a great introduction to Olympic weightlifting for beginners. It has also become a regular at the CrossFit Games and daily WOD programming since the dumbbell was introduced during the 2017 CrossFit Open, so it’s a great movement to get comfortable with.

By the end of this article, you will understand how to perform the dumbbell hang clean and jerk, how to avoid the most common mistakes with this exercise, and the different hang positions and jerk variations available for you to choose from

I will cover:

  • How to perform the dumbbell hang clean and jerk
  • Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk
  • Benefits of the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk
  • Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Tips
  • Common Errors With the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk
  • Programming the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk
  • Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Variations

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Video:

How to Perform the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells.

Setup

Dumbbell Hang Clean Start

Step 1: Place a pair of dumbbells on the ground about shoulder-width apart, with their handles parallel to each other. Stand between the dumbbells with your toes pointed forward, hip-width apart.

Step 2: Keeping your back straight and your head neutral (not arched back), push your hips back (loaded hips), bend at the knees, and squat down to grab ahold of your dumbbells.

Step 3: Drive with your legs and rise to a standing position with the dumbbells held outside your legs.

Execution – Dumbbell Clean

Step 4: Bend your knees and hinge at the waist by driving your hips back until the dumbbells are hanging just above your knees. This is known as the hang position.

Dumbbell Hang Clean Hang Position

Movement Tip: You should feel tension in your hamstrings and glutes as you drop into the hang position.

Step 5: Drive with your legs and explosively extend your hips forward, rising up onto your toes. Your knees, hips, and chest should all rise at the exact same time. As your hips, knees, and ankles reach full extension, shrug your shoulder up toward your ears.

Dumbbell Hang Clean Hang Triple Extension

Form Tip: Your arms should still be fully extended at this point. Avoid an early arm bend.

Step 6: Aggressively pull your body beneath your dumbbells by raising your elbows high and to your sides. Keep the dumbbells as close to your body as possible.

Step 7: Continue pulling beneath the dumbbells, rotating your elbows around the dumbbells. Catch the dumbbells on your shoulders while dropping into a partial squat position, absorbing the downward momentum of your dumbbells.

Dumbbell Hang Clean Hang Partial Squat

Step 8: Follow the momentum of the dumbbells down into a full squat, with your hamstrings smashed into your calves.

Dumbbell Hang Clean Hang Full Squat

Step 9: Drive your feet against the floor and push powerfully with your legs to rebound out of the bottom of your squat. Stand tall with the dumbbells on your shoulders, held in a neutral grip (palms facing each other).

You are now in the starting position to perform the Jerk portion of the lift.

Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Starting Jerk Position

Related Posts: The Dumbbell Power Clean

Execution – The Jerk

Step 10: Inhale, brace your core, and maintain a proud chest. Keeping pressure spread over your whole foot (tripod foot), dip your body by bending your knees and ankles slightly. Maintain an upright torso!

Jerk Dip and Drive Position

Step 11: Push against the floor powerfully with your legs, jumping your feet off the ground and driving the dumbbells off your shoulders.

Step 12: Push your body beneath the dumbbells and split your dominant foot forward and your other foot backward as fast as possible. Catch the dumbells overhead with your arms fully extended.

Split Jerk Receiving Position

Split Form: The split stance has the front shin vertical to the floor and the front foot flat on the ground. The rear knee is slightly bent, with the rear foot up on the toes. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart, not directly in front of and behind you. Both arms are fully extended with the dumbbells held slightly behind your ears.

*I describe other Jerk options later in this article.

Step 13: Return to standing by stepping forward slightly with your front foot, then bringing your back foot up to meet your front. Lower the dumbbells to your shoulders, then lean forward slightly and lower the dumbbells to your thighs.

Points Of Performance

  • Deadlift the dumbbells to a fully standing position, then drop to the hang position
  • Extend hips and knees rapidly
  • Shoulders shrug, followed by a pull under with the arms
  • Dumbbells are received in a partial squat
  • momentum drives you to a full squat, then rebound to fully standing
  • Torso dips straight down
  • Hips and legs extend rapidly, then press under the dumbbells
  • Receive the dumbbells in a partial squat
  • Bring feet together, front foot first
  • Complete when hips, knees, and arms reach extension

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

The dumbbell hang clean and jerk is a true full-body exercise. It activates the muscles in your shoulders, triceps, forearms, core, low back, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

The trapezius and deltoids are targeted during the second pull of the hang clean.

The glutes, quads, and adductors are targeted during the hip extension and squat

The hamstrings, calves, low back, and core are targeted during the descent into the hang and when receiving the dumbbells on the shoulders.

The deltoids and triceps are targeted during the jerk.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

Benefits of the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

Dumbbell hang cleans are great for developing power, strength, coordination, agility, and speed in athletes and people of all fitness levels.

And, because this exercise works most of the muscles in your body it is a high-calorie-burning exercise and requires significant work from your cardiovascular system. Great for fat calorie burning, great for heart and lung health!

Dumbbell hang cleans are usually easier for new athletes who haven’t yet mastered the full clean. The exercise can help athletes develop a better grasp on the third pull of the clean and minimize early elbow bending.

Dumbbells are much less restrictive than barbells. The barbell wedges you in place and often compels new athletes to work around the bar rather than with it. Because the dumbbells hang at your sides during this movement, it’s simple to keep them close to your body. This lowers stress on your back and shoulders while also allowing you to concentrate on hip and leg drive and extension.

The jerk is also easier to learn with dumbbells. With a barbell, you must get your head out of the way as the bar travels in a straight path up and over your head. Dumbbells sit at the sides of your head, giving them a straight path with no obstruction. And you’ll learn very quickly if you are weak on one side!

This also makes them a great exercise for fitness enthusiasts and the general population who want the benefits of Olympic lifting without having to learn the complex series of movements required to perform the Olympic lifts perfectly and safely.

Dumbbell hang cleans are an excellent whole-body exercise. They are ideal on days that you are short on time but still want to get a killer workout in.

Related: How to Perform the Dumbbell Hang Clean

Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Tips

The following tips will help you get the most out of this movement.

Use your legs! Power comes from your legs and hips. Don’t do all the lifting with your arms, back, and shoulders.

The entire clean portion of the lift should be one continuous motion.

Don’t look down. Your head should stay neutral, looking forward or just slightly upward.

Keep your back straight and core tight. Bending your back or not bracing your core will diminish your power output. It’s better to use less weight and proper form than risk injury with sloppy mechanics.

There are three primary hang positions:

  • High-Hang: Upper thigh, just below the hip crease
  • Hang (or mid-hang): Anywhere from knees to mid-thigh
  • Low-Hang: Anywhere off the floor to below the knees

The dumbbell hang clean is typically performed using the hang (mid-hang), but any of the hang positions will work.

This is a dumbbell hang clean, not a dumbbell hang power clean. During a power clean, you receive the dumbbells in a partial squat and stand immediately. During a full squat clean, you receive the weight in a partial squat and allow momentum to drive you into a full squat. Both are great movements but have slightly different focuses.

Power movements require you to elevate the weight very high and to get beneath the weight very quickly. Full squat versions allow you to use more weight and will focus more on the quadriceps as you complete your full squat to standing.

Jerk Options

The split jerk is typically the option that allows you to lift the most weight. You end up with the most stable base and shortest distance to drop below the weight.

But it requires a lot of practice, coordination, and balance.

Here are all of the possible jerk options explained. They are all great options! Choose the one that works best for you, your goals, and the workout in particular.

Split Jerk

I described this one above. One leg extends in front of you, the other behind you. Feet should land in a shoulder-width stance, not directly in front of and behind you. This is like performing a partial jumping lunge with a wide landing.

Push Press

Video: Dumbbell Hang Clean and Push Press

This is not technically a jerk, it’s more of an assisted military press.

Flex your knees and hips as described above and dip into a partial squat. Drive straight up, forcing the dumbbells off your shoulders. Use your deltoids and triceps, along with the momentum created by your legs, to press the dumbbells overhead to lockout.

If the workout calls for a jerk, don’t do these. Typically the workout will specify.

Push Jerk

Video: Dumbbell Hang Clean and Push Jerk

This is similar to the push press, except with an additional dip to help catch the dumbbells. This makes it a much stronger movement than the push press.

Flex your knees and hips as described above and dip into a partial squat. Drive straight up, forcing the dumbbells off your shoulders. Push your body beneath the dumbbells using your deltoid and triceps, and redip your body to catch the dumbbells in a partial squat position with your arms fully extended. Do not move your feet.

Push with your legs to return to a fully standing position with the dumbbells overhead.

Power Jerk

Video: Dumbbell Hang Clean and Power Jerk

This is almost exactly like the push jerk, except you jump your feet off the ground and move them slightly outward from where you started. This creates more power than the push jerk, allowing you to lift more weight.

Flex your knees and hips as described above and dip into a partial squat. Drive straight up, forcing the dumbbells off your shoulders. Push your body beneath the dumbbells using your deltoid and triceps, jump your feet off the ground, and redip your body to catch the dumbbells in a partial squat position with your arms fully extended and your feet landing slightly wider than where they started.

Push with your legs to return to a fully standing position with the dumbbells overhead.

Squat Jerk

Video: Dumbbell Hang Clean and Squat Jerk

This is potentially the strongest of the jerks, equal to the split jerk for those who learn it well. But it requires incredible balance and mobility in your shoulders and mid-back.

Flex your knees and hips as described above and dip into a partial squat. Drive straight up, forcing the dumbbells off your shoulders. Drive against the dumbbells with your shoulders and triceps to push your body beneath the weights and catch the dumbbells in a partial squat with your arms fully extended.

Allow the weight and momentum of the dumbbells to force you down into a full squat with your hamstrings pressed against your calves. Rebound out of the bottom and return to a fully standing position with the dumbbells overhead.

Common Errors With the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

Identify and avoid the following common errors with the dumbbell hang clean and jerk.

Bringing Your Shoulders Too Far Forward

When you drop to the hang position, you don’t want your shoulders to fall too far ahead. This shifts the weight away from your center of mass, making it less efficient and powerful, and increasing the risk of injury.

Instead, drive your hips back, bend your knees, and keep your back straight.

Not Fully Extending Your Hips and Knees

You won’t be able to use all of your posterior chain muscles if you don’t extend your hips and knees fully at the top of the dumbbell hang clean. As a result, you’ll have less power and muscle activation overall.

I’m notorious for this! I am very quick to get under the weight, and not nearly patient enough to get full extension of my hips, knees, and ankles! This is something I definitely work at.

Make sure you extend your hips and knees fully at the top of the movement, rising up onto your toes with your hips in front of your body. Focus on driving your hips forward and squeezing your glutes hard to ensure full extension.

If you’re like me, keep the weight light and practice holding at different positions. You need to create the connection between your mind and body of what each position needs to feel like.

Letting Your Elbows Drop

You want your elbows to be high, your upper arms parallel with the ground. If your elbows drop, you put extra strain on your wrists and low back, increasing your risk of injury. And it makes it much more difficult to stand up out of the squat because you’re being pulled forward.

Once you catch the dumbbells, think of driving your elbows to the ceiling.

Moving the Dumbbells Away From Your Body

The dumbbells should travel in a straight line upwards. This is the shortest and strongest path for the dumbbells to take. When you let the dumbbells travel away from your body you create a longer pull and get less power out of your hips and quads.

It also places additional stress on your lower back. Keeping the dumbbells close to your body allows for the greatest possible route and places the least stress on your back.

To avoid this error, think about pulling the dumbbells straight into your armpits, and lighten the weight if necessary.

Not Bending Your Knees Enough

If you don’t bend your knees enough when dropping into the hang position, you won’t be able to generate the required power to raise the dumbbells. You’ll wind up performing a Romanian deadlift rather than an Olympic clean. This is usually caused by a lack of ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility.

Programming the Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

Here are 3 awesome CrossFit-style dumbbell hang clean and jerk workouts to give a try!

6 Rounds For Time

  • 200m Run
  • 6 Burpee Box Jump Overs, 24/20″
  • 12 Dumbbell Hang Clean & Jerk (6 Per Arm), 50/35 lbs
  • 24 Double Unders

12-9-6-3 Reps for Time

  • Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerks
  • Weighted Pull-Ups
  • *Use one of the dumbbells for your weighted pull-ups
  • Men RX: 50# DBs
  • Women RX: 35#

AMRAP 16 minutes

30 Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerks, 50/35 lbs

  • 25/18 Calorie Assault Bike
  • 20 Lateral Barbell Burpees
  • 15 Deadlifts, 245/165 lbs

Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Variations

Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk Variations

Try the variations to target different muscle groups.

Dumbbell Hang Power Clean and Jerk

Catch the dumbbells in a partial squat, pause, and then return to standing without dropping into a full squat.

  • Focus more on the posterior chain and glutes
  • requires you to elevate the dumbbells higher and drop under them quicker
  • Great for developing explosive hips and quickness in the third pull

Dumbbell High-Hang Clean and Jerk

Hinge at the waist and bend at the knees, but do not allow the dumbbells to hang past your mid-thighs.

  • Focus more on the shoulders, traps, and upper back
  • Develops quick hips

Dumbbell Low-Hang Clean and Jerk

Hinge at the waist and bend at the knees, lowering the dumbbells until they are between mid-shin and below your knees.

  • Better for developing the quadriceps
  • Can likely move more weight because you have more time to develop upward momentum

Change the Jerk

Choose any combination of hang position and style of a jerk.

The lower the hang and the further you allow yourself to drop beneath the dumbbells, the stronger you’ll be and the more mobility required. Better for overall strength.

The higher the hang and the smaller the jerk, the more explosive you have to be at the hip, and the quicker you’ll need to be to get beneath the dumbbells. Better for speed and quickness.

One-Arm Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

This exercise is performed just like the two-arm version, but requires more stability from your core muscles to prevent twisting.

This makes it a great core strengthening exercise! You can also perform this with a single kettlebell.

Kettlebell Hang Clean and Jerk

Swap out the dumbbells for kettlebells.

The biggest difference when switching to kettlebells is you’ll swing the kettlebells between your legs instead of keeping them at your sides.

Perform a kettlebell clean, catching the bells on your shoulders. Then jerk them overhead, twisting your hands during the ascent and ending with your palms facing forward, the KB resting on your forearm extensors (shown below).

Single-Arm Kettlebell Clean and Jerk

If you’re weightlifting or training for hypertrophy, save up and get a set. You’ll want a variety of weights to follow your progressive overload pattern. If you’re into functional fitness or just want to get in shape, pick up a pair of 35s or 50s.

Titan Fitness Hex DBs – these are inexpensive as far as dumbbells go, but they’re good quality. I have a pair of 50s and they’ve lasted.

Rogue Hex DBs (singles or sets) – I love the contour of the handles on these. And they’re indestructible. I drop mine a lot!

Conclusion: The Dumbbell Hang Clean and Jerk

The dumbbell hang clean and jerk is a great exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at once. It’s also a great way to develop explosive power and quickness and is a great introduction to Olympic weightlifting. If you enjoy functional fitness, add these to your routine, and experiment with different hang positions and jerk variations for optimal results.

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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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