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January 14, 2022 10 min read

Weightlifting is a staple in any fitness enthusiast’s workout routine. It is a splendid way to bulk up, improve bone density, boost metabolism, and work major muscle groups.

The hang clean is an explosive form of weightlifting that involves throwing and catching a weighted barbell. It is an extreme exercise, and a lot can go wrong when done wrongly. To help you perform this exercise cleanly, here are some tips to assist you along the way.

What Are Hang Cleans?

Barbell clean exercises are full-body workouts that rival the basic barbell deadlift. The significant difference between both exercises is the techniques they are carried out where deadlifting involves slow and controlled lifting, the clean use explosive force, and speed.

The hang clean is an easier variation of the power clean

It involves loading a weighted barbell from the hanging position of your shoulders, and its method of execution lies in its name. A regular clean exercise begins with the barbell on the ground while you start the hang clean from a standing position. The ‘hang’ is a literal representation of the exercise.

While many professional powerlifters and Olympic bodybuilders agree that the hang clean is a fantastic strength-training workout for getting ripped, the correct position to begin the hang clean remains speculation. Many experienced bodybuilders have a hot take on this subject, with many swearing that their method is the right way to perform a ‘clean’ and perfect hang clean. Fortunately, there is more than one position to begin the hang clean in.

You can choose to do the hang clean with the barbell a little over one inch from the floor.

This would require a greater pulling strength and increase the intensity of the isolation of the muscles. Hanging from this level is an advanced option and places a lot of stress on your back.

Many bodybuilders and powerlifters choose to perform the hang clean from the shin or mid-shin height. Some favor below the knees as the proper starting position. Other men choose above the knees and even more who prefer to start in an erect position with the barbell at hip level.

Regardless of the starting point, the execution mode remains the same, and the same muscles are activated. Every other factor remains constant, and you can choose to experiment with each starting position and discover which height works better for you.

Muscles Worked In Hang Clean

The hang clean is a compound barbell exercise that primarily activates the core muscles, posterior chain, and back muscles. It makes use of the triple extension of the joints, and so it doubles as a  functional strength-training exercise that strengthens muscles and improves mobility. Many bodybuilders use their ability to clean heavyweights to measure strength and muscle endurance.

The hang clean takes your muscles through a range of motion that includes deadlifting the bar off the floor, a squat, and a weigh catch. Since most major muscle groups are involved in these movements, they are stimulated under the added resistance of gravity and the weighted barbell.

The core muscles are engaged throughout the hang clean.

Since they are essential in stabilizing you during the lift and adding that extra burst of energy needed to throw the barbell, your transverse abdominis, multifidus, erector spinae, and pelvic floor muscles bear the brunt of your movements. This is a great way to improve core strength and stimulate mass gains in the abdominal muscles for a toned six-pack.

Besides the core muscles, the hang clean specifically engages the trapezius muscles.

Few exercises isolate and stimulate muscle gains in the trap muscles. Other than the extremely popular weighted shrugs, the hang clean is known to wake up your trap muscle. This occurs during the front rack position in your workout as you catch the barbell beneath your chin.

A muscle often targeted for growth to achieve a more jacked look, the deltoid muscles are also activated in the first pulling of the bar during the hang clean. This muscle helps to rotate and distend the arm. Since your arms are doing a lot of work clutching the weight, they are equally engaged. The shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles are significantly engaged. 

Hang cleans also activate your lower back muscles, stabilizer muscles, glutes, lats, hamstrings, thigh muscles, and hip flexors.

It strengthens them all, improving flexibility and mobility for an increased range of motion. These muscles are mainly activated during the hip thrust and squat part of the hang clean.

While it already looks like the hang clean activates many muscle groups in the body, do not forget that you are driving your legs into the ground during your racking. This leads to the activation of leg muscles like the quadriceps of the thighs and calves during the lowering part of the hang clean. This stimulates an admirable lean mass muscle growth on your legs, resulting in a jacked physique.

Essentially the hang clean is a great workout routine to target every functional muscle. While it might require a great blend of proper speed, balance, muscle endurance, and timing, on the upside, you get to improve all these attributes, which are great to help you on your fitness journey.

How To Do The Hang Clean

The hang clean can be executed and perfected by gym-goers and athletes regardless of their fitness level.

To do this:

  • Load a barbell with the appropriate weight and place it on the floor in front of you.
  • Stand in front of the barbell with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Your toes should be under the bar with your shins near the bar.
  • Keep your back straight, with your chest proud.
  • Flex and lock your knees out. This will get you ready for the squat movement without overloading your knee.
  • Keep your back straight and your neck neutral. 
  • Tuck your chin like you are carrying an egg under your chin.
  • Get steady and distribute your body weight on your feet planted into the floor.
  • Square your hips and put some tension in your shoulders. Do not lock it up, as this can cause injuries during lifting.
  • Hinging at your hips, lower yourself until your knees are angled, and the barbell is within arm's reach.
  • Hold the bar with an overhead grip a little bit wider than your hips.
  • Twist your arm outward so that your lats are activated.
  • While still reaching for the deadlift, square your chest and shoulders 
  • Drive your feet into the ground and push your hip forward until you are in a standing position.
  • Keep your back straight during the movement.
  • Adjust the barbell to your starting height
  • As soon as you are balanced with the barbell at your preferred height, perform a mighty shrug by throwing the barbell.
  • Extend your arm with your elbows pointing outwards as you make the throw.
  • Jump under the bar, bringing your elbows high in front of you.
  • Lower yourself into a front squat.
  • Catch the bar on your chest and shoulders with your hands around and under the barbell.
  • Push with your hip and keep your core engaged as you get into an erect position.
  • This is one rep. Perform as many repetitions as are in a set.

Benefits Of Hang Clean

Hang cleans are a great workout option for various reasons. They are an explosive strength-training exercise that not only increases strength in the major muscles but also enhances muscle endurance and muscle mass.

  • Full-body exercise: Many exercises isolate either the upper body muscles or those of the lower body. Only a few workouts engage all major muscle groups to a large extent. Hang cleans help build muscles that span the whole range of the body, right from the shoulders to the calves. 
  • Explosive power: Explosive power significantly impacts a body-builder’s athleticism. Explosive power significantly impacts a body-builder’s athleticism. It determines the strength, speed, and performance of an athlete during sports that require immense power outputs. Compared to most weightlifting exercises, the hang clean enlists more muscle fibers and amps up power output, and studies show that the  hang clean improves jumping and sprinting
  • Improve other weightlifting exercises: If you are looking for a way to improve your ability to perform more challenging weighted activities, the hang clean is a great way to test and train your muscle strength. If you are a beginner new to the clean exercise variations and find it challenging to perform the whole clean, the hang clean is a great place to begin. Olympic lifters choose the hang clean, power clean, and other variations to practice and condition their muscles for Olympic lifts or Olympic weightlifting. This goes to show that regardless of your fitness level, the hang clean is a superb way to improve on your weightlifting.
  • Great accessory exercise: Although the hang clean does not allow the use of extremely heavy weights for extreme muscle buildup, it is a great accessory and supplementary exercise for other weightlifting exercises. Regardless of what part of the body you need to train, a hang clean is a welcome choice that you will not regret.
  • Functional exercise: The hang clean helps train functional muscles like the adductors and lower back muscles that help with body stability, bending, and lifting. Improving functional movements and enhancing mobility is as important as building mirror muscles, as these movements help you navigate your daily activities.
  • Burns calories: Hang cleans promotes excellent health by burning the extra calories. It increases your resting metabolism, helping you to lose calories, cut up fat, and promote the building of lean muscle.

Tips And Common Mistakes Made

While the hang clean is an exceptionally beneficial exercise, performing it the proper way is often difficult, especially for newbies, the hang clean not only requires a great burst of strength and even better balance, it also needs to be performed in perfect form. Due to the explosiveness of this exercise, it is easy to compromise your form. This will not only lead you to perform fruitless cheat reps but can also lead to injuries. 

To help you hold the correct form through your repetitions, here are some common mistakes:

  • Overextending the bar: One major mistake gym enthusiasts make when pulling the barbell is extending the shoulders far from the body. This places more stress on the forearms and shifts the center attention of the weight away from the necessary muscles, and increases your risks of an injury. To redeem this, try to keep the barbell as close to your body as possible
  • Speeding up: While it might look tempting to rush the exercise and get it over with, you are making a grave mistake. Speeding will cause you to make each lift with momentum. If you are familiar with deadlifts, you should know that momentum is your worst enemy. It doesn’t allow you to activate the proper muscles and ultimately leads you to waste what should have been an excellent workout session. Using momentum also opens you up to injuries of the muscles.
  • Leaning forward: Your back should remain straight throughout your hang clean workout. It helps you focus on the necessary muscles while also saving you from injuries to the back.
  • Not using the triple extension: If you have been doing hang cleans with more focus on your forearms, you’ve been doing it all wrong. When you think of the triple extension as someone not familiar with the term, you should imagine fully extending your ankles, legs, and hips to generate maximum power output. The hang clean requires you to drive through your feet, bend your knees, and shrug the weight. A proper catch of hopping under the bar should follow.
  • Lifting next to nothing: While it makes sense to keep it light, the weight is a significant resistance important to your hang clean. While the weight should be something you can lift comfortably, it shouldn't be too comfortable that it requires next to no effort to stay up. To get the proper list on your muscles, use appropriate weights.
  • Wrong setup: In the hang clean and other exercises, your setup determines your results. When doing the hang clean, pay attention to details like your grip-width, hip-width, and shoulder positions. Even the barbell starting position matters, so you need to ensure that the starting height is acceptable.

Variations Of The Hang Clean

There are various modifications of the hang clean that engage different muscles to different extents. Some of the variations are simpler and more difficult than the hang clean. 

1. The Clean

The clean is a more popular variation of the hang clean. It is more complex and requires more effort.

To do the clean:

  • Stand in front of a loaded barbell.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Sweat down with your back straight and chest proud.
  • Hold the barbell with an overhead grip wider than your shoulders.
  • Explosively lift the barbell to your shoulder by driving through your hips.
  • Immediately squat down into a squat.
  • Drive through your heels and press the barbell overhead.
  • Lower the barbell to your shoulders and then to the floor.
  • That is one rep.

2. The Snatch

The snatch is a full-body progression that includes going into a squat, standing erect, and pressing the barbell overhead as you lower yourself into a squat. It requires immense strength, proper timing, muscle endurance, and proper form to achieve this exercise. It is one of the most challenging variations of the hang clean. 

To do the snatch: 

  • Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squat until your shins touch the bar and grab the bar with a grip wider than your shoulder.
  • Keep your chest out and your back straight.
  • Keep your knees in line with your elbows and your shoulder over the bar.
  • Jerk up to an erect position and lift the barbell to your hips.
  • Keeping your back straight, explosively pull the bar up to your chest and jump underneath it into a squat position.
  • Simultaneously press the bar overhead.
  • Once stable, lock your shoulders and stand up. 
  • Hold this position.
  • Return to the starting position by reversing all movements.
  • Carry out as many repetitions as are in your set.

The snatch is a highly demanding exercise that takes its toll on your muscles, lungs, and cardiovascular system.

3. The Clean And Jerk

Most professional bodybuilders and powerlifters are familiar with the clean and jerk. This is a body-conditioning and immense strength-training variation of the clean and jerk. It is an advanced, more difficult option and should only be attempted in the presence of a personal trainer after mastering the hang clean. 

To do the clean and jerk:

  • Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet hip-width apart, and toes angled out.
  • Keep your back straight as you squat to lift the barbell. Your shoulders should be over the barbell, and your shin should touch the bar.
  • With an overhand grip and powerful momentum through your legs, deadlift the barbell by raking it against your body. This is the first pull.
  • Once the barbell crosses above your knee, adjust your torso and angle your knees.
  • Initiate the second pull by driving explosively through your legs and extending your hips, knees, and ankles in triple extension.
  • Immediately shrug the bar to your shoulder.
  • Keep your back straight as you lower into a quarter-squat.
  • Rotate your elbow and catch the barbell in a racked position.
  • Stand erect, drop your elbows, and push out your chest.
  • Press the bar overhead and lock your elbows at the end of the jerk.
  • Get into a split stance and hop your feet together.
  • Reverse the motion until you end up in the starting position. This is one repetition.

There are different modifications of the hang clean you can work with. For better results, modify these variations to suit your fitness level and goals.

Final Verdict

The hang clean might look complicated but it can be easily performed and mastered.  With the right speed, balance, muscle endurance, and timing, the hang clean becomes a walk in the park. Couple the hang clean with  barbell complexes for the ultimate full-body muscle strength-training program.