Hang Clean and Jerk: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 28, 2022

Lifting a barbell from the hips to the top of the head is hard work that requires good muscle coordination and a lot of strength. Few exercises are as explosive and strenuous on the body as the hang clean and jerk. Almost every muscle in the body is used during this total-body workout. Mastering it requires a great deal of time, practice, and persistence.

The hang clean and jerk is a compound workout consisting of several movements performed in rapid succession. It is a coordinated multi-segmental flexion and extension of multiple joints and muscles of the whole body—a combination of push-and-pull motions in one exercise.

It is a complicated exercise to perform because it is a succession of several different movements combined into one workout. As a result, it puts a lot of muscles under stress and requires perfect coordination. For a full-body workout in the shortest amount of time, the hang clean and jerk is an efficient option to consider.

What is a Hang Clean and Jerk?

The clean and jerk is one of the lifts athletes compete in during events such as the Olympics and other weightlifting competitions. First, the bar is lifted from the ground in a deadlift position. Once the bar is above the knees, the lifter must use an explosion of power through the legs to raise the bar as high and as rapidly as possible, placing it on the shoulders while fluidly transitioning into a squatting posture.

clean and jerk

To finish the clean, the lifter stands up and positions himself for the jerk by bending the hips and knees. The lifter will then explosively extend the hips and legs, elevating the barbell above the head, and catch the bar underneath using a split or squat stance with arms straight and knees bent. To effectively complete the clean and jerk, the legs should be straight and the feet must be in line with each other.

A clean and jerk can be changed into a hang clean by leaving out the initial pull and stance. The hang clean and jerk omits the deadlift phase by beginning the exercise with the barbell held below the hips rather than on the ground. This becomes the starting position of the exercise and allows the movement to be performed more quickly than a traditional clean and jerk.

How to Perform the Hang Clean and Jerk

When doing hang clean and jerks, the starting weight should be one that can easily be managed for two to three sets of one to five repetitions each. Pick a weight that allows one to keep the form and technique intact throughout all of the sets and reps.

Moderate load progressions should be practiced at all times.

Position yourself so that the feet are beneath the barbell. The feet are hip-width apart, and the knees are slightly bent. Shoulders should be over the hips, and the head and neck should be straight.

barbell hang clean and jerk starting position

Engage the core and bend the hips and knees while maintaining a straight back. Grab the barbell with a slightly wider-than-shoulder overhand grip and retract the scapula. Lift the bar until it rests on the thighs and the body is straight with the legs.

Like when performing a deadlift, bend the hips and knees to lower the bar to knee level while maintaining a straight back. Once the bar is at knee level, explosively extend the hips and knees to generate momentum to lift the bar, then engage the upper back and traps to produce a powerful shrug to continue the lift. Next, rotate the elbows forward and turn the wrist under the bar while bending the hips and knees to a full squat position.  

barbell hang clean and jerk 2nd position

Midway through the squatting movement, the bar should be at the shoulders, and the wrist bent at an almost right angle. At the bottom of the motion, one should look like they are performing halfway through a front squat. And just like a front squat, bring the weight back up while maintaining a straight back.

barbell hang clean and jerk 3rd position

To begin the jerk, bend the knees to lower the body several inches as if trying to initiate a vertical jump. As the legs aggressively straighten, push the bar up with the shoulders and triceps and the body moving underneath the bar to catch the weight. Both feet should land at the same time. Next, lower the bar back to the starting position and start another rep.

barbell hang clean and jerk final position

Muscles Worked by the Hang Clean and Jerk

The hang clean and jerk is an exercise that challenges the entire body. Each muscle in the body will play a role, serving as a primary mover or stabilizer. When performing the hang clean and jerk, the lower body will produce most of the power needed to lift the bar. 

Every muscle group in the lower body, from the hip flexors to the toes, will be activated to varying degrees. On the other hand, the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings would be the prime movers behind the lift. They would push the feet down to the ground and give the bar the momentum it needs to move. Even the calves contribute significantly to producing the necessary explosive force to lift the bar.

The lower body muscles will be engaged several times in the hang clean and jerk. First, to give the initial lift momentum, and then to slowly lower the body into a squatting position. 

After the lower body starts to lift the bar, the upper back and traps perform a shrug to continue the momentum, the elbows rotate, and the biceps curl the bar to the shoulder. Finally, the quads, glutes, and hamstrings will be heavily activated again during the ascent from the squat position to finish the clean.

At the start of the jerk, the quads, glutes, and hamstrings would again be engaged to push the bar overhead and provide support for the body when catching the bar underneath. The shoulders and triceps would then complete the movement by participating in the final few inches of the lift.

The core and back muscles will be activated throughout the movement to keep the body straight and support the weight at all times. In a study by Calatayud et al., they found that the clean and jerk enhanced core muscle activity and had more significant activations when using water bags instead of a barbell.

Benefits of the Hang Clean and Jerk

Enhance Motor Skills and Muscular Coordination

The term motor skills refers to movements that are carried out due to the coordinated efforts of the brain, nervous system, and muscles. The whole body moves more efficiently when the motor skills are finely tuned.

The complexity of the movements in the hang clean and jerk teaches different muscle groups how to move synergistically and trains the whole body to move as a unit. This helps to tune up the nervous system and improve coordination. 

Improves Anaerobic Power and Endurance

The combination of the hang clean and jerk's explosive motions and the various degrees of resistance applied in one's training routine allows for significant anaerobic power and endurance development. This translates to better performance in sports or other low-duration, high-intensity activities such as jumping or sprinting.

Adaptation to Explosive Demands on the Body

When performing new workouts for the body or loading it in a different manner than it is usually accustomed to, the body responds by boosting its ability to deal with that new load. This ability is called adaptation. The SAID principle, which stands for "specific adaptation to imposed demands," refers to the idea that the human body would, in essence, particularly adapt to the many demands placed on it. 

For instance, the body will adapt by building greater degrees of muscular strength when one practices resistance training activities consistently with heavy weights for low repetitions. However, that same person is unlikely to be able to endure lifting lighter weights for a large number of repetitions since they do not have the muscular endurance to do so. In other words, an individual only gets what he trains for. 

If a person wants to enhance certain athletic abilities, the training motions and exercises selected should closely mimic the movement patterns that the individual would face in their particular sport or activity. For example, in the case of the hang clean and jerk, the body will start to modify and fundamentally adapt to the demands of explosivity, speed, strength, and power necessary for the exercise. 

This adaptation to the explosive demands of the workout translates to better performance in sports and daily activities. Furthermore, athletic abilities would improve significantly after several sessions of hang clean and jerk.

Final Thoughts

The hang clean and jerk movements are transferable skills that can be applied to various sports and daily activities. For example, volleyball players and wide receivers in football take the hang clean route to increase their vertical jump and improve their sprinting speed.

References

1. Calatayud J, Colado JC, Martin F, Casaña J, Jakobsen MD, Andersen LL. Core muscle activity during the clean and jerk lift with barbell versus sandbags and water bags. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015 Nov;10(6):803.

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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