4 Tips for a Monster Clean and Jerk

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that the clean and jerk is easier to master than the snatch. The bad news is that it still takes a ton of work and effort to master. But no worries! There is always a way to improve, even for the hardest exercises.

This article is a follow up to the snatch exercise article a few weeks ago. In the previous article, we talked about the importance of snatch technique, when you should start working on technique, and the best approach to improving technique.

Building off of that, the approach to enhancing clean and jerk technique is relatively simple. Break the lift down into individual components, strengthen the pieces and then put the lift back together. However, if you are just starting out, it is imperative that you go through the full movement.

It is impossible to work on your weaknesses until you identify them! Stick with the basics until the weaknesses show themselves.

Once you have established a solid base motor pattern, it is time to work on those pieces. The major difference between the snatch and clean & jerk is that the C&J is technically two movements (although they are performed sequentially). Because of this complexity, we must take a slightly different approach than the snatch.

Stick with the basics until the weaknesses show themselves.

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In order to determine what exercises we should be doing, we need to take into account the time until the next competition. The further away from competition, the more you can treat the exercise as two separate lifts. As you get closer to the competition, it is VITAL to treat the C&J as one lift.

Do not fall into the trap of over-separation. Cleaning a massive weight is great, but if you can’t put it overhead then it is all wasted effort. Conversely, a big jerk doesn’t mean much unless you can put it on your shoulders.

Here are some of my favorite exercises for improving the clean and jerk, and rough estimates of when you should do them:

More than 7-10 weeks from competition

When you are far out from competition, it is beneficial to separate cleans and jerks within a workout. By splitting them up, you can devote more effort into improving each lift.

You can do cleans from any position (blocks, hang, floor) and do jerks from either the blocks or racks. However, I strongly advise combining them periodically.

A good rule of thumb is do clean and jerks once a week for high frequency lifters, and once every two weeks for lower frequency lifters.

During this time it is a good idea to pick corrective exercises that have a laser focus on specific areas. Two of my favorites are as follows:

1. Press in split

How it’s done:

  • Start with the bar in the front rack position then place your feet in the finished position of the jerk
  • Keep your core/back tight and press the bar overhead. Hold overhead for a second, then lower the bar back down to your shoulders.
  • Make sure to keep your lower body completely still! Do not use your lower body to help press the weight.

Why you should do it:

This exercise is all about balance, but it will also help build strong shoulders and develop a good bar path. By keeping your lower body still and controlling the weight up and down, you force yourself to develop balance in the catch position.

Simply put, if you are off balance you will not be able to stay still and press the weight, no matter how strong you are. I highly recommend this exercise to everyone.

When to use it:

This is a great warm-up exercise for jerks. It gets your shoulders working and helps drill the correct path for jerks. Do about 4-6 sets of 2-6 reps. I usually follow a 6-5-4-3-2 scheme, increasing 5-10 kilos each time.

DO NOT GO EXTREMELY HEAVY ON THIS EXERCISE. This primarily a balance exercise and strength is secondary. About 35-50% of your jerk max is plenty (My best jerk from the blocks is 210 kg and the most I use on press in split is 90 kg).

Watch a demo:
Press and split demo

2. Clean without moving feet

How it’s done:

  • Start with your feet in the catch position and get a clean grip on the bar with NO hook grip
  • Perform a clean while keeping your feet on the platform
  • It is ok for your heels to come off the ground but do NOT move your feet in any direction
  • Focus on really finishing the pull and turning the bar over.

Why you should do it:

Just like its snatch counterpart, the main goal of this exercise is to focus on finishing and turning over. In fact, this version of the exercise has a little more transfer for the turnover.

This exercise can also help correct looping and jumping forward or backward. A lot of coaches talk about “turning over the elbows faster,” but this exercise gives you an opportunity to teach yourself how to turn over and receive the bar correctly.

When to do it:

You can do this exercise on your “non-lift” days. Think of it as a good alternative to power cleaning. This is a supplemental lift and it should be treated as one!

However, you can go a little heavier with this exercise compared to the snatch version. Since there is more of a transfer and a greater similarity to the clean, it is ok to push yourself slightly more. About 75-80% of your clean max is a good working range and no more than 85% percent.

Watch a Demo:
Clean without moving feet demo

4-8 weeks from competition

As you approach competition you need to gradually train yourself to think of the lifts as one exercise. You can still train the lifts separately, but make sure to increase how often you clean and jerk together. This means at least once a week.
A good way to lead into this combination is to tailor your assistance movements. My favorite way to do this is to pair a corrective exercise with a strength movement. By combining them you still focus on one part of the clean and jerk without completely ignore the other.

These are my two favorites:

1. Front Squat + Jerk

How it’s done:

  • Take the bar off the rack and do 1-3 front squat reps
  • Do a jerk

Why you should do it:

This is an extremely simple yet powerful exercise. Learning how to regain composure after a front squat is the most important key to a successful clean and jerk.

The advantage of this variation is that you will be able to put more focus on the jerk without completely ignoring the first half of the movement. The front squat will be taxing but not nearly as much as a heavy clean. By combining the two, you will get more realistic practice for when it comes time for heavy clean and jerks.

When you should do it:

This is a substitute for jerk work. Feel free to work as heavy as you would like as long as you maintain good form. I would recommend varying the reps based on your leg strength. If leg strength is an issue, stick to 3 front squats + 1 jerk to teach yourself how to handle a jerk when your lower body is gassed. If you have strong cleans, 1 rep should be fine.

Watch a demo:
Front squat + jerk demo

2. Clean without contact + push press

How it’s done:

  • Get into a normal clean start position and grab the bar with a hookgrip
  • Perform a clean but do not let the bar make contact with your body!
  • Focus on keeping the bar as close as you can without touching
  • Use your upper body to really focus on turning over
  • After the clean, reset and perform a push press

Why you should do it:

I picked this exercise up a few years ago from Vasiliy Polovnikov. Vasily was an incredibly strong guy and had a fantastic command of the clean.

This exercise will help in three major areas:

First, by keeping the bar as close as possible without touching, you will develop bar awareness. This awareness will develop the necessary control that leads to more efficient cleans.

Second, by not allowing contact with the hip, you will slow the final pull down and force your upper body to work correctly to turn the bar over. This will develop strength in the upper back and help you catch cleans more smoothly.

Third, by adding a push press at the end, you will learn how to refocus after a tough clean and emphasize the leg drive needed for a big jerk.

When to do it:

This is another good “off-day” exercise, very similar to cleans without moving feet or power snatches. However, this exercise is a little more advanced than the others. Make sure you have a good grasp of the clean before attempting a non-contact movement.

If this is your first time doing these, go no more than 70-75% of your clean and jerk max. After you develop a good turnover, you can go a little heavier but no more than 85-90% of your best. Any heavier will develop bad habits.

Watch a demo:
Clean without contact + push press demo

Less than 3 weeks from competition

When you are approaching competition, you need to be doing full clean and jerks. The number of assistance exercises should decrease and the exercise selection should be very similar to the competition lifts.

Power cleans, power jerks, and power snatches are good examples of assistance exercises in this phase. However, if you want to continue doing any of the above exercises in this phase, they need to be done with a lower priority.

The best way to accomplish this is to treat assistance exercises as warm-ups. For example, completing a couple no contact cleans is a great way to get the upper body primed for a big clean day. A couple sets with 40-60 kilos is all you would need!

Remember, none of these guidelines are set in stone. I highly recommend you try a lot of approaches to figure out what works best for you. Your training is a constantly evolving process; don’t be afraid to try new things!

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