The muscle clean is a much less commonly used exercise than its snatch counterpart, the muscle snatch, but can be very useful in many cases.
Start with the bar on the floor in the clean starting position, making sure your elbows are oriented to the sides (arms internally rotated). Lift the bar as you would for a clean until reaching the top of the upward extension of the body. At this point, rather than repositioning your feet and pulling yourself into a squat under the barbell as you would in the clean, keep the knees straight and the body extended and pull the elbows up as high as possible, keeping the bar in immediate proximity to the body. The elbows should move out to the sides as they move up (if the arms are properly internally rotated during the lift). Once the elbows reach maximal height, bring them around the bar and into the clean rack position quickly but smoothly. The legs must remain straight once extended in the pull. Maintain constant tension against the bar throughout the movement, and make sure the bar is moving continuously—there should be no pausing or hesitation during the lift.
It’s helpful to think of the movement as a clean high-pull with an added turnover of the bar afterward. This will help reinforce the idea of lifting the elbows high and to the sides before the turnover.
The muscle clean is helpful at lighter weights to learn and reinforce the proper upper body mechanics of the turnover (third pull) of the clean—in particular, it’s useful for learning how to deliver the bar precisely and smoothly into the rack position for lifters who have a tendency to allow the bar to crash on them. At more challenging weights, the muscle clean will help strengthen the turnover of the clean.
The muscle clean can be performed early in a training session as a technique primer, or as a training exercise. It can also be performed at the end of a training session as accessory work. Use 3-5 reps per set generally, although the muscle clean can also be done for heavy singles and doubles.
The muscle clean can also be performed from the hang or from blocks. Straps can be used if desired, but straps will limit wrist and hand mobility and prevent a proper rack position for most lifters. The muscle clean can also be done without a hook grip to strengthen the grip.