Clean and Press vs Clean and Jerk Guide [Lift Breakdown]

Written
Zing Coach
Medically reviewed
Walter Gjergja
4

 min

Published on 

May 15, 2024

Discover the unique challenges and rewards of the clean and press and the clean and jerk. Find out how each move can enhance your training regimen.

Clean and Press vs Clean and Jerk Guide [Lift Breakdown]
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Key takeaways

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In Olympic weightlifting, two foundational lifts stand out for their ability to develop strength and power: the clean and press and the clean and jerk. Their initial “clean” phases are similar, but their execution is different, making each suited to different fitness needs. If you want to optimize your weightlifting performance, you need to understand the nuances and applications of each. Depending on what you want to achieve, this Clean and Press vs Clean and Jerk Guide will help you prioritize the clean and jerk vs clean and press based on their training objectives and strengths.

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Key Takeaways

  • Knowing whether to use the clean and press vs clean and jerk depends on mastering the technical aspects of each lift.
  • Both exercises use a clean in the initial part of their movement, after which the rest of the movement is different.
  • While you’ll see them often in the gym, they can be done as at-home exercises if you have a barbell. 
  • The clean and press is ideal for developing brute upper body strength, while the clean and jerk focuses on integrating explosive power through dynamic movement.
  • Each lift targets different muscle groups; the clean and press emphasizes the upper body, while the clean and jerk involves a full-body workout.
  • Depending on your sport and performance goals, choosing between clean and press vs clean and jerk can significantly impact your success.
  • These lifts both require a high level of skill to execute safely and effectively, especially when transitioning from clean vs clean and jerk movements.

For Your Safety

While getting stronger is important, your personal health and safety are always our priorities. Due to these exercises' technical complexity and explosive nature, improper execution with excessive weight can lead to serious injury. Always take the time to integrate these movements into your training program during a learning period, using just the barbell with no weight or very low weights to master the form while minimizing risk. Only add weight once you become proficient with the technique, and then only gradually, prioritizing strength and technical development. A commitment to safety like this ensures a balanced approach to training, fostering long-term success while mitigating injury risks.

Clean and Press: What Is It?

The clean and press combines a clean (where you “flip” the barbell with bumper plates from the floor to the shoulders) with an overhead press. This lift tests your ability to mobilize and stabilize heavy weights above the head without a leg drive. If you’re transitioning from the clean and jerk movements to the clean and press, you should focus on refining your pressing technique. Assess your goals and physical capabilities to determine whether the clean and press vs clean and jerk is more suitable for your training regimen. You can do the clean and press with a regular clean, catching the barbell in the bottom of your squat, or a “power clean,” when you catch the barbell with your hip crease above parallel (not in a full squat).

Benefits

Upper Body Strength

The clean and press primarily targets muscles in the shoulders, triceps, and upper back, improving overall upper body strength and performance in activities requiring pushing and lifting motions, helping you progress in your fitness transformation.

Core Stability

Beyond just the upper body, the clean and press requires significant core engagement to stabilize the weight during the press phase, strengthening the core muscles for better posture and reducing injury risk in various sports and activities.

Hypertrophy Potential

The overhead press in the clean and press is excellent for building muscle, gaining strength, and aesthetic development in the shoulders and arms.

Drawbacks

Limited Load Capacity

The absence of leg assistance in the press phase of the clean and press vs the clean and jerk restricts the weight you can lift, which may hinder your strength gains – especially for advanced lifters.

Shoulder Strain

The overhead press in the clean and press places significant stress on the shoulder joints, increasing the risk of strain or overuse injuries, particularly if you don’t maintain proper form consistently. It’s important to test your flexibility and maintain a supple body to prevent these strains.

Potential Imbalances

Relying predominantly on upper body strength in the clean and press may lead to muscle imbalances between the upper and lower body and between different muscle groups in the upper body. Address these imbalances through supplementary exercises and balanced training programs, or you may run into injuries.

How To Do It

The Clean

  1. Start with the barbell on the ground, feet under your hips, a few inches away from the barbell.
  2. Squat and grab the bar with an overhand grip, weight distributed evenly across your entire foot.
  3. Bring your knees forward until your shins touch the bar, hips slightly higher than your knees, and shoulders above the bar.
  4. Push into the floor with your legs, engaging your quads and extending your knees to lift the barbell off the floor to your thighs.
  5. As the bar reaches your thighs, extend your hips, knees, and ankles, keeping your grip relaxed.
  6. As the barbell travels up and your legs extend, drop your hips as you move your feet a little wider.
  7. Move your under the barbell and flip your elbows down to catch it in a front rack position, dropping into a front squat.
  8. Push with your legs to stand, barbell between your neck and front delts.

The Press

  1. Press the bar overhead without using your legs.
  2. Fully extend your arms above your head and hold for a moment.
  3. Lower the weight back to the shoulders and then to the floor with control.
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Clean and Jerk - What Is It?

The clean and jerk is a two-part lift that begins with a clean or power clean, similar to the clean and press, followed by a jerk. The jerk vs clean is an explosive movement that uses leg drive to help propel the barbell overhead, where it is caught with locked arms in a low squat or split position. You can also use a power clean; the primary difference between a power clean vs clean and jerk is the depth of the squat during the clean phase. In a power clean and jerk, the athlete catches the bar in a partial squat position with the thighs above parallel to the ground. In contrast, the catch is typically in a full squat position with thighs below parallel in a clean and jerk vs power clean.

Benefits

Explosive Power

The clean and jerk enhances the ability to perform quick, powerful movements, making it ideal for sports requiring explosive strength, such as sprinting, jumping, and throwing. This translates to improved athletic performance across various disciplines.

Greater Load Management

By utilizing leg drive in the jerk phase, the clean and jerk allows lifting heavier weights than the clean and press. This ability to handle heavier loads contributes to overall strength development and progression.

Comprehensive Muscle Engagement

Unlike the clean and press, which primarily targets the upper body, the clean and jerk engages a broader range of muscle groups, including the legs, core, shoulders, and arms. This provides a more comprehensive full-body workout, promoting balanced strength development.

Drawbacks

Technical Complexity

More precise coordination and timing are required for the clean and jerk vs clean and press phases, making it inherently more complex. Novice lifters may struggle to master the intricacies of the movement, leading to slower progress and increased frustration.

Risk of Lower Back Injury

The explosive nature of the clean phase in the clean and jerk, combined with heavy loads, places significant stress on the lower back. Improper lifting technique or inadequate core strength increases the risk of lower back injuries such as strains or herniated discs.

Overhead Stability Challenges

Successfully locking out the arms and stabilizing the barbell overhead during the jerk phase demands exceptional shoulder mobility, stability, and strength. Weaknesses or imbalances in these areas may compromise form and increase the risk of shoulder injuries or failed lifts, which is why it’s important to understand your unique body composition when performing complex lifts.

How To Do It

The Clean

  1. Begin with the barbell positioned on the floor, your feet positioned hip-width apart, and positioned a few inches from the bar.
  2. Lower into a squat and grasp the bar using a pronated grip, ensuring your weight is balanced evenly across your feet.
  3. Advance your knees forward until your shins contact the bar, setting your hips slightly above your knees and your shoulders directly over the bar.
  4. Drive through the floor with your legs, activating your quadriceps and straightening your knees to elevate the barbell to your thighs.
  5. When the bar reaches your thighs, fully extend your hips, knees, and ankles while maintaining a loose grip.
  6. As the barbell ascends and your legs straighten, lower your hips and slightly widen your stance.
  7. Shift underneath the barbell and rotate your elbows forward to catch it in a front rack position, sinking into a front squat.
  8. Use your legs to rise to a standing position, positioning the barbell across the front of your shoulders.

The Jerk

  1. Dip your knees slightly, then explosively drive upward with your legs to help propel the bar overhead.
  2. Quickly drop under the bar, catching it with arms fully extended overhead in either a squat or split stance to absorb the force.
  3. Stand up fully with the bar overhead to complete the lift, maintaining stability and control throughout the movement.

Clean and Press vs Clean and Jerk: What Are the Key Differences?

Technique and Execution

The clean and press involves a strict overhead press for upper body strength, while the clean and jerk incorporates a powerful leg drive followed by a rapid arm lockout, focusing on power and speed.

Muscle Focus

The clean and press targets the deltoids, triceps, and upper back more intensely, whereas the clean and jerk engages these muscles plus the quadriceps, glutes, and calves for a more comprehensive training effect.

Adaptability

The clean and press is generally better suited for athletes focusing on upper body strength and hypertrophy, while the clean and jerk is preferred for those looking to improve overall power and athletic performance.

Clean and Jerk or Clean and Press: Which Option Is the Right Fit for You?

Choosing between the clean and press vs clean and jerk should be based on your individual training goals, skill level, and physical capabilities. If building upper body strength and muscle size is your goal, the clean and press may be more suitable. Conversely, if you aim to enhance explosive power and overall athletic performance, the clean and jerk will likely be more beneficial.

In this Lift Breakdown, deciding between the clean and press and the clean and jerk depends on your fitness goals, strength levels, and experience. You can regularly evaluate these factors with Zing Coach, an AI-powered training tool, to ensure your lifting choices align with your aspirations and physical capabilities. Zing Coach serves as your virtual lifting partner, offering tailored workouts that precisely align with your fitness objectives and improving your technique and training consistency. Explore this smart training solution—take the quiz and embark on your journey with Zing Coach today!

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FAQ

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