If you’re involved in, or interested in getting involved in, the world of CrossFit, you’ve probably heard the term “cleans” thrown around. But what are cleans in CrossFit, and why are they such a fundamental part of this style of working out? In this article, we’ll unravel the details of the clean and its variations as well as its significance in the CrossFit realm.
What are Cleans in CrossFit?
A clean (also known as a “full clean” or a “squat clean”) is an Olympic lift that involves bringing the barbell from the ground to your shoulders. The exercise combines strength, speed, and coordination, making it a cornerstone of CrossFit training. The movement begins by lifting the bar off the ground in a manner similar to a deadlift. Once your ankles, knees, and hips are fully extended, forcefully shrug your shoulders and pull your body under the bar, receiving it in the bottom of a front squat. Then, while keeping the bar on your shoulders, ascend to an upright standing position to finish the movement. Check out the video below for an awesome visual explanation of the clean.
Cleans can be performed with many different pieces of equipment, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or medicine balls. This blog, however, will focus on using the barbell given that it is the most common method in both the Olympic Lifting and CrossFit worlds. Multiple variations of the clean exist, as well, such as the power clean and hang cleans. We’ll discuss these in the “Variations of Cleans” section below!
How to Perform a Clean
While the clean may sound and/or look simple, we ALWAYS want to prioritize doing it with proper form and technique. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the clean to ensure you understand every point of performance:
Begin by standing with your feet roughly hip-width apart behind the barbell. Using a hook grip (more about this here), place your hands on the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your shoulders should be positioned just in front of the bar, core should be braced, and back should be flat.
The first pull describes when the barbell is moving from the ground to knee height. Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate as you extend your knees. This means the angle of your torso should NOT change from your starting position until you pass your knees. Keep your arms straight and heels down during this phase.
The second pull describes when the barbell is moving from above your knees to your hips. During this time, rapidly extend your hips to move your torso to a vertical position. Continue to keep your arms straight and heels down.
Hips, knees, and finally ankles extend as the barbell passes your hips and you come onto your toes.
Shrug and Pull Under
Shrug your shoulders forcefully and pull yourself under the bar to receive it in the bottom of a front squat. Hips should be below “parallel” (meaning below the level of your knees) if possible.
Ascend from Front Squat
Drive your whole foot into the floor and knees out (in line with your toes) as you rise. Keep your chest and elbows up and core braced to maintain a neutral spine.
Variations of Cleans
There are many variations of the traditional full/squat clean that are also commonly practiced. Each places slightly different demands on the body and targets unique aspects of the overall lift. Here, we’ll cover a few of the most common barbell variations.
A power clean is very similar to a clean in that you are still bringing the bar from the ground to your shoulders in one swift movement. The difference is that the bar is received above parallel instead of in a full squat. Therefore, to execute a power clean, you would complete all the steps outlined above for the clean but pull yourself under the bar into only a “mini squat” versus into the bottom of a front squat. This requires more power to complete, hence the name “power” clean. The video below offers a great demonstration.
Hang Cleans and Hang Power Cleans
When the term “hang” is included in the name of a lift, it implies that we are starting the movement from a “hang” position. This position is when the bar starts “hanging” in front of the body, rather than on the floor. This eliminates the first pull that is described in the clean and power clean to focus on the other portions of the lift.
To get into a hang position, deadlift the bar to your waist. From here, hinge at your hips and lower the bar to just above your knees. The remainder of the lift is the same as a traditional clean- extend your hips to move your torso to a vertical position, triple extend, shrug and pull under, and ascend to standing. You can do this as a hang clean, where you drop into a full squat, or a hang squat clean, where you drop into a partial squat. Both are videoed below.
Why We Do Cleans in CrossFit
CrossFit is all about doing functional exercises that improve your ability to complete daily activities while boosting your athletic performance. Cleans mimic the real-life motions of picking objects up from the ground or lower surfaces. Learning to properly clean can help you lift everyday objects with better body mechanics, keeping you safer and more efficient.
Cleans engage multiple muscle groups, including the legs, glutes, back, shoulders, and core. This full-body activation promotes overall strengthening.
The clean requires speed and explosive forces to be executed correctly. Training this movement and its variations can therefore increase your power, which directly translates to improved jumping, running, reaction time, and force produced with other lifts! Many athletes in other sports, such as football, basketball, and taekwondo, even incorporate cleans into their training for these reasons.
Performing cleans at high intensity elevates the heart rate, which can lead to improvements in your cardiovascular endurance. Stringing multiple reps of a clean (or its variations) together requires your muscles to work for prolonged periods of time. This means cleans can increase your muscular endurance, as well.
In conclusion, cleans in CrossFit are more than just a lifting technique. They are a dynamic and multifaceted exercise that challenges both beginners and experienced athletes. Incorporating cleans into your CrossFit routine can lead to improved strength, power, endurance, and overall fitness. If you want to see how we incorporate cleans into our WODs at CrossFit LPF, visit our website and click the grey “WODs” circle in the bottom left corner of each page. Come visit us in person and try cleans for yourself!