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How to Clean and Press: Videos, Benefits + Variations (2019)

clean and press banner image

The clean and press is the ultimate exercise for strength and power. It combines two core strength training moves – the power clean and the overhead press.

Together, these exercises make a compound exercise that has a ton of benefits, all of which we will talk you through very soon. We can guarantee that you and your clients will be impressed by the amount of clean and press muscles worked!

If you want to learn how to clean and press, you’re in the right place! Check out our step-by-step guide below, complete with a clean and press video tutorial from one of our personal trainers, 5 tips for perfecting your form, and exercise guides for our favourite variations.

Are you a fitness fanatic looking to start an exciting career in the industry? Check out range of our personal trainers courses first!

Contents:

  • How to Clean and Press
  • Clean and Press Muscles Worked
  • Clean and Press Alternatives
  • When to Do the Clean and Press
  • Benefits of Clean and Press
  • Tips for Your Form

 

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How to Clean and Press

Starting Position

barbell clean and press starting position image 1

  • Stand behind a loaded barbell with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart.
  • You should be stood close to the bar so that it is only around 2 inches in front of your shins.
  • Bend at the knees and push the hips back to grab the bar, positioning your hands shoulder-width apart and using a double overhand grip.
  • Your shoulders should be over the bar and your elbows pointed out the sides.
  • Keep your back flat throughout the exercise.

Clean

barbell clean and press image 2

  • Drive through heels to deadlift the barbell up to your knees, keeping the bar close to your body as you extend at the knees and hips.
  • This is the starting position for the clean.

barbell clean and press image 3

  • When the barbell is at knee-level, extend at the ankles, knees, and hips with power to drive the weight up to your shoulders.
  • As you do this, shrug your shoulders and drive the elbows underneath the bar.

Press

barbell clean and press image 4

  • When you are stood with the bar in the rack position across the front of your shoulders, immediatiely drive through the heels to press the bar up.
  • Press the bar upwards until your arms are extended (don’t lock out elbows).
  • Reverse the movement to lower the barbell to your shoulders at a controlled pace.
  • Return to the clean starting position.

Sets & Reps

The recommened sets & reps for any exercise depends on your (or your clients) exercise goals.

If the goal is to build muscular strength, train a 5x5 training system meaning 5 sets of 5 reps.

For aesthetic goals that are based around hypertrophy, train 4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Finally, if the goal is to improve muscular endurance do 2-3 sets of 18-20 reps. 

Clean and Press Muscles Worked

benefits of clean and press for building muscle image

Are you asking ‘what are the clean and press muscles worked’? A good question. Let’s face it, regardless of whether your goals are strength or size orientated, you wouldn’t want to do this exercise if it didn’t work muscles. Let’s get to it then!

There’s no need to worry that this exercise doesn’t work the muscles that you want to focus on, because this exercise is a huge compound movement that involves almost all of the major muscle groups.

The main clean and press muscles used are the shoulders (deltoids). This is unsurprising given the overhead press – the ultimate shoulder exercise – makes up the second part of the clean and press movement.

image highlighting clean and press muscles worked

This compound exercise also recruits a ton of upper body, lower body, and core muscles. In no particular order, the other clean and press muscles worked include:

  • Traps
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Lower back
  • Abs
  • Chest
  • Calves
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings 

Now that we’ve answered your question about the clean and press muscles worked, learn how to do our favourite variations of this exercise!

Clean and Press Alternative

dumbbell clean and press starting position image

The barbell clean and press is an awesome exercise, it has benefits for pretty much every gym-goer or PT client and will have you well on the way to your goals whether they’re aesthetic, strength, or cardio-based.

Feel like a challenge? Below are two advanced variations that we dare you to try.

Each clean and press alternative below has different benefits, but you’ll feel the burn for both (and probably be left with a case of DOMS a day or two after – but it will be worth it!).

If you’re more of a rookie, keep reading to find our variations for beginners and then check out the clean and press benefits for some workout inspiration.

Sandbag Clean and Press

woman holding sandbag for sandbag clean and press

The barbell is the ultimate piece of kit for strength training, but the sandbag has benefits of its own. Because the centre of mass of a sandbag constantly changes, you have to work harder to control the movement. For that reason, the sandbag clean and press is a brilliant way to build strength and stability.  Here’s how to do it!

Starting position  

Sandbag clean and press image 1

  • Grab a sandbag and place it in front of you.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower yourself into a partial squat.
  • Grab the sandbag by the handles with your elbows out to the sides.
  • Hold it a knee height.

Clean

Sandbag clean and press image 2

  • Lift the sandbag off the ground and move it straight to your shoulders.
  • As you lift the sandbag, drive your elbows under so that they end up facing forwards.

Press 

Sandbag clean and press image 3

  • Extend your arms to press the sandbag directly up.
  • Lower the sandbag back to your shoulders and then slowly lower it back to the starting position.

Squat Clean and Press

Once you’ve mastered the barbell clean and press, add a squat into the movement for an advanced alternative.

Adding a front squat will work the quads and upper back even more, find our guide to the squat clean and press below.

Starting position  

squat clean and press image 1

  • Stand directly behind a loaded barbell and position your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and push your hips back to lower yourself down and grab the barbell.
  • Position your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Point your elbows out the sides and position yourself so that your shoulders are over the bar.

Clean

squat clean and press image 2

  • Lift the barbell up to knee height by extending at the knees and hips and driving the lift through your heels.
  • When the bar is at knee height, extend your ankles, knees, and hips to move the barbell up to your shoulders with force.

squat clean and press image 3

  • As you lift the barbell to your shoulders, shrug your shoulders and drive your elbows under the bar as demonstrated in our squat clean and press exercise video below.

Squat

squat clean and press image 4

  • As soon as the barbell is in the front rack position (across the front of your shoulders), squat down to parallel.
  • Immediately push yourself back up, again putting your weight on your heels, until you are stood upright.

Press

squat clean and press image 5

  • Press the barbell directly up by extending your arms.
  • At the top of the movement, pause for a second and then lower the bar back to your shoulders in a controlled manner.
  • Slowly return the barbell to the knee-level and then repeat the movement.

Clean and Press Alternative for Beginners

man giving thumbs up for clean and press benefits

Getting the proper clean and press form is really important, however, it’s not an exercise for beginners. Even for those of us who know our way around the gym but aren’t trained Olympic lifters, the barbell clean and press can be tricky to master.

Instead, try a kettlebell or dumbbell clean and press. Both of these exercises are slightly easier exercise to get the hang of, and they have a slightly lower risk of injury compared to the barbell clean and press.

Both of these exercises have all of the same benefits of the standard clean and press exercise, as well as the added benefits associated with unilateral training, including coordination, challenging core stability, and correcting muscle imbalance.

To try these exercises, check out our how-to guides: 

Now that you’ve found the best clean and press alternative for you, we want to talk about where we include this exercise in our training plans.

After that, we cover all of the clean and press benefits so stick with us if you’re still not convinced of how awesome this exercise is.

When to Do the Clean and Press

image showing clean and press benefits for working shoulders

The clean and press is an awesome compound exercise that involves a lot of muscles so there’s no specific ‘day’ that you have to do this exercise on. There are actually a few ways that you can add the clean and press into your exercise routine. 

We would put this exercise as part of a shoulder day because that’s the main muscle that this exercise involves. 5 sets of the clean and press followed by the overhead press and other shoulder isolating exercises – like lateral raises and upright rows – are a recipe for success when it comes to sculpting bigger shoulders.

You can even incorporate the clean and press into pretty much any strength training day as a warm-up. If you want to try this, just cut the amount of weight you would usually use for the clean and press in half and execute the rest of the movement as normal.

man holding lateral raise

Alternatively, the clean and press can make up part of a power circuit. Circuits are a really efficient way of exercising, they build strength and power, and burn fat in a shorter but still really intense workout.

Research by Klika & Jordan (2013) discussed the benefits of High-intensity circuit training (HICT):

“HICT can be a fast and efficient way to lose excess body weight and body fat. The incorporated resistance training contributes significantly to the amount of fat burned during a workout. When resistance training exercises using multiple large muscles are used with very little rest between sets, they can elicit aerobic and metabolic benefits.”

They went on to explain that:

“There also may be a greater impact on subcutaneous fat loss with high-intensity intermittent circuit-style resistance training protocols than with traditional steady state sustained-effort aerobic work or traditional resistance training. This is thought to be from the increased level of catecholamines and growth hormone found in the blood both during and after high-intensity resistance training exercise with shortened rest periods (<30 seconds).”

Shorter rest periods mean a shorter time exercising with all of the same, if not more significant, benefits. What’s not to like?

You can find the rest of the study here. If you like the sound of maximum results in minimal workout time, try this strength-training circuit from Elite fitness. 

Benefits of Clean and Press

#1 Strength

woman holding clean and press overhead

Out of all of the clean and press benefits, the most significant is the way that it increases strength. This exercise allows you to lift a heavy weight and involves a lot of different muscles, so it has serious benefits for building total-body strength.

All lifting exercises build strength, that’s the purpose of strength training after all. But the clean and press is different because it builds functional strength.

Being able to bench is great, but in a real-life situation, the benefits of clean and press for strength are more useful. Lifting a heavy object from a dead stop to your shoulders, and then above your head is strength that you’ll likely use in your day to day life in tasks like lifting a heavy box off the ground.

Having the strength to lift in the gym feels good but being able to show off your strength in a real-world situation feels even better.

#2 Hypertrophy

image showing x shaped physique

This exercise also has benefits for anyone with aesthetic based exercise goals. The clean and press is a compound exercise that allows for a lot of weight to be used and therefore involves a lot of muscle fibre damage. 

For that reason, this exercise is effective at stimulating full-body muscle growth and so the benefits of the clean and press for mass have huge potential.

The clean and press benefits overall hypertrophy. But specifically, this exercise puts a lot of emphasis on the shoulders and the legs which helps to create a ‘V’ shaped upper-body and bigger built legs. Together, these factors make up the well-desired X shaped physique.

#3 Trains the Triceps

man performing bench press

Among the clean and press muscles worked, are the triceps. This is a pretty significant benefit because the triceps are a difficult muscle group to work. Overhead exercises are necessary to properly work the entire triceps muscle group, and working the triceps is necessary in order to build a strong upper body.  

The triceps are mainly made up of fast-twitch muscle fibres, so explosive exercises that use a lot of weight, like the clean and press, are the best way to build the strength and size of these muscles.

The overhead press alone is effective at working the triceps. However, the wider grip required for the clean and press works this muscle group even more. By strengthening the triceps, exercising the clean and press will translate into benefits for your bench press.

#4 Explosive Power

women holding clean and press proper form

Starting the clean and press movement with a power clean has benefits for building explosive power which in turn builds speed and strength. Exercises that build power will improve your ability to execute a lift in a short space of time.

Building explosive power also benefits anaerobic fitness and has a transferable advantage for improving endurance, as well as the performance of other exercises that use the ATP-PC energy system, for example jumping.

#5 Boosts Metabolism and Burns Fat

image showing weight loss

Thanks to the extensive list of clean and press muscles worked, this compound exercise leads to a metabolic boost and effective fat loss.  

This exercise uses a lot of energy because it requires so many different large muscle groups to be activated. By activating so many different muscle groups, and using so much energy, the clean and press raises your metabolic rate. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you’ll burn!

The benefits of the clean and press for anaerobic fitness also contributes towards fat loss. If your goals are to burn fat and build lean muscle, then anaerobic exercises that require a lot of energy should be a staple in your exercise routine.  

#6 Time Efficient

stopwatch

Combining two core strength exercises in one compound movement that works a ton of different muscle groups is a time-efficient way to train.

Doubling up the power clean and the overhead press will save you time without compromising the extensive benefits of both of these exercises.

During the clean and press, the barbell is lifted from the ground and overhead in a short space of time. The weight is moved much further than it would be for a deadlift or a bench press and therefore one rep will activate more muscles in a similar time frame.

#7 Minimal Equipment 

barbell for barbell clean and press

As you know by now, the clean and press is a compound movement with a lot of benefits. And what’s even more? You can get all of these benefits, and activate the main muscle groups in your body, with one piece of equipment.

There’s no need to queue for an exercise machine or splash out on new kit for your home gym, all you need is a barbell and you’re good to go.

Clean and Press Form Tips

checklist for clean and press form tips

Getting the right clean and press form will ensure that you get all of the clean and press benefits and avoid any exercise related injuries as much as possible. Check out the common mistakes below so that you can get the perfect clean and press technique.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to get the clean and press technique right. Following our ‘how to clean and press’ guide, you should be able to execute this exercise properly. 

To ensure that you master this movement, and reap all of the rewards explained above, here are a few pointers on how to overcome the most common form mistakes that clients make.

Press in A Straight Line

side on image of clean and press technique

Perhaps the most common mistake in the press phase of the movement is holding the weight behind the head at the top of the press. Moving the barbell in a straight line is necessary for the entire clean and press technique, yet a lot of clients will press up with such force that when their arms are extended the barbell moves back.

If you’re holding the barbell behind your head, it’s likely that you’re arching your back, and this is where the problem is. This position will strain your lower back muscles, causing pain and adding the potential injury. Don’t worry though, all of this is easily avoided by keeping that straight line throughout the entire clean and press movement.

Grip Position

image showing correct grip for the clean and press exercise

To get the clean and press form right, you’ll need to grab the barbell with a grip just wider than shoulder-width apart. Using a grip any wider would be a huge disadvantage. The wider your grip, the weaker your press will be and the less weight you’ll be able to use. Again, this will have a knock-on negative effect on your progress when it comes to building muscle strength and size.

Incorrect grip position during the clean and press could also cause an injury. A grip that is more than 2 inches wider than shoulder-width will likely cause wrist pain which could lead to injury. On the other hand, a narrow grip will add unnecessary strain to the shoulder joints which could also result in injury.

Keep the Weight Close to Your Body

man standing behind barbell

In the starting position, you should be stood behind the barbell so that the bar is close to your shins – no more than 2 inches away. During the clean, the bar should move up your body in a straight line. If this isn’t the case, then the lift will be more difficult.

A common clean and press form mistake is ‘swinging’ the barbell during the clean, letting it move forwards, away from the body. If this happens, yourself or your client will need more upper body strength to pull the weight back to the body and up to the shoulders. This shifts more of the load on to the biceps, whereas the clean is intended to emphasise the posterior muscles.

Another problem with swinging the bar is that it makes the exercise more difficult and decreases the amount of weight that can be lifted, reducing the clean and press benefits for strength and hypertrophy.

Instead of swinging the barbell, focus on keeping your back straight. This will make it easier to focus on moving the barbell in a straight line and it will ensure that you don’t strain your lower back by leaning back to compensate for the power lost by swinging the bar.

Using Too Little Weight  

feather

A lot of the time, we’ll suggest that clients start off with a manageable weight and prioritise perfecting their form before overloading an exercise. However, when it comes to getting the clean and press technique right, using too little weight can cause problems.

The clean and press is a compound movement that works a lot of muscles, so you’ll be able to lift a lot more than isolation exercises. We say this because you can – and you should – lift more.

Using a lot of weight is necessary in order to involve all of the clean and press muscles worked. Using too little weight, the move will only recruit the biceps, shoulders, and triceps and fail to work the posterior muscles.

Pulling Off the Ground Too Fast  

image showing someone struggling to deadlift

Ok, we explained that loading the barbell with a reasonably heavy weight is important for getting the proper clean and press form. But there’s something else to look out for. If you find that you need to pull the weight fast, and with a lot of power, in order to get it off ground, then you might be using too much weight.

Clients who are new to strength training will pull the bar from the dead stop with a lot of speed, but this makes the second part of the pull less effective. For the deadlift part of the clean and press focus on keeping good form and save speed for the second pull. That way, you can pull the barbell from knee to shoulder-height with power.

As a guide, we recommend that you use a weight that you can just about manage for all reps. The last one or two should be tough! But you need to choose a weight that you can keep proper form with, for the entire set.

Before You Go!

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Try Out These Other Exercises

The Clean and Press is a brilliant strength-training exercise, so what are you waiting for? Go and try it!

If you enjoyed this, we think you'll love our other exercise guides. Check out:

References

Brett, K. and Jordan, C. (2013). High-intensity circuit training using body weight: maximum results with minimal investment. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 17 (3), pp. 8-13.

Hardee, J. et al. (2012). Effect of inter-repetition rest on ratings of perceived exertion during multiple sets of the power clean. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 112 (8).

 

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Holding an MA Marketing Communications and Branding as well as a BSc Psychology from the University of Liverpool, Abbie’s experience encompasses the retail, hospitality and fitness industries. Since joining OriGym, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer, taking particular interest in Group Exercise. Abbie’s main focuses cover staying up to speed with YouTube fitness influencers, identifying successful and innovative content formats. She has contributed to various publications, including the Daily Express. Beyond OriGym, she describes herself as a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ type going on scenic runs and upbeat exercise classes, and often found on the front row of a Saturday morning spin class.