The clean is the first part of the second of the two lifts (the snatch and the clean & jerk) contested in the sport of weightlifting (AKA Olympic weightlifting). The athlete lifts the barbell from the floor to the shoulders.
With a clean-width grip (typically hands slightly outside shoulder width), set a tight starting position—feet approximately hip width and toes turned out slightly with the weight balanced evenly across them; knees pushed out to the sides inside the arms; back arched completely; arms straight and elbows turned out to the sides; head and eyes forward; arms approximately vertical when viewed from the side. Push with the legs against the floor to begin standing, maintaining approximately the same back angle until the bar is at mid- to upper-thigh. At this point, continue aggressively pushing against the floor and extend the hips violently, keeping the bar close to the body and allowing it to contact the upper thighs as the hips reach extension. Once you have extended the body completely, pick up and move your feet into your squat stance as you pull your elbows up and to the sides aggressively to begin moving yourself down into a squat under the bar. Bring the elbows around the bar quickly and into the clean rack position as you sit into the squat. Use the rebound in the bottom of the squat to help stand back up to the standing position as quickly as possible. Once you’ve stood completely with the bar in control, you can return it to the floor (or continue to a jerk).
The primary purpose of the clean is as part of one of the two competitive lifts in the sport of weightlifting. As a training exercise, it serves weightlifters as a way to train for the lift in competition by training technique, strength, speed and all of the other qualities needed for the lift. For other athletes, it can be used to develop power, speed, precision and mobility.
Programming of the clean varies based on numerous factors such as the athlete’s needs, the timing (i.e. proximity to competition), the focus of the program at that time, etc. Generally speaking, sets will be 1-3 reps at anywhere from 70-100%. The clean may be used for technique or speed training at lighter weights, power and strength training for the lift at moderate weights, and strength training and testing at heavy weights. Weightlifters will typically perform cleans in some form at least 2-3 days per week and as frequently as every training session.
For in-depth program design for weightlifting, see our free daily programming, or the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coaches Guide.