Squat Clean: How to Perform, Benefits & Expert Tips 

The squat clean is a classic exercise that can build full-body size and strength, making it a great movement for all types of people. 

However, the squat clean is also notoriously difficult to perform properly, so knowing how to practice this movement safely and effectively is of the utmost importance.  

In this article, we will take a look at how to perform the squat clean, the benefits that come from performing the squat clean, and some expert tips to give you that slight advantage over everyone else. 

What Is the Squat Clean? 

The squat clean is a dynamic and powerful Olympic weightlifting movement that combines the clean and the front squat. It involves lifting a barbell from the ground, catching it in a front rack position, and then descending into a deep squat before standing back up.  

The squat clean is an effective full-body exercise that builds strength, power, and explosiveness. 

How To Stretch Before Doing the Squat Clean  

Before performing the squat clean, it’s important to warm up and stretch to prepare your muscles for the movement.  

Incorporate dynamic stretches that target the major muscle groups involved, such as the hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, and shoulders.  

Examples include leg swings, walking lunges with a torso twist, and shoulder circles. 

Gradually increase the intensity of the stretches and perform a few lighter sets of the squat clean to prime your body for the exercise. 

How To Do the Squat Clean 

  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward, and the barbell placed on the ground in front of you. 
  1. Bend your knees and hinge at the hips to grip the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Your shoulders should be slightly in front of the barbell. 
  1. Engage your core, keep your back straight, and maintain a strong grip on the barbell. 
  1. Initiate the lift by driving through your legs, extending your hips, and explosively pulling the barbell upward. 
  1. As the barbell reaches chest height, quickly drop underneath it by transitioning into a deep squat position. Catch the barbell in the front rack position, with your elbows high and chest lifted. 
  1. Lower yourself into a full-depth squat, ensuring your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your legs, and stand up to return to the starting position. 
  1. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, focusing on maintaining proper form, explosiveness, and control throughout. 

What Muscles Does the Squat Clean Work? 

The squat clean is a highly demanding exercise that targets multiple muscle groups. Here are the primary muscles worked during the squat clean: 

Quadriceps: The squat clean heavily activates the quadriceps, located at the front of the thigh. These muscles are engaged during the extension phase of the lift and help with leg power and stability. 

Hamstrings: The hamstrings, located at the back of the thigh, play a crucial role in the squat clean. They are involved in the initial pull and assist in hip extension and maintaining balance throughout the movement. 

Glutes: The gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus and medius, are activated during the squat clean to generate power and stabilize the hips. 

Calves: The calf muscles are engaged to provide stability and support during the upward drive and catch phase of the lift. 

Core: The squat clean requires a strong core to maintain stability and transfer power from the lower body to the upper body. The abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles work together to keep the torso upright and prevent excessive forward or backward leaning. 

Benefits of the Squat Clean 

1. Squat Cleans Improve Stability and Posture  

The squat clean is a full-body exercise that promotes proper posture and core stability.  

By consistently performing this movement, you can strengthen the muscles responsible for maintaining an upright position and improve overall postural alignment. 

2. Squat Cleans Improve Total Body Strength  

As a compound exercise, the squat clean engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, leading to overall strength development.  

It challenges the lower body, upper body, and core, promoting muscle growth, power, and functional strength. 

3. Squat Cleans Benefit Mobility  

The squat clean requires a good range of motion in the hips, ankles, and shoulders. Regularly practicing this exercise can enhance joint mobility and flexibility, making daily movements and other exercises easier to perform. 

4. Squat Cleans Produce Better Athletic Performance 

The explosive nature of the squat clean makes it a valuable exercise for athletes. It develops power, speed, and coordination, translating into improved performance in sports that require explosive movements, such as sprinting, jumping, and throwing. 

Squat Clean vs. Power Clean: What’s the Difference? 

The squat clean and power clean are both variations of the clean, but with a difference in the catch position.  

In the squat clean, you catch the barbell in a full-depth squat position, whereas in the power clean, you catch the barbell in a partial squat or a quarter-squat position.  

The squat clean requires more mobility and strength to descend into the deep squat, while the power clean emphasizes explosiveness and speed in the pull and catch phases. 

Squat Clean vs. Power Clean vs. Hang Clean 

Squat Clean 

The squat clean (also known as the clean and jerk CrossFit) is performed by lifting the barbell from the ground, catching it in the front rack position, and descending into a deep squat.  

It targets multiple muscle groups and emphasizes power, mobility, and full-body strength.  

Who Should Do Squat Cleans? 

Squat cleans are suitable for individuals who have experience with weightlifting and have developed adequate strength and mobility. They are commonly performed by weightlifters, CrossFit athletes, and individuals looking to improve their power, strength, and athleticism. 

Power Clean 

The power clean involves lifting the barbell from the ground and catching it in a partial squat position, typically above parallel. It focuses on explosiveness, speed, and power development, with less emphasis on deep squatting. 

Who Should Do Power Cleans? 

Power cleans are beneficial for athletes who aim to improve their explosive power and speed, such as sprinters, jumpers, and athletes in sports like football, basketball, and track and field. They are also suitable for individuals who have mobility restrictions that prevent them from performing deep squats. 

Hang Clean 

The hang clean begins with the barbell at the hang position, typically above the knees. It involves pulling the barbell explosively, catching it in a squat position or a partial squat, and requires strong hip and shoulder mobility.  

Who Should Do Hang Cleans? 

Hang cleans are suitable for athletes and weightlifters at various skill levels. They can be used as a progression towards performing full cleans or as a variation to target specific aspects of the clean technique. Hang cleans also benefit individuals who may have limitations in their starting position or grip strength. 

Alternatives to the Squat Clean 

If the squat clean is not suitable for you due to mobility or equipment constraints, there are alternative exercises that target similar muscle groups and offer comparable benefits.  

These exercises include power cleans, hang cleans, dumbbell or kettlebell cleans, and other variations of the clean. 

3 Squat Clean Variations 

1) Landmine Squat Clean 

The landmine squat clean is a variation that involves performing the squat clean movement using a landmine attachment.  

This variation can provide stability and a different loading pattern, making it suitable for individuals who may have limitations or prefer an alternative to the traditional barbell squat clean. 

How To Do the One-Arm Landmine Squat Clean 

  1. Set up a landmine attachment by inserting one end of a barbell into the landmine sleeve or by securing it in a corner with a towel or other padding. 
  1. Stand beside the landmine attachment, facing perpendicular to the barbell. 
  1. Grip the end of the barbell with one hand, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and assume a squatting position. 
  1. Explosively drive through your legs, extend your hips, and pull the barbell upward while rotating your hand and catching it at shoulder height. 
  1. Descend into a deep squat position, maintaining control and stability throughout. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your legs, and stand up to return to the starting position. 

2) Pentagon Bar Landmine Clean 

The pentagon bar landmine clean is another variation that utilizes a specialized barbell attachment called a pentagon bar. This variation provides a different grip and loading pattern, challenging your stability and core engagement. 

How To Do the Pentagon Bar Landmine Clean 

  1. Set up the pentagon bar in a landmine attachment or secure it in a corner with padding. 
  1. Stand facing the bar, positioning your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Grip the handles of the pentagon bar with an overhand grip, keeping your elbows slightly bent and your wrists aligned with your shoulders. 
  1. Begin the movement by explosively extending your hips and knees, pulling the barbell upward while keeping it close to your body. 
  1. Catch the barbell in the front rack position, with your elbows high and chest lifted. 
  1. Lower yourself into a deep squat, ensuring proper form and range of motion. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your legs, and stand up to return to the starting position. 

3) Dumbbell/Kettlebell Squat Clean 

If you don’t have access to barbells or specialized attachments, the dumbbell or kettlebell squat clean is a viable alternative. This variation allows for greater freedom of movement and can be performed with either dumbbells or kettlebells. 

How To Do the Dumbbell/Kettlebell Squat Clean 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. 
  1. Begin by lowering into a squat position, keeping your back straight and chest lifted. 
  1. Explosively drive through your legs and hips, simultaneously pulling the dumbbells or kettlebells upward towards your shoulders. 
  1. Catch the weights in the front rack position, with your elbows high and chest lifted. 
  1. Lower yourself into a deep squat, maintaining control and proper form. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your legs, and stand up to return to the starting position. 

How to Work out Safely and Avoid Injury 

When performing the squat clean or its variations, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and proper form to avoid injury: 

  • Start with lighter weights or no weights at all to practice and perfect your technique before progressing to heavier loads. 
  • Focus on maintaining proper posture and alignment throughout the movement, including a straight back, engaged core, and stable foot positioning. 
  • Gradually increase the weight as your form and strength improve, ensuring that you can maintain control and stability throughout the exercise. 
  • Listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain or discomfort. If you experience any unusual pain or discomfort, stop the exercise and seek advice from a qualified fitness professional or healthcare provider. 

Squat Clean: Takeaway 

The squat clean is a challenging and dynamic exercise that offers numerous benefits, including improved stability, total body strength, mobility, and athletic performance. 

It targets multiple muscle groups and requires proper form and technique for optimal results. By incorporating the squat clean into your training routine, you can enhance your strength, power, and overall fitness level.  

Remember to prioritize safety, listen to your body, and gradually progress based on your individual capabilities and goals. 

Squat Clean – FAQs 

What Are Squat Cleans Good For? 

Squat cleans are good for building full-body size and strength.  

What Is The Difference Between A Full Clean And A Squat Clean? 

The difference between a full clean and a squat clean is that a full clean does not allow you to go below the knees when squatting, while a squat clean does. 

This is done so you cannot generate as much power and momentum in the full clean.  

Is Squat Clean Harder Than Power Clean? 

No, the squat clean is not harder than power clean CrossFit. 

The squat clean, power clean, and hang squat clean and press are all similar exercises that target the same muscle groups, and different people will find different movements easier.  

Is Power Clean Same As Squat Clean? 

No, the power clean is not the same as a squat clean. The power clean (or clean exercise) does not allow you to squat parallel to knees, while a squat clean does.  

This also applies to the hang squat clean and overhead. 

We hope we have been able to give you a better insight into the squat clean. 

This exercise has the potential to transform your physique and build tremendous size and strength, and if you follow all of the advice we have given you in this article, you will be well on your way to mastery.  

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