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October 29, 2021 8 min read

The clean and press is an all-purpose movement that is guaranteed to make you bigger and stronger.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the barbell clean and press, one of the best all-purpose movements around. While the clean and press can certainly be done with a wide range of equipment, such as the kettlebell clean and press, we are going to use the barbell as the default weight for all of these exercises.

Major Benefits of the Clean and Press 

Although the clean and press offers lots of major benefits, we will just look at a very general overview of three of the main benefits a clean and press can offer.

These include improving your overall strength, improving your muscles for daily tasks, and increasing your  cardiovascular health and overall athletic ability.

    Total Body Strength and Power 

      The clean and press is one of the best ways to build strength and power. It involves nearly every muscle in the body, allows for high amounts of loading, and builds your muscular strength, power, and neural control. Whether you prefer to do the exercise with a barbell, kettlebells, or other equipment, the clean and press offers a good way to start if you are trying to get stronger. 

        Useful in Daily Life 

          Movements such as the deadlift, squat, and clean and press can all be important parts of a well-designed fitness and athletic training program. The general clean and press movement is common in many daily activities, like picking a child from the floor or moving heavy objects. Improving your control and technique can help reduce injury risks that can come from poor movement patterns. 

            Increased Cardiovascular Health and Athleticism

              The clean and press can really improve your cardiovascular health and athleticism. Bringing your heart rate above resting level with cardio has several benefits, such as supplying your body with extra oxygen and improving heart health.

              Muscles Worked by the Clean and Press 

              The clean and press is  one of the best  total body movements you can do.

              This means that it uses the lower extremities, the upper body muscles, and even your core muscles to strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems, and even reduce memory loss. Here are some of the specific muscles that can be worked to a large degree when you are taking part in this type of exercise.

              • Quadriceps: The quadriceps are used in the initial lift off from the floor and the squatting portion of the exercise. You will also use the quads if you perform a push press, which can help you increase the amount of weight without harming your lower back. Strong quads can really increase your ability to perform this exercise to the best of your ability. 
              • Back and Traps: The lats of the back and the traps are also used during the pulling, squatting, and pressing phases of the lift. Strong back muscles and traps are necessary to maintain an upright position in the squat and they really offer a degree of stability when you are in the overhead position.
              • Shoulders: The shoulders, triceps, and upper chest muscles are all in active use in both the strict press and push press variations of the exercise, but keep in mind that you might still need a few other shoulder exercises if you are trying to develop them as fully as possible.
              • Hamstrings: The hamstrings are really only involved in the initial pulling and hip extension aspect of the exercise. The posterior chain allows you to extend the hips and this can lead to more power during the lift. In addition to this exercise, you might want to also include the Romanian deadlift in your overall hamstring workout routine.



              How to Do the Clean and Press 

                Step #1: Set Up Your Starting Position

                  Set yourself up for your starting position so that you are close to the bar, with your feet underneath. The hips should be positioned slightly higher than the knees, with the back flat and the arms extended straight with a shoulder-width grip. A good initial position like this will really help you maintain your proper form and control as soon as the barbell leaves the ground.

                    Step #2: Stand Up the Weight, then do a Front Squat

                      Push through the floor to get the load moving upwards. As the weight passes the knees, make sure to not pull immediately with the arms, but rather keep your arms long and extended. This allows the legs to be the primary muscle group that you are using to lift the load from the floor without harming your lower back.

                        Step #3: Press Overhead

                          From the shoulders, you can perform a standard overhead press to move the weight from the front rack position to a more secure position overhead. Be sure to keep the weight resting on the front of your shoulders instead of letting it fall to the level of your upper chest, because this can sometimes harm your lower back.

                          While you can certainly progress athletically without the clean and press, including it in your workout routine can help you perform better in other fundamental exercises due to the overlap in technique and muscle recruitment. 

                          Everyday Uses for the Clean and Press

                          While the clean and press is technically an Olympic lifting movement, it offers so many benefits to regular people that can be extended into your daily life. You don’t have to be a serious weightlifter to get a lot of real additional value out of including the clean and press exercises as part of your workout routine without harming your lower back.

                          However, strongman athletes should really make the effort to learn this movement thoroughly. The clean and press exercise itself may vary slightly based on the equipment the lifter is using (for example, a log, a circus dumbbell, or an axle bar), but the basic method of moving a heavy object from the floor, to the shoulder, and overhead will be very similar regardless of the equipment.

                          Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters 

                          Powerlifters and Olympic lifters should include the clean and press in their training routine to increase their levels of overall athleticism, power output, and to help them increase the neural drive that they might sometimes need to do more explosive reps of the bench press.

                          Powerlifters and Olympic lifters can get many incredible benefits without spending a lot of training time and energy on learning new techniques.

                          Clean and Press Performance Recommendations 

                          The clean and press is an effective and efficient way to lift a load from the floor to the overhead position without harming your lower back. Learning how to do so with the correct form will help you prepare for all the other tasks that might arise during a workout.

                          Below are some recommendations for properly getting the bar overhead and performing the clean and press based on your training goals. 

                          • To improve your technique: The clean and press can be trained with light to moderate weights in order to develop proper positional awareness, timing, and the foundational movement patterning that might be necessary for more advanced training progressions. The key here is the quality, timing, and precision of your movements. Start by performing three to five sets of three to five repetitions with light to moderate loads. 
                          • To increase your power output: When it comes to athletic preparation or off-season training, the clean and press is often used to improve athletic power output for a wide range of sports. If you are trying to improve your athletic power output, stick with four or five sets of two to five reps using a weight that allows you to be powerful and smooth, but still presents a moderate challenge.
                          • To improve your strength: To increase maximum strength, athletes need to work on lifting heavy loads and pushing close to their maximum effort. Clean and presses can help you push the limits of your strength if they are performed properly and with the right resistance. To increase your overall strength, try doing multiple sets of one to three reps with 80% of your maximum weight.

                          Variations and Alternatives to the Clean and Press

                          There are four main barbell clean and press alternatives that coaches and athletes can make use of as an exercise guide when they are trying out a range of techniques to increase their strength, power, and fitness levels. Here are some more details about those variations.

                          • Dumbbell Clean and Press:

                            This exercise can be done with either one dumbbell or two, which is similar to the circus dumbbell press, a common strongman lift. This movement can build unilateral strength and power, and be used to train the movement if a lifter cannot perform the clean and press with both arms due to an injury or other external factor.

                          • Log Clean and Press: This log bar clean and press variation involves a log bar, a large training tool that is often used in strongman competitions, but which is now becoming more common in functional fitness training. The log is much larger and more awkward than a barbell, which brings some variety to your routine if you know how to handle it.

                          • Fat Bar Clean and Press: This exercise is very similar to the regular barbell clean and press. The difference is the circumference of the bar which increases the grip strength demand, making it a two-for-one stimulus and a great overall performance enhancer. 

                          • Clean and Jerk: This exercise is very similar to the regular barbell clean and press. However, it requires more of a jerk to raise the weight overhead. This is a good option for lifters who have more power and better technique, because it is a more intensive technical lift than the press or push press. The clean and press requires either a strict press or push press of the load overhead from the shoulders, whereas you jerk the load overhead without pressing the weight out when it comes to this variation. 

                          Improve Strength, Power, and Build Muscle

                          Strength training movements like clean and press exercises are good for beginners because they can use a wide variety of lighter weights and different types of equipment to suit their individual needs. It may be easier to learn this movement from starting the lift from the hang, rather than from the floor, because partial pulls can be done first rather than full pulls. 

                          The specific sets and reps performed in the clean and press depend on what you want the exercise to do for you. In general, lower reps and heavier weights will tend to produce more strength and power and lead to hypertrophy of the muscles, while the opposite is usually true when you are trying to improve your muscular endurance and technique.

                          If you want to improve your general health, try training your chest twice per week with compound exercises. It is quite common to pair your chest with different muscles like your triceps and the other muscles of your upper arms because all of those muscles work together in many types of lifts. You might also prefer to focus on your entire upper body (chest day) and then your lower body (leg day) over two different sessions.

                          A lot of lifters will vary widely when it comes to which types of exercises they prefer to do. Some lifters who already have quite a lot of upper back strength tend to prefer chest day, and some lifters who already have impressive lower body strength tend to prefer leg day. The key is to find your individual balance.

                          Remember: Always Warm Up Before Starting

                          As you should always keep in mind, it is vital to avoid any type of risk of injury when you are starting any new kinds of exercises, so be sure to do a proper warm-up before you start doing clean and press exercises so that you can really come out with the maximum possible benefits from all of the work that you put in.

                          Warming up properly and following a  high protein diet plan are some important factors that many weightlifters overlook when designing their training routines. Increasing dietary protein is safe and can lead to favorable metabolic adaptations including improved weight management, better glycemic regulation and calcium retention, and better long-term bone health.

                          These exercises can seem pretty complicated at first, but they can greatly improve your overall body strength and also offer a major increase in your overall range of motion. Doing the exercises in a careful and methodical way can really give you the results you are looking for.