The Olympic Clean and Jerk: Step-by-Step Instructions and Video Demonstrations

By Matt Walter
Published on:
Learn how to perform and program the Olympic clean and jerk

The clean and jerk is one of the two standard Olympic weightlifting movements along with the snatch. It is one of the most effective exercises for developing strength, power, and speed. In this blog post, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform the clean and jerk. We will also include video demonstrations so that you can see how it is done correctly. Finally, we will explain the benefits of this powerful exercise!

Let’s go!

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Table of Contents

Video: Jim Schmitz Explains the Clean and Jerk

How to Perform the Clean & Jerk: Step-by-Step Instructions

The clean and jerk is the second lift performed in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, preceded by the snatch. Unlike the snatch where the barbell is lifted from the floor to overhead in one smooth, continuous motion, the clean and jerk involves two separate lifts. First, the barbell is lifted from the floor to the shoulders (the clean), and then from the shoulders to overhead (the jerk).

First, the clean:

The setup for the clean with the back straight, head up, eyes forward, and hips higher than the knees

Step 1: Start with the barbell on the floor and your feet positioned hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly out with your weight evenly distributed across your entire foot. The barbell should be close to your shins, over the first shoelace nearest the toe box. Bend at your hips and knees to grip the barbell with a clean grip (overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width).

Coach’s Tip: Begin with your hands in the hook grip. Your back should be arched, shoulders back, elbows turned out to the sides (not pointing backward!), head and eyes forward, and arms roughly vertical when viewed from the side.

Step 2: Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees at the start. Now push with your legs and drive your feet through the floor to begin standing. Maintain the same back angle as your starting position until the bar reaches mid-thigh.

Barbell Row Starting Position

Step 3: Continue pushing against the floor aggressively and explosively extend your hips and knees. Keep the barbell close to your body and allow it to brush your upper thighs as your hips extend.

Step 4: Once you have reached full extension (standing upright with the barbell at mid-thigh and up on your toes), aggressively jump and slide your feet out to your squat stance. At the same time, shrug your shoulders and bring your elbows high and wide toward your ears, pulling the bar up along your body.

Coach’s Tip: Don’t think about pulling the barbell up with your arms. Instead, think about pulling your body beneath the barbell.

Step 5: Quickly bring your elbows around to the front of your body and throw them high toward the ceiling as you continue to sit into a full squat. This creates your clean-rack position, a shelf across your upper chest and shoulders for the barbell to land on.

Standing Up a Squat Clean

Step 6: Allow your downward momentum and the weight of the barbell to force you into a full squat, your hips near your heels and your hamstrings pressed against your calves. Rebound out of the bottom of the squat and return to a fully standing position.

Coach’s Tip: Think about keeping your elbows high when you stand up out of the bottom of the squat. When the weight is heavy it’s going to pull your body forward. Push your elbows toward the ceiling. That will help you keep your torso upright.

Now, the jerk:

The Jerk Front Rack Position

The focus here is on the split jerk because that is the form most often used in competition. I’ll discuss other jerk variations later in this article.

Step 1: Adjust the barbell on your shoulder to your preferred jerk rack position. Take a deep breath, brace your core, and shift your weight to your heels.

Coach’s tip: Often you will see lifters slightly jump the barbell off their shoulders and widen their grip. The wider your grip, the shorter the distance the barbell will have to travel overhead. Experiment and find a grip-width that works for you.

Step 2: Maintaining a vertical torso, bend your knees (not your hips!), and drive your legs against the ground to create vertical momentum against the barbell.

Driving the Jerk Off the Shoulders

Step 3: After reaching full extension, push yourself beneath the bar with your arms and jump your feet into the split receiving position. Catch the barbell overhead with your arms in a fully locked position. In competition, you must catch the barbell with completely straight arms. Any arm bend will negate the lift.

Coach’s tip: In the split receiving position, your front foot will land flat with your toes pointed slightly inward, and your rear leg will land behind you, slightly outside hip-width. Don’t think of the split as a standard lunge where your feet go directly in front and behind your body. Allow your feet to travel outside of hip-width. This will shorten the distance they have to travel and will create a wider base.

The Split Jerk Finishing Position

Step 4: Stabilize the barbell overhead and recover to a fully standing position.

Coach’s tip: Always recover from the split receiving position with your front foot first. Bring your front foot back toward your hips and then bring your rear foot up to meet it. Not the other way around.

Video: Clean & Power Jerk

The Purpose of the Clean and Jerk

For Weightlifters:

The clean and jerk is one of the two competitive lifts in weightlifting. Those who wish to compete in the sport will perform the clean and jerk and its variations regularly, often multiple times each week. Training the lift often helps weightlifters prepare for competition by constantly refining and perfecting the technique, strength, speed, and precision required for success.

For Functional Fitness Athletes:

The clean and jerk is frequently programmed in CrossFit competitions and daily workouts (WODs). Functional Fitness athletes should use the clean and jerk to build overall strength, explosiveness, and power, as well as to be proficient in the movement for competition.

For Athletes, Fitness Enthusiasts, and the General Population

The clean and jerk, when done correctly, develops strength, power, speed, and mobility for your entire body. In fact, the clean and jerk is considered one of the greatest full-body exercises for strength and power.

The ability to pick an object up off the floor cannot be overemphasized. It is one of the most fundamental human movements and should be a staple in everyone’s training program. But remember that this is a complicated lift that can lead to injury if performed incorrectly. If this is a new movement for you, keep the weight light as your build proficiency with the movement. And consider consulting a qualified trainer if you have questions.

Programming the Clean and Jerk

Perform multiple sets of 1-3 reps in the 70-100% 1 rep max range

For technique or speed: use lighter weights in the 50-65% 1RM range

For power and strength: use moderate loads in the 60-80% 1RM range

For strength and testing: use heavy loads in the 85-100% 1RM range

Cleaning is a fundamental component of every week for competitive weightlifters. Cleaning may be done at any time during the week, although lifters typically perform cleans in some form at least 2-3 days each week and as frequently as every training session.

For athletes whose focus is another sport or for general fitness, clean and jerks are a great addition and can be performed 1-2 times each week.

Clean and Jerk Notes

When programming the clean, the term “clean” always refers to a full squat clean. If the intention is for the athlete to perform a power clean, the term “power” must be applied.

CrossFit has brought mainstream popularity to the Olympic lifts. Along with that popularity have come some terminology issues. Technically, if the program calls for cleans, the athlete should perform full squat cleans. However, in functional fitness sports and gyms, the style of clean has become the athlete’s choice unless “squat clean” or “power clean” are specifically mentioned.

The CrossFit WOD Grace is a good example of this. The WOD calls for 30 Clean and Jerks for time. Technically, this workout should be performed as full squat cleans.

No one does that.

The workout is done for time in a competitive atmosphere, and power cleans are far faster and less taxing on the quadriceps and cardiovascular system than power cleans.

This is not a complaint or knock against CrossFit. Simply an observation, that can make a difference for you depending on the program you are following and your personal goals.

Both the full squat clean and the power clean are legal lifts in competition. Most people can lift significantly more weight with the full clean, which is why you rarely see the power clean in competition.

And any style of jerk is legal in competition. The most common is the split jerk, which I explained above. The split jerk allows the lifter to get far beneath the barbell, with a wide base, and without having to squat a significant amount of weight overhead to return to the standing position.

Variations of the Clean and Jerk

Variations of the clean include the hang clean, the power clean, and the hang power clean.

Variations of the jerk include the power jerk (AKA push jerk), the squat jerk, the overhead press, and the push press.

Considerations for the New Lifter

If clean and jerks are new for you, the following variations and progressions can help you learn the movements one step at a time.

Hang Power Cleans: Start with the barbell at hip height. From here, perform a clean pull, keeping the bar close to your body and shrugging your shoulders as you extend your hips and knees. As the bar reaches mid-thigh, jump and shrug hard to move the bar as high as possible before catching it in a front squat position.

Hang Cleans: These are performed from the hip position rather than from the floor. Deadlift the barbell to your hips, and then complete the clean as described above. This is a great progression for those who are new to the clean movement or who have difficulty getting the barbell from the floor to their hips.

Power Cleans: Power cleans are a more explosive variation of the clean that can be used to increase power output. You will now be cleaning from the floor, but without the full squat beneath the barbell. Instead, you will catch the barbell with your hips higher than your knees.

Learning the jerk has its own progressions as well. It can be beneficial to learn this movement by placing a barbell in a squat rack or on jerk blocks so that you don’t have to clean the barbell into position first.

Power Jerks or Push Jerks: Start with the barbell at shoulder height on jerk blocks or in a squat rack. Dip quickly below parallel and drive up with as much force as possible, extending your hips and knees fully. As the bar leaves your shoulders, jump and shrug hard to move the bar as high as possible. Push your body beneath the barbell and catch it in a power squat position with your hips higher than your knees.

Work on your footwork for the split jerk with an empty barbell or PVC pipe until your feet land in the same position every time. Then begin adding weight.

Equipment Recommendations for the Clean and Jerk

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 set I have at home.

Titan Fitness 230-Pound Elite Bumper Plate Set – This set is more expensive than the last, but they are incredible.

Barbells

Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home. It’s an amazing all-purpose barbell!

Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell. Some of my closest friends own this one and use it as their daily bar.

Rogue IWF Approved Olympic Weightlifting Bar – if you need a true, dedicated Olympic lifting bar, you won’t be the quality or price of this one. It comes in both 28mm and 25mm shaft diameters, designed for male and female competitors.

Titan Fitness Olympic Barbell – My local CrossFit gym has this barbell and I use it often. It’s a great all-purpose barbell.

Clean and Jerk FAQ

What is the clean and jerk?

The clean and jerk is a total body movement that stresses nearly every muscle in the body. It consists of two phases. Lifting a barbell from the floor onto the chest and shoulders (clean), and then lifting the barbell from the shoulders to overhead (the jerk).

What are the benefits of the clean and jerk?

The clean and jerk builds full-body strength, coordination, power, and mobility

Clean and Jerk Conclusion

The clean and jerk is a total body movement that stresses nearly every muscle in the body. It consists of two phases: lifting a barbell from the floor onto your chest and shoulders, then lifting it up overhead to complete the jer. This article outlines everything you need to know about this complex lift from technique tips to how much weight should be used for different training goals. If you are thinking about adding some variation of clean and jerks into your routine, make sure to consult with an experienced trainer for form tips and guidance.

Learn how to perform the first pull for the clean and jerk and how to fix some of the most common errors
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The Hang Power Clean Featured Image
Learn how to perform and program the hang 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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