There are two main Olympic weightlifting exercises; the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. For most people they will find the clean and jerk the easiest to learn out of the two. Here we describe how to perform the clean and jerk. It is worth noting here that an alternative to the clean and jerk is the clean and press, whereby the weight is lifting in a more controlled manner once on the front of the shoulders. This exercise also has great benefits for athletes and martial artists, but it is only possible to lift a lower weight with the clean and press.
The clean and jerk requires focus, speed, strength and stability. Mental focus is crucial to succeeding with Olympic weightlifting, as it is important to maintain correct form while performing an explosive movement. As mastering correct form is essential, start off with a small weight, or just the bar, until you are performing repetitions with near perfect form.
The power clean is the first exercise you should learn to utilise out of the Olympic lifts, so lets go into detail on developing perfect technique to avoid injury and to help you lift even more weight. The power clean starts from the mid-thigh up to resting on your shoulders. There are a few stages to the power clean that you need to practice to learn the whole movement.
Clean and Jerk – Shi Zhiyong 2004 Summer Olympic Champion
First stand with the bar in front of your ankles and feet slightly less than shoulder width apart. Grip the bar with an over-hand grip close to your ankles. Lift the bar off the ground with you legs, while keeping your back straight. When the bar reaches your mid-thigh pull up on the bar with your traps and explode up on your calves. This is called triple extension.
Now quickly pull up on the bar with you shoulders and arms so the weight continues to raise up to your shoulders, stick you elbows in and out in front of you to finish the move. This movement utilises muscles developed when performing shoulder shrugs and upright rows. For heavier weight you can jump under the bar, but this is slightly more advanced. Once at this position you could chose to perform an overhead press instead of a jerk, if you are using a lighter weight. The advantage of the clean and jerk, is that a heavier weight can be lifted through the entire range of movement, meaning that the initial part, the clean, works the body harder. If you just perform clean and presses, you will have to use a lighter weight for the press. If you chose to train this way, you should incorporate more deadlifts into your routine to ensure that your legs and lower back are not neglected.
Once you are in the position with the bar on your shoulders you can squat down and jerk the weight upwards over your head in one explosive movement. You should be able to lift a greater weight than possible with a standing military press using just your shoulders. The idea is that you drop your torso quickly whilst lifting, so that you actually do not have to lift the entire weight with your arms. Some of the weight is being supported by muscles developed in an overhead squat. By performing the jerk you essentially work with gravity to assist your lift.
Once the barbell is held overhead, you may let it down in either a controlled fashion by lowering it to the front of your shoulder then squatting down and dropping the weight to the floor in one movement, or you can drop the weight directly onto the floor, but this option is really only possible if you have access to a proper Olympic weight lifting platform. Dropping a heavy weight directly onto a solid floor poses a risk as the weight could bounce back towards you legs.
You now know how to perform an Olympic power clean and jerk, which is one of the most athletic movements in weight lifting. Take the time learn the technique with light weights until you master it. If in doubt seek advice at a weight lifting gym, to ensure that you have correct posture and form throughout the exercise.
By incorporating clean and jerks into your weight lifting routine, you will gain power and strength, and increase speed and stability.