Clean & Jerk

The clean & jerk is part of the group of weightlifting movements we do at CrossFit.

What is clean and jerk?

The clean & jerk is a weightlifting movement that is also practiced in CrossFit and consists of loading the barbell in two stages, from the floor to the shoulders and from the shoulders to overhead.

What muscles do work?

In a clean and jerk lift, the following are the main components involved: quadriceps, hamstrings, shoulders, trapezius muscles and lumbar support

Types of clean and jerk 

This movement can be performed with an Olympic bar, although it is also common to use other equipment such as dumbbells or kettlebells

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How to improve clean and jerk?

As in everything else, the technique must be the foundation in order to make progress.

Skipping the natural steps of the progression can only cause a carryover of poor technique or even injury.

To pretend to lift a lot of weight without a consolidated technique does not have much of a future if you want to keep improving your marks. 

A good technique will be the only way to progress over time. To this end, it is necessary to take into account that you need practice and perseverance

Training separately

Since this movement consists of two very distinct phases, the technique is usually worked on independently. 

In addition, there is always one of the two movements in which the athlete is weaker. Most commonly, the jerk is the limiting movement when it comes to adding weight. If they are always trained together, the clean will not improve, since the weight of the jerk is lower.

By training them separately, each phase is practiced within the percentage allowed by its load, allowing progress to be made.

Learn more about clean and jerk specifically in each of these articles.

Working on strength

To ensure adequate work intensity, percentages of the PR are used. 

What is PR? 

These initials refer to Personal Record and is, therefore, the best result you have had from a specific exercise. It is often used interchangeably with the term 1 RM, 1 Maximum Repetition.
If you don't know what your maximum lift of a movement is, start with a light weight and gradually increase the load until you can no longer perform a quality lift.

While in class WODs usually refer to a specific kg to perform the movement, when we focus on a programming, we indicate a percentage over your best mark.

In this individualized way, we will work progressively adding weight with which we will be able to see how the lift improves.

When the workload is around 70-85% of the RM works strength of that movement, the lifter should still be able to have good technique.

The pattern of these trainings is usually by sets of 2 to 5 repetitions with rest between sets.

Lifting above 90% is reserved for competitions or personal records (1RM or PR).

Working on the technique

With sessions designed to practice improving the lifting technique.

In this case, the exercises are carried out with the 50-70% weight of 1 RM. It is thus considered that with this load the athlete is able to consciously monitor weight and apply the necessary corrections to improve.

In weightlifting you have to coordinate many elements and be aware of your posture, extend at the exact moment, keep your balance... 

The best way to improve is to be patient and practice each of these elements.

Typical clean and jerk errors

The lack of mobility, strength or coordination are the main reasons for those who fail in the clean and jerk.

Striking the clavicle

This is one of the most common (and most painful) errors. At the moment of receiving the bar in rack position it hits the bones of the clavicle.

The goal of the clean is to lift the bar high enough to catch it before it begins to descend, absorbing the weight as we descend into the squat. 

At that time of the lift, it is important that the elbows move fast in that transition to more easily accommodate the bar over the more pronounced shoulders in rack position.

Solution: Practice the tall pull

With the bar at hip height, shrug your shoulders, do a pull-up and catch the bar in the rack position. 

Perform this pull in different positions: 

  • Muscle clean, hips extended.
  • Receiving the bar in the first part of the squat. 
  • Receiving the bar in full squat.

Concentrate on keeping the bar close to the body because many times the hit happens when the bar moves away from the athlete's body and the athlete has to move forward to go after the bar on the catch.

Remember that if the elbows do not advance quickly, the clavicle bones protrude more than the shoulder muscles.

Flexing the arms too early

If you are a beginner in this movement, it is easy to have a tendency to bend your arms prematurely, as if they were the ones lifting the load based on strength instead of hip power.

This method only works with very light loads but is limited by upper body strength. 

Solution: practice cleans with pause. It is a way to reinforce the pull of the extended-arm carry and develop eccentric strength.

It consists of pausing the movement (2 to 4 seconds) when the bar reaches a certain height:

  • below the knees
  • above the knees
  • before extension
  • right after the extension.

Breaks can also be used at receptions of the bar to help improve stability.

Falling forward in the jerk bend

With a significant load on the shoulders it is relatively easy to do the knee bend by leaning forward rather than in a vertical plane. This ends up unbalancing the bar in the jerk and can make the attempt a failure if it ends up falling.

SolutionReposition yourself without rushing when you have finished the load. Place your feet in a safe position and reposition your hands if you need to. 

Think about bringing the knees out into the dip while keeping the chest upright is a way to avoid falling forward.

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