The Hang Clean: How to Perform this Explosive Exercise Correctly

By Matt Walter
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Learn how to perform and program the hang clean

The hang clean is a variation of the full squat clean. It can be used by athletes of all levels to improve their explosive power, increase strength, and increase metabolic conditioning. In this article, we will detail how to perform the hang clean correctly, including step-by-step instructions with pictures and videos. We will also discuss who should use this exercise in their training program and how to program it.

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Table of Contents

Video: Hang Clean Demonstration

How to Perform the Hang Clean: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Approach a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, secure your core, shoulders back, and chest up.

Step 2: Squat down and grasp the barbell with a clean grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Push through your mid-foot (your weight balanced evenly across your whole foot) and stand with the barbell, keeping the bar close to your body.

Coach’s Tip: Use a hook grip. A hook grip is a method of gripping the barbell where the palms face the body, but the thumb hooks around the bar (closer to your body) and is secured under your four fingers that grip the bar on the side away from your body.

Step 3: Hinge at the waist, push your butt back (known as loading your hips), and lower the bar under control to your chosen hang position (most often at the mid-thigh or just above or below your knees). Keep your back straight (neutral spine), head up, and your eyes forward during this motion. Your arms should be fully extended. This is the starting position for the hang clean.

Coach’s Tip: While you will bend slightly at the knees to get into the hang position, don’t allow your knees to travel forward.

Step 4: Once you are in the hang position, begin the clean by pushing against the floor with your legs, driving your feet through the platform. Drive and extend your hips forward aggressively, keeping the bar close to your body. The bar will contact your upper thighs as you reach full extension.

Coach’s Tip: If you have longer arms, try moving your grip out beyond shoulder width. The wider your grip, the shorter they become. You want the barbell to contact your upper thighs. when you fully extend your hips. If you notice that you are always contacting your thighs too low, widen your grip.

Step 5: Once you reach full extension (up on your toes, hips forward, shoulders back, traps shrugged to your ears, arms straight), jump and slide your feet out into your squat stance while pulling your elbows high and to the sides to pull yourself under the bar. Swing your elbows around, forward, and up into your clean rack position (front squat position) and catch the barbell in a partial squat.

Coach’s Tip: Keep the bar as close to your body as possible throughout the entire movement. If you are wearing a t-shirt you will likely feel the barbell pull your shirt up as the bar travels.

Step 6: Allow the downward momentum of the barbell to push you into a full squat. Stabilize yourself with the bar in a deep squat, then drive your feet through the floor to complete a front squat. End in a standing position with the barbell across your shoulders.

Coach’s Tip: Think “elbows up” as you stand. This cue will help you maintain a vertical torso and resist the forward pull of the barbell.

The 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

Hang Clean Notes

There are two methods of getting into the hang position. The method detailed above is to stand fully first, then drop into the hang. This is the official hang clean. You can also raise the bar from the floor directly to your desired hang position without fully standing first. While still a clean from the hang position, this is technically a segment clean or pause clean.

I recommend the first method for beginners, which is why I went into detail about it. The hang clean is a great step on the way to learning the full clean from the floor because it allows you to focus on the second and third pulls without worrying about the first pull from the floor. New athletes tend to get out of position easily during the first pull, which can solidify inefficient form.

By starting from a fully standing position and dropping into the hang, new athletes have a better chance of learning the second pull from the correct position with solid form. When you are a seasoned athlete and are using hang cleans as a specific training tool you can begin to skip fully standing, saving your energy.

Straps are not recommended for any clean variation due to the risk of a wrist injury. The front rack position places your elbows and triceps in line with your thighs. And they get rather close to each other during the squat portion of the movement. With any clean movement, there is the chance that your triceps or elbows may come in contact with your thighs. If your hands are locked to the barbell with wrist straps, you may not be able to release your grip on the bar if this happens and break your wrists.

Do Not Use Straps With Clean Variations

Because there are so many hang positions, the intended position of the barbell in the hang should be specified during programming. If no specific position is mentioned, the most common starting point will be just above the knees.

The Purpose of the Hang Clean

For Beginners

The hang clean, along with the hang power clean, is a fantastic exercise for beginners to learn the full Olympic clean. Learning abbreviated variations before full movements is known as the top-down method, and is widely used because of its success. The shortened movement helps ensure correct positioning and balance at the start of the second pull.

Learn the high hang first, then move the bar lower on your thighs to the mid-hang, hang, and finally the low hang. With this method, you continuously build precision at lower and lower bar positions until you are finally ready for a full squat clean from the floor.

For Weightlifters

The hang clean is useful for increasing force production in the extension and a more forceful pull beneath the bar due to the shortened time and distance available to accelerate and raise the bar.

The hang clean also serves as a light training day during a typical week of Olympic lifting. Athletes will commonly practice the clean 2-3 times each week, but performing the full clean, especially with high percentages, is very taxing. Hang cleans are inherently lighter than full cleans. This allows athletes to work on clean techniques several times each week without overtraining.

For Athletes

Athletes can use the hang clean to improve power production and explosive strength. These improvements in strength and power directly translate to performance on the field or in the ring.

For Functional Fitness Athletes

CrossFit regularly programs variations of the clean, so practicing the hang clean will directly impact your performance.

For the General Population

Hang cleans are useful for helping you stay strong and able to complete normal day-to-day activities. The ability to pick an object up off the floor seems trivial until you can’t do it without pain anymore. The hang clean will improve strength in the postures necessary for picking up objects, whether that be your groceries or your grandkids.

Programming the Hang Clean

Hang clean reps should be kept to 1-3 per set.

For technique work: keep weights between 50 and 75% or less of your 1 rep max for multiple sets of 3-5 reps.

To develop aggressiveness in the second pull: use 75% or more of your 1 rep max (you want heavy weights here).

For light training days: use 75-85% or more of your 1 rep max.

*percentages are based on your 1 rep max hang clean

Variations of the Hang Clean

Any starting position above the floor is considered a hang clean

The hang clean can be done from any hang position. Any starting point above the floor itself qualifies as a hang clean.

Hang cleans can be performed with or without a pause in the hang position.

The Hang Clean High Pull begins exactly the same as the traditional hang clean, but you do not drop under the barbell or catch it in the front rack. This allows you to use more weight than you could for a hang clean, making it a great exercise for developing power.

To perform the hang clean high pull:

Step 1: Start with the bar in any hang position.
Step 2: Explode upwards, keeping your elbows high and pulling the bar close to your chest.
Step 3: At the top of the second pull, shrug your shoulders and continue pulling the bar until your elbows are as high as you can pull them.
Step 4: Lower the bar back down to the hang position and repeat.

Common Mistakes With the Hang Clean

Even though the hang clean is an abbreviated, beginner-friendly Olympic exercise, it still is a complex movement. Pay attention to the following common errors.

Bar Travels Away From the Body

The barbell should travel in a straight line directly up. Keep the bar close to your body and do not allow it to push forward and away from you. Not only is this inefficient, it causes additional stress on your low back.

Improper Grip-Width

Begin with your hands just outside shoulder-width, or a couple of inches outside of each leg. If you have long arms you may need to move your hands even further out.

Ideally, the bar should contact the upper third of your thighs, just below your hip flexors, when you drive your hips forward to cause upward momentum on the bar. If the bar hits too low on your thighs it will be pushed away from your body instead of moving upward.

Adjust until you find the best grip for you.

Pulling With Your Arms

Your arms are not strong. No one is biceps curling 400+ pounds. Your legs and hips need to do the work in order to have a strong clean. In order for your legs and hips to do their job, your arms need to stay fully extended through the second pull.

Often people try to pull with their arms when the weight gets heavy. Your arms notice the heavy load of the barbell and instinctively contract. Avoid this! Bend your knees, drive through your feet, shrug your shoulders, and pull under the bar when the time is right.

Dropping Your Elbows

In order to have a strong rack position and to stand up with a heavy barbell in the front rack, your elbows must stay high.

Dropping the Elbows in the Rack Position

There are two common reasons for dropping your elbows during a lift: the weight is just too heavy and you weren’t able to get your arms into position fast enough, or you lack mobility in your lats and triceps.

improving your flexibility and strength in these muscles can help improve spinal extension, allowing you to get your elbows into the correct position for the front rack.

Improper Landing

When you catch the barbell in the front rack, your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your knees bent. You want to be in a strong and stable position to support the weight of the barbell.

Make sure your feet land flat, with your weight distributed evenly across your whole foot. You should not land with your heels elevated or up on your toes.

Landing with your heels elevated is usually an indication that the barbell was pushed away from your body, forcing you to jump forward to receive the bar, or a lack of mobility in your ankles.

If the barbell is traveling away from your body, check your grip width. If you lack the mobility necessary for sitting in a squat, check out these exercises:

I love being able to lift at home, whenever I want or whenever is convenient for my family. The following are pieces of equipment that I personally use and will help you reach your goals.

Bumper Plates

Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.

Titan Fitness 230-pound Economy Bumper Plate Set – This is the first brand new set I ever bought.

Barbells

Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home. I love it. You can get this in both 20kg and 15kg versions.

Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell, and is one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games. In my humble opinion, this is the best barbell that most people can buy (along with the Bella bar for women).

Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.

Conclusion: The Hang Clean

The hang clean is a great exercise for developing explosive power. It’s also a beginner-friendly Olympic exercise that will teach the proper positions necessary to learn the full clean. Pay attention to common mistakes when performing this explosive movement, and continuously work on perfecting your technique. With proper instruction and technique, the hang clean can be a valuable addition to any training program.

Learn how to perform the snatch
Learn how to perform the dumbbell hang clean
Learn how to perform and program the hang power snatch
Learn how to find your perfect snatch grip, and how to use it for more than just the Olympic barbell snatch
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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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