Hang cleans are a critical exercise for the development of Olympic weightlifters, CrossFitters, and sports athletes. Increased power production, athleticism, and explosiveness are all key outcomes of this clean variation. Therefore, this article is geared to increase your understanding, technique, and overall performance in the hang clean.
Who Should Do Hang Cleans?
Hang cleans are beneficial for nearly every individual, especially:
- Olympic Weightlifters – This should be self explanatory, but to reiterate again, hang cleans are a direct variation of the clean and jerk, one of the two competition lifts in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. Read below for all the wonderful benefits of the hang clean, or take a look here.
- CrossFitters – Seeing you need fitness (see below) and Olympic weightlifting skill and strength (see above), hang cleans are a must.
- Sports Athletes – Increased force and power output can lead to faster sprint times, longer/higher jumps, and more force production when hitting balls, throwing objects, and tackling opponents. Yes, hang cleans are a must.
- Strength Athletes – Increasing power production at the hip and legs will only allow you to move weight faster, and break through sticking points at the hip (lockout of the deadlift). While this isn’t 100% needed, it sure can help you increase overall athleticism and keep you well balance (as in performance attributes) and explosive.
- General Fitness – Just because you only care about being generally fit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train like an athlete. Hang cleans are a foundational exercise that can develop power, muscle, proprioception, and increase caloric expenditure. Basically, what’s the point of being fit if you can use your new fitness?
- Older Populations – Now, while I would not recommend having your grandmother clean and jerk 315lbs (unless relatively speaking, that’s like her 70%), explosive based movements work to specifically increase fast twitch muscle fibers and neurological activity, both of which tend to drop as we age. While hang cleans may be an issue with older individuals (especially if the have never done them before) due to mobility and fragility concerns, I do recommend basis explosive movements like ball slams, jumps, and even cleans with objects if hang cleans are not doable.
Why Should You Do Hang Cleans?
Below are three reasons why you should start to include hang cleans into your training program as a weightlifter, CrossFit athlete, fitness enthusiast, and sports athlete.
Yup, in the most broadest of ways, cleans (and snatches) will help you increase muscular coordination and athleticism. Big bodied movements that are explosive in nature often produce amazing results in power and force output, kinesthetic awareness, and neurological adaptations needed to train harder, run faster, and and be a more explosive athlete.
Teaching the Clean and Jerk
The hang clean is a good clean regression for coaches to teach all level lifters and sporting athletes, as it is a shorter range of motion and allows for greater emphasis on powerful hip extension (often the purpose of it when found in strength and conditioning programs for formal sports).
Clean and Jerk Technique Issues
The hang clean works to specifically increase a lifter’s ability to promote power and sound timing of the barbell at the hip as he/she finishes their pull. Unlike the full clean, the hang forces a lifter to stay over the barbell and drive the legs into the floor, while simultaneously solely focusing on the power development at the finish of the movement. When done for the floor, greater bar speed and momentum is gained in the lower stages of the pull, which may mask a lifters poor power development at the explosion phase of the clean (see below).
How to Do a Hang Clean?
Below are some great videos on how to perform the hang clean. Note, below each video there is a brief explanation to help you understand the key concepts discussed in each video.
In the above video, Matt Chan demonstrates how to the the hang clean in one of the most direct and concise ways.
In the above video Glenn Pendlay goes through the early stages of teaching the clean, ending with the integration of the hang clean in the power position.
In the above video, yours truly (from about 2 years ago) is working on some three position cleans, which do include some hang cleans in the complex.
Sets, Reps, and Intensity
When programming hang cleans, I will basically break it down into three objectives. The first is power production and technique, the second is Olympic weightlifting specific, and the third is for metabolic conditioning purposes, such as WODS.
Generally speaking, 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps are a good starting point for beginners and intermediate fitness enthusiasts and sport athletes to learn, develop, and train the hang clean. Loads should be kept between 60-75% of maximum to ensure maximal speed and explosiveness, as the end goal is not to clean the most but to be the most explosive (which is the key distinction between general guidelines and the below section for Olympic weightlifters). The risk reward of cleaning very heavy is not there for most individuals unless they are specifically training to increase their Olympic weightlifting performance.
Generally speaking, for technique and developmental purposes, 3-5 sets of 1-3 repetitions can be used with 60-80% of one’s clean max. This will ensure technique, bar speed, and overall development of a lifter can occur. In more advanced training stages, heavier hang cleans can be performed at much higher loads (80-90+% clean max) to maximize performance.
I’ll be honest, every time I see hang cleans in WODs I am baffled at the rep schemes, loading intensities, and overall training volume. I wish I could give you better insight, but often it seem like the world is your oyster when determining how many reps, sets, and weight you want to use. If you have any recommendations, love to hear them below in comments!
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