The King of All Exercises
Were it not for the snatch, the clean would have but
laughable challenges to the title “King of All Exercises.”
Oddly, we start our examination of the clean with
mention of the snatch, as many of the superlatives
attributed to the clean apply equally to the snatch.
Clearing the air early with admission of the snatch’s peer
status, we can speak more freely of the clean’s unrivaled
qualities and need not repeatedly suggest the snatch’s
possible exception to the clean’s peerless qualities.
The clean is a pure bit of functionality. The clean is simply
pulling a load from the ground to the shoulders where
frequently the object is being readied for lifting overhead.
With the clean we take ourselves from standing over an
object pulling it, to under it and supporting. (Compare
this to the muscle-up where we take ourselves from
under an object to supporting ourselves over it.)
In its finest expression the clean is a process by which
the hips and legs launch a weight upward from the
ground to about bellybutton height and then retreat
under the weight with blinding speed to catch it before
it has had the time to become a runaway train. The
movement finishes with the hips and legs again working
by squatting the weight up to full extension.
The speed and force with which the clean (and, yes, the
snatch) drives loads give it developmental properties
that other weight training movements cannot match.
Deadlifts, squats, and bench presses will never
approximate the speed and force and consequently the
power required of a clean at larger loads. For this simple
reason, while these are important movements, they are
not the clean’s peers. Power is that important.
The clean builds immense strength and power but
this is only the more obvious part of the clean’s story.
(This complex movement actually contains within itself
two princely exercises – the deadlift and squat.) The
clean is unique among weight training exercises in that
it demands extraordinary athleticism beyond strength
Experience coaching the clean will show that a
lack of sufficient speed and flexibility are common
impediments to learning the clean and that refinements
in coordination, accuracy, and balance are the biggest
obstacles of all.
Notice in the picture to the right
that the weight is sitting squarely
on Dave’s chest and shoulders with
his elbows pointing forward. This
posture, called “racked,” is critical
to weightlifting and demands and
improves wrist and shoulder
Practice the rack position with a
moderate load on a squat rack.
Reach out for the bar, pushing the
shoulders and chest up and out, and
then step under the bar and rest it
in the channel formed by the chest
and shoulders. The grip is loose,
with several fingers possibly coming
off the bar; that’s O.K. The hands
are only babysitting the bar.
With the bar racked on the
shoulders, stand up to lift it from the squat rack several
inches, exposing the shoulders, chest, and wrists to the
With regular practice anyone can learn to “rack” the
bar and even arrive at acceptable levels of comfort
with the position. Without this technique your clean’s
development will be unnecessarily and dramatically
When a lift goes bad, and it happens regularly, you
need to be able to dump the bar. Convince yourself
by demonstrating that you can bail out from both the
bottom and at the top.
From the bottom, spread the knees and push the bar
forward letting it fall to the floor. Keep your hands close
to the bar to control its decent.
From the top just drop the elbows and bow slightly.
Again you’ll want to keep your hands lightly on the bar
as it descends to nudge a wild hop away from you.
Strength and the Clean
It has long been our observation that an athlete’s max
clean will in large part be dependent on their max
deadlift and front squat.
For a load to come up from the ground confidently
and then accelerated dramatically it better be an easy
deadlift. Any load you attempt to clean should be an
easy load for a deadlift.
To confidently dive under a load and catch it in a front
squat it will need to be an easy front squat. Any load
you attempt to clean should be an easy load for a front
As a rule of thumb we encourage our athletes to push
their combined max front squat and deadlift to four
times their max clean. This suggests that if you want
a 500-pound clean you’ll want to develop a 1,000-
pound deadlift and a 1,000-pound front squat. In a less
otherworldly example don’t expect to clean 200 pounds
when your max front squat is 200 pounds and your max
deadlift is 300.
Improving your front squat and deadlift is a surefire way
to improve your clean.
The Clean and the Clean and Jerk
We mentioned that the clean is a gateway exercise to the
clean and jerk. The clean and jerk is not only one of the
two Olympic lifts; it is also an extraordinary movement
of unparalleled capacity to advance your fitness.
The clean will be the weak link in the clean and jerk.
If you can get under the weight, you’ll likely be able to
squat the weight and then drive it overhead.
We want a big clean so that we can get a big clean and
jerk so that you can get a big high rep clean and jerk.
CrossFit Fort Lauderdale offers fitness programs designed for all ages and skill levels, combining a variety of functional movements that help athletes achieve what is considered the ultimate level of fitness. Our couches are highly trained to give our members peace of mind that are doing the right things to get the best results.