Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Two Hands’ Clean & Jerk - George Popplewell

The Two Hands’ Clean & Jerk
by George Popplewell
(The Reg Park Olympic Courses)


The rules for the “two hands’ clean & jerk” state:
“The bar shall be placed horizontally in front of the lifter’s legs. He shall grip it with both hands and pull it up in a single, clean movement from the ground to the shoulders, while either “splitting” or bending the legs. The bar must not touch the chest before the final position, and it shall rest on the chest or on the arms fully bent. The feet shall be returned to their regular position, that is to say on the same line. The technique know as “shouldering in,” which is slightly adjusting the barbell to secure a more comfortable position, shall be permitted. However, the barbell must not be lifted to a higher point on the chest. Then, bend the legs and extend them quickly, as well as the arms, so as to bring the bar to the full stretch of the vertically extended arms. A “press out” finish is permitted in the jerk. The weight shall be held for two seconds in the final position of immobility, the feet on the same line, with a maximum separation of 15¾ inches. Provided the bar has not left the chest after the knee dip prior to the jerk, the lifter may set himself for attempting a proper attempt at the jerk.

Incorrect movements: Leaning with a knee on the ground or any “Clean” in which the bar touches a part of the body before its final arrival at the shoulders. Repetition jerking. Cleaning from the “hang” position. Altering the width of handspacing after the bar has left the platform.

General Remarks

The clean and jerk is a lift demanding great bodily strength and power. It is intended to bring out the strength qualities found in both the press and snatch. From a strength point of view, great pulling power and the ability to hold heavy weights overhead are necessary if a person desires to become a good performer on this lift. Tremendous power in the legs, hips and lower back is essential in the clean, while this same power must be supplemented by strong shoulders, elbows and wrists in the jerk. All the muscular power, the tendon strength, quick reflexes and a terrific mental driving force must be brought into play be the lifter for this lift. Many world class performers can elevate more than double bodyweight divisions, in particular the bantamweight class, the 2½ times bodyweight mark is in reach.

Needless to say, this cannot be achieved without good technique. Technically there are two distinct styles of cleaning, namely the “split” and “squat” styles. If a lifter has natural leanings towards one particular style, then that is the style he should adopt and bring to technical perfection. In the jerk, splitting under the bar is universally adopted by weightlifters.

The Split Clean

When a lifter takes his position at the bar, his feet are placed hip width apart with the toes pointing directly forwards. The grip is wider than shoulder width, usually two to four inches wider than the grip for the press. He then takes up a “set” position at the bar. Sometimes a dive is used. The bar is firmly gripped, invariably the “hook” grip is used. At the bar the lifter sits so that the back of the thigh is parallel to the platform. The back is kept flat, the arms are long and straight, with shoulders eased slightly forwards over the bar. The head is kept in line with the back, ready to drive upwards and backwards.

The Pull

The lifting of the bar is initiated by powerfully straightening the legs as in a dead lift. The bar moves vertically upwards while the head starts its drive backwards and upwards. As the bar passes the knees, the hips are driven powerfully forwards and upwards. Here the chest is raised. At the same time the back and hips straighten. Then the arms continue pulling the bar, while the legs and back become fully straightened. The combined centers of gravity of the lifter and barbell should be travelling over the balls of both feet. The bar receives added height by the lifter rising on his toes. At this point the bar is just below waist level.

The Split

The feet are then simultaneously driven off the platform to start the split under the bar. THIS MOVEMENT IS EXTREMELY FAST. As the body drops under the bar, he wrists are flicked well back from a cocked position, while the elbows are thrust quickly forward. The weight is caught across the clavicles behind the deltoids. This is the basic split position and should be very strong. The feet should be split fairly wide apart and should not be in line but offset for balance. The femur and tibia of the front leg form approximately a right angle in this position. The knee of the rear leg is slightly bent.


The recovery from this position is similar to the recovery for the snatch, but with the bar held in the clean position. The hand and chest push upwards and slightly backwards, with the rear leg being propped rigid. the front knee pushes powerfully backwards until it is straightened and the bar has been elevated several inches from the bottom position in the clean. The front foot moves back very slightly, then the chest travels forwards and upwards a bit more so that all the weight is over the front knee. The rear leg pushes forwards and then both feet are brought in line.

The Squat Clean

The starting position and pull are identical to that for the split clean. Occasionally the feet are placed a fraction wider than for the split clean. The pull is commenced and when it reaches a point just below waist height the lifter should be on his toes with his hips forward and head and shoulders slightly back. Then the feet are jumped slightly outwards with toes pointing outwards to land on flat feet. The back and head should be erect. As the feet hit the platform the bar is caught on the clavicles behind the deltoids, the elbows having been rapidly driven forwards and high under the bar. For extra control in the clean position the elbows are brought slightly inwards.


The recovery from the squat clean position is made by very powerfully straightening the legs. The hips move forward in recovery, while the head moves slightly back for balance. The elbows must be kept high and the bar must be kept into the neck during recovery to the standing position ready for the jerk. Remember the chest must not be allowed to say. The foot position is narrowed down to about 6” between the feet. The toes should be pointing forwards.

The Jerk

Having come erect with the bar held on a high chest, the lifter then prepares himself for the jerk. Foot spacing should not be too wide and the feet should point directly forwards. The elbows are held forward to secure the bar on the chest. The total weight is equally balanced over both feet which should be no more than hip width apart. The jerk is initiated by making a controlled dip of the knees. The head is tilted slightly back during this dip to help balance and to clear the chin from the upward passage of the bar. The knees are not bent too far. The upward journey of the bar commences with a vigorous extension of the knees, followed by rising on the toes. The trunk is then thrust forward and upward while keeping it in a vertical position throughout.

Then, with continuity to preserve smoothness of the movement, the arms come into play. They drive upwards until the bar reaches a region near eye-level, when the lifter’s legs are fully straightened. Here, the lifter rises on the balls of the feet. The feet leave the platform simultaneously to split firmly under the bar. The split is fairly deep. The rear leg is only slightly bent; while a right angle is formed by the thigh and lower limb of the advanced leg.

The chest must be kept high as the lifter tries to place the upper arms vertically above the shoulder joints. This permits a better and freer shoulder movement.


The technique for recovery from the split under the jerk is similar to that already described for the split clean. The rear leg acts as a prop, the front leg is drawn back slightly and the front leg pushes forward. Both legs are then brought in line.

The jerk has to be held for two seconds before lowering. To help lock the joints under the bar, the wrists are cocked back, the head is pushed forward, the chest is kept high and the knees firmly braced. Throughout the jerk the head and eyes are kept to the front to enable the back to be kept straight.


Two breaths are taken during the clean and jerk. The first one is taken either just before the start of the pull or just as the bar is pulled upwards at the beginning of the clean. As the bar is caught high on the chest exhalation occurs, the lungs being almost evacuated as the recovery starts. The second inhalation is taken just as the jerk is started.

Summary of Movements in the Clean & Jerk

AT THE BAR – unhurried approach. Gauge handspacing correctly, take the hook grip. Shins close to the bar, seat down, head up, back flat, long arms with shoulders well over the bar.

THE PULL – powerful extension of the legs, thrust the hips forward, rise on toes then apply arms and shoulders to pull. Throw the head back.

THE CATCH – split or squat very quickly under the bar. Whip the elbows through to the front very quickly. Bar to land well on the clavicles and held in position behind the deltoids by high elbows.

RECOVERY – from the split use the rear leg as a prop, straighten the front knee and move front foot back slightly. Bring body, bar and rear foot forwards. From the squat drive up with leg/hip/lower back power.

THE JERK – fairly narrow foot spacing, with toes pointing forward. Control the knee dip and rise on the toes when straightening knees. Jerk the bar straight overhead using the power of the thighs, the torso, the arms and shoulders. Thrust the head forward between the arms.

Technical Exercises

1) Standing with the bar held high on the chest with a grip as for the press, jerk the bar without splitting.

2) Standing with the bar held high on the chest with a narrow grip, make an insignificant jerk and simultaneous split.

3.) Take a light barbell, hold it with straight arms in a “hang” position and keep the legs straight. Squat or split under the weight, gaining assistance from rising on the toes, and trying to get under the bar as fast as possible. Drive the elbows quickly through to the front and keep them high.

Perform 3-5 sets of 3 repetitions on these exercises.

Power Exercises

1) Power Cleans
Position yourself at the barbell as for an ordinary clean. Then, pull the weight into the shoulders without moving the feet and making only a slight dip to get under the weight. Concentrate on using leg and hip power to start the pull, then on whipping the elbows rapidly up and under the bar during the final stage of the pull. Inhale just before the weight is lifted from the floor; exhale when lowering to the floor.

2) High Pulls with Hip Thrust\
Position yourself at the barbell as for an ordinary clean. Then, with plenty of thigh/hip/lower back power do a high dead lift. As the bar passes the knees thrust the hips forwards, pull vigorously with the arms, bring in a shoulder shrug and rise on the toes. The bar should reach its high point just above waist height. Occasionally catch the weight on a belt (continental) and hold the position for a few seconds. Inhale as the weight is lifted from the floor; exhale as it is lowered.

3) Push Jerks
Either clean or take a barbell from squat racks and position yourself as if about to do a jerk. With a fair knee boost and without moving the feet, drive the bar vigorously upwards, putting in plenty of pressing power as the bar passes the top of the head. Inhale just before the movement from the shoulder is started; exhale as it is lowered.

4) Front Squats
Take a barbell from the squat stands using a grip as if for the jerk. Push the bar well into the neck, high on the clavicles and firmly positioned behind the deltoids. The elbows should be kept high and drawn slightly in towards each other. Feet should be hip width apart and pointing forwards. When squatting go down slowly keeping the hips back, the back flat and the head up. When the thighs are just beyond parallel to the floor, drive up vigorously, concentrating on making the quadriceps work. Ease the hips forwards as the upward journey is made. Inhale just before going down; exhale on the way up.

5) Dipping in the Split Position
Take a barbell off the squat racks and assume the position for the split as in your clean. Keep the elbows high, the chest high and head erect. Then, dip to a point almost with a knee touch. Using the rear leg as a prop drive upwards and backwards with the front leg and hips. Fight to keep a high chest. Breathe in just before lowering; breathe out on the way up.

6) Half-Front Squats
Take a heavy weight off the squat stands as for front squats. Ensure you have a firm thigh/hip/lower back lock and slowly go down to a half-squat position. Keep good muscular tension in the thighs, hips and lower back and return to the starting position. Inhale before lowering; exhale on the way up.

7) Upright Rowing
Grip the barbell with a grip as for the clean. Stand up straight with the weight hanging from straight arms. Then, keeping the weight as close to the body as possible, pull it up to shoulder height using grip, arm and shoulder strength only. Control the lowering. Inhale as the bar is pulled upwards; exhale as it is lowered.

8) Box Cleans
Place a barbell with the large plates supported on boxes. The height of the boxes should be such that they can be varied. Then, take your handspacing and grip of the bar as for the clean. Very little leg drive is obtained when cleaning off boxes, so ankle power, hip, arm, back and shoulder power is essential to get the bar moving. Squat or split under the weight. The weight must be pulled s high as possible, a fast wrist turnover and elbow thrust are needed, as is a quick lowering of the body under the bar. Recover as for the ordinary clean and lower the bar onto the boxes again. Inhale just before cleaning; exhale on lowering.

9) Supporting Exercises
Really heavy weights can be held overhead if a barbell can be suspended by strong chains or can be moved in slots of various girders. The range of movement of the barbell should be adjustable so that a lifter can adopt different positions under the bar.

Do not attempt to perform all these power exercises; but incorporate one or two of them into your workout, at the end of your training schedule. Perform 4-5 sets of 5 repetitions per exercise. Over several months work through all these exercises. Concentrate on your weaknesses, not your strong features.

Special Strengthening Exercises

Most of the special strengthening exercises for the clean & jerk are for the grip and the wrists. A strong grip is essential for the clean strong wrists are needed for supporting the weight overhead in the jerk. Here are some exercises which will help strengthen these vital areas.

1) Wrist Roller Work
Using a wrist roller, or better still, a wrist roller machine, wind up a moderate weight and then wind it down with controlled lowering. Different grips can be used.

2) Reverse Curl with Flexion
Grip a barbell with knuckles on top of the bar and hands placed shoulder width apart. Stand up straight with the bar hanging from straight arms. Grip the bar firmly and bending the arms at the elbows, curl the weight to the shoulders, keeping the upper arms flexed. Slowly lower until the forearms are at right angles to the upper arms, then bend the wrists downwards, and then straighten them. Lower the bar to the starting position.

3) Leverage Bell Work
Fasten weights to one end of a dumbbell rod. Grip the free end and work against the leverage offered by the weights and bar. All wrist movements can be performed with this apparatus.

4) Pinch Gripping
Take a large plate of block weight and pick it up several times using thumb and finger strength only. Rest and repeat. A little powdered resin rubbed on the pads of the fingers and thumbs assists greatly.

5) Thick-Handled Dumbbell Work

Training Schedules

During training, 60% to 90% of the lifter’s best result in the clean & jerk should be used. The maximum weight in training should not be higher than the starting poundage for competition. Double and single repetitions in the movement are best adhered to.

When training for the clean & jerk many lifters use a weight which can be comfortably cleaned for 3 repetitions (about 60% of best lift), and perform one jerk after the last clean. Then, the weight of the bar is increased and 2 cleans and a single jerk are performed. Single clean & jerks are performed with 85% to 90% of best lift. This type of training is suitable after a not too exhausting press and snatch workout.

Some lifters, when they have reached a creditable poundage on the clean & jerk, use the power stabilization principle and perform 8 sets of 2 repetitions on the lift. This develops great power. Fairly long rest periods are required between these sets. As it takes about four days to recover from such a schedule, this kind of workout should be followed the next session by a fast, light workout on technique. Common sense has to be used when planning a workout; however, power, speed, style and strength all have to be catered for.

This is a typical training week of a world-class lifter:

Power cleans, cleans, squats.

Press, bench press.

Power cleans, snatch.


Power cleans, clean & jerks, squats.

Press, bench press, technical work on snatch and jerk.


Sets and repetitions:
Power Cleans – 4-6 sets of 3 reps.
Cleans – 4-8 x 1.
Press – 7-8 x 3.
Bench Press – 3x3.
Squats – 5x3-5
Technical – 5x4.

Here is another week’s training of a world’s record holder:

Warmup, press, snatch, squats, half-squats (Heavy schedule).


Press, cleans, power cleans (Medium to heavy poundages).


Press, snatch, clean, jerk, squats, front squats (Heavy schedule).

Dumbbell presses, bench presses, half-squat (Light schedule).


Sets and repetitions:
Cleans – 4x2, 3 singles.
Press – 5, 3, 6 sets of 2, 3 singles.
Snatch – 3 reps, 8 sets of 2.
Clean & Jerk – 5 sets of 2, 6 singles.
Squat – 3 sets of 5; 4 reps, 3 reps.
Bench Press – 3 sets of 4.
Half-Squat – 3 sets of 5.

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