SPECIAL EXERCISES SERIES – No.8 The Continuous Clean Press

Two types of athletes I have always admired are weightlifters (Olympic lifters) and throwers (shot put). These athletes possess both great strength but also an amazing capacity to produce power.

This week’s exercise is derived from training for throwers: it is one of their most popular training exercises as it mimics the dynamic structure of the shot put. Lucky for us, it’s also a great way to get the whole shoulder girdle area jacked.

I present to you the continuous clean & press!

What is it good for?

  1. Excellent functional transfer for athletes who need to explode through an opponent (football, rubgy, MMA) as well as those needing to produce maximum power with the whole body at the same time, like in a vertical jump (volleyball, sprinters, jumpers, etc.).
  1. Amazing exercise to build the whole “shoulder pad area”: every part of the delts, the traps and mid-upper back. Even the clavicular portion of the pectorals will receive some stimulation.
  1. I like it with bigger athletes who can’t rack a power clean properly due to mobility issues. It allows them to train the power clean action while working on improving their mobility.
  1. It’s a nice overload exercise for the strict press. You have some momentum from the pulling action, which allows you to press a bit more weight than from a static start (military press) but it still respects the mechanics of the strict press since you don’t use a dip and drive action like in the push press.

    The transfer to the military press will be a bit better from the continuous clean & press than from the push press, especially in someone with short and powerful legs (who can really create a lot of momentum with the lower body drive).

How is it done?

  1. Assume the regular starting position used in a power clean. The hips should be as low as possible while having the shoulders still in front of the bar. The knees should not stick out in front of the elbows (at least not significantly). Head is in line with the spine. Lats are engaged.
  1. While keeping the lats engaged (refer to the Roy Deadlift article) so that the bar brushes your body, stand up with the barbell. Start slow art first and start to accelerate when the bar passes the knees. The angle of the torso should stay pretty much the same from the floor up to until the bar reaches upper third of the thighs.

    When you reach the upper third of the thighs the shins should be perpendicular to the floor, shoulders still slightly in front of the barbell and lats still engaged (otherwise the bar will move away from you).
  1. From the upper third of the thighs position (it’s one fluid movement, you don’t stop or decelerate once you reach that position) you stand up upright as fast as possible. It is a jump-like action. Your goal is not to leave the floor but to apply as much force to the floor as possible.

    When the barbell has been accelerated by the body, you pull it toward your clavicle (so up and slightly toward you). The goal is to create enough momentum that the bar reaches the height of the collarbone or bottom of the neck.
  1. When the bar reaches the collarbone you must rotate the elbows under the bar as rapidly as humanly possible and immediately switch to a press. If you do it right and fast enough you should start pressing the barbell while it still has some upward momentum.

Are there any different variations?

Just like any variations of the Olympic lifts you can do it from the floor, hang or from blocks. Lifts from blocks and the hang are technically easier and require less mobility but require a much faster acceleration to create maximum momentum because of the shorter acceleration path (which can be a good or bad thing).

As for the catch, you can also do it “muscle style” (which is what I presented in the video) where you do not get under the bar after the clean, so your legs are straight when you transition to the press portion.

But you can also do it “power style”: you squat under slightly to “receive” the clean portion. So, you are in a quarter squat when you transition to the press, which gives you some leg drive, like in a push press. This allows you to lift more weight but might not have the same transfer to improving the military press. But it’s a great overall power and strength builder.

What do you need to avoid?

The mistakes to avoid happen mostly in the clean portion and are pretty much the same as in a regular power clean

  1. Avoid having the barbell move away from the body at any time. The moment it happens you will shift your weight forward and punch the bar with the hips instead of “standing up fast”. The result is that the bar will loop away from you and will be too far forward to be able to do an efficient turnover; you won’t be able to get the elbows under the bar to press it up.
  1. Do not let the lats relax. If your lats relax two things can happen: a) the barbell moves forward (see mistake no.1) or b) you pull with your arms to keep the bar close, which will make it a lot harder to explode and produce momentum. Note that a in some people a slight elbow bend is fine but it’s not an arm pull, it stays the same during the whole pull. But still, you should strive to emulate the rule, not the exception.
  1. Avoid doing a reverse curl movement at all cost. The barbell should stay close to your body at all times, which means brushing your chest. If you reverse curl it, it moves away from you which makes it hard to bring back (if the bar is far you can’t get under it to press it up) and also lengthen the path. In both cases it means lifting a lot less than you are capable of.
  1. A slow turnaround is the mistake that will cost you the most. What we want is to start to press while the bar is still moving up on its own momentum. That requires a quick turnaround to get the elbows under the bar and an immediate transition to the press. If your turnaround or transition is slow, it basically just becomes a regular strict press and you can’t get the benefit of the overload.

What are the best loading parameters?

The continuous clean & press falls in the same category as the other Olympic lifts: it should not be trained for high reps. The absolute highest number of reps per set you should do is 6, and that’s if you feel particularly masochistic. Under normal circumstances sets of 1 to 5 are what you should do. Keep in mind that the continuous clean & press is basically two movements.

So you will have more performance drop-off from each rep as in a regular exercise. Normally you should be able to use about 85% of your max for a set of 5 reps. With the continuous it will be closer to 80 or 75%. Which is why I prefer sets of 2-3 than sets of 5 when doing this movement. I would rather do 7 sets of 2-3 reps than 4 sets of 5 reps for example.

When to use it?

To be honest it depends on your program. It can be a good warm-up exercise for the clean & jerk if you are an Olympic lifter, a good primary lift to build shoulder size if you are training more for muscle growth and it can be a good accessory lift for the log clean & press if you are a strongman competitor.

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…