Clean and Press: Variations, Benefits & Alternative

Clean And Press workout

When it comes to enhancing strength, power, and speed all at once, there’s no better exercise than Clean and Press.

Clean and Press is a compound exercise that bolsters muscles throughout the body and helps improve agility, strength, and explosiveness.

It involves lifting a barbell from the ground to the shoulders (clean) and pressing it overhead.

You can do multiple clean and press variations using the dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.

In this article, I’ll share how to perform all clean and press variations, their benefits, and alternatives.

Whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or CrossFitter, you can incorporate clean and press into your workout routine to take your fitness to the next level.

Clean and Press Muscles Worked

barbell clean and press

The clean and press include multiple movements, including partial deadlift, half squat, and overhead press. That’s why it engages several muscle groups simultaneously, from the upper to the lower body.1 Calatayud J, Colado JC, Martin F, Casaña J, Jakobsen MD, Andersen LL. Core muscle activity during the clean and jerk lift with barbell versus sandbags and water bagsInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):803-810.

Here’s a List of Muscles Involved During Clean and Press:

  • Shoulder: From Clean to Press, the shoulders are engaged throughout the movement.
  • Legs: Legs and glutes work when you return from squat to press the bar overhead.
  • Core: Clean and Press requires you to keep your core tight during the entire lift.
  • Arms: This exercise also bolsters the biceps, triceps, forearms, and wrists. The biceps and lower arms work when you clean the barbell over your shoulders, and the triceps are activated while pressing the weight overhead.
  • Back: Latissimus dorsi and trapezius are not as highly engaged as the above muscles, but they provide stability to the other muscles and help you lift more weight.

Clean and Press Form and Technique

To perform any exercise, you should know the proper technique. Incorrect form decreases the effectiveness of exercise and increases the risk of injuries.

Clean and press is one of the exercises that can be risky if you don’t do it with a proper form.

Below, I’ve outlined some of the basic tips that will help you perform clean and press correctly.

1. Grip Position

Clean and Press Technique

Grip position is crucial for performing clean and press properly. If you perform it with a barbell, ensure you grip the bar about two inches wider than shoulder-width, neither too short nor too wide.

Holding with a wider grip can cause wrist pain, while a shorter grip may put more pressure on your shoulder joints.

2. Back and Core

Keep your core tight and maintain a flat back during the movement.

Engaging the core provides stability to your lower back, improves your lifting, reduces the risk of muscle imbalance and injury, and helps you perform the exercise correctly.

Rounding your back can also cause pain and injury. That’s why keeping back straight is very important.

3. The Right Way of Breathing

The improper breathing pattern shifts your concentration from muscles to your breath. Sometimes, this may even cause strain pain, and you won’t be able to lift the weight properly.

The right way is to breathe in before lifting the weight and breathe out when you clean the bar on your shoulder.

Breathing in before lifting brings oxygen into the body and provides energy that helps you in weight training.2Your lungs and exercise.” Breathe (Sheffield, England) vol. 12,1 (2016): 97-100. doi:10.1183/20734735.ELF121

Hold your breath while moving the bar.

4. Stay on Heels

Keep your body weight on your heels during the lift and press. Putting your weight on your toes may bring your torso forward. And if your torso comes forward, you may be unable to lift the weight properly.

Top 4 Clean and Press Variations

  1. Barbell Clean And Press
  2. Dumbbell or DB Clean and Press
  3. Kettlebell or KB Clean and Press
  4. Single Arm Clean and Press

Let’s see how to do each variation with step-by-step instructions.

1. Barbell Clean and Press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, and Knee Wrap (optional)
  • Target Muscles: Arms, Shoulders, Legs, Core, and Back

Benefits

  • Enhances total body strength, power, and endurance.
  • Promotes functional fitness and improves cardiovascular health.
  • Improves balance and makes your body slightly flexible.

Downsides

  • The barbell clean and press may be challenging for those with back or shoulder issues.
  • Heavy lifting without adequate strength and form may lead to strain or injury.

How-to Steps

  1. Pick a loaded barbell and place it on the floor before you.
  2. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your feet are under the bar.
  3. Slightly bend your knees and grip the bar with your hands two inches wider than shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be facing your body.
  4. Brace your core and ensure your shoulders are just over the bars. This is your starting position.
  5. Driving through your heels, pull the bar up. Once the bar reaches your knees, lift your heels off the floor and straighten your knees and hips in an explosive motion to power the bar in front of your shoulders. (shrug through your shoulders to pull the bar on the shoulder and drive your elbows under the bar).
  6. Again, slightly bend at your hips and drive through your heels to press the bar overhead toward the ceiling until your arms become fully straight.
  7. Exhale and then slowly return the bar to the starting position. That’s one repetition.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Use a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Press the bar overhead, locking out elbows.
  • Prioritize form over heavy weights.
  • Control the descent; don’t drop the bar.

2. Dumbbell Clean and Press

If you don’t have a barbell or gym access, cleaning and pressing with dumbbells would be a good idea. The dumbbell provides a full range of motion, allowing you to clean and press the dumbbells safely.

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbells
  • Target Muscles: Shoulders, Arms, Legs, and Core

Benefits

  • The DB clean and press engages multiple muscle groups throughout the body.
  • Enhance aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
  • Torches significant calories, promotes weight loss, and improves cardiovascular health.
  • It’s easier to perform that BB clean & press.

Downsides

  • You may not lift as heavy as you can with the barbell.
  • It can’t replace barbell C&P when it comes to effectiveness.

How-to Steps

  • Start: Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand upright in the shoulder-width stance.
  • Clean: Bend at the hips and knees, lowering the dumbbells to the floor until they reach below your shin level. Explosively stand up, pulling the dumbbells to shoulder height. Ensure your elbows are pointing forward.
  • Press: Once you’re in the standing position, press the bar overhead until your arms are straight.
  • Finish: Lower your arms to the start and repeat.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Start with light dumbbells and increase weight as you move to the second, third, and fourth sets.
  • Keep your back straight and core engaged.
  • Use your hips for power.

3. Kettlebell Clean and Press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Kettlebells
  • Target Muscles: Shoulders, Arms, Legs, Wrist, and Core

Benefits

  • Besides the BB and DB clean and press, the kettlebell develops balance and stability.
  • Improve wrist mobility and bolster forearm strength.
  • Adaptable to various fitness levels with different kettlebell weights.

Downsides

  • You can’t lift heavy during the KB clean and press.
  • It puts more stress on wrists.

How-to Steps

  1. Holding a pair of kettlebells, stand straight in the hip-width stance.
  2. Bending at your hips and knees, lower the kettlebells until they reach close to the ground.
  3. Brace your core, inhale, and drive through your heels to pull the weights on your shoulders.
  4. Slightly bend at your hips and drive through your heels to press the weights overhead until your arms are fully straight. That’s one rep.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Use your hips to swing the kettlebells on your shoulders.
  • Catch the kettlebell close to your body.
  • Engage both arms equally.

4. Single Arm Clean and Press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Kettlebell/Dumbbell
  • Target Muscles: Shoulders, Arms, Wrist, and Obliques

Benefits

  • Single-arm clean-to-press helps you work more on your weaker side and improve muscle imbalance.
  • It is easier to perform than all the above three variations.
  • It annihilates more calories than many exercises and builds up endurance.

Downsides

  • It requires control over your range of motion, so it may not suit beginners.
  • Incorrect use of kettlebells can cause wrist strain.

How-to Steps

  1. Place a kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
  2. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Push your hips back and bend your hips to reach down and grab the bell with your right hand while keeping your left hand straight behind at your sides.
  4. Brace your core, maintain a flat back, and drive through your heels to pull the weight up and forward.
  5. Once you reach your hips level, rise up onto your toes and push your hips forward in an explosive motion to pull the kettlebells at your shoulder height so that your hand comes under the kettlebells.
  6. Now push yourself down, slightly bend your knees and hips, and drive through your heels again to press the kettlebell overhead until your arm is straight. Then, slowly return to the beginning position.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Brace your abdominals throughout the movement.
  • Maintain a flat back during the exercise.

Top 6 Clean and Press Benefits

The Clean to Press is an excellent exercise for strength and power building. It has various benefits.

  1. It works on several muscle groups simultaneously, including the shoulder, core, traps, triceps, back, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
  2. The clean and press improves all aspects of fitness, like strength, stamina, speed, and balance.
  3. It enhances both cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
  4. This exercise also bolsters grip strength and wrist mobility.
  5. It burns plenty of calories in a short time.
  6. It also promotes athletic performance and helps you perform better in your sport.

Clean and Press Alternative

If doing barbell clean and press is challenging, start with single-arm KB variation, then go for dual-arm KB and DB C&P.

And if you want to level up your strength by doing any clean and press variation, you can try the following progressive and alternative exercises.

1. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

The sumo deadlift high pull is a dynamic and compound exercise that reinforces multiple muscles, improves pulling strength, and helps you improve your CLEAN.

Start in a wide sumo stance and grasp a barbell with a wide grip. Lower into a sumo deadlift, then explosively pull the barbell toward the chest, elbows high.

2. Squat to Overhead Press

The squat-to-overhead press is an excellent exercise to power up your strength and endurance. It’s effective for a full-body workout, enhancing both lower and upper body strength.

Holding a bar on the front of your shoulder, perform and squat. As you stand, simultaneously press weights overhead.

3. Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch works throughout the body, especially the shoulders, core, and lower body. It helps develop cardiovascular fitness, power, and muscle coordination and prepares you for conventional clean and press.

Begin with the kettlebell between your feet. Hinge at your hips, grasp the kettlebell and swing it between your legs. Explosively stand, swinging the kettlebell overhead.

4. Romanian Deadlift

Romanian Deadlifts strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, improving hip and hamstring flexibility.

Holding a barbell in front, stand with feet hip-width apart. Hinge at the hips, maintaining a slight bend in your knees. Lower the barbell until it reaches shin level. You’ll feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Return to the starting position by extending your hips.

All of these exercises are super effective and help you enhance your strength, power, and speed.

Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, you can do the above exercises to scale for clean and press.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should You Clean and Press?

Once to twice a week is sufficient. Clean and press is a multi-movement workout that requires great strength and power, so doing it twice a week is enough for a general powerlifter.

Does Clean and Press Build Muscle?

Like other compound exercises, clean and press help you build muscles while developing strength and speed. However, you need to increase the load, reps and sets over a period of time to get the best results.

How Many Calories Does Clean and Press Burn?

The C&P is done at a higher intensity and burns many calories in a quick time. It can help you shed as many as 120-150 calories during the 20 minutes of training.

Do Clean and Press Burn Fat?

Weight training is as efficient as aerobic training for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases like obesity and diabetes – as shown in a study published by the Journal of Obesity. Strasser B, Schobersberger W. Evidence for resistance training as a treatment therapy in obesityJ Obes. 2011;2011:482564. doi:10.1155/2011/482564 So clean and press may not directly burn fats, but it helps you improve body composition and reduce fat mass over time and can be included in a weight loss workout program.

References

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Murshid Akram

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. For the last six years, I’ve been working and training with people who use all sorts of equipment and follow multiple types of workouts, from calisthenics to powerlifting. I primarily design workout plans and share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you become stronger, flexible, and healthier.

About Me

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. For the last six years, I’ve been working and training with people who use all sorts of equipment and follow multiple types of workouts, from calisthenics to powerlifting. I primarily design workout plans and share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you become stronger, flexible, and healthier.

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