How Bad is My Barbell Clean?

Barbell clean isn’t a lift that I practice. But I do this movement in the video sometimes if I just want to get a fairly light barbell up on my rack.

The day I made this video I was recording my form on my regular lifts. I though why not just record this - probably not so good - clean, and find out how off the mark I am.

When I look at clean technique videos I can tell it’s obvious I don’t end with the bar on my shoulders with elbows forward. And I loose my balance on some reps.

Not the worst but not great. I’ll try to find some diagrams, but you are still muscling the bar up at the top and away from the body. It should follow a vertical path up without extending outward at the top.

You need to work on your catching position. You are not catching it properly at the top. At the bottom when you extend and really trigger the pull that usually starts just above the knee and not closer to the hips.

Lastly, you are really doing more of a ‘power clean’. The traditional clean you should be pulling yourself under the bar a bit and that takes a LOT of practice. I still suck at it myself.

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I should qualify my recommendation: I did a power clean to build my shoulders and back muscles. My primary focus was bodybuilding, not Olympic lift optimization. I did not do it to become good at cleaning the most weight, so I did not drop to get under the weight.

I would start the clean just above your knees. And pull violently from there. I only dropped the bar just at my knees, not any lower. Sets of 5 with as much weight as you can use (once you master the technique)

To improve technique do a little lighter weight and work on speed. You are not far off with the form, IMO.

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Thank you both @blshaw and @RT_Nomad. OK, power clean. I reviewed this How to Power Clean (Olympic Weightlifting 101) - YouTube. It’s very technical and subtle, it happens so fast. It seems like a lot of coaching and fine tuning, but eventually you’ll just feel it. In the recording I had 100 lbs on the bar so maybe 65 or 70 is better to practice the technique. Perhaps I could get my technique in line, the prospect of power clean and press appeals to me.

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So for starters, I know very little about weightlifting (as in the clean and jerk and the snatch). It seems to me that you pull the weight from below your knees, but then basically stop at about the stopping point for a deadlift, then you resume the lift. The portion from below your knees to about a deadlift lockout is meant to generate upwards momentum of the bar, stopping then resuming the lift negates that. Try to get that transition smooth so you can use that momentum. Might be better to practice with lighter weight until you get that down.

I believe the rack position at the top should have your upper arm more out and less vertical if that makes sense.


This lifter has good mobility of the shoulders, elbows and wrists, and has her upper arms parallel to the floor. I don’t think parallel to the floor is required, but currently your upper arms are close to vertical.

Again, I am no expert on this. Most of my pointers come not from experience, but by watching weightlifters. My guess is that my clean looks similar to yours. 95%+ of my clean experience is with a log not a barbell (which is almost completely different, aside from starting on the ground and ending up on the shoulders).

I think it’s essential to ask this question first: why are you performing cleans in the first place? This will determine how important it is to clean up your form, and what they should ‘look like’.

I’m a strength-based, performance based athlete, who has to clean barbells/axles in competitive settings, so my primary goal tends to be on the efficiency side, and also ending up in rack position that is ideal for the press/jerk. I’m trying to move as much weight as possible, as efficiently as possible. So if you have weightlifting/performance goals, there’s that.

If your goal is simply to build the muscles used in the exercise, but you’re not particularly concerned with the performance/competitive aspect, that changes things a little. A less efficient clean may actually benefit you in the sense that you’re relying less on momentum and more on upper back/arm strength to compete the lift, and therefore it will develop those muscles more than a more efficient, technically sound clean would.

In either case, there is improvement to be made, but my advice for said improvement would be different depending on how you’d answer this.

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You are not doing a clean. You are doing a reverse curl. You are also pausing at the hip. So you can do a hip clean or a hang clean (from the knees). If you do the hang clean then don’t stop as you pass through the middle. Keep your arms straight until you are ready to pull the bar up. You are initiating the movement with an arm bend. I would recommend just keeping the bar at your hip…then bend the knees…then jump and pull the bar up as you transition your elbows around the bar and pointing forward. the bar should be on your shoulders when you finish. I am adding a link here. The issue with this link is that you don’t need to lean back when you start the movement. That’s a bad idea although you may lean back after you shrug.


As I mentioned the only reason I do this in actuality is to put the bar up on my rack instead of fully unloading the bar. I know it isn’t proper form. Just wanted to know how far off it is. If I could work out the technique, doing (power) clean and press, like a 20 rep set, for performance appeals to me. Also, I didn’t mention this, I suspect this movement probably has a higher risk of injury with bad technique than simpler moves. So is it more trouble than it’s worth? I’m not competing or training for a particular sport.

I’m pretty sure it was Dan John that said you don’t by have to be good at Olympic lifts for them to be useful.

My advice is if you enjoy them - do them. Cleans are a really useful tool. They can be used in so many ways. And the only way to get good is to do them.
Start light add weight slow and constantly reflect on your performance.
From a safety stand point I don’t think you’re too far off. Especially if you’re going to keep the weight low and reps high.

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I mean, I saw that, I just assumed that you were posting the video for reasons other than asking ‘is this a good way to get a light bar off the floor’, lol. Ultimately, I was asking more about your goals in general, why you lift weights in the first place.

If you plan to be involved in a sport like crossfit, this probably has utility, but outside of that… eh. A 20 rep set of basically anything is really going to be more or less about conditioning more than anything else. Honestly, it’s really sounding like you don’t have very clearly defined goals. You’re telling me how you want to perform the lift, but I still don’t have a clear picture of WHY you want to do that. The ‘whys’ should determine the ‘whats’. Examples: if I want to compete in olympic lifting (the why I train part), then I would practice low rep sets of technically sound olympic lift variations, and I’d work on many different versions of cleans and presses/jerks. 20 rep sets of these movements would never come into play. If my ‘why’ is building a big strong back, shoulders, and arms, with no competition aspirations, I’d likely stick with partial movements, like just the power clean, and presses. A full clean wouldn’t ever come into play. I might not even do cleans, I’d probably stick to things like high pulls that are technically easier, and just as effective for building muscle. If my ‘why’ is ‘I do crossfit’ or ‘I happen to enjoy doing cleans for 20 reps’, THEN the ‘what’ would be practicing high rep sets.

Just some food for thought. Everything done in the gym should be oriented towards your actual goals. Don’t just do stuff because you saw it on youtube or someone told you ‘it’s a good exercise’. You’ll get more out of the gym this way.

SOOOOO bear in mind that everything I wrote isn’t JUST for you. I know a lot of people read what I write on here, so I like to give good general advice as well as specific.

I don’t think cleans carry much of an injury risk, it’s easy enough to just drop the bar if you miss a clean. I wouldn’t worry about that. But that being said, if you don’t want to invest the time/energy into learning to clean properly, high pulls are a fine substitution. You can basically just do the same movement, where you pull the bar dynamically high up on your torso, but you don’t flip your elbows under at the end to catch it. It involves much less coordination, but still involves the muscle recruitment you get out of a clean, in general.

Second attempt. Is this a step in the right direction form-wise? It still feels and looks pretty bad compared to form videos I’ve watched. I lowered the weight as recommended. I’m trying to think of it more explosively from the feet and shrug movement, with the idea that the arms sort of follow through with the momentum and leg drop down to get under the bar before the upward momentum runs out. I’m trying to do that, even if not yet succeeding.

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Looking better Mike!

You’re already pulling with more traps and less arms.

Now you gotta work on the start position. You’re jamming your knees forward and squatting behind the bar before the clean. You’ll want to make it more of a hinge, getting your butt back behind you, and your shoulders over the bar more, before you pull.



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Late reply. Sorry, just wasn’t sure how to answer. I started a training log here Starting at Age 52. So this wouldn’t fit into my immediate plans. I wasn’t think of CrossFit. Turns out “complexes” is what I was thinking of, but I didn’t know there was a name and method for it. A few years back when I first got a light barbell set I would just heave the bar up, press it a few time, set it behind my neck squat it a few time, deadlift it a few time, until I was out of breath, then put it down and repeat after catching my breath. Sort of like a complex, but now I realize my clean isn’t right. When I move on from my current plan I was thinking complexes would be good for maintenance. For some reason I did them intuitively, I figure I should eventually learn how to do them correctly after building a better strength base.

Would it be right/wrong to think of the starting position as similar to descending for RDL? That’s what the first “good” picture reminds me of.

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Not a problem! The main reason for my post was to be informative and share my experiences/training philosophy. It didn’t require a quick answer.

So my thought is, as long as it’s ‘working’ for you, that’s sufficient. For higher reps, you don’t need a particularly efficient clean. You just need to do something that gets the bar from point a to point b without hurting yourself. You’re accomplishing that already. So, I personally wouldn’t worry TOO much about it. If you enjoy learning/improving the movement, that’s great! But it won’t be essential. Right now, it’s more of a brute force effort for you rather than a technically sound clean, but that’s really ok. Maybe even better, considering your goals.

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If you need more examples of how to do this exercise improperly, let me know so I can make a video :sweat_smile:

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I found this to be the best ever tutorial for learning how to barbell clean-

Yeah man! Just like an RDL!

Only you don’t have to bend over that far. Just enough to get over the bar and find that hamstring tension. And then like and RDL, you’ll start your hang clean by driving your hips forward. You want to blast up with Hip Extension, not by making the clean into a squat.