Squat Clean Explained: Why Is It So Popular Amongst CrossFitters

Squat Clean Explained: Why Is It So Popular Amongst CrossFitters

You might squat regularly, and perhaps you even do a power clean, but do you squat clean? 

You might want to try, based on how it gives you the chance to lift heavier and get stronger.

What, exactly, is a squat clean? 

A squat clean is a technical powerlifting move to master. 

To do it, you need speed, accuracy, timing, and a whole lot of confidence in order to do a deep squat with a barbell, and then push yourself out of it.

While it might seem complicated to do, after getting the right technique down you’ll be glad you learned how to squat clean because it has many benefits for your body and muscle-strengthening goals.

How Do You Do A Squat Clean?

First things first: how do you actually do a squat clean? 

This exercise is basically a combination of the power clean and front squat. 

However, it requires you to do many different movements, some at the same time.

  • The first movement is a deadlift, which then needs to be followed by a shrug of the weight onto your shoulders.
  • At the same time, you have to do a squat and thrust from the ground into a standing position.
  • The squat clean is an explosive movement (which makes it perfect for CrossFitters), so it requires good rhythm and timing.

Sounds scary? Here are the steps you need to follow in order to master the squat clean.

Part 1: Deadlift

  • Get into a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • The first part of the squat clean is the deadlift, so you want to put the bar on the ground and bring it up to your waist from there.
  • Make sure the bar is at the top of your shoes so that it’s nice and close to your body but won’t hit your shins when you lift it.
  • Arch your back a bit and push out your rear as if you’re sitting down.
  • Now, squat to parallel and slightly bend your body forward from your waist.
  • You want to grab the bar with a grip that’s wider than your shoulders.
  • Use a hook grip, as this is the standard for all Olympic weightlifting exercises. The hook grip requires you to place your thumb underneath your middle and index finger, so that it’s hooking your hand to the bar.

Part 2: Shrug

  • The next part of the squat clean is the shrug. This is when you lift the bar off the floor and use your trapezius muscles to shrug the bar. Move or “shrug” the bar up as high as you can and make sure you extend your hips so that you create more power to move the bar into place.
  • As you lift, remember you need to bring the bar to rest across your chest and in front of your shoulders. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor at this point.
  • Once you’ve completed the shrug – and your hips have been fully extended – you have to drop underneath the bar. This is important to do as fast as possible. As you do it, you’ll be in the bottom of a front squat position.
  • But, as you drop down into this position, you need to move your elbows forward and get ready to catch the bar in the front rack position. A good tip for beginners is to think “elbows to the ceiling” to help you get used to the position of receiving the bar.
  • Finally, you want to get back into a standing position with the bar.
  • Push through your feet until your knees and hips extend. You want to have your elbows in a high position when you finish.
  • Again, you must do the clean squat with speed and force. It’s also important not to stop at the bottom of your squat because this will eliminate the power you need to push the bar upwards.
  • The movements should be quick and full of force so that you can move the heavy weight in a smooth and controlled manner.

Benefits Of The Squat Clean

You can clearly tell the squat clean is complex and involves lots of movements, but what are its benefits?

It Helps You Lift Heavier Weight

Dumbbell Bench Press

The squat clean is very good for you if you want to lift heavier weights because of its technique. 

You don’t have to get the bar too high off the ground, such as in the case of a power clean.

It Improves Your Other Workouts

Because squatting clean requires a full range of motion and a front squat, both of these will improve as you get into the habit of doing it. 

This will make other exercises, such as thrusters, easier to do. 

Doing squat cleans regularly will increase your strength and mobility, which will enhance your power and speed for various exercises.

It Builds Many Muscle Groups

The squat clean targets a range of muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, abdominal chain, trapezius, biceps, and triceps. 

This is what makes it such an excellent workout for your entire body.

Even your latissimus dorsi in your back as well as your shoulders participate in the squat clean because of the “shrug” phase of the exercise.

It’s Perfect For CrossFitters

Group Of People Working Out

The squat clean takes no prisoners. 

It has to be done quickly and explosively, so that it improves skills such as your balance, coordination, and power. 

This helps you become fitter and more athletic, which is what you want to achieve during CrossFit so that you perform better during events.

You Increase Your ROM

Having greater range of motion (ROM) helps you catch the bar from a lower position, which means you can lift heavier weight. 

But you might have to improve your range of motion if it doesn’t feel all that comfortable.

You can do this with pause squats. 

This is when you remove the bar off the rack, take a step back, and then do a back squat, which is when you have the barbell behind your neck. 

When you’re in the bottom position of the back squat, pause for two or three seconds, then move upwards.

Having better ROM means you have more time to move your body under the bar during a squat clean, making you more agile and flexible because you learn to change direction quickly under pressure.

Squat Clean Vs. Power Clean

You might be wondering what the differences are between the squat clean and power clean, other than how the squat clean enables you to lift heavier weights.

In a squat clean, the bar needs to reach your belly button. In a power clean, on the other hand, the bar has to be at your chest.

This difference in bar level means a lot. In the squat clean, you can move underneath the bar and catch it so that you can lift as much weight as possible. 

This is especially beneficial during competitions, such as the Olympics. Imagine lifting 400 pounds of weight! 

It’s no easy feat, so you’d definitely want to be able to lift it to your stomach instead of your chest, proving why the squat clean is becoming so popular among professionals.

There are also differences between the squat clean and power clean when it comes to catching the bar. 

The squat clean requires you to catch the bar in a full squat position. In the power clean, on the other hand, you do a quarter squat.

The full squat is harder but it targets more muscles. 

The lower you squat, the more you’re forcing your muscles to lift more weight in a more challenging way. 

All this movement and muscle participation helps to break down the muscle fibers required for building more mass.

Extra Tips To Successfully Do The Squat Clean

As the squat clean is quite a technical exercise that requires you to practice it a lot, it helps to have a bit of guidance to really master it. 

Here are some pro tips to nailing it. 

Ensure You Have The Right Grip 

Preparing For Squat Clean

If you have long arms, you might find that you battle to get control of the bar. To deal with this, you should hold the bar with a wider grip. 

This will allow the bar to get into a higher position on your hips during the first pull and gives you greater control.

Improve Your Front Rack Position

To get a good front rack position, the bar needs to be across your shoulders and collarbone. 

Your elbows should be pointed upwards, your chest needs to be high, and your back must be tight. 

Hopefully, you’ve graduated from other barbell exercises so this position doesn’t feel that uncomfortable by now. 

If it still does feel difficult, you need to get a stronger back, which you can do by concentrating on back workouts more than once per week.

Work On Your Timing

You have to practice your timing when you catch the bar. 

This is especially important to help you take advantage of the momentum in the clean squat so you can move upwards instead of pause, which can kill your rhythm and make it difficult to get back into a standing position.

Catch The Bounce!

When working on your timing and form, it’s important to concentrate on moving yourself out of the squat position with ease. 

That’s why you should make the most of the bounce, or “catch the bounce” as you might have heard in CrossFit circles.

“Bounce” is an Olympic weightlifting term that’s defined as the use of elastic rebound at the bottom of the squat which helps you move from the bottom position easier and with greater speed, as described on Catalyst Athletics

It makes use of three important elements: the bounce of your upper leg off your lower leg, the stretch-shortening reflex in muscles of the hips and legs, and the elastic whip of the barbell.

When you bounce during this exercise, you learn how to save a bit of energy when you stand up out of a clean. 

It also develops the ligaments and tendons around the knee, which prevents injury.

Learn And Practice The Clean Squat In Stages

Let’s be honest: reading about the squat clean and how to do it for the first time can be overwhelming. 

When attempting it, it’s therefore a good idea to break the movements down into different stages and learn those thoroughly before combining them. 

Don’t expect to have explosive power and speed right off the bat. It takes time and patience to get a rhythm going, but once you do, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of squatting clean.

Bottom Line

The squat clean is a powerful and explosive weightlifting exercise that works many muscle groups and can be helpful to you if you want to increase your strength, excel at CrossFit, or progress to more challenging cleans. 

However, it takes practice to learn the right skills to do it. 

The benefit of doing the squat clean with proper technique is that those skills will be transferred to your other exercises, so it’s worth all the sweat!

How Many Squat Clean Reps Should I Do?

Keep your reps low if you want to increase your total body strength because it’s an intense exercise. 

In CrossFit, however, higher reps are necessary and the squat clean works well as an EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) workout that requires skill, technique, strength, and endurance.

What Can I Do If I’m Battling To Squat Clean With A Bar?

Squat clean with dumbbells instead. 

Do a squat, then push yourself into a standing position, pulling the dumbbells up with you. 

Lower yourself back into the true squat position, and repeat. It’s important not to pause to give this exercise explosive power.

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