Clean and Jerk vs Clean and Press: Differences, Benefits, and Technique

Across many sports, the clean and jerk/press movement can be seen done with dumbbells, kettlebells, logs, and various other objects. For the sake of this movement we will refer to both movements in a general sense, not specifically the Olympic weightlifting clean style. 

Below are quick video demonstrations of some common clean and jerk/press variations. Note, the key distinction between the clean and jerk vs the clean and press is the method of getting the load from the shoulders to the overhead locked out position. In the jerk (split, squat, power jerk variations) the lifter is able to re-bend their knees, ankles, and hips to assume a lower fixation point under the barbell to finish the lift, whereas in the clean and press the lifter bends those joints once, forcefully extends them, and must finish the lift with locked knees and ankles.

The Clean and Jerk

Below are some common variations of the clean and jerk movement. Note, the lifter is able to rebend their knees, ankles, and hips after the initial drive phases in the jerk, resulting in a lower barbell fixation height and less demand upon upper body pressing strength to finish the movement.

In the above video 3-Time USA Weightlifting Coach, Jim Schmitz, discusses the finer points of the clean and jerk. In the below video, we have another variation of the clean and jerk, the kettlebell clean and jerk.

In this video a competitive Kettlebell Sport athlete performs kettlebell clean and jerks (Girevoy sport style).

The Clean and Press

Below are some common variations of the clean and press movement. Note, the lifters in these videos do not rebend their knees, ankles, and hips after the initial drive phase in the press, resulting in a higher barbell fixation height at the finish, increasing the demand upon upper body strength.

In the above video Matt Chan demonstrates dumbbell pressing variations (strict or push press). The key is that the lifter does not rebend at the knees or hips to receive the load at a lower point. This movement can be done with other objects as well, such as barbells, log bars, kettlebells, etc.

In the above video I perform a standard clean and press (push press) with a fat bar. 

What’s the Difference, and Why is it SO Important?

Below are five reasons why coaches and athletes need to understand the differences between the clean and jerk vs the clean and press. While similar, the result of performing a jerk or press could mean the difference between a missed lift (press out in Olympic weightlifting), or a simply a harder/easier way to move an object from Point A to Point B.

1. Olympic Weightlifting Standards

According to Olympic weightlifting standards, the athlete/lifter must receive the barbell in the overhead position with fully extended arms. Any pressing out of the arms (elbow extension) to finish the lift following the explosive movement (the dip and drive) phases of the barbell results in a “no lift” from the judges. The implications of such pressing out movement could result in a zero score for the lift and poor performance in a sanctioned Olympic weightlifting meet. Note, some fitness competitions allow pressing out of heavier loads in the clean and jerk, often due to poor jerk mechanics (as the lifter IS trying to jerk the barbell). While pressing out counts in those types of competitions, the risks of pressing out a weight in which you normally cannot (which is why you choose to jerk it) could result in serious injury to the elbows and shoulder. Coaches must recognize this bad habit of pressing out in the jerk and address any mobility or technical issues.

2. General Strength and Muscle Hypertrophy Training

The clean and press is a movement that requires a lifter to exhibit pressing strength to finish a lift overhead. Unlike the clean and jerk, the lifter can finish the load overhead by pressing it out with the shoulders, triceps, and chest, making the clean and jerk a more strength and hypertrophy based movement than the jerk. The clean and jerk is often seen in strongman competitions or during general movement pieces focused on strength and movement rather than explosive power.

3. Overhead Efficiency

Efficient movement conserves energy, muscular strength and power, and minimizes fatigue so that athletes can do more work in a given time frame (work capacity). This is important for competitive strongman athletes, CrossFitters, and general fitness as sport demands and goals may be influenced by the amount of repetitions and/or time needed to completion per a prescribed repetition range. The clean and jerk (split, power, or squat jerk) is a very efficient way to get a load from the shoulders to the overhead position because it allows the lifter to use the legs to drive their weight vertical rather than relying solely on the shoulders and arms. The ability to also drop under the load at a lower depth means the lifter does not need to drive the barbell as high in the air, often leading to more loading on the barbell as well.

4. Technical Demands

The technical demands of the clean and jerk are greater than the clean and press due to the lifter needing to rebend at the knees and hips to absorb the load overhead after driving it vertical. The timing, mobility, and awareness needed for such movement must be trained extensively, as strength is just as important as skill in the jerk.

5. Loading Amounts

Assuming a lifter is well trained in the jerk and the press, he/she will almost certainly be able to perform the clean and jerk with significantly more weight than the clean and press for a few reasons. (1) The lifter is able to use the legs to drive the barbell off the body, then rebend their knees, hips, and ankles to absorb the load overhead with the lower and upper body muscles. (2) Due to the lifter rebending their lower body joints, the load itself does not need to travel as high vertically to properly be stabilized in the locked out overhead position, as the fixation point is often many inches lower in the clean and jerk than the clean and press. (3) Lastly, due to the lifter being able to use the legs and receiving the load overhead in a lower fixated position, he/she often produces force at higher velocities than in the pressing movement, which generates greater amounts of power production to move the barbell move explosively and ballistically than in the clean and press, making it a very powerful and effective way to move heavy loads overhead.

Want More?

Check out some of these previous articles about the clean and jerk and some top athletes performing them with some serious weight!

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