The clean pull is an effective clean assistance exercise to strengthen your pull and build positional strength. But how do you perform it properly? And how should you programme it into your workouts? In this complete clean pull exercise guide we’ll be covering:
- Clean Pull Benefits and Purpose
- Clean Pull Exercise Demonstration
- Clean Pull Form
- 3 Common Clean Pull Mistakes
- Clean Pull vs Deadlift
- Clean Pull Muscles Worked
- Clean Pull Variations
- Programming the Clean Pull
- Clean Pull Workout
- Clean Pull Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
Let’s jump straight into it:
Clean Pull Benefits and Purpose
The clean pull is a clean assistance exercise that has various benefits, including:
- Improving your clean pull from floor (first pull)
- Building positional strength and awareness
- Translating deadlift strength into clean-specific strength
Clean pulls can also be a useful clean alternative to use when dealing with injuries or niggles in your shoulder or knee, as they will allow you to train a portion of the movement pattern without stressing those joints.
Clean Pull Exercise Demonstration
Here’s a quick 60-second clean pull exercise demonstration including essential tips and movement cues:
Clean Pull Form
Good clean pull form is identical to good form in the clean itself. You should find a stable start position, push against the floor to initiate the movement, keep your shoulders over the bar, get your knees out of the way to maintain a vertical bar path, and hit triple extension as you normally would.
The major difference is that this is where the movement ends in the clean pull, whereas you would continue into your third pull (pull under the bar) in the clean.
How to Clean Pull: Step by Step
Here’s how you do a clean pull step by step:
- Find your normal clean start position. Shoulders over the bar, flat back, strong brace etc.
- Push against the floor to initiate the movement, keeping your torso angle the same as you push your knees back and bring the bar upwards to above your knees (1st pull)
- Begin to raise your torso angle as you bring the bar up your body, keeping it close to you throughout the movement (transition)
- When the bar approaches your upper thigh (pocket region) explosively accelerate, extending your knees and hips in a manner similar to a vertical jump (2nd pull)
- Lower the bar back down to the ground. This can be done with a minimal amount of control to save energy, or slowly with lots of control to develop more positional strength.
3 Common Clean Pull Mistakes
Clean Pull Mistake #1: Poor Posture
One of the biggest ways I see beginner lifters mess up the clean pull is by not maintaining proper posture throughout the lift. They let their chest collapse, lose tightness in their back and fail to hit the correct positions. This reduces the carryover to the clean.
Remember, chest up, back tight, core braced. Hold that position throughout.
Clean Pull Mistake #2: Banging the Bar Away
The second common clean pull mistake I see from lifters is banging the bar away or letting the bar drift away at the second pull (triple extension) phase. In the actual clean, you need the bar to stay close to your body and travel vertically, so you should be aiming to replicate this bar path in your clean pulls.
Use your lats to keep the barbell close to your body, and remember to use leg drive as well as hip drive to achieve your explosive extension.
Clean Pull Mistake #3: Turning it into a Deadlift
A lot of weightlifters seem to forget that the clean pull is a speed-strength exercise, which means you’re trying to move fast with something relatively heavy. Lifters end up adding too much load to the bar, and not lifting it quickly. This essentially turns the clean pull into a deadlift, especially when the lifters change their technique in order to lift heavier and heavier loads.
Use weights that still allow you to lift with speeds similar to your actual cleans, and make sure your form stays as close as possible.
Speaking of which…
Clean Pull vs Deadlift
The main difference between the clean pull and deadlift is that the clean pull is performed at greater speeds, and uses positions that more closely replicate the clean.
In the deadlift, you will typically use heavier loads and start with your hips higher to achieve better leverage. Whereas in the clean pull, you will use moderate loads and start with your hips lower to match a clean start position.
Clean Pull Muscles Worked
The main muscles worked in the clean pull are your quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, upper back and traps:
Quadriceps: Your prime movers for the first pull (floor to just above the knee)
Hamstrings: Your prime movers for the hinge pattern, which work to extend your torso during the transition between first and second pull.
Glutes: A major hip extensor muscle, which you will use in your 2nd pull (explosive triple extension)
Spinal Erectors: Major muscles used to maintain your back position and stable torso throughout the movement.
Traps: Used to add speed and height to the bar as you shrug in your second pull
Upper Back: Used to keep the bar close before, during and after your second pull
Clean Pull Variations
If you’re wanting some variation from the standard clean pull, then here are three clean pull variations you can use in your own weightlifting training…
Clean Pull From Hang
The first clean pull alternative I recommend is the clean pull from hang (a.k.a hang clean pull) In this variation you start with the barbell off the floor, typically around your shin, knee or hip height. This allows you to simplify the movement, overload a specific portion of your pull, and strengthen key positions. Here’s what the clean pull from hang looks like:
Clean Pull From Hang Form
Good form in the clean pull from hang is similar to good form in the clean. Aim to hit your regular clean positions with a flat back, strong brace and shoulders over the bar. For best execution, I recommend finding your starting hang position from the top down, i.e. by standing with the bar and then lowering into your starting hang position.
Clean Pull With Slow Eccentric
The clean pull with slow eccentric is one of my all-time favourite clean pull variations. I prescribe it with my lifters to build positional strength and awareness. Here’s what the clean pull with slow eccentric looks like:
Clean Pull With Slow Eccentric Form
All your technical pointers for the clean pull apply, the main difference is that you will now go slowly back down to the floor, typically over 3-5 seconds. Make sure to keep your chest up, back flat and core braced, whilst hitting positions identical to your actual cleans.
Clean High Pull
The clean high pull is a clean pull alternative that adds an additional use of your arms and upper back. It’s a variation that can be used to encourage a vertical bar path or to encourage lifters to pull for longer before dropping under the bar. Here’s what a clean high pull looks like:
Clean High Pull Form:
Clean high pulls are executed with exactly the same technique as clean pulls, the only difference is that you will now also actively use your arms after the second pull to add even more height to the bar. Just make sure to keep the barbell as close to your body as possible.
Programming the Clean Pull
How many sets of clean pull should I do?
You should typically do 2-5 sets of clean pulls towards the middle or end of your workout, typically after your snatches and cleans but before your heavier squats or deadlifts.
How many reps of clean pull should I do?
I recommend that you do 2-4 reps of clean pulls in most cases. Higher reps tend to degrade form, and heavy singles make it hard to get enough total training volume done.
What weight should I use for clean pulls?
A good clean pull weight is typically 90-110% of your best clean. This allows you to overload the pulling portion of the clean whilst still maintaining good form and bar speed.
If you have a much bigger deadlift than your clean, you might find that you can perform clean pulls properly with loads up to 150%. Just don’t get carried away.
How often should I train the clean pull? (Frequency)
A good program will include clean pulls anything from 0-4 times per week depending on the needs of the individual lifter. Lifters with weak pulls may wish to train pulls and deadlifts frequently, whereas lifters with strong pulls may wish to focus their time elsewhere.
Clean Pull Workout
Here’s an effective clean pull workout
– Clean Pull: 2×3 @ 90% of Best Clean
– Clean Pull With Slow Eccentric: 2×3 @ 100% of Best Clean
This combination of clean pull lifts will help you to develop a quick and accurate pull, whilst also building some positional strength and awareness.
Clean Pull Frequently Asked Questions
What does a clean pull work?
Clean pulls work on your pulling strength, positional strength and awareness, and help to translate deadlift strength into clean-specific strength.
How can I improve my clean pull?
You can improve your clean pull through regular practice and training. Make a real effort to maintain a good posture, fast bar speed and hit the same positions you would during actual cleans. You might also want to try variations such as slow eccentric clean pulls, clean pulls from hang, or even block clean pulls.
Are clean pulls good for hypertrophy?
Clean pulls are not typically good for hypertrophy, as they don’t have much eccentric component and the rep scheme is too low. However, you could choose to perform slow eccentric clean pulls in the 4-6 rep range to increase their hypertrophy stimulus.
How do I improve my first pull clean?
To improve your first pull in the clean I recommend using clean pulls that focus specifically on the first pull portion of the lift. So you might perform 5×3 clean pulls, stopping just above your knees on each rep. For bonus points, add in a slow eccentric in which you take 3-5 seconds to lower the weight back down.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Try out the clean pull in your own training program, or if you need a bit more guidance consider having a look at custom programme options.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 weightlifting coaching you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.