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How to Do a Barbell Clean and Jerk with Proper Form

This Hulk-like exercise might look like a demanding way to sculpt your upper body, but it's actually a fantastic total-body move. A quick bout of clean and jerks can rev your heart rate while simultaneously building a solid core, says Eric Leija, senior kettlebell coach with the Onnit Academy in Austin, TX.

It takes some practice to nail the form, but once you've got it down, it's a great exercise to build and progress. Increasing your load, upping your speed, and trying it with different tools (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, etc.) keep this move feeling fresh. (FYI: It's one of the main lifts used in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.)

Clean and Jerk Variations and Benefits

"Implementing this move into your strength program is essential for building full-body strength and gaining strength in the overhead position," explains Leija. It's also great for improving your power output while holding a heavy load, he says.

One of the key benefits of the clean and jerk (demonstrated in this video by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) is that this movement teaches you how to generate force from your hips to launch the barbell up into the racked position and into the jerk, explains Leija. (You can also try these essential barbell exercises that every woman should master.)

"That puts a high demand on the core musculature, forcing you to learn how to maintain a braced core while wielding a load in different positions, from the bottom of your squat to the racked position and overhead," he says.

If you're not quite comfortable using a barbell, Leija suggests trying the clean and jerk with a single kettlebell to lighten up the load and focus on your form. He recommends using a 15-pound kettlebell and performing the movement on one side at a time.

To make this movement more advanced, try performing it with little to no pause in between the movements. You can also do this progression exercise with two medium-weight kettlebells (try a 25-pound set) to make it more challenging on your core and stability, he says. (Need more inspo? Watch these female Olympic weightlifters crush it.)

How to Do a Clean and Jerk

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the barbell shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip, maintaining a neutral spine, proud chest, and braced core.
B. In one swift movement, lift chest and thrust hips forward, using the momentum from hips to pop barbell up toward shoulders.
C. Shrug and bend your elbows as you drop underneath the bar, lowering into a front squat, with palms facing up and bar resting on palms.
D. Press into heels and mid-foot to stand.
E. Immediately sit back into a quarter squat underneath the bar, then use the momentum to stand (hopping off the floor just an inch) and pop the bar overhead, arms extended, landing either with feet in the same position or in a split stance, as demonstrated above.
F. Carefully reverse the movement to lower the bar back to front rack position, then down to the floor.

Do 8 to 12 reps. Try 3 or 4 sets.

Clean and Jerk Form Tips

  • Use a 35-pound barbell with no added weight to build a strong foundation with this exercise before you add weight plates.
  • Be careful not to round back when lowering bar toward the ground at the end of each rep.
  • Keep core braced throughout the movement to protect your back.

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