What is the Clean and Jerk good for?

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT

Apart from being one of the contested lifts in an Olympic Weightlifting competition, the clean and jerk is one of the most useful exercises ever devised. For the uninitiated, the clean and jerk is a two part movement where a barbell is explosively lifted from the floor to the athlete’s shoulder and then from shoulder to overhead. Both parts are done in one motion and rely on large impulses to complete the exercise. It’s one of the few Olympic weightlifting exercises that has made it into almost every single college Strength and Conditioning program in almost every sport. If you haven’t already been regularly doing this exercise keep reading to see why you should start adding it to your routine.

A Great Full Body Exercise

It’s one of the original full body movements that combines lower and upper body in a coordinated effort to overcome resistance. Full body exercises help us work multiple large muscle groups in a shorter period of time compared to isolation exercises. It is estimated that a max effort Clean and Jerk utilizes 100% of the athlete’s motor units. Doing large movements that are also heavy can help us stimulate what are called Type 2 muscle fibers that are largely responsible for making us stronger as well as more powerful. Weightlifters have some of the highest amounts of Type 2 muscle fibers across any sports discipline. If you want to work your entire body, get stronger and more powerful, you should definitely be adding clean and jerks into your routine.

Improved Rate of Force Development

As mentioned, explosive full body movements with some resistance are really good at stimulating the muscle fibers that make us stronger and more powerful. Olympic Weightlifting can be thought of as a type of ballistic exercise that provides a different stimulus compared to heavy strength lifts like the squat, bench, and deadlift. Ballistic movements are movements that either use some weighted object or one’s own body as a projectile and subjects it to maximal acceleration. Lifts like the squat, bench, and deadlift have a natural deceleration built in as the lifter approaches the top of the movement the lifter has to slow down to keep the barbell from flying off their backs or out of their hands. Olympic Weightlifting features no such slow down and in fact can only be done successfully with the athlete accelerating through the full range of motion. The only deceleration that occurs during weightlifting is largely due to gravity after the lifter has finished their pull and begins to “pull under” the weight. Weightlifting along with all manners of explosive medicine ball throwing and max concentric jumping helps teach the neuromuscular system to generate force quickly in a short period of time. Olympic weightlifters have consistently been measured to have some of the highest peak power outputs in laboratory tests ever recorded. Strong athletes that have a need to express their force more quickly definitely should start adding in clean and jerks to their program.

Good Transfer to Sports

Transfer is a very tricky topic since it can be hard to determine what exercises will transfer over to sports performance. Transfer between 2 tasks are dependent on matching inter/intra muscular coordination, sensory input, and matching intent. The clean and jerk fits at least two of the three criteria mentioned; inter/intra muscular coordination and matching intent. The second pull (starting with the barbell just below the knee up to full extension or where the barbell contacts the thigh at 1⁄3 -2⁄3 of the thigh) for the clean with the dip and drive for the jerk are where the most amount of force is imparted from the lifter onto the barbell to produce a large impulse. The accentuation of force production at the particular angle is very similar to how an athlete might explode out of an athletic ready position which provides a high level of dynamic correspondence to common athletic moves. The positional similarity as well as the coordination of efforts where an athlete usually produces large efforts means that the clean and jerk theoretically has a high transfer to common sporting movements.

As you can see the clean and jerk is a very useful exercise that should be added into your routine to help take your training to the next level. If you liked the post leave a comment to let us know to put more content out like this.