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Clean and Press, Barbell

Type: Legs
The clean and press is an exercise that works the upper and lower body, from the legs, abdominals, back arms and shoulders. There is a lot of technique required to perform the barbell clean and press correctly, so it's not ideal for beginners. The most effective way to practice the clean and press technique is to break the routine down into 2 exercises, the power clean and front push press.
Level :  Equipment : Yes

Clean and Press, Barbell Steps:

Step 1:
Grasp the bar with an overhand grip (both palms facing you) about shoulder width.

Step 2:
Keeping your back straight and head facing forwards, deadlift the bar off the floor.

Step 3:
Explosively drive the bar upwards through the hips and knees.

Step 4:
As the bar reaches the thighs, simultaneously drop under the weight by bending at the knees.

Step 5:
Reverse curl the bar up to rest on the shoulders by throwing your elbows underneath the bar and stand up straight.

Step 6:
Then from the shoulders, push press the barbell up and over the head.

Step 7:
Return the bar to the floor by performing the opposite set of movements.

Top Tip:

Break the move down into parts and master each part before putting it all together. Practice with just a bar to begin with until you have mastered the full technique.
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Clean and Press Barbell

The clean and press exercise is one of the most efficient for building muscle mass, but also one of the most controversial in weightlifting. That s because it was eliminated from the Olympics in 1972. The judges of the lifting trials could not agree on what constitutes proper technique for performing this exercise and hence could not come up with a cohesive judging standard. In the meantime, it s accumulated quite a reputation as a great way to build both strength and size and it s currently being used in popular training programs like CrossFit, but also in regular gyms.

At first glance, the clean and press may seem simple. After all, it only involves two parts: the clean and the press, from which it obviously derives its name. It s a strength exercise that mainly works the shoulder muscles, but it also involves numerous other major muscle groups, like the abs, calves, glutes, hamstrings, both the middle and the lower back, plus the quads, shoulders, traps, and triceps. It can be performed with just about any type of weight at least in theory. There s a clean and press kettlebell exercise available, and you can also try it with dumbbells. However, the classical version of this intermediate-level compound exercise involves the barbell.

In the following, we ll start you off with a brief guide on proper form for these two parts of the movement. Then, we ll discuss that age-old weightlifting issue: should you opt for a clean and press barbell exercise, or for a dumbbell clean and press? Finally, we ll be offering you tips and tricks for this move, as well as alternatives to it, which can be just as effective.

Clean and press proper form guide

The clean move

You start off in standing position, with your feet about hip-width apart and the barbell right in front of you. Breathe in profoundly, thenlift the barbell in one clean swoop, which involves a jump in three stages. This triple extension involves the hips, the knees, and then the ankles, in a very rapid succession. Once the bar has been lifted as high up into the air as possible by your legs, you need to pull it under. You do this by swiftly and abruptly contacting the traps, or the trapezius muscles, which are located on your upper back. As you do this, you need to drop into a squat and twist your grip on the bar, so that your elbows are pointing outwardly. Simultaneously bring up your arms as you extend your elbows, so that the bar ends up resting on your palms, frontal part of the shoulder (the deltoids) and your clavicle.

At this stage of the movement, you should be in full squat position, with your glutes resting on your heels, or at least very close to them. Your upper body should be perched straight up, with the bar lying across your delts and palms. Make sure to keep your chest stiff and breathe in deeply and regularly. This way, you ll be keeping the bar comfortably rested over your clavicle.

The press move

Once you re in full squat position, it s time to bound back up to your feet, but proper form demands that you perform the actions in a certain sequence. You will be performing what is otherwise known as a front squat. These days, the front squat is far easier to complete than in the early twentieth century, when bars were differently designed and much more difficult to lift this way. Your aim is to press the barbell fully overhead, once you ve gotten it to the point where it s resting on the frontal part of your delts. Stand completely straight as you press up, then slightly point your knees toward the ground and spring up, pushing through your legs and back. Make sure you re investing as much effort and energy as is available to you into pressing the weight to the ceiling. Then, you can drop back or lean back, to hold the weight up past its sticking point. The end position will have you standing up straight, with the weight over your head and your arms locked upward.

Up until 1972, when this exercise was still performed in the Olympic weightlifting trial, several variants of the press move emerged. That is because most weightlifters would dip back while pressing up. Only a handful could hold a completely upright position. The comparatively easier version, which allows for a dip back, also allows the lifter to push more weight through their arms.

Alternatives to the clean and press barbell exercise

The popular fitness and weight lifting website Bodybuilding.com ranks the clean and press at number three on its list of the top rated exercises for the shoulders, as per its users preferences. The side laterals to front raise is the number one exercise for the shoulder, closely followed by the single-arm linear jammer and the website offers a ton of amazing resources for building the size and strength of your shoulders. However, today we re only going to focus on exercises with which you can replace the clean and press barbell. Perhaps you simply want to mix things up on shoulder day, or maybe the clean and press is too difficult for you. Whatever your reasons may be, here are some great alternatives to this very efficient workout.

Standing military presses

You might also know them under the name of standing barbell presses , or standing overhead presses . The standing military press is also a strength compound exercise for the shoulders and it also engages the triceps. To perform you re going to need a barbell and it s okay even if you re a beginner. You ve got all the odds in your favor to perform this exercise properly. Start out with a squat rack, on which you place a barbell at about the level of your chest. Choose proper weights, then grab a hold of the barbell with your palms faced in front of you. Your grip needs to be more ample than shoulder width. Bend your knees a little and position the barbell on your clavicle. Then, raise toward the ceiling, but make sure the bar is still resting on your chest. Take one step behind you and increase the distance between your feet, as to position them right beneath your shoulders.

Raise the barbell into the air, once you ve made sure you re gripping it at the right distance. Elevate it above your head and lock your arms into position. At this point, the bar should be roughly at the same level with your shoulders and a bit before your head. Take a slow, deep breath in, then start lowering the bar down toward your collar bone. Once the bar has reached the collarbone, raise it back up to the initial position. Meanwhile, breathe out slowly.

For alternatives, you can opt for a sitting military press especially recommended if you ve got a bad lower back. Don t hold the bar behind your neck if you ve got shoulder issues, since this can over-exert your rotator cuff. When you place the bar behind your neck, you re hyperextending your shoulder. Finally, if you want an exercise that isolates your shoulder muscles better, try using dumbbells instead of a single barbell.

One-arm kettlebell push presses

You may simply call them push presses; no matter what you call them, though, they still remain a great compound strength exercise for your shoulder muscles. You will obviously need a kettlebell to perform this intermediate level workout, which also fires up your calf muscles, quadriceps, and triceps.

The exercise is simple enough to perform in proper form. Simply pick up a kettlebell by its handle, then lift it in one clean swoop all the way up to your shoulder. Make sure you re also contracting your leg muscles and supporting the move with your hips. As you pull up the kettlebell rotate your wrist to the point where your palms are facing forward. Once you ve completed this first step and set up the initial position of the push press, bend at the knees. Your upper body should remain completely straight. After you ve swiftly dipped your knees, press up to the ceiling with all your might, through your heels. You ll basically be jumping into the air, with the kettlebell pressing overhead. Reach your arms out the point where they re locked out and drive the whole energy of this move into pressing up with the kettlebell. To complete the rep, bring the weight back down to shoulder level.

Circus bells

The circus bell may sound like a barrel of laughs as does its alternate name of fat dumbbell press but, in fact, it s a complex compound exercise, which addresses the weightlifting workout needs of the experts. Aside from giving your muscles a run for their money , this exercise also puts the hamstrings, forearms, glutes, lower back, trapeze muscle and triceps to work. It s actually a pro weightlifting exercise, which can also be seen during competitions for this sport.

As its name suggests, it s performed with a circus bell a very large dumbbell with a thick bar. In the beginning, the dumbbell needs to be positioned between your feet. Grab a hold of it with both your hands, then bring it to one shoulder with the use of a single hand. Your hips and knees will be providing the stability you require to clear the weight. To maintain your balance, you need to make sure that one of the heads of the weight is positioned behind your shoulder. Slightly bend your knees and dip forward as you raise the circus bell over your head. Drive the weight up and bend your upper body slightly in the opposite direction from it.

Slowly lower the weight back down to the floor. You need to control this negative portion of the move as best you can, since circus bells are heavy and can seriously damage a floor. The best tip in this sense is to use a rubber mat, which will help protect the surface beneath it.

Why do it? The top 3 reasons to perform the clean and press

As you may have gathered up until this point, the clean and press barbell workout is not easy, but the truth is you d be hard-pressed to find any other move that is as comprehensive as this one. It s an all-in-one type of exercise which will literally work every muscle in your body and greatly enhance your strength, when performed right. Since we re on the topic of form, it s worth mentioning that most beginner weightlifters who decide to give up on the clean and press do so because they find it too complicated to perform it right. It s not really that hard and here s what you stand to gain from it:

         Strength, speed, and cut muscles

If you re into CrossFit, you may have heard of the power clean and the squat clean. The power clean involves putting the bar back on the squat rack at the end, while also dipping your knees to the point where you re in quarter squat position. For a squat clean, you ll need to dip your body all the way into a full squat. These exercises are similar to the clean press, in the sense that they require a sizeable amount of power, plenty of speed, and strong muscles. Those athletes, whom you see lifting impressive amounts of weight all do cleans. Not only do cleans help them stay strong, but they also sculpt muscles like few other compound exercises do.

         A one-stop-shop for just about all your muscles

The power clean and press uses just about any muscle in your body that you can name, from the glutes and the quads, to the muscles on your back, hamstrings, shoulders, arms, and core. A good rep, i.e. one that s properly executed, will engage them all, which means that you can include the clean and press in any number and type of workouts. Clean and press barbell exercises are not just for the shoulders. In fact, most professional bodybuilders also use them as benchmarks, to understand how their strength levels are evolving in time.

         Learn some technique, while you re at it

There are plenty of moves out there that don t involve a complex sequence of movements. The clean and press, however, does entail a certain degree of complexity. Most beginners, for instance, have trouble lifting their elbows properly and/or at the right time during the move. Don t give into frustration, if you also come across this issue. Simply take your time with it and you ll see that eventually you ll get the hang of it. And the results will be well worth it!

Frequently asked questions about clean and press barbell exercises

         How can I integrate them effectively into my workout?

Clean and press barbell exercises can either be performed on their own, as a separate exercise, or within a more complex circuit. If you take the first approach, for instance, you might be interested in the 5 x 3 strength enhancement workout. This involves completing five sets of 3 clean and press moves each, with varying degrees of 1RM: from 75% all the way up to 95%. For a full workout, you can try 3 sets of 5 reps of clean and press moves, 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps of back squats, 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps of lying leg curls, and finally 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps of leg presses.

Some lifters also integrate the clean and press barbell exercise into their workouts as a form of High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT). In this version of the move, the weight (be it a barbell, kettlebell, or set of dumbbells) is driven down as much as possible and the move itself is performed for time. While this is a great way to gauge your strength gains, you should not attempt to approach the clean and press like this before you re absolutely sure that you ve got the technique down pat.

         Is the clean and press suitable for beginner lifters?

The short answer is yes, why not? The longer one involves pacing yourself in terms of the weights you choose. Start out small, because this exercise truly is very intensive and you are by no means at Olympic lifting levels yet, as a beginner. For novices, the most important thing to get right is the proper technique. Also, it s important to put in an adequate number of repetitions, which might also be challenging at first.

         On what training day should I integrate the clean and press?

There are numerous answers to this question, since, as outlined above, the clean and press involves numerous muscle groups, from the glutes to the calf muscles. Perhaps the most involved group of muscles is that of the legs, so it might be a good idea to start out your leg training day with the press and clean or the power clean. It s very important to begin your workout with this move, because it s strenuous and in order to make sure you re doing it right, you should be well rested and with your glycogen levels high.



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