The Clean and Jerk is one of the two lifts that athletes compete in at the Olympic Games. It’s also a potent exercise for developing total-body power.
The Clean and Jerk comprises two distinct movements. The lift begins with a barbell on the ground, and the lifter has to Clean the bar to their shoulders—this is where the Power Clean comes from. The lifter then has to explosively drive the bar overhead and land in a split stance.
It requires incredible power, core strength, balance and control to complete, especially with heavy weight. And it’s one of the best exercises for increasing explosive power in athletic skills from sprinting all the way to driving an opponent away from you when blocking.
Below, Cleveland-based strength coach Mike Anderson provides instructions for performing the Power Clean and Jerk, which is a slight variation on the full Clean and Jerk that’s performed in the Olympics. You can also watch the video above to see the lift in action.
How to Do the Clean and Jerk
Step 1: Setup
Begin with the bar on the floor positioned close to your shins over your shoelaces. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, reach down and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
Sit your butt down and stick your chest up. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and tighten your core. Your elbows should be rotated out to the sides with your arms completely straight. Look straight ahead.
Step 2: First Pull
Pull the bar off the floor by powerfully extending your legs, making sure to keep your back flat and your chest up. The bar should travel vertically in a straight line, not into you like during a Deadlift.
Step 3: Scoop and Second Pull
Once the bar is above your knees, shift your torso to a vertical position and rebend your knees slightly. This is the scoop.
Now initiate the second pull—the most powerful portion of the movement—by violently jumping straight up, fully extending your hips, knees and ankles (triple extension), while simultaneously shrugging the bar with your shoulders. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible.
Step 4: Catch
Quickly drop into a quarter-squat position with your back straight, and hips and knees slightly bent. Drive your elbows forward to rotate them around in the bar and catch the bar in the racked position across the front of your shoulders with your fingertips under the bar. Now stand up and reposition your upper body so your elbows your down, chest is out and chin is tucked.
Step 5: The Jerk
Dip down slightly and then explosively extend your hips and legs and aggressively drive the bar overhead. As the barbell moves overhead, split your legs and land with your right leg is forward with your knee bent and your left leg straight behind you (you should do reps on both sides). Lock out your elbows overhead to finish the Jerk. Hold the jerk position then take a half step backward with your front leg and a half step forward your rear leg, and repeat to return to a standing position.
Step 6: Drop the bar
From this position, carefully drop the bar to the ground in front of you, but only do this if you’re using bumper plates and ideally you’re on a lifting platform. If you’re using a light weight, you can lower it to the ground as shown in the video above.
Common Clean and Jerk Mistakes
Mistake 1: Failing to master Power Clean form
You can’t do a Clean and Jerk properly if you haven’t learned how to perform the Power Clean, which is the first half—and arguably most complicated—portion of the lift. So take the time to hone your Power Clean technique before attempting the Clean and Jerk.
Mistake 2: Using a clean grip
If you perform the Clean correctly, you will catch the bar with your elbows forward and your fingertips under the bar. However, this isn’t a good position to drive the bar overhead. So take a moment to readjust between the clean and jerk phases by dropping your elbows down and grasping the bar tightly with an overhand grip as shown in the image above.
Mistake 3: Forgetting to tuck your chin
If you make this mistake, you will only make it once and it will be an experience you won’t forget. Always remember to tuck your chin as if trying to give yourself a double chin before the Jerk.
Mistake 4: Poor footwork
A proper Jerk includes a wide split stance. So if you find that your legs are only a few feet apart and your back knee is stiff like in the image above, you need to lengthen your stance. Make sure to reach your front foot far out in front so your shin is vertical as if doing a Lunge. Drive your back leg behind you and maintain a soft knee to absorb the landing forces.
Mistake 5: Coming out of the jerk position too quickly
Just because you manage to drive a heavy bar overhead doesn’t mean the rep is done. Afterall, you still have a heavy bar overhead. To maintain control, take small half steps alternating between your front foot and back foot to stand up out of the split position.