How to Clean and Press

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Group of people doing clean and press
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Targets: Strength, power

Equipment Needed: Barbell

Level: Intermediate

The clean and press is a magnificent exercise that builds stamina, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, and even strength. The clean and press offers another benefit that many strength exercises cannot boast: power, which is a combination of strength and speed.

If you are new to the clean and press, start with lighter weights and learn how to do the form properly. Once you are certain of your technique, start to add weight until you get to the point that six to eight reps are making you breathless. The clean and press is something anyone can and should do as part of a regular strength training routine. It is also a great exercise to include in a circuit routine.


Originating as an Olympic lift, the clean and press works no fewer than eight different muscle groups. The lower half of the movement strengthens your hips, glutes, and hamstrings, while the upper half of the movement targets your shoulders, chest, back, and arms. Meanwhile, the entire move relies on you engaging your core.

Power training is important for athletes who need a sudden burst of activity in their sport, such as sprinting or jumping. Even those not focusing on specific sports use power exercises to push the heart rate to anaerobic levels, adding a higher calorie burn to their overall workout.

In everyday life, you will often need to pick objects up from the floor and place them on shelves. The clean and press can train you to use good form.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart and hold the barbell approximately 2 inches away from your shins. Push your hips back and grab the barbell so your palms are facing your body and your hands are shoulder-width apart. Keep your hips down, chest lifted, eyes forward, and arms long.
  2. Keep your core very tight and drive through your heels to pull the bar quickly up to your chest, just in front of your collarbone. Keep your spine tall. Be explosive and fast in your movement as you pull the bar, keeping it as close to your body as you can. To pull the bar underneath your shoulders, shrug your shoulders up and point your elbows forward.
  3. As soon as the bar reaches your chest, drive through your heels again and press the directly overhead and straighten your arms and legs. Keep your core very tight. Return to starting position with control.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you can get the most from this exercise while avoiding strain and injury.

Shifting Weight Forward

Your weight should remain on your heels at all times during the clean and press.

Rounding the Back

Your upper back should be straight and not rounded as you lift the weight.

Grip Position

Aim for a grip that is no more than 2 inches wider than your shoulders. If it is too wide you risk wrist pain while if it is too narrow you could strain your shoulder joints.

Modifications and Variations

The clean and press can be practiced in different ways to meet your level of fitness and expertise. Your fitness level will determine how much weight you decide to lift.

Need a Modification?

Beginners can practice with an empty bar. If possible, do it in a room with mirrors so you can really make sure your body is doing what you want it to do.

Up for a Challenge?

This exercise can be performed with dumbbells or a barbell. The barbell allows you to go a bit heavier and provides a bit of stability with the bar. The dumbbells encourage each side to work individually rather than the stronger side covering for the weaker side.

A single-arm clean and press can be done with a dumbbell. It adds a stability and balance challenge to this exercise.

A clean and press can be done paired with other leg exercises such as squats or lunges to superset the lower body. It can also be placed in any upper body mix to push the heart rate higher. It would be a perfect move to use in a circuit-style workout. For instance:

  • 4 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical
  • 8 repetitions of clean and press
  • 4 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical
  • 8 repetitions of clean and press, and so on.

Follow that pattern and in 15 to 20 minutes you have a solid workout.

Safety and Precautions

As this exercise involves multiple joints, discuss it with your doctor or physical therapist if you have any problems with your ankles, knees, hips, wrists, shoulders, neck, or back. This exercise is not recommended during pregnancy. If you feel any sharp pain during this exercise, end the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Soriano MA, Suchomel TJ, Comfort P. Weightlifting overhead pressing derivatives: a review of the literature. Sports Med. 2019;49(6):867-885. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01096-8.

  2. Calatayud J, Colado JC, Martin F, Casaña J, Jakobsen MD, Andersen LL. Core muscle activity during the clean and jerk lift with barbell versus sandbags and water bags. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):803-810.

  3. Sarabia JM, Moya-Ramón M, Hernández-Davó JL, Fernandez-Fernandez J, Sabido R. The effects of training with loads that maximise power output and individualised repetitions vs. traditional power training. PLoS One. 2017;12(10):e0186601. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0186601.

By Chris Freytag
Chris Freytag is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. She is also the founder of