Because of the timing and technique involved, the Olympic weightlifting movement known as the clean requires a lot of athleticism as well as strength. In the broadest terms, think of lifting a bar from the ground just high enough so you can receive it at the bottom of your front squat. However, as we said, there’s a lot of technique involved in doing it safely and correctly.
For one thing, there are various degrees of depth to the clean, from a muscle clean (standing up into the rack position) to the power clean (receiving the bar in a quarter or half squat and then standing) to the “squat clean.” This last term is used by CrossFitters to denote a clean that requires a full motion to the bottom of a squat.
In an Olympic-lifting competition, you could theoretically muscle- or power-clean the weight and still make a legal lift. However, the heavier the weight gets, the lower you have to go to get underneath it, so it’s vital to practice lifts that include a full squat. This is why you’ll see some CrossFit workouts that prescribe a “squat clean,” meaning a clean in which you’re required to hit the bottom of your squat position for the rep to count.
1. The Setup
Place the bar on the floor and set up in a position similar to a deadlift, with your feet somewhere between hip- and shoulder-width apart, the bar over your shoelaces and your hands a little wider than your hips.
Keep your shoulders over the bar with your weight centered in your feet (stay out of your toes). Keep your back flat and tight, arms straight, with your hips relatively high. Your neck should be neutral, and your eyes should be forward or up, not down to the floor.
2. The First Pull
Lift the bar off the ground similar to a deadlift. Keep your shoulders over the bar as long as possible, and make sure your arms remain straight during this stage.
3. The Second Pull
As the bar passes above your knees, drive your hips explosively into an open (straightened) position. Try to keep the bar close to your body. For maximum power from the posterior chain, stay in your heels as long as possible. At the end of this motion, shrug your shoulders. At this stage, you might feel your heels come off the ground as if you were jumping.
4. The Third Pull
The powerful drive of your legs and hips should carry the bar above your hips to your abdomen. For a full “squat” clean, you don’t need it to go much higher. Now your arms come into play, but don’t think of pulling the bar up to your shoulders. Instead, pull yourself under the bar.
Your feet should move very quickly out into a wider squat position, toes pointed outward. At the same time, get your elbows under the bar, forward and up into the position for a front squat. Let your elbows bend out to the sides so that the bar travels straight up. Again, this motion should be made as quickly as possible.
Receive the bar on your shoulders as you let the bar roll back toward your fingertips. In some cases, you will receive the bar at the very bottom of your squat. In other cases, you may receive the bar a little higher, in which case you can “ride the bar down” to the bottom of your squat.
Immediately drive up and out of your squat as if you were doing a front squat, and end in a standing position with your hips fully open.