How to Perform the Hang Clean

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Male instructor looking at young woman training at gym

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Also Known As: A variation of the full clean

Targets: Full body

Equipment Needed: Barbell

Level: Advanced

Hang cleans are one of many Olympic weight lifting movements used to improve power, strength, and speed among athletes. The exercise is shown to be an effective way for athletes to develop high rates of force and power output without using the more complicated lift from the floor.

Because the hang clean is shown to be an effective total body exercise, people of all fitness levels are incorporating it into their weight lifting routines. According to research, it has been performed safely in well-supervised training programs for children, adolescents, and adults.

The hang clean is often taught during the initial stages of power enhancement training compared to the more complex full power clean and squat clean. This allows for a progressive training approach to promote good body position, proper exercise execution, and reduced risk of injury.

Proper coaching is important when using explosive power movements like the hang clean so enlist the guidance of a qualified expert if you are new to weight lifting.

Benefits

The hang clean is a full body power and strength development exercise. Several joint actions are involved and some of the primary muscles activated include the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, erector spinae, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, gastrocnemius, and soleus.

Studies indicate the hang clean has a significant positive effect on strength, power, and speed development among athletes. It’s supported as an exercise for strength and conditioning coaches to utilize when designing weight lifting programs.

Performing the hang clean is said to improve athletic performance and strength in lifters of all fitness levels and ages. The power-based movement has many additional benefits including:

  • Increased muscle mass
  • Increased calorie expenditure
  • Increased power and strength
  • Improved neurologic function
  • Increased force and power output
  • Improved metabolic function
  • Improved balance and proprioception
  • Increased speed and agility
  • Improved coordination

The benefits gained from performing the hang clean can also help with functional fitness (day to day activities). Improving balance, strength, and proprioception will allow for better posture, gait, and picking up heavier objects with reduced risk of injury. You will feel more confident with body movement and being active in general.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The hang clean is an explosive power exercise recommended to be taught under close supervision. Using a qualified weight lifting coach or personal trainer helps ensure proper form and reduce the risk of injury.

It is performed in three positions (hang, extension, and catch) completed with continual movement, power, and momentum to transition from each position.

Special attention to each phase of the exercise is essential as you complete the following steps:

  1. Load the barbell with appropriate weight resistance for your fitness level.
  2. Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Engage your core and with a straight back, squat down, and grasp the barbell.
  4. Maintain a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, fully extended elbows, and feet flat on the floor.
  5. From the floor, push through your heels/feet, keep the bar close to your shins and bring the bar to the start hang clean position (mid-thigh level).
  6. Bend slightly at the hips, push your butt back, maintain a neutral spine, and keep your gaze straight forward.
  7. Keep the bar close to your hips/thighs, elbows straight, and forcefully elevate the shoulders pushing your hips forward.
  8. Pull the body down under the bar snapping the elbows forward and causing hips to drop to catch the bar at chest level/front of shoulders (like a front squat position).
  9. Maintain a front squat/rack position with the bar and slowly rise to standing.
  10. Lower the bar down with control to start position (mid-thigh level).
  1. Repeat for a determined amount of reps.
  2. Return the bar to the floor using proper body mechanics when exercise is complete.

Common Mistakes

The hang clean requires practice to master the exercise form and technique. Being aware of a few common errors will provide an edge up and allow you to avoid doing the following:

Swinging the Bar

It’s important to perform the hang clean with powerful control. Allowing the bar to swing away from your body increases the risk of injury and low back strain. Focus on keeping the bar close to your body during each phase of the exercise to ensure proper form.

Using Your Arms to Pull

Many people try to use their arms to pull up the bar instead of driving through the feet. The hang clean is a 3-part move that requires you to bend your knees, drive through the feet, shrug your shoulders and hop under the bar to land in a proper front-rack position. Practice a few armless cleans without pulling on the bar but diving the body down under the bar into a catch position. This will help eliminate the urge to pull with your arms.

Incorrect Bar Grip

Having too narrow or wide of grip can mess up the proper technique of the hang clean. In order to execute the move correctly, the hands should be placed a couple of inches outside either leg on the bar. The success of the move always begins with the appropriate setup. 

Dropping the Elbows

The hang clean requires correct body position throughout the movement. Dropping the elbows down can cause you to drop the weight and increase the risk of injury. Working on increased mobility, flexibility, and strength in your lats and triceps will help improve spinal extension. You will be able to stand taller and gain the ability to lift your elbows higher to catch and hold the bar.

Tight Bar Grip

Gripping the bar overly tight will not allow for a smooth transition moving the bar from your thigh to a front-rack position. Although you have a controlled grip at all times during the exercise, the bar rolls smoothly in your hands as you snap it into the front-rack position. A tight grip can cause you to stick with potential to drop the bar, not complete the move, or risk injury to your wrists/hands and back. Focus on a controlled but not overly firm grip and proper breathing techniques during the movement.

Improper Landing

Not maintaining proper body position landing the hang clean is a common error. Some people land with their torso flexed and heels elevated. Not landing properly affects your balance and increases the risk of injury. While it may be reasonable to slightly jump/stomp the floor catching the clean, it’s important to land on both feet for stability and proper front-rack position.

Modifications and Variations

The hang clean is a full body power movement involving several muscle groups and joint actions. Mastering the technique takes time and practice under supervised conditions. There are a few exercises and variations that are helpful for learning and advancing the hang clean.

Need a Modification?

If you’re new to weight lifting or trying this exercise, working with a qualified coach or personal trainer is recommended. The following modifications/starter exercises will help prepare you to perform the hang clean:

  • Front squat with rack grip – lower body exercise performed holding the barbell in front-rack position. This eliminates the explosive part of the hang clean but allows you to build lower body strength and confidence with the clean grip on the bar.
  • Hang clean high pull – an alternative exercise that omits the catch phase of the hang clean. This limits shoulder and wrist stress that can occur during the front-rack position.
  • Kettlebell swings – ballistic movement engaging most of the same muscle groups and joint actions of the hang clean. Suggested exercise to introduce new lifters to explosive movements with heavier loads.
  • Romanian deadlift – lower body exercise that targets hamstrings and glutes. Performing this compound move will strengthen your posterior chain and teach proper hinge position needed to execute the hang clean.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have mastered the hang clean, you may feel ready for an additional challenge. There are complex variations to increase the intensity including:

  • Adding weight – as you become stronger and confident with the hang clean, adding weight resistance will increase the intensity and challenge of the exercise.
  • Hang power clean – similar to the hang clean but weight is caught in a higher body position promoting increased force development. Considered an important progressive exercise to build technique toward the full or power clean.
  • Full clean – similar to the hang clean but starting the exercise from the floor instead of thigh/hip level. The full clean is a complex and advanced full-body explosive Olympic weight lifting exercise. 

Safety and Precautions

The hang clean is an advanced Olympic weight lifting exercise that requires attention to body position, form, and function. Performing any resistance exercise improperly can increase your risk of injury.

The following tips will help you perform the hang clean safely and effectively:

  • Perform the exercise under the supervision of a qualified coach/trainer and with a spotter present.
  • Beginners should use light to moderate weight loads until you feel comfortable performing the exercise.
  • Keep the bar close to your body to avoid low back strain
  • Maintain elbows up during the front-rack body position of the exercise.
  • Push through and land with weight on your heels. Avoid landing with heels elevated.
  • Discontinue the exercise if you experience discomfort/pain that is not right. For example, low back strain or significant wrist discomfort.

Try It Out

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

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