Muscle Clean – What You Need to Know

If it seems to you that there is a never-ending supply of versions of the clean, then you’re not alone. Today we focus on the muscle clean, which is an accessory training move that will help you to be more technically proficient on all of the other versions. 

What is the Muscle Clean?

The muscle clean is a version of the power clean exercise that is performed in the same manner until you reach the upward extension of the body. At this point in the exercise, you keep your legs straight, your body tall and bring the elbows as high as you can.

When they are at their maximum height, you flip them under the bar to get into the rack position. Unlike the power clean, squat clean, and hang clean, you do not drop into any type of squat position during this exercise.

The muscle clean is not nearly as an explosive exercise as the other versions of the clean. However, it is a very useful training technique move to help you to become more proficient in those other versions. Because there is no jumping or squatting involved in the muscle clean, it emphasizes the shoulders and core.

Muscles Worked During Muscle clean

Power Clean and Muscle Clean Muscles Exercised
Muscle clean is similar in muscles exercised to the power clean. Source.

The muscle clean works much of the same muscles as do other versions of the clean. These include the key muscles of the posterior chain (back, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings), as well as the trapezius, deltoids, and biceps.

Muscle Clean Benefits

The muscle clean requires more pulling strength in the upper body than other versions of the clean due to the absence of explosiveness and momentum. With this exercise, you are also pulling the bar higher, which requires more muscle recruitment from the trapezius deltoids and biceps. 

The lack of momentum and explosiveness with this exercise also requires the lifter to get his elbows under the bar more quickly than other forms of the clean. As a result, this exercise is an effective way to target enhanced elbow drive when performing the direct portion of the move. 

When you perform the muscle clean, the lack of explosiveness requires you to make greater use of your legs and hips to bring the bar up. This will help you to execute a cleaner technique at the finish of the upward pull portion. At the same time, you will be having to rely on greater leg drive to get the bar up.

In addition to all of these techniques’ benefits, the muscle clean will improve your gripping power and forearm strength. It is also an effective endurance and cardiovascular exercise and, being a major compound movement, will help you to get rid of unwanted body fat by enhancing your metabolic rate.

Muscle Clean FAQs

What type of lifter is the muscle clean best suited for?

The muscle clean is an excellent auxiliary exercise for all Olympic weightlifters performing Olympic lifts. If you are a beginner, this exercise will help you to learn the proper technique that will lend itself to every other form of power clean movement. Lifters who have specific weaknesses in the turnover phase or are not fast enough in bringing the elbows under the bar, are deficient in producing leg drive or have problems keeping their body upright during the lift, will also benefit from practicing with the muscle clean.

Lifters who are interested in building strength in the upper body will benefit from this version of the clean more than any other. However, bodybuilders will also benefit by using the muscle clean as a foundational compound exercise to build rugged thickness in the upper body.

Its effect on building explosive power in the lower body is not as great as when you perform the squat clean or the conventional power clean. Bodybuilders will also benefit from this foundational compound power movement to add thickness to their upper body

People who do not have the mobility required to perform either the squat clean or the power clean, should stick to the muscle clean.

What sort of weight, set and rep scheme should you use with muscle cleans?

Because the muscle clean is primarily a technique enhancer, you should use a relatively lighter weight than you would on your clean or clean and jerk moves. Drop the weights to 50% and focus on form. Keep your reps low, in the 3 to 5 rep range, with a similar number of sets. Take a look at the intensity table further down for more detail.

Can the muscle clean be done with dumbbells?

Yes, the muscle clean can be performed with dumbbells. To perform this version, grab a pair of medium-weight dumbbells. Hold them so that your palms are facing each other and the weights are at arm’s length. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

Now, in one explosive motion, straighten your hips and knees and shrug your shoulders as you pull the dumbbells as high as you can. Punch your elbows under the weights so that in the top position they are resting on the top of your shoulders.

How does the muscle clean differ from the power clean?

The power clean is a more explosive exercise than the muscle clean. It involves a vertical jump from the hang position to bring the heels and toes off the floor in order to generate the explosiveness required to rack the bar. In contrast, your feet remain in contact with the floor at all times when you perform the muscle clean exercise. It involves a greater level of upper body strength to bring the bar to the rack position than the power clean.

Movement_Demo_-_The_Power_Clean
The Power Clean

How does the muscle clean differ from the squat clean?

The squat clean is an even more explosive exercise than the power clean. As a result, it is the most different from the muscle clean of all clean versions. In the squat clean, you immediately descend into a full squat after completing the rack position of the clean. As with the power clean, you are using explosiveness to get into the rack position.

As we have seen with the muscle clean, however, there is very little reliance on explosiveness with that move, with the emphasis being upon upper body strength and power.

The_Squat_Clean-1
The Squat Clean

What other variations of the muscle clean are there?

You can perform a muscle clean from blocks to focus on the second half of the movement. You may also choose to wear straps but this may make it difficult to perform the elbow flip to get into the rack position. You can also perform this exercise with a thumb-less grip as a way to strengthen your gripping power.

How to Muscle Clean

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet slightly closer than shoulder width and pointed slightly outward. Bend the knees to come down to the bar, keeping your back straight and hinge your hips back. Grab the bar with a double overhand grip that is about a thumbs distance from your hips.
  2. Drive through the heels to bring the bar up to the hand position, where the bar is resting at midthigh level and you are standing upright. Without bending your knees, pull your elbows up as high as possible (imagining that you are doing a wide grip upright row). Keep your elbows extended out as you bring the bar up. At the highest point of elevation, flip the elbows under the bar to assume the rack position with the bar resting across the meat of your shoulders. Do not bend your knees throughout this process.

Intensity

This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RMIntensity LevelUsefulness
60-70LightTechnique
70-80Light-mediumTechnique, Speed work
80-85MediumPower, muscle gain
85-90Medium-HeavyStrength
90-95HeavyStrength
95-100MaximumStrength

How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Muscle Clean Form points

Muscle Clean
  • It can be useful to regard this exercise as a wide grip upright row with the final elbow flip at the finish. This will emphasize the need to bring the elbows up as high and wide as you can.
  • Stand with your feet slightly closer than hip width stance.
  • Your hands should be about a thumbs distance from your hips.
  • At the start of the movement your shoulder should be slightly in front of the bar.
  • Maintain a natural curvature to the lower spine.
  • Ensure that your hips and shoulders lift at the same time.
  • Keep your heels down and push into the floor.
  • Initiate the upward pull of the bar with a shoulder shrug.
  • Keep your elbows out wide as you pull the bar up.
  • When you lift the bar, keep it tight to your body by dragging it up your T-shirt.
  • As soon as you get to the level of your upper chest, proceed to flip your elbows under the bar.
  • Keep in mind that the muscle clean should not in any way resemble a reverse curl; your hands should remain close to your body at all times.

Conclusion

The muscle clean is a less explosive form of the clean exercise than any other version. This means that it requires more upper body strength. It’s a good auxiliary exercise to help you train technique or just to build raw power and strength throughout your upper body. Keep your sets and reps relatively low and be sure to mix this one up with the more explosively demanding forms, such as the power clean and the squat clean. 

The Fitness Blog is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.