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How to Perform a Perfect Hang Clean, What Muscles It Works and 5 Fun Workouts to Add to Your Training

Not many exercises activate as many muscles as hang cleans do.

The hang clean is a weightlifting movement that pulls a weight from a hanging position to the shoulders. It is an effective way to train the muscles in your whole body and can be a useful movement pattern to master in real life.

The term “hang” describes the starting position of the bar. If you want to perform a movement with the prefix “hang”, it means you should start the movement while standing.

The hang clean is usually performed with a barbell, but can also be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, or any other weight.

What is a hang clean?

Hang cleans are compound weightlifting movements that primarily work the posterior chain, including muscles in your legs, back and core.

The main characteristic of a hang clean is that the movement starts with the weight somewhere between your hips and your knee, as opposed to dead on the ground. Athletes then drive through the heels and use the power of a triple extension to help pull the weight up to chest height.

Hang cleans are popular in CrossFit workouts and weightlifting training. No emphasis is placed on the initial pull from the ground, instead athletes learn to master the second and third pulls of the clean, from the hang position to the full squat receiving the bar.

“The timing, powerful hip extension, and coordination remain similar to the clean. However, the technical demands of arriving at the correct position are reduced compared to pulling the bar from the floor.” – CrossFit Training

How to do a hang clean

To execute a hang clean with perfect form, perform the following steps:

  1. Start with the bar directly in front of you and your feet about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend down to pick the bar up, grabbing the bar with your hands about a thumbs distance form your hips.
  3. Bring the weight up (preferably with a hook grip) and stand tall, this is where the hang clean starts.
  4. Lower the bar to around the middle of your thighs, keeping you back straight throughout and pushing your hips back. Your heels should be on the ground and your arms straight.
  5. Drive through the heels and extend your hips and legs rapidly, creating power and moving the bar up while keeping it close to your body. The force should come from the legs and hip thrust, not the arms.
  6. Perform a shoulder shrug and jump under the bar, bringing your elbows high in front of you.
  7. Catch the bar at the bottom of a front squat.
  8. Keeping the core engaged, complete a full hip and knee extension with the bar in the front rack position.

Top faults

Make sure you avoid the following common mistakes:

  • Bringing the shoulders too far forward
  • Not finishing the pull
  • Moving the bar away from the body

Bringing the shoulders too far forward during the initial lowering movement is a common hang clean mistake. By committing this fault, you’ll be moving the weight far away from your centre of mass and making the exercise less efficient, while increasing your risk of injury. To fix this, make sure you push your hips back and keep your back straight.

Not finishing the pull will make it harder to dip under the bar and happens when athletes try to rush the exercise. While speed and coordination are required, they won’t matter if your timing and technique are wrong. If you start bending you elbows before your body is fully extended you’ll lose power by trying to control the bar with your arms to finish the lift. If you’re dropping under the bar too early and not finishing the pull, try practicing some barbell shrugs and clean pulls.

Moving the bar away from the body when you pull it up is incredibly inefficient. The bar shouldn’t do a semicircle but travel in one line upwards – the shorter the bar travels, the least force you’ll require to move it. Keeping the bar close to your body allows for the most efficient bar path. Hang cleans are a great exercise to get a feel of having the bar close to your body, so if you’re committing this mistake try the exercise again with less weight.

bethany shadburne barbell hang cleanSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Hang clean muscles worked

Hang cleans are a full body exercise, working the muscles in your shoulders, neck, core, back and legs.

Specifically, this exercise activates the trapezius and deltoid muscles with the initial and second pulls of the hang clean; the lower back muscles, glutes, quads and adductors during the hip thrust and throughout the squat; and the hamstrings, forearm flexors, calves and core on the lowering phase of the weight, as well as when catching the weight and standing back up.  

Hang clean and hang power clean, what is the difference?

The difference in the hang clean and the hang power clean lies in the way you catch or receive the weight.

In a hang power clean, your hips remain above your knees at all times. A hang clean allows you to catch the weight under a full squat, which means you generate less power but are able to lift more weight.

Both exercises begin the same way.  

What are hang cleans good for?

You can get different benefits from performing hang cleans depending on where you are on your training journey. Hang cleans are great for developing power, strength and speed among athletes of all fitness levels.

Hang cleans can be easier to perform for many beginner athletes who haven’t yet mastered the full clean and its challenging coordination requirements. The exercise can teach athletes to finish the last pull during the clean and fix early elbow bending.

They are also a brilliant full-body exercise, so if you want to perform the least work for the most results, hang cleans can be a great exercise to add to your training.

They don’t allow for as much weight to be lifted as with a standard clean because the power from the first pull from the ground is lost, so athletes whose main goal is to build strength might want to consider hang cleans more as an accessory exercise and less as their main lift.

The hang clean is also a great exercise to master for daily activities, where you might find yourself having to lift weights and bring them to shoulder height.

squat cleanSource: Stevie D Photography

Hang clean workouts

Try these 5 CrossFit hang clean workouts.

Workout 1

EMOM 12

  • 3 Deadlifts (185/135 lb)
  • 3 Hang Power Cleans (185/135 lb)
  • 3 Front Squats (185/135 lb)

Every minute on the minute for 12 minutes, perform all exercises in the order written, then rest until the next minute starts and repeat. If you find you’re unable to finish the work within a minute then lower the weight of the barbell.

Try to complete all exercises unbroken to save yourself extra work.


Workout 2

21-15-9 reps for time:

  • Hang Cleans (135/95)
  • Pull-Ups

With a running clock, perform 21 reps of both exercises, then 15 and then 9. The aim of the workout is to finish as fast as possible. If you’re unable to perform the hang cleans efficiently you can lower the weight. You can also get assistance with the pull-ups by using a band.


Workout 3

6 rounds for time:

  • 400-meter run
  • 15 Hang Cleans (95 / 65 lb)
  • 10 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 20 Wall Ball shots

With a running clock, perform 6 rounds of the prescribed work in the order written as fast as possible.

This is a challenging and demanding workout. It’ll tax your endurance, strength and determination by combining aerobic work with weightlifting and gymnastics. Pace yourself from the start and reduce the number or reps or rounds if it becomes too challenging.


Workout 4

AMRAP in 20 minutes:

  • 8 Toes-to-Bar
  • 10 Dumbbell Hang Clean-and-Jerks (50/35 lb)
  • 14/12 calorie Row

This is the first CrossFit Open workout for the year 2018. The aim of the workout is to perform as many rounds as possible of the prescribed work within 20 minutes.


Workout 5

For time:

  • 100 Hang Cleans

Perform 5 Burpees with every minute that goes by.

This variation of the Hero workout Kalsu is performed with hang cleans instead of thrusters. The aim is to complete 100 hang cleans as fast as possible, but you must perform 5 burpees at the start of every minute.

To make sure the burpees don’t catch you by surprise, think of a strategy at the start of the workout to partition your reps and have enough time to rest between minutes.

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