Perfect Your Squat Clean with this Exercise Guide

The squat clean is a great exercise to improve mobility, power, and speed.

The squat clean is a weightlifting exercise which requires the athlete to pull weight off the floor and heave it up to their shoulders in a front rack position. Specifically for the squat clean, this movement requires the athlete to drop under the weight to catch it, and have their hips go lower than their knees before they stand the weight up.

Unlike a power clean, where the hips stay above the knees at all times, the squat clean allows for greater power and weight to be lifted.

It is also a slightly more technical lift, as it requires faster hip and elbow movement and places a high demand on your speed, footwork and mobility.

Source: Stevie D Photography

The squat clean is known simply as a ‘Clean’ in Olympic weightlifting, but is given the name squat clean in the world of CrossFit to specify the athlete should squat when performing this exercise.

The squat clean is mostly performed with a barbell, but you can also squat clean med balls, kettlebells, or any other weight.

How to Do a Proper Squat Clean

The squat clean is simply a combination of a deadlift, a big shrug, receiving the bar in a front squat position and standing up.

To perform an efficient squat clean with proper technique you:

  • Start with a hip-width stand, with the barbell right in front of your feet.
  • Lower down bending at the hips and, keeping a straight back, grip the barbell about one thumb’s distance from your hips.
  • Hook grip the bar and bring your shoulders slightly in front of it for the set-up.
  • Keeping a straight back and engaged core, raise bringing your hips and shoulders up at the same time.
  • Keeping your heels down, extend your hips rapidly. The power to lift the weight should come from your lower body, less from your shoulders and arms.
  • Jump, shrug your shoulders and pull the bar under your arms, squatting as you go and bringing your elbows high. The movement of extending your hips, knees and ankles is known as a “triple extension.”
  • The bar should stay as close to your body as possible through this movement.
  • Catch the bar at the bottom of your squat.
  • Stand up until you reach full extension of your hips and knees, with the bar resting in the front rack position.

Common Squat Clean Faults

The most common mistakes athletes make when performing squat cleans include:

  • Bad timing: the squat clean requires speed and power, both at the right time. Dropping under the bar too quickly is a common squat clean fault when haven’t got a fast hip and elbow turnover. Focus on your timing to be able to lift the biggest amount of weight.
  • Lack of triple extension: the triple extension allows you to make full use of your whole body’s power. Extending only your hips without the additional shoulder shrug and ankle extension will reduce explosive power and mean decreased efficiency and less weight moved.
  • Catch with elbows down: this will give you the most stable position to stand the weight up, and mean you’re lifting with your lower body and midline primarily, instead of trying to hold the weight with your forearms and wrists.
  • Mobility: hip, ankle, shoulder or wrist mobility problems can get in the way of your performing technically perfect squat cleans. Address those problems through mobility work before you try to lift heavy weights with this exercise.

Barbell Clean Warm-Up

Difference Between a Squat Clean and a Power Clean

Both the squat clean and the power clean require you to lift a weight from the floor to the front rack position. They differentiate themselves in the way they are executed.

The main difference between the two lifts is whether your hips go below or stay above parallel as you catch the weight.

snatch fraserSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.
2016 CrossFit Games Regionals.

Your squat clean will usually be heavier than your power clean. This is because the bar path (how much the bar travels in the air) is smaller for the squat clean, and you can use the full power in your legs, rather than your initial pull, to reach full extension with the weight.

This also means the squat clean is a more technical movement and is usually harder to perform, as athletes need to get the timing and technique right, and be fast under the bar.  

Squat Clean Muscles Worked

The squat clean is primarily a lower-body exercise, but your upper body and midline are also taxed when you initiate the movement and to help get the bar up to your shoulders.

The main muscles worked during the squat clean, especially during the initial pull and to stand up the squat, are:

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

To stabilise the lift from receiving the weight in the front rack position to standing up the squat, the squat clean will also tax your:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Trapezius

What Are the Benefits of the Squat Clean?

The squat clean is a classic functional exercise, which simply means you’ll encounter all or parts of this movement in day-to-day life and activities involving lifting and carrying.

For anyone hoping to improve their fitness, the squat clean is an excellent exercise to develop explosive power, speed and strength.

Ultimately, whether you include it in your training or not will depend on your goals. If your desire is to build muscle, you might be better off spending more time doing simple squats and following a classic hypertrophy program.

Yet the power, speed and mobility developed during the squat clean can translate to many other sports and aspects of life.

Continue with the squat clean to perform a thruster and you’ve got yourself an incredibly efficient full-body exercise, although this variation won’t allow you to lift as much weight.

How to Squat Clean More Weight

To squat clean more weight you’ll first have to ensure your technique is essentially perfect, there’s no point in adding more weight if your movement patterns are flawed as you’ll be less efficient and run the risk of injury.

Where possible, have an experienced coach watch and give you feedback.

By improving your technique you’ll teach your body the most efficient way to lift weight and thus be able to lift some more. Practising light reps will develop the muscle memory required to perform the squat clean at heavier weights.

You don’t necessarily have to practice this exercise with a barbell; a dumbbell or medicine ball are also great tools to perfect your movement patterns and ultimately squat more weight.

CrossFit Clean Workouts

Heavy Legs

4 Rounds for Time:

  • 400m Run
  • 4 Squat Cleans (155/105)
  • 6 Push Press (95/65)
Clean-WorkoutsSource: Invictus Fitness / The Progrm


21-15-9 Reps for Time of:

  • Squat Cleans (135/95)
  • Ring Dips
clean workouts

Building Up

E2MOM 16:

  • 3 Squat Cleans at 50%

Increase weight by 5% every two minutes.

Take 50% of your 1 Rep Max for the first two minutes and increase the weight every minute on the minute for 16 minutes.

squat cleanSource: Stevie D Photography

Partner Clean Workout

For Time With a Partner:

  • 100 Snatches (75/55)

Rest 1 Minute

Directly into:

  • 10 Squat Cleans (135/95)
  • 8 Squat Cleans (150/115)
  • 6 Squat Cleans (170/135)
  • 4 Squat Cleans (195/160)
  • 2 Squat Cleans (225/185)
Pair Up Throwdown CrossFitSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Clean Triplet

4 Rounds for Time:

  • 6 Power Cleans (175/130)
  • 9 Burpees
  • 12 Push Ups
squat clean

Learn more

Improve your Olympic lifting by mastering the Overhead Squat and Hang Snatch.

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