How to Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk is an Olympic weightlifting (often just called ‘weightlifting’) movement that involves lifting a loaded barbell from the floor to overhead in two quick, powerful movements.

The clean is the movement that brings the bar from the floor to the shoulders and the jerk is the movement that puts the bar overhead.

Together, they make a full-body exercise that requires great strength, technique and athleticism, as well as being a solid addition to athletic training programmes.

How to Clean & Jerk: Step by Step Guide

Alright, enough chat, let’s get right into a step by step guide to help you master the clean and jerk from the ground up.

Step 1: Clean Start Position

So much of a good clean and jerk begins with your start position.  If you’re out of position at the start you’ll end up off balance and out of position further up the lift, making it WAY harder to successfully complete.

When I coach my weightlifters, I look for 3 things…

1. Posture

  • Feet at shoulder to hip width with toes pointed slightly out
  • Shoulders over the bar
  • Hips higher than knees, shoulders higher than hips
  • Nice flat, tight back with a good core brace.

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance over midfoot

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar close to shins, over the midfoot

Step 2: First Pull

This is the first moving part of the lift, in which you bring the bar up from the floor to just above your knees.  Once again, as a coach, I’m always looking for 3 things…

1. Posture

  • Shoulders stay over the bar
  • Back remains flat, tight and braced

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance remains over midfoot

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays close to the body throughout

It can really help at this stage to think about pushing the floor away with your legs, rather than thinking about pulling the bar off the ground.

Step 3: Second Pull / Triple Extension

This is the part of the movement in which you really accelerate the bar, using the power in your legs and hips to give the bar as much vertical momentum as possible.  Position wise, it’s actually not too different from doing a big vertical jump.  As a coach, I want to see three things.

1. Posture

  • Shoulders stay over the bar
  • Chest starts to rise, bringing you to a more upright position
  • Back remains flat, strong and tight, with a good core brace.

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance remains over midfoot, even as you come up onto your toes at the end of the extension.  (This great explanation by Catalyst Athletics might help you understand the difference between foot pressure and balance)

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays close to the body throughout, gaining speed

Step 4: Third Pull / Pull Under and Catch

The third part of your clean is all about actively pulling under the bar.  A lot of beginner lifters just sort of drop and hope that they’ll end up in the right position to receive the bar.  The reality is that you should actually be actively pulling yourself under and putting yourself in the position you need.  Here are some things to be aware of…

1. Posture

  • Move actively from your triple extended position into a triple flexed position (deep front squat)

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance remains over midfoot
  • For most people, you’ll likely reposition your feet slightly further apart in order to catch the front squat comfortably.  This also makes it easier to pull under the bar.

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays close to the body throughout, maintaining speed and eventually stopping, then falling ever so slightly under control whilst in contact with your shoulders.

Step 5: Recovery

The recovery from a clean is essentially a front squat with a bit of bounce and momentum out of the bottom.  After the third pull / pull under you’ll need to stabilise and then drive hard with your legs.  Here are my coaching tips…

1. Posture

  • Keep your torso upright and elbows high in a strong front squat position
  • Flat, tight back and a good core brace.

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance is over midfoot

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays securely on the shoulders throughout

Step 6: Jerk Dip 

This is the first portion of the jerk movement.  You’ll have just completed your clean, so you’ve lifted the bar from the floor to your shoulders.  Your heart rate will be elevated, and you might feel slightly dizzy, welcome to weightlifting.

The jerk dip is a small bend in your knees with minimal hip bending.  It allows you to generate upwards force to launch the barbell above your head.  Here are my main coaching tips for you to focus on…

1. Posture

  • Torso must remain upright
  • Elbows remain up (don’t let them drop too much or the bar will shoot forwards in the next step!)
  • Knees flex into a short dip
  • Flat, tight back and a good core brace.

2. Weight Distribution

  • Balance is over midfoot (notice a trend yet?)
  • You should really feel your quads being loaded in this movement

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays securely on the shoulders throughout

Step 7: Drive

Once you’ve set yourself up with a good dip, it’s time to quickly change direction and aggressively drive through the floor to accelerate the barbell upwards as much as possible.  These are the main things I want you to think about…

1. Posture

  • Torso still remains upright
  • Towards the end of the drive your arms start to extend (mainly to keep you in contact with the bar, the main power should still be coming from your leg drive)

2. Weight Distribution

  • As you extend aggressively you will likely come up onto your toes, but balance should still be further back over midfoot throughout the drive.
  • You should really feel your quads pushing your feet through the floor.

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • Bar stays securely on the shoulders for the start of the drive, then launches upwards over your head.

Step 8: Split and Catch

The split refers to the split position of your feet that creates a stable base for you to catch the weight overhead.  This is also the stage in which you should be really active with your shoulders and arms, locking the bar out firmly overhead.  Here are my main coaching tips for you…

1. Posture

  • Torso still remains upright
  • Feet split (one forward one back) at about hip width to create a stable base
  • In your split, your front shin should be vertical, and your back knee should be slightly bent 
  • Arms extend and lock out

2. Weight Distribution

  • Your centre of balance will be under your hips
  • Your pressure will vary per foot.  As in, you’ll feel full foot pressure through your front foot, whereas your back foot will mainly feel pressure through the balls of your feet.

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • The bar almost ‘floats’ during this stage as you reposition yourself underneath it.  It should finish overhead, supported by locked arms.

Pro Tip: A lot of people seem to mess up the split footwork.  The best way to learn is to practice without weight (imagine you have a bar) facing side on to a mirror, and correcting yourself after every rep.  Do that for 5 sets of 6-8 reps a few times per week and you’ll soon be finding your position without even thinking about it.

Step 9: Recovery

This is your last step, you’ve completed 95% of the lift, so don’t go rushing it and messing up all your hard work so far.  We’re simply looking for you to bring both feet back in line at around hip width. Here are some quick coaching tips…

1. Posture

  • Torso still remains upright
  • Bring your front foot back to centre, followed by your rear foot
  • Arms remain extended and locked out

2. Weight Distribution

  • Weight distribution will shift as your feet move
  • Your centre of balance will remain under your hips

3. Bar Trajectory / Position

  • The bar remains overhead, supported by locked arms throughout

Pro Tip:  If you’re in a competition, make sure to wait until you’re given the down signal.  Dropping the bar before this will mean it’s technically a missed lift.

Clean and Jerk Muscles Worked

Basically every muscle on your body.  Your quads will be the main muscle responsible for force generation, but your hamstrings, spinal erectors and glutes will also play a role, as will your lats to keep the bar close, and your shoulders and triceps to keep the bar locked out overhead.  What’s more, you’ll also use your calves as you fully extend on the second pull, as well as your traps to maximise bar height.

This is why heavy clean and jerk workouts absolutely fry your central nervous system!

Clean and Jerk Record

There are loads of different world records depending on sex and weight class.  For example, if you’re a 49kg woman, the current world record is 119kg, set by Saikhom Mirabai Chanu of India at the 2021 Asian championships.  Whereas if you’re a superheavy (109+kg) man, the current world record is 265kg set by Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

These records are constantly changing though, so whilst they’re accurate now (September 2021) they might be higher in a few months!

Clean & Jerk Crossfit

Within crossfit, it’s also common to refer to the clean as a squat clean, which is totally fine too, but usually unnecessary, as weightlifting terminology uses terms like clean and power clean to distinguish the height at which you catch the bar. Check here for a complete guide on crossfit vs weightlifting.

If you’re learning the clean & jerk for crossfit, you might also want to consider whether the weightlifting workout is for maximum weight or for reps/time.  If it’s for max weight, the guide above is great.  If it’s for max reps or time, then you might want to consider variations like power cleans and push jerks, as these will save you time.  I’ve written a full guide on the jerk that you might want to check out here, and a full guide on power cleans here.

Clean & Jerk Workout

Alright, alright I know what you’re after.  You’ve got the basics of clean and jerk technique down and you want a couple of workout suggestions.  Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Clean and Jerk Workout 1:  Technical Improvement Focus

Warm up with the bar plus 2-3 build up sets, then do…

15 reps – with 60s rest between reps

  • If you get two really good, solid lifts in, go up in weight a little.
  • If you do two reps but they don’t feel really good, go down in weight a little.

The idea is to focus on the quality of the lift, and not worry about what weight is on the bar.

Clean and Jerk Workout 2: Intensity Focus

As a beginner and early intermediate lifter you don’t want to be maxing out all the time, but you also don’t want to avoid lifting heavy weights (it is what weightlifting is all about after all!) Here’s a good compromise workout…

  • 3×2 at a moderate weight (approximately 80% of your 1 rep max if you happen to know it)
  • 3×1 slightly above that (approximately 85%)

So let’s say you come in, you’re feeling decent and you hit 3 sets of 2 reps at around 80kg.  They feel good, so you then go up to 85kg and do 3 sets of 1 rep.

You get to touch a slightly heavier weight, but still not so heavy that you see technical issues.

Clean and Jerk Frequently Asked Questions

Is clean and jerk dangerous?

Just like any well established exercise, the clean and jerk is completely safe if you perform it correctly, and use weights within your limits as you refine your technique.

Think of it this way, a hammer isn’t dangerous, it’s just a useful tool to accomplish certain goals.  But if you have no idea how to use it and just go wildly swinging and smashing it all over the place, chances are you’re going to get hurt.  Make sense?

What’s the point of clean and jerk?

Well, if you’re a competitive weightlifter it’s one of your two compulsory movements, so you’ve got to get good at it.

Or, if you’re an athlete, it can be a great tool to develop full body power and explosiveness, as well as an all round robustness that prepares you well for contact sports.

With that said, if you’re just looking to get massive and build loads of muscle size, the clean and jerk is probably not the lift for you.  It’s just too technical, too fatiguing, and doesn’t allow you to get any kind of mind muscle connection.  It’s really just not that type of exercise, so there’s nothing wrong with doing cleans for power and then hitting the dumbbells for some sneaky curls afterwards.

Next Steps

Alright, I hope you’ve found the guide useful, here’s what I recommend you do next…

  1. Get in the gym and practice the clean and jerk at least 2 to 3 times per week.  When you’re just starting, keep the weight really light and focus on improving your technique each week.
  1. If you really enjoy the lift and want to improve faster, maybe consider looking for a local club or a coach.  Lifting alongside more experienced weightlifters is a guaranteed way to increase your rate of progress, and get way more enjoyment out of your sessions.

That’s it for today

Any questions or comments, drop them below.

‘Til Next Time


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Alex Parry header image
Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.

He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.