Explosive movements such as the hang clean are a staple in many athletes’ training programs. They serve multiple purposes, including developing power and coordination, conditioning the entire body for strength and performance, improving joint stability and mobility, and building muscle. Today we shine a light on the hang clean, outlining the muscles worked, technique, variations, and benefits. You might wonder why this information is necessary. To put it simply, knowing the proper form and technique of a movement is essential in order to maximize its potential benefits. Furthermore, the information provided will be beneficial for those wondering if the hang clean is an appropriate exercise for them and their fitness goals.
What Is A Hang Clean?
The name of this exercise is a bit confusing, as it might evoke images of hanging off the bar. Instead, the hang clean is an explosive Olympic weightlifting exercise in which the lifter explosively pulls a loaded barbell from the floor to their shoulders. It’s a full-body exercise and requires coordination, power, speed, and strength (7).
The “hang” portion of the lift comes from the fact that lifters typically hang the barbell at chest height before performing the exercise. This can be done by either deadlifting the barbell up to chest height or catching the barbell at the top of a power clean.
The “clean” portion of the exercise is used to describe the pull and catch of the barbell in a front-rack position.
If you’re familiar with a power clean (one of the Olympic lifts), then you can view the hang clean as an easier version of it. So beginners to Olympic lifts might want to start with the hang clean as a technical exercise before progressing to the power clean.
Hang Clean, Muscles Worked
We’ll review the muscles targeted in this exercise under two categories; the primary muscles worked and the secondary muscles worked (12). Understanding the specifics of this lift is necessary to ensure proper form, technique, and safety.
Primary Muscles Worked
These muscles get their “primary” designation because they are the main muscles worked during a particular exercise. They are largely responsible for the movement and will be at a higher percentage of maximal contraction throughout the lift.
For the hang clean, this includes:
The glutes are a set of three muscles that make up the butt (10). They are responsible for leg extension, hip abduction, and stabilization of the hips during a lift. While performing the hang clean, your glutes get activated due to the explosive hip extension needed for the lift.
The lower back muscles are responsible for spinal extension and stabilization during a lift (9). While performing the hang clean, they are activated due to the static contraction needed in order to keep the lower body stable during the pull and catch portion of the lift.
The adductor muscles are a group of five muscles located on the inner thigh. They are responsible for hip and thigh adduction, helping to bring the legs together (11). During the hang clean, they are activated to help stabilize the hips while performing the pull and catch portion of the lift.
Secondary Muscles Worked
These muscles get their “secondary” designation because they are not the primary movers, but still need to assist in order for the lift to be performed properly.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located on the back of your thigh. They are responsible for knee flexion, and hip extension, and helping to stabilize your body as you walk, run or jump (3).
While performing the hang clean, your hamstrings are activated to help with the explosive hip extension needed for the pull.
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While performing the hang clean, these muscles stabilize the upper body during the pull and catch portion of the exercise.
The forearm flexors are a group of muscles located on the front of your forearm. They are responsible for wrist and finger flexion, helping keep your grip on the barbell during a lift (5).
While performing the hang clean, these muscles contract to help you maintain your grip on the barbell.
The calves are a group of two muscles located on the back of your lower leg. They are responsible for ankle plantar flexion, helping keep your feet on the ground during a lift (2).
While performing the hang clean, these muscles contract to help you stay stable and balanced as you perform the lift.
Hang Clean Technique And Mistakes To Avoid
Proper form is essential while lifting weights. Knowing how to hang clean correctly ensures you’re targeting the right muscles. Furthermore, it prevents you from injuring yourself.
To perform the hang clean:
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell at mid shin level
- Bend your knees and push your hips back while maintaining a flat back
- Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and look forward
- Maintain an overhand grip on the barbell and drive through your heels while bringing the bar to your shoulder
- Quickly shrug your shoulders and pull the bar up with your elbows
- As the bar reaches your shoulders, keep your arms extended and drive through your heels to complete the lift
- Lower the bar back to the starting position and repeat
Mistakes to avoid while performing the hang clean include:
Bringing Your Shoulders Too Far Forward
It’s easy to round the shoulders and let your chest sink during the pull portion of the lift. This not only reduces power output but can also put you at the risk of injuring your lower back.
Make sure to keep a secure, overhand grip on the barbell throughout the lift. You can improve your grip strength by doing grip-specific exercises such as farmer’s carries or wrist rolls.
Dropping The Bar
Explosive lifts like the hang clean can be intimidating at first. If you find yourself struggling to control the bar on the way down, focus on maintaining a tight core and keeping your elbows tucked in close to your body.
Incomplete Range Of Motion
It’s common for lifters to cut the range of motion short by not finishing the pull and bending your elbows before your body is fully extended. The result is more difficulty when it’s time to dip under the barbell and catch it.
You can avoid this by driving your hips forward and keeping your arms extended until the barbell is directly above your shoulders. Strengthening your core and shoulder muscles will also help with this issue.
Pulling Up While Moving The Bar Away From Your Body
Many lifters tend to pull up while pushing the bar away from their body. This can lead to an unstable catch position and, in some cases, can cause the barbell to hit your head.
To prevent this from happening, focus on keeping the bar close to your body throughout the entire lift. Using a smaller weight can also help you better control the bar during the pull.
Hang Clean Variations To Challenge Your Muscles
The hang clean is a great exercise for building strength and power in the lower body. Here are some variations you can do to challenge your muscles even further:
A progressively more advanced variation of the hang clean is the clean, which involves a deeper bend at the knees and hips. This exercise targets your muscles differently, as it requires more explosive power from the legs and hips.
To perform the clean:
- Start with the barbell at mid-shin level, then bend your knees and push your hips back
- Keep your shoulders back and your chest up as you lift the barbell off the ground
- Quickly shrug your shoulders and pull the bar up with your elbows
- As the bar reaches your shoulders, keep your arms extended and drive through your heels
- Catch the bar in a squat position, then stand up to finish the lift
- Lower the bar back to the starting position and repeat
A full-body progression of the hang clean is the snatch. This exercise requires more coordination and strength, as it involves lifting a single weight from the ground to overhead in one fluid movement. You can perform the snatch using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
To perform the snatch:
- Start with the weight on the ground in front of you
- Bend your knees and push your hips back to pull the weight off the floor
- Quickly shrug your shoulders and pull the weight up with your elbows
- As the weight reaches shoulder height, use your core strength to drive the weight overhead
- Catch the weight in a full standing position, then lower it back to the starting position and repeat
Benefits Of Hang Cleans
Why add the hang clean to your workout routine? Here are some of the benefits:
Increases Explosive Power
The dynamic nature of the hang clean exercise helps to develop explosive power (8). This is especially beneficial for athletes who require quick bursts of speed or strength to succeed in their sport, such as sprinters, football players, and martial artists.
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Improves Core Strength
The hang clean is an excellent core exercise that helps to build strength throughout your entire core (6). This helps improve your overall performance in most activities, as well as reduce the risk of injury from weakened core muscles.
The hang clean is a functional exercise that helps to replicate everyday movements. This means you’ll be able to lift heavier objects and perform tasks with better ease, improving your overall quality of life.
The hang clean can also be used as an accessory exercise to help improve your other lifts, such as the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Adding the hang clean to your routine can help build strength in your upper body and core, which will help you lift heavier weights with better form.
Full Body Workout
The hang clean is a great full-body exercise that engages multiple muscle groups. This helps improve your overall strength and endurance, as well as challenge your muscles in a different way (12). As a result, you’ll build stronger, more powerful muscles and reduce the risk of injury (13).
The hang clean is an incredibly effective exercise for burning calories. As this is a dynamic, full-body movement, it can help increase your heart rate and burn more calories than other exercises. This makes it a great choice for those looking to lose weight or tone up.
The hang clean is a great exercise to add to your workout routine. It helps increase explosive power, improve core strength, and build functional strength. It’s also a great accessory exercise that can help improve your other lifts, as well as provide a full-body workout and burn more calories.
To get the most out of the exercise, use proper form and slowly increase the weight as you become stronger. With dedication and consistency, you’ll soon see the results you’ve been looking for.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anatomy, Back, Trapezius (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Calf (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Thigh Quadriceps Muscle (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Forearm Muscles (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- CORE MUSCLE ACTIVITY DURING THE CLEAN AND JERK LIFT WITH BARBELL VERSUS SANDBAGS AND WATER BAGS (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Hang cleans and hang snatches produce similar improvements in female collegiate athletes (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Influence of Power Clean Ability and Training Age on Adaptations to Weightlifting-Style Training (2019, journals.lww.com)
- Lumbar Stabilization (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscles of the Gluteal Region (2022, teachmeanatomy.info)
- Muscles of the Medial Thigh (2022, teachmeanatomy.info)
- The Hang Power Clean (2016, journals.lww.com)
- The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)