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March 26, 2021 10 min read

Learning how to clean is a crucial skill if you’re serious about getting strong and explosive. Cleans are one of the best ways to test your strength and a worthwhile goal to build towards if you’re looking for ways to improve explosive strength.

Any clean is a pretty involved full-body affair, and hang cleans are no different. If you’re curious about adding cleans to your workout regimen or looking for something that will challenge and excite you in the gym, then look no further than hang cleans.

We’re going to talk about how they differ and match up with power cleans, the benefits you can gain from them, and how you can add them to your workout safely and effectively, so let’s get started.

Legs weight

Muscles Worked

Before you add a new exercise to your routine, you need to have a good idea of the muscles used to perform it. When you know what you’re working on, you know how to safely apply your knowledge and effectively engage your form for the best results and minimal opportunity for injury. Hang cleans are a full-body exercise. They don’t target every single muscle in your body at once, but you’re going to be engaging a lot of the muscles in your lower body and your upper body in succession.

Lower Body: Hang cleans are mostly going to target your lower body. Your  hip flexors are going to be taking the brunt of the labor by generating the snap you need to straighten out your body and clean the weights up to your shoulders where you’re eventually going to rack them. Your hamstrings and quadriceps are going to be getting a good work out as well because of the repositioning, squatting, and supporting you’re going to be doing throughout the exercise. Your glutes and your core are going to be the muscles that help you during the hang phase of your hang cleans, and your calves are going to be key in keeping you grounded and keeping you steady as your lift up through your toes before you explosively reposition your feet.

Upper Body: Your lower body taking on the biggest load in the exercise doesn’t mean your upper body is getting off easy. You’re going to be strengthening a lot of the muscles in your top half as well. Your core muscles are going to be getting the most work out of all of the muscles in your upper body. Your obliques, rectus, and transverse abdominals are going to be fully engaged throughout the entirety of your hang cleans. You need your core to be engaged to save your back as well as to impart force across your body. Without a strong core, those weights aren’t going anywhere.

Your forearms and biceps are going to be burning after all of the clutching and flexing you need to do to clean the weights up towards your shoulders. The spinal erectors are the muscles responsible for helping you straighten your torso after you’ve lowered your body into the hang position. Your latisumus dorsi and trapezius muscles are going to be getting a good workout from stabilizing your upper body and back while you’re in the throes of lifting.

Learning to Clean

Hang cleans are a variant in the clean family. To understand the differences between a hang clean and a power clean we have to understand where we’re coming from first. Just like how you’d need to know what an apple is before you can understand the differences between all of the breeds of apple. 

A clean is an exercise where you start with your barbell on the ground, bring the weights up into a standing position, and move your body into a squat underneath the bar. Once you’re in this full squat position you use the rebound of the squat to stand yourself back up into a standing position before either transitioning into a jerk where you get the weights all the way above your head almost like an overhead press, or you return the weights to the ground before starting another rep. 

The family of cleans branches out from there, and this is where we get our hang clean. You can split hang cleans into two distinct groups now that we know how to identify a proper clean. 

Hands on weights

Hang Cleans

The starting position of your hang cleans is going to be what sets them apart from a regular old clean. You’re going to be starting from and returning the weights to a hanging position. You want to focus on getting your back right and your core engaged if you’re going to take on hang cleans. They’re a great compound exercise, and a satisfying way to improve your overall strength.

  • Your starting position is important, it’s what’s going to make or break your ability to hang clean safely or effectively
  • Stand tall with your elbows out very slightly. You want to encourage a little bit of internal rotation with your arms. This internal rotation is going to engage your lats slightly and it’s going to get your arms ready to clean the barbell safely. The internal rotation here is going to ensure the bar stays close to you. We don’t want to bar to pop away from you, ruining your center of gravity and forcing your muscles into weird contortions to bring the bar back to you in time for you to clean to weights.
  • Brace yourself on the ground. Your feet should be about shoulder-width and they should dig into the floor, imagine gripping the floor with your feet to increase your stability. Your toes should not leave the ground at all until you pop the bar up and reset your feet to brace yourself underneath the cleaned weights.
  • Brace your core. Your core strength is important in every exercise, but especially in hang cleans. Your back needs to remain flat when you’re hanging the weights before you clean them. A solid core is also going to give you control over the weights once you’ve racked them on your chest
  • Now that you’ve established a solid starting position, get your hands in a nice and comfortable grip for your hang clean. A lot of weight lifters are going to suggest a hook grip. This is going to help with your grip strength and get you closer to cleaning heavier weights much quicker.
  • Push your butt back and chest forward to get the weight to hang down by your knees. Don’t overextend yourself, keep your muscles engaged during the hang. The weight should be in line with your arms, but your elbows, fingers, and shoulders should still be engaged without your arms hanging out of their sockets.
  • Your body weight and the weight in your hands should be balanced across your feet. If you’re balanced too far forward on your toes or too far back on your heels you’re going to end up cleaning the weight poorly. That’s going to cheat you out of a good workout, and it’s going to lead to potential injury. This is probably the most common problem area, and if you can catch it early with the help of a partner or a mirror, you’re going to be in a great spot. 
  • Pull the hanging weight up your legs until you get close to your hips
  • Start straightening up your torso and pulling the weight up towards your chest, bringing your elbows out the whole time and extending yourself onto your toes in preparation for repositioning your feet
  • Explosively flip your arms under the weight and catch, racking the weight across your chest and shoulders as if you were going into a front squat while you reset your feet just slightly outside of your shoulders. Your feet should be creating a stable platform to steady the weight you’ve just lifted yourself underneath
  • Return the weight back to your hips and repeat, starting from the hanging position

You can do a few things with your hang cleans to split them into one of two different clean camps. A lot of the detail in clean variants is about the angle of your thighs when you’re stopping the momentum of the weights. A power clean is just a variant of the standard clean where your thighs are at an angle greater than ninety degrees. The “power” in a power clean is in your thighs and their ability to keep your body upright. All it really takes to become a power clean is to avoid receiving the weight with a full squat. That may sound easy, but you’re going to need a lot of power in your lower body to overcome the weights without a squat.

This means that you can lower yourself into a full squat or not depending on the kind of work you’re aiming to accomplish. Your lower body can benefit a great deal from cleans of any kind, power, or otherwise. If you want to incorporate the deep squat, you’ll be working on the full range of motion in your quads as well as the full bodywork you’re going to be getting from performing hang cleans, but if you want to challenge your legs in a different, more explosive fashion, then keeping your legs above a horizontal angle and powering through the momentum of your weights is a great way to increase the isometric strength of your lower body, while taking on the squat is a great concentric and eccentric exercise. 

Mistakes to Avoid 

Cleans are a great full-body exercise, the problem comes from having sloppy form, seeking out shortcuts, or acting recklessly to achieve results your body isn’t ready for just yet. As long as you’re smart about your lifting and you don’t push yourself so far that your form totally drops, you’re going to be just fine. 

Watch Out For Your Body: You’re not catching the weight with your chest when you’re racking it on your shoulders. You could end up banging the weight on your collar bone if you rely too much on your chest to rack the weights across the shoulders. It might help to think of it as a sort of landing pad. You’re never relinquishing control of the weights even though you’re making a throwing motion to get the weight up and pull yourself underneath.

Realizing Your Limits: If you’re not ready for power to hang cleans, then you’re just not ready yet. Lowering yourself into a full squat instead of allowing your legs to fail you while you’re racking the weights across the shoulders is going to save you a lot of pride and injury in the long run. Weight lifting is about exceeding your limits, but you need to make sure you do it safely instead of losing progress while you’re laid up at home because you were impatient or prideful.

Watch Your Form: Form is always important when you’re lifting weights. Proper form isn’t just about following rules, it’s there to set your body in the optimal position for engaging the muscles you’re trying to work out. Each of your muscles generally only contracts in one direction, so trying to force them to lift when you’re not set to engage them properly is going to lead to frustration and injury. 

Keep your mind on your form at all times when you’re learning a new exercise, and you’re going to find more success in the long run. It can help to remember to keep your back flat, think about where you’re feeling tension and what muscles you’re engaging. Your core should be keeping your torso tight rather than your back bending to the will of your weights. Keep your glutes tight when you’re hanging the weight and steady yourself with your quads. 


Who’s This For?

Hang cleans are a great exercise for a lot of reasons, and their place in your workout routine is one of them. Hang cleans can be for anyone for any number of reasons. If you’re wondering if they’re for you, then here are a few things to consider:

  • Hang cleans are a great middle-ground in the world of cleans. You’re going to be straddling the line between a full clean and you’ll be in a position to work your way up to the clean and jerk if that’s where your goal is. You’re going to be moving through the exact same range of motion for either end of the exercise. If you’re working on either your clean or your clean and jerk, then hang cleans are going to set you up for success. 
  • They’re not just an easy mode for your full body weight lifting. You’re not going to be somehow magically gaining muscle mass and growing stronger without expending the energy. Hang cleans are more like a musician practicing a difficult riff over and over than like a shortcut to success. You’re going to be polishing your cleans and building muscle just like any other clean. The key difference here is just that you’re working on a certain segment of the full movement, training your muscles and your mind, and getting yourself ready to add on more in the future.

Athletes of all stripes use hang cleans to build muscle and enhance their strength. You’re going to be maintaining tension on your muscles throughout the duration of the exercise, which is one of the best ways to encourage development and expend energy. If you compare this to a regular clean where you’re encouraged to unload between reps, you could argue that hang cleans might even be better than standard cleans.

  • You don’t have to adhere to one rigid definition of the hang clean. You can do them with barbells rather than a barbell if you’re concerned about your wrists, applying weight to your shoulders and internally rotating your arms, looking for a more comfortable grip, or trying to ensure that your weight training is applied evenly to both sides of your body. If You can go for a power hang clean by keeping your legs above a squat, or you can lower your body to make the exercise a little bit more manageable. You’re able to lift more or less weight depending on your current level of strength and your muscle growth or fat burning goals. They’re an excellent full-body exercise no matter what your skill level or your goals are.

Squeaky Clean

Learning how to integrate hang cleans into your exercise routine is a testament to your strength. They’re an excellent way to build most of the muscles that look the best on display, and they’re a compound exercise that will blast through your calories and eat through any fat you’re trying to burn. Lifters of all skill levels can benefit from them, and as long as you’re keeping your form tight, you’re going to make easy and safe work of them.