Muscle Clean – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Benefits

The muscle clean is an accessory weightlifting exercise that can be used to increase technical abilities, strength, and training volume for the clean & jerk movement. In this article, we will discuss the muscle clean, offer exercise demos, and discuss the four benefits coaches and athletes can expect when performing muscle cleans.

Muscles Worked

The muscle clean exercise can be used to increase the strength and hypertrophy of various muscle groups, however the below muscle groups are primarily targeted:

  • Trapezius
  • Quadriceps and Glutes (leg drive)
  • Biceps
  • Deltoids (anterior and posterior)

Muscle Clean Exercise Demo

The muscle clean starts in the exact position a standard power/full clean does. Additionally, the muscle clean patterns the same exact first and second pull as the full lift, with the lifter aggressively finishing with a fully extended torso. Unlike the power and full clean variation, the lifter does not rebend the hips and knees to get re-positioned under the barbell. 

Who Should Do Muscle Cleans?

Muscle cleans are a good movement for most Olympic weightlifters, regardless of the level, as they teach proper pulling mechanics, build strength and muscle mass, and can help lifters develop a strong finish. Lifters who fail to have strong turnovers, have slow elbows under the bar, or lack leg drive and extension on the clean could also benefit from this movement.

How Should You Program Muscle Cleans?

Muscle cleans are often done with 40-60% of a lifter’s max clean and jerk. This movement can be done during warm ups, as an accessory movement, or on lighter days for skill development. Sets are typically 3-5 and reps are usually kept to 3-5 repetitions.

4 Benefits of Muscle Cleans

Below are four benefits of the muscle clean that coaches and athletes can come to expect when adding muscle cleans into training programs.

Upper Body Strength

The muscle clean requires greater upper body pulling strength at relative loads due to the increased need to pull the bar higher in the air (due to the lifter not being able to become fixated in a lower receiving position). By doing so, the lifter must maximize leg drive (see below) and the usage of the traps and arms to pull the barbell higher at the finish of the second pull.

Faster Elbows Under the Barbell

Due to the lifter not being able to quickly rebend the knees and hips to become fixated/set underneath the barbell on a power or full squat position, the lifter must attain a quicker rack position to secure the lift. Muscle cleans are an effective exercise for increasing elbow drive underneath the barbell and helping athletes remain active during the turnover phase of the clean.

Balance and Foot Pressure in Clean

The muscle clean forces a lifter to remain over the bar and balanced throughout the pull, utilizing the legs and hips to accelerate the barbell vertically. By not allowing a rebend (and in turn not allowing the lifter to jump forwards or backwards) you place great emphasis on the vertical path of the barbell. By using muscle cleans, you can teach a lifter to finish their pull upwards and have a smoother transition into the turnover phases of the barbell.

Leg Drive

Briefly discussed above, the muscle clean teaches a lifter how to utilize leg drive to increase the pulling height of the barbell. By performing muscle cleans, you force the lifter tol acceleration the barbell within the first and second pull via a downwards and balance “push” into the floor.

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