How to Do a Hang Clean: Technique, Examples, and Variations
The hang clean may be one of the most important yet underrated movements in all of lifting. Hang cleans are used across weightlifting, CrossFit, and elite sports performance for developing strength, power, and technical coordination.
Different types of hang cleans target various physical adaptations. A low hang clean builds the posterior chain and improves core stability. A high hang clean helps athletes develop speed and fast twitch muscles.
As a movement that requires technical coordination, the hang clean can be intimidating to athletes trying it for the first time. This article will take you through exactly what you need to do to perfect the hang clean and how to use it to become a FREAK!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is a Hang Clean
The hang clean is an Olympic weightlifting movement that requires athletes to pull the bar to a front rack position from above or below the knee.
Hang cleans are a compound movement that engages the entire body. The primary systems that are used include the posterior chain, legs, core, and upper back. Yes, the arms are used when you hang clean, but just to hold onto the bar, as your back is primarily responsible for pulling the bar through the movement.
Many athletes use hang cleans as part of their training since it is very effective for training power production and translating to sports performance. Hang cleans are also popular in CrossFit workouts because they use several muscle groups simultaneously to challenge participants. The hang clean is often used in CrossFit as part of a complex, which means an athlete must string together multiple movements before or after the hang clean. For example, a deadlift, followed by a hang clean, and finally, a push jerk. A complex, as the name suggests, increases the difficulty of the exercise and introduces additional fatigue.
All types of cleans, full or power, help to develop a tremendous amount of dynamic trunk control. The core helps us transfer the energy from the force applied into the ground up through the body and into an object, a critical component of success for athletes (think of a shot putter or a football player holding a block). Hang cleans are considered a technical coordination movement because they mimic positions that athletes see in competition. When athletes practice movements in positions that are similar to those they would see on the field and add resistance in the form of weights, they are going to be stronger and more powerful in those positions.
Hang cleans can be and should be incorporated into the training for all athletes, especially for explosive athletes like football players, throwers, sprinters, and swimmers. Now let’s check out how to do a hang clean.
Performing the Hang Clean
When doing a hang clean, we will break the lift down into a few specific positions so athletes maintain an ideal bar path and can safely perform the movement. When we refer to “positions,” we are referring to the posture of your body and the technique at certain points of the lift.
One thing to note is that hitting these positions will be much easier by bracing properly and keeping your back, lats, and entire trunk stiff throughout the lift.
To start the hang clean, you must deadlift the bar off the floor. You can also pull it off an elevated rack, but most commonly lifted off the floor.
The starting position is just holding the barbell with a double overhand grip (preferably hook grip) in front of you.
At the beginning of the lift, you want to make sure your back is straight, the scaps are squeezed together, and the lats are engaged so that you don’t lose tension as you go into the eccentric portion or “the hang.”
Once in the starting position, the next part of the hang clean is the actual hang. You can choose between a high hang or a low hang. A high hang will stop above the knee, while a low hang will stop below the knee.
To start the hang, keep your back straight, looking straight with your head up, and begin to push your but back. The idea here is to focus more on hinging at the hips rather than bending over.
By pushing your butt back and hinging at the hips, you are able to load the glutes and control the bar to the hang point more controlled rather than isolating most of the load on your back. Loading the glutes and hamstrings also allows you to clean more weight because as you pull out of the hang, you will be able to stay in your heels longer and increase the length of your second pull.
Coach’s Note: The “second pull” refers to the pulling of the bar to the front rack position after contact is made at the thigh.
After you reach the hang position above or below your knee, you will go into the actual clean. To clean the weight, you will push through the heels and middle of the feet as you pull the bar up the thigh.
Simultaneously, push the hips forward and knees through under the bar. The bar should make contact somewhere from the mid to upper thigh.
Right after contact and as you start your second pull, your body should be in a position called triple extension. This means that your body is fully extended in three places: your ankles/feet, your knees, and your hips.
As you triple extend, continue to pull the bar with your traps, upper back, and arms to prepare for the catch of the clean in the correct position.
Coach’s Note: Keep your lats and back tight so the bar stays as close to your body as possible.
The catch portion of the clean is the hardest part for beginners because there is so much going on at once.
To catch the clean, continue to pull the bar up to your collarbone. At the same time, your feet will need to slide outward into a slightly wider stance so you can absorb the weight in a stable front squat position.
In order to achieve the front rack position, you need to wrap your elbows under the bar when the weight is at its peak height. When you wrap your elbows, allow your wrists to fall back in order to not injure them.
As the bar lands on your collarbone and your body starts to absorb the load, keep your chest up and upper back very tight so that you are not losing the weight forward.
Coach’s Note: If you do not keep your lats and entire back tight, your back will round, then you catch the weight, and you will either lose the weight forward or fall backward.
Depending on if you are doing a power clean or full clean will determine whether you have to go past parallel and stand the clean up. Regardless, your feet should land flat on the ground either just before or at the same time you enter the front rack position with the bar across your collarbone and front deltoid muscles.
Stand Up the Weight
The last thing to do to complete your hang clean is STAND UP THE FREAKING WEIGHT! Use your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core muscles, and back to stand up the clean in a front squat position to reach the final standing position.
There will be times when you might do a hang clean, land on your toes, and then standing up the weight will feel very hard - or you might even just sit back and fail to stand it up. To stand up the weight easier for cleans, try to land on the heel to the middle of your foot.
There are a number of hang clean variations that target different adaptations. Especially for sports like Olympic weightlifting and throwing, these few exercises will depend on weak points that athletes face in their performance. Let’s take a look at common variations of hang cleans.
High Hang Clean
The high hang clean is a hang clean that limits the eccentric hang to above the knee. The bottom of your hang should look like you are in a quarter squat position.
High hang cleans are a great tool to develop fast twitch muscles and improve athleticism. They require you to reduce the length of your first pull of the clean to focus primarily on elongating the second pull.
This also requires speed and trunk control to stay stable when catching the bar. High hang cleans should be used by weightlifters, throwers, football players, and other fast-twitch athletes as it helps practice producing and absorbing force in a short amount of time.
Low Hang Clean
The low hang clean is often going to be the variation that extends the eccentric hang below the knee without putting the weight back on the ground.
Athletes will often be able to lift more with the low hang clean than the high hang clean because the glutes and hamstrings are loaded more than with a high hang clean.
Low hang cleans are especially helpful for Olympic weightlifters who have a hard time pushing through their heels in the first pull of a clean and those who have trouble getting their knees back fast enough.
Hip cleans are not often used in Olympic weightlifting, but they are beneficial for throwers and football players.
Hip cleans rely more on the upper body than any other variation because the bar does not move from your hips. You can hinge at the hips to engage the posterior chain and swing them forward to help elevate the weight, but the bar should stay in the hip crease the entire time.
These are often done as power cleans as a movement to develop impulse and rapid power.
Power cleans can be done as hangs, from the floor, boxes, hips, or any other starting point. The difference between a hang power clean and a full clean (squat clean) is in how deep athletes go into the squat. The higher you catch a power clean and stand it up, the better.
The hang power clean requires a high level of rigidness and trunk control. They are specifically good for larger athletes who may not have good ROM to develop power and still incorporate Olympic lifts into their strength training.
Common Mistakes with Hang Cleans
A rounded back can happen at any point during a hang clean. It can happen off the floor, during the hang, in the catch, and even standing up the weight.
Rounding your back can lead to serious injury. Especially when you are doing Olympic lifts.
You can reduce the rounding of your back by keeping your back tight, squeezing your scaps, facing forward, and keeping the lats squeezed to your side.
No Thigh Contact
Sometimes inexperienced athletes will muscle their hang cleans up to their collar bone without making contact. If you don’t make contact at the hips, you will have a harder time increasing weight and progressing with hang cleans.
You can improve on making contact by doing slower eccentric hangs to keep the bar as close as possible so you can make contact when you pull out of the hang.
Not Pulling Enough With the Arms
After making contact at the thigh, the second pull starts to bring the bar to the collarbone. If you don’t pull enough with the arms and upper back, the bar can end up crashing on you or just not even get under the bar at all.
Not Tight in the Catch
A lack of core and upper body tightness can lead to back rounding, a caved chest, or an imbalanced front squat position.
Make sure to keep your core, which consists of the abs, obliques, back, lats, and entire trunk, tight throughout the entire lift.
Feet Jumping Back
When athletes try to bring their knees under the bar too fast or use too much leg drive through the toes, they will tend to jump back.
Jumping back will lead to missing the bar forward or landing on your toes, which will often lead to a missed lift. You can reduce jumping back by focusing on low hang cleans and keeping the heels grounded longer.
Slow elbows will affect the font rack position of a clean. This is when you aren’t getting the elbow under the bar fast enough after pulling the bar up your torso.
You can increase the speed of your elbow by practicing with a technique stick or and loosening the lat so that your lats are able to be more mobile into the catch.
Hang cleans are a very versatile Olympic lift that benefits weightlifters and athletes alike. Each variation has its own specific benefits and adaptations.
The hang clean requires a high amount of neural drive and uses a lot of high threshold motor units. Through repetition, the body becomes more experienced with the movements, giving the brain and central nervous system a greater ability to contract more muscle fibers at a faster rate, and acceleration improves. As a technical coordination movement, it is great for developing strength, power, and mind-muscle connection. It even has a hand in developing speed because of the shortened pull range and requires athletes to get under the bar faster and move the weight with more intent.
It’s important to keep the entire trunk rigid throughout the lift, keep the bar close to the body, and bring the elbow around quickly to get a good front rack position. If you aren’t able to do a full clean due to limited mobility in the hips, knees, or ankles, the hang power clean is great for developing similar adaptations.
You can find weightlifting and sport-specific strength programs that incorporate hang cleans inside the Peak Strength training app. Sign up for Peak Strength today for a full week of FREE training so you can become an athletic FREAK!
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