Clean and Jerk – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos


Muscles Targeted: The clean and jerk is a very dynamic multi-joint compound exercise that incorporates a wide range of muscles and really engages the entire body. It targets the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, calves, back, deltoids, chest, biceps, triceps and even works the core muscles. This is one of the best total body movements you can include in your CrossFit workout if your goal is to add size and strength to your physique.

Exercise Instructions:

1. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and place your hands on the barbell at about the same width. For most people, it is most comfortable to set the feet slightly wider than shoulder width. That being said, comfort is important so do what you are most comfortable with, so long as you remain in an athletic position. Hand placement is also up to your comfort level, but it’s usually optimal at about shoulder width apart. This placement will allow you to catch the barbell in the best position before you perform the final pressing part of the exercise.

2. Bend knees and prepare to lift the barbell. This position and initial movement is very similar to a deadlift. The motion should not strain your back. If it does, then you need to bend your knees more and make sure your chest is facing forward with your shoulders back.

3. Initiate the Clean

The Pull
From the deadlift position with your hands firmly gripping the barbell, straighten your legs and pull the barbell up using the upper back muscles. The “pull” requires simultaneously pulling with the back and arms while also straightening the legs in order to propel the barbell upward. The goal is to pull the barbell to about chest level and catch it with your wrists flexed backward which is the “catch” position explained next.

The Catch
To properly perform the “catch”, bend your legs into a front squat position with your chest facing forward and shoulders back. Flex your wrists backward and attempt to rest the barbell on the front of your shoulders. The key to this is to keep your elbows high. This is hard and may require extensive practice. Once caught at the bottom of your squat, stand up with your wrists flexed backward and the barbell still on your shoulders.

4. Initiate the Jerk
The “jerk” portion of this exercise is the pressing movement of the barbell from the front shoulder position to above the head. The end goal is to fully extend your arms and hold the barbell above your head. To do this, slightly bend your knees, explode up, and attempt to push the barbell upward to the top position. It is important to retain a firm grip on the barbell at all times for safety. Try to keep a slight bend in your elbows and hold the barbell above the head briefly before returning the barbell back to the ground.

5. Safely Place The Barbell Back Down
From the extended overhead position, you now need to return the barbell to the ground. Bend your arms, briefly returning the barbell to the front shoulder position and then bring the barbell back down to your waist. From here, return the barbell to the ground while keeping your back from arching.

Things To Avoid: The clean and jerk, although a multi-joint compound exercise, is meant to be a fluid one. There are several things to remember in order to execute it correctly and avoid injury:

  • Start With Light Weight – using excessive weight can result in injury or prevent proper technique.
  • Barbell Control – always maintain a firm grip on the barbell. Failing to do this can lead to serious injury.
  • Back Position – during the “clean” portion, if you don’t maintain proper back alignment (chest up and shoulders back), this can cause lower back issues.
  • Don’t Slam The Weight – when you are finished, slowly lower the barbell to the ground. If you rush this, you could injure yourself.
  • Keep Elbows High – when performing the “catch” portion of the exercise, not keeping your elbows high puts excessive pressure on your back and wrists. This may lead to injury.

Reps and Sets: As a beginner, start off by using only the barbell (without weight plates on it) and perform 8-10 reps using strict technique and proper form. Once you are more experienced, shoot for 3-5 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

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