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.
In this hang clean exercise guide, we’ll cover multiple topics including:
- Hang Clean Form and Technique
- Benefits of the Hang Clean
- Muscles Worked by the Hang Clean
- Who Should Do the Hang Clean?
- Hang Clean Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Hang Clean Variations and Alternatives
- and more…
How to Perform the Hang Clean: Step-By-Step Guide
The below step-by-step guide discusses how to perform the barbell hang clean (receiving into the full squat position).
Step 1. Chest and Chin Up
Stand erect with the chest up, arms straight, and balanced foot pressure throughout the whole foot
The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
Coach’s Tip: Stand tall and keep the back flexed.
Step 2. Load the Hips
With the knees slightly bent, push the hips back to allow the bar to drop lower into the hang (hang heights can vary). Be sure to not shift weight into the toes or too much into the heels, but rather stay balance.
Keep the bar close to the body and the chest and shoulders over the bar.
Coach’s Tip: Keep the chest over the bar.
Step 3. Stay Over and Extend Up
As you reach the bottom of the hang position (above the knee, below the knee, slightly off floor), aggressively pull (push through the floor, pull up with the traps and back) the bar upwards while keeping the chest over the bar.
Keep the bar close and stay over as you finish the bar all the way to the high thigh/hip crease.
Coach’s Tip: Again, stay over the bar.
Step 4. Meet the Bar
As the bar makes contact at the high thigh/hip, you should forcefully pull the elbows upwards to transition the barbell to the front rack position.
Too often lifters will bang the bar out instead of continue to pull up.
Coach’s Tip: Finish UP, and keep the bar close
Step 5. Stable Squat and Stand Up
Receive the barbell in the front squat position, making sure to keep a full grip or hook grip on the barbell as you you aggressively punch the elbows under the clean. Once secured in a low and stable position, stand up and repeat.
Loosening the grip during the turnover phase may result in a poor and unstable front rack receiving position.
Coach’s Tip: Fast Elbows!
3 Benefits of the Hang Clean
Below are three (3) benefits of the hang clean, each discussing why you should start to include hang cleans into your training program as a weightlifter, CrossFit athlete, fitness enthusiast, and sports athlete.
1. Increased Athleticism
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.
2. 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).
3. 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).
Muscles Worked – Hang Clean
The hang clean is a complex movement that primarily works the posterior chain, however is still highly stressful to the legs, back, and core stabilizers. The below muscle groups are all active in the hang clean.
- Spinal Erectors
- Latisumus Dorsi
- Forearms and Biceps
- Hip Flexors
- Abdominals (Rectus and Transverse)
Who Should Perform Hang Cleans?
The hang clean is a power-based movement that can aid in overall athletic development and explosive strength in all lifters. Below are a few lifting populations who can benefit from such a movement.
Strength and Power Athletes
Strength and power athletes can use the hang clean to improve overall athleticism, power production, and explosive strength. Additionally, Olympic weightlifters can use hang cleans to maximize clean and jerk performance.
- Powerlifters and Strongman 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.
- 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.
General and Functional 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?
In addition, aging fitness goers can benefit from performing explosive based movements 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.
Sports and Functional Fitness
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.
Hang Clean Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
Below are three (3) primary training goals and programming recommendations when programming hang clean into training programs.
Technique Training (All Beginners) Reps and Sets
For training technique and skill, it is best to use light to moderate loads for 3-5 repetitions, allowing an athlete to feel proper positions, maintain form, and increase explosiveness of the movement.
- 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions with light to moderate loads, or 40-60% of maximum
- You should emphasize positions, timing, and speed of the lift. Not loads.
Power Production / Technique Training (Intermediate and Advanced Weightlifters) – Reps and Sets
Below are recommendations on how to program and train for weightlifting technique and/or athletic explosiveness using the hang clean.
- 4-6 sets of 2-3 repetitions, with 65-80% of maximum
- Emphasis should be placed on precision of the positions, explosive movements, and stable receiving positions.
Strength and Power (Intermediate and Advanced Lifters) – Reps and Sets
Below are recommendations on how to program and train for strength and power using the hang clean.
- 5-10 sets of 1-2 repetitions, with heavy loads (80+%)
- Heavy hang cleans can be used to increase overall clean performance, pulling power and strength, and/or to help increase the clean and jerk under heavier, near maximal loads (which itself is a skill).
Hang Clean Variations
Below are three (3) common hang clean variations that can be done to improve performance/skill, increase strength, and more.
1. Hang Power Clean
The hang power clean is done nearly identically to the hang clean, however the lifter receives the weight in the power position (above parallel in the squat). This forces greater amounts of force development to produce enough vertical displacement on the barbell. It also is used to limit involvement of the quadriceps at times when lower body training may be too fatiguing to an athlete.
2. No Foot Hang Clean
The no foot hang clean is done identically to the hang clean, with the only exception being that the lifter does not lift or slide the feet after extension and while moving into the squat. The stance itself should be slightly wider at the start (squat stance) when compared to a regular hang clean. This variation forces vertical extension and balance in the pull.
3. Hang Clean + Other Movement
The hang clean can be integrated into a wide variety of clean complexes, with movements like clean pulls, front squats, jerks, etc all added into the line up. In doing so, you can increase training volume, address individual technical and strength limitations, and increase time efficiency within a training session
Hang Clean Alternatives
Below are three (3) hang clean alternatives that can be done to vary programming, challenge lifters, and more.
1. Block Clean
The block clean can help to increase rate of force development of the posterior chain similar to the hang clean, however lacks the overall eccentric loading of the hips and hamstrings when compared to the hand clean.
2. Hang Clean High Pull
The hang clean high pull is a hang clean alternative the omits the turning over of the barbell into the receiving squat position. Some coaches may choose to do this to limit wrist and shoulder stress (due to the front rack position) with some athletic populations. This is also a good alternative for lifters who may have injuries to the shoulders or wrists, yet are still looking to train.
3. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is a ballistic movement that targets many of the same joint actions and muscle groups as the hang clean (however it does not train the legs, back, or core as much due to not squatting the weight). This can be a good basic fitness exercise to introduce with lifters who may not have sufficient technique to train explosively with heavier loads.
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Featured Image: Mike Dewar