Clean and Press – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, Benefits, and Variations

In this article we will discuss the clean and press movement, a complex, total body movement that can be performed with a wide variety of variations (dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, log bar, etc). In the below sections we will discuss the muscles worked, provide exercise demonstrations, and discuss the benefits of the athletic movement.

Flashback to Serge Redding clean and pressing (when it was still a competition lift) 228kg/502lbs, breaking the world record. This lift stood for a few minutes until Vasily Alexeev lifted 230kg/507lbs (see the video in below sections).

Muscles Worked

The clean and press is a total body movement that involves the lower and upper body muscles and core. The muscle groups are the primarily ones targeted during the clean and press.

  • Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Glutes (Clean)
  • Glutes, Lower Back, and Abs (All)
  • Shoulders, Chest, Triceps (Press)
  • Biceps, Traps, Latissimus Dorsi, Calves, Forearms (all active in entire lift)

Exercise Demo

The clean and press entails a lifter to lift a weight from the floor in a deadlift style pull. As the bar passes the knees and thighs, the lifter explosively opens the hips (glutes), shrugs, and pulls themselves underneath the bar/dumbbell/kettlebell/log into a squatted position with the load supported in front (on the front shoulders). From there, the load is pressed (either strict press or push press) from the shoulders to the overhead position. In the below video, the barbell clean and press is demonstrated. Note, that technique varies based upon the clean and press variation (see below).

The above video is a demonstration of a muscle clean and press, done specifically in Olympic weightlifting.

3 Benefits of the Clean and Press

We could write a book about the immense benefits of the clean and press, however in the article we will do a very general overview of three of the main benefits a clean and press can offer coaches and athletes.

Total Body Strength and Power

The clean and press is one of the most complex, athletic movements you can do to build strength, power, and general athleticism. It involves nearly every muscle in the body, allows for high amounts of loading, and challenges strength, power, and neural control. Whether done with a bar, kettlebells, or any other variation listed below, the clean and press is a significant movement for optimal fitness and athleticism.

Application to Sports and Life

Powerful hip extension has been linked to jumping abilities, force output in running, sprinting, and tackling, and is a key marker for athletic performance. Movements like the deadlift, squat, and clean are all part of a fitness and athletic training program geared for optimal strength and power. Additionally, the clean and press (the movement, not necessarily the exercise) is found in many acts of daily life (grabbing child from floor, moving heavy objects, etc). Lastly, increasing control and technique in this movement can also help to reduce injury risks due to poor movement while moving an objects.

Increased Athleticism

For both reasons above, the clean and press is a valuable movement to teach athletes who are concerned with jumping higher, running faster, hitting harder, and having a better athletic potential (in regards to strength, power, and fitness). While athletes can be made without the clean and press, neglecting this movement from straining regimen would could limit overall muscular and motor development of an athlete (specific to training, which, could also limit their ability to use more advanced training methodologies for optimal performance.

As promised, here is Vasily Alexeev performing a 507lb clean and press (not a clean and jerk, but a clean and PRESS).

5 Clean and Press Variations

In an earlier article we discussed five barbell clean and press alternatives that coaches and athletes can use to

Increase strength, power, and fitness. Below, we will recap five common clean and press variations.

Dumbbell Clean and Press

The dumbbell clean and press is done with either one dumbbell or two, and can also be done similarly to the circus dumbbell press, a common strongman lift.

Barbell Clean and Press

The barbell clean and press is one of the most common variations, and involves a lifter using a straight barbell. The clean is done exactly like the clean in the clean and jerk, however in the clean and press the lifter must strict press or push press the weight from the shoulder to the overhead position, rather than jerking.

Kettlebell Clean and Press

The kettlebell clean and press is done with either one or two kettlebells, and offers many of the same unilateral benefits of the dumbbell clean and press. The kettlebells do demand greater stabilization and coordination which may be challenging for beginner lifters.

Log Bar Clean and Press

This log bar clean and press variation involves a log bar, which is a large training tool often used in strongman competitions, and is now making its way into functional fitness training. The technique is slightly different than a standard clean and press due to the unique shape of the log.

Fat Bar Clean and  Press

This is very similar to the barbell clean and press. The difference is the circumference of the bar which increases the demands on the grip. Technique is slightly different as well depending on the style you choose to use in the clean.

Build a Better Clean

Take a look at some of the below articles and learn how to maximize your leg strength and technique to boost your clean.

Featured Image: J2FIT Weightlifting