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.
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. Yourobliques, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.