Back to Basics: Hang Clean

Few exercises carry over to sports performance better and to more sports than the hang clean. It is also famous for being one of the most frustrating lifts to master by means of both weight and technique.

Video of Hang Clean

Plateauing in the hang clean is a common issue at any level. It is also something I have discussed at length with other strength coaches across the country. Everyone has their own tips, secrets, and ways to try and break through barriers, and ways to recover from a hard workout with the hang clean. One of the most popular methods is using a leg compressor machine at the end of the workout.

I am not, nor do I have time to discuss all of the methods I have heard about, and I am not going to tell you that any of them are wrong. The best I can do is offer you some advice as well as some things that have worked for me and many of my athletes over the years, to help burst through some barriers. Results don’t lie.

One thing everyone out there can agree upon is this: The Hang Clean is a very technical lift. Even the slightest flaws or adjustments in technique can hurt or help your Hang Clean a great amount. So working on technique is one thing that can’t be ignored. Furthermore, the more fluid and technical you are on this movement, the better you will be at it.

Now here are some things that have always helped both myself and my clients.

  1. Just do them. Here is something I notice every year: when it comes to hang cleans, there is a large spectrum of time it takes to get the movement down. I have had athletes pick it up faster than I ever thought possible, and I have athletes let their frustration win the battle for a very, very long time. What I have noticed almost universally is this: the more you do them and try to do them right, the faster the movement is going to click with your mind and your body. Power Cleans are a variation that will help as well. If I had to list my top three supplementary exercises to improve your hang clean, the power clean would make the list.
  2. Squat and Deadlift. I am convinced that these two exercises can and do fix almost every issue out there. I once had a heavy deadlift day cure my male pattern baldness. When I see people get strong in these two movements I see them get stronger in almost all movements across the board. So keep these two movements in your program at all times and do the heavy variation. To expand on this further- executing Speed Pulls (Deadlift Variation) is another great movement to improve your hang clean.
  3. Rack Cleans. See the video below (and these are my first rack cleans in 5 years, literally, so while it may not be perfect, it is close enough). Rack cleans are an awesome way to improve your technique. So let’s briefly talk about technique here. What does the hang clean train? Well, it trains your body. I don’t like describing it as a lower body exercise because of how many muscles are actually involved in it, but for the sake of this article it is. Yes, you have heard me say, or if you haven’t, I often do say, let your legs do the work. I say this for 2 reasons: first it is your legs and hips that will be doing the majority of the work, and secondly, people who struggle with this movement try to make it all about their arms and pulling the weight up. Do not pull the weight up, explode the weight up. The bar should should float to the top position and at the top position should feel weightless. Rack cleans will force you to jump when cleaning the weight as well as getting a good shrug at the top. It will help teach you and your body to use your lower body power to move the weight. Master this and the full hang clean will become much easier.
  4. TLC. When you are training, your goal should be to get better in every aspect that will help you achieve your goals. This is great and when you see progression in everything, you feel great and you know things are going well. Everybody at some point or another is going to find a weakness in their training. Do not avoid this, do the opposite. Turn your weakness into your strength. If the hang clean is a weakness, make it a priority. This may mean your gains in other areas will suffer temporarily. In the short term, and to address an area that needs attention, this is ok. Let it happen, the gains will come back quickly in the areas you already excel at, so give a little extra focus to the hang clean.
  5. Clean up your technique. Can’t say this enough. Odds are you are not going to be able to do this working out on your own so find a coach or trainer that can help.

Video of Rack Clean