5 Best Hang Clean Alternatives (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 20, 2022

Hang cleans work the whole body using a series of movements that activate the posterior chain, back, and core muscles.  It is a variation of the power clean exercise and thus offers similar benefits.

Alternatives to the hang clean may be utilized, whether for variation of the exercise or for a more beginner-friendly option. Equipment may also be modified with the use of other free weights such as dumbbells or heavy resistance bands to reap the same benefits.

In addition, implementing alternatives to the hang cleans is not without risk of injury, as with any other exercise. It is important to implement proper technique and form to maximize gains and reduce the occurrence of injury.

What is a Hang Clean?

The hang clean exercise is a total-body type of exercise that targets muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps femoris, biceps, and core muscles. Essentially, doing the hang clean will improve the muscles’ explosive power. This is one of the preparations used for other Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk.

barbell-hang-clean muscles

The hang clean, being a compound exercise, excels in utilizing most major muscle groups in the body. Aside from being an efficient tool used to prepare for other more complicated Olympic lifts, it is beneficial for doing activities of daily living with more ease.

It improves overall body composition and enhances overall coordination due to the engagement of multiple muscle groups and different movements at once. 

Execution of a Hang Clean

The hang clean is first performed in a standing position with the toes placed underneath the bar. The feet should be at shoulder-width with knees slightly bent and shoulders aligned with the hips. The barbell should be reached and grabbed through a hip hinge with a slight bend to the knees and shins close to the bar.

This should be held with an overhand grip directly outside of the hips, or about one thumbs distance from the hips, allowing the shoulders to rotate outwards and engage the muscles of the back. The barbell is then lifted while maintaining the shoulder’s position and pushing the chest out.

barbell hang clean

Upon getting into an upright position, the barbell should be at mid-thigh with the weight evenly distributed on both feet to create a well-balanced base of support. Arms should be held at the side of the body with a slight bend of the elbows. 

Transition into a squat with a sudden hopping movement. With this, the shoulders should perform a shrug with an explosive bend of the elbows forward to place the barbell at the shoulder level. The hang clean is completed by bringing the hips and knees into full extension with the bar kept at the shoulders. The bar is then lowered to mid-thigh level to assume the starting position. 

Hang Clean Alternative Exercises

Although hang cleans are effective in developing lower body strength, it is important to have alternatives at the ready for whatever reason they may serve. Whether due to equipment availability or simply for workout variation, the following alternatives may be utilized to reap similar benefits.

1. Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is performed for the development of hip health, joint motions, muscle growth, as well as muscular endurance. Specifically, this exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, upper back, forearms, and core muscles

The exercise benefits the improvement of ADLs or activities of daily living such as lifting heavy objects, walking, reaching items from the ground, and more to ease its performance. The Romanian deadlift also assists in balancing out the strength of the hamstrings with the quadriceps. 

To perform Romanian deadlifts the lifter assumes a standing position having both feet aligned with the hips. Standing in front of the barbell, the shins should just be touching the barbell.

barbell Romanian deadlift movement

After getting into position, squat down while keeping the back straight, scapula drawn back, and reach for the barbell placing the hands at shoulder width apart. Lift the barbell up by bringing the hips and knees into full extension, keeping the position of the back and shoulders maintained, as the chest naturally pops out as a result of the hinging of the hips.

In an upright position ensure that the barbell is kept close to the thighs. Unhinge the hips right after a contraction or stretch is felt on the hamstrings and slowly lower the barbell just up to the middle of the lower leg, then repeat to complete a set. 

2. Front Squats

The front squat is a lower body workout that builds muscle and strength in the lower extremities, especially the quadriceps femoris, and gluteal muscles. It is a variation of the squat that makes an excellent alternative to hang cleans as it works identical muscles, save for some, and thus may reap identical gains.

To perform a front squat, a barbell is carried and positioned to sit across the front side of the shoulders. It is usually held for stability and control with the classic or clean grip wherein the barbell is held in position with the fingertips placed under the bar with the elbows up so the upper arms are parallel to the ground.

front squat

In this position, the spine and back should be kept long. With the heels on the ground, the center of gravity is shifted to the middle of the feet, but not too far forward that it is placed on the balls of the feet.

The body is then lowered into a deep squat, with the spine kept neutral and the core engaged. The elbows should remain lifted and the chest upright so the bar does not roll forward. At the bottom of the movement, the back of the thigh just about touches the calves.

The squat is then reversed by driving upwards in a controlled manner, extending the hips and knees. The lift is continued until the lifter assumes the starting position, and the move is repeated until the set is completed.

3. Power Cleans

In Olympic weightlifting there are two main variations of clean exercises, the hang clean and the power clean. The main difference between the two is in the range of motion it requires to perform and complete the whole exercise and its starting positions. 

Weightlifters and athletes utilize the power clean to increase strength and power. It is called a power clean because the bar is caught in a partial squat position, otherwise known as a power position.

power clean

This maneuver is divided into multiple stages and needs a great level of skill to execute well. It starts with having the barbell just in front of the shins as the lifter stands with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and the toes pointing slightly outward.

The bar is grasped by squatting down, allowing the knees to track over the feet. As the bar is grabbed, the elbows must be fully extended, with the knees situated between the arms.

The bar is lifted by forcefully driving through the hips and knees to extend while keeping the bar close to the body. The spine must remain in a neutral position, arms extended, and the core engaged as the bar travels upwards.

As the bar passes the knees, the hips thrust forward to push the bar against the thigh and gain momentum to set up for the second pull. As the bar comes off the thighs, the hips, knees, and ankles are extended in an explosive manner. The shoulders shrug and elbows are flexed to pull the arms and body under the bar.

The lifter drops into a partial squat to catch the bar, while simultaneously continuing to flex the shoulders and elbows until the upper arms are parallel to the floor. Upon gaining stability, the lifter once again drives the hips and knees to extend and assume a standing position with the bar resting on the shoulders and clavicle.

Upon reaching the top of the movement, the bar is lowered to the ground in a slow, controlled manner. The maneuver is repeated until the number of repetitions is achieved to complete a set.

4. Box Jumps

The box jump is one of many plyometric exercises that improve the explosiveness and coordination of the jumper. This is a high-impact exercise that focuses on strengthening the quadriceps femoris, gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and calves

box jump

Typically the box used in box jump exercises is 50 to 70 centimeters in height while the jumper is positioned about a foot away from it. Before performing the jump, ensure that both feet are aligned with the hips and not too wide apart, nor too narrow to be able to generate the maximum amount of force needed for the jump.  

To perform, bend the knees and hips to extend the hamstrings which will create a load for it for the jump. Then, use the arms to gain momentum by bringing them backward. Jump on the box while swinging the arms forward as if propelling it to the air to gain more vertical to land on the box. 

As the jumper lands on the box, immediately bend down to absorb the shock of the landing and not put all the pressure on the joints. After getting down from the box, the move is repeated until the set is complete.

5. Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is a strengthening exercise that focuses on working on the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and muscles of the upper back.  The exercise enables the increase of the individual’s total body strength, power, and balance, at the same time it also improves stamina and cardiovascular endurance. 

The performance of the kettlebell swing may seem like it works the upper extremities, but in reality, it actually engages the lower extremities more as mentioned above, and is considered a low-impact form of exercise. 

To perform the kettlebell swing, grab the kettlebell by hinging the hips and slightly bending the knee to reach down. The weight of the kettlebell must be positioned between both knees of the individual. The kettlebell is pulled backward to gain momentum for the swing and lift.

how to do a kettlebell single arm swing

To lift the weight, the hips are unhinged and thrust forward as the knees are extended at the same time, while the back remains in a neutral position. The kettlebell is allowed to be swung forward up to the shoulder height level.

Then as gravity pulls the weight down it is followed by hinging the hips again and slightly bending the knees as the kettlebell returns between the legs. The momentum is used to continue on to the next repetition until a set is done.

The Takeaway

The hang clean is a useful and efficient exercise to build explosive power and strengthen muscles of the lower and upper extremities, but it requires a certain level of skill to perform. The benefits that hang cleans offer are not exclusive to hang cleans alone and may be achieved by the alternatives mentioned above.

Some of the alternatives presented can be utilized if time, technique, and other external factors do not allow for hang cleans to be performed. On the other hand, the other alternatives discussed may be used to provide variation or progression of the exercise. 

References

1. Ayers JL, DeBeliso M, Sevene TG, Adams KJ. Hang cleans and hang snatches produce similar improvements in female collegiate athletes. Biol Sport. 2016 Sep;33(3):251-6. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1201814. Epub 2016 May 10. PMID: 27601779; PMCID: PMC4993140.

2. Hori, Naruhiro & Newton, Robert & Andrews, Warren & Kawamori, Naoki & McGuigan, Michael & Nosaka, Kazunori. (2008). Does Performance of Hang Power Clean Differentiate Performance of Jumping, Sprinting, and Changing of Direction?. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 22. 412-8. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318166052b.

3. Everett, Greg (2012). Olympic weightlifting for sports. [Sunnyvale, CA]: Catalyst Athletics. ISBN 9780980011142.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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