Clean Your Press

About a year ago I started cleaning all of my press sets, and I prefer it. There’s a lot of utility in doing it, but it’s just cool. Here’s an example:

Weightlifters in the press era (before ’72) always cleaned their presses because it was a contested lift. In the early days, there weren’t even racks, so cleaning the weight was the only way to get it on the shoulders for overhead movements. Whenever Bill Starr writes about pressing, he encourages lifters to clean it and even said that it’s possible to lift more weight that way. Bah, how could that make any sense?

Lift More Weight
Yet, the first time I cleaned and then pressed the weight, I completed a weight that was typically difficult out of the rack easier. I believe this was because my grip widened slightly (I have broad shoulders) and perhaps I was using a more narrow grip. However, other lifters have echoed similar experiences in lifting more after cleaning the weight. Some possible explanations include better wrist position after doing a clean compared to a normal un-racking, better intra-thoracic/abdominal pressure post-clean, or better thoracic extension post-clean. It also could be a combination of all three reasons, plus some other factors that are specific to an individual.

Practice The Clean
Since you’ll be cleaning every set of press or push-press, you’ll significantly enhance the number of cleans you perform IRREGARDLESS of program. This may not be relevant for a stress application — for example, my best press of 240 is at most 68% of my max clean — yet it can solidify starting position and teach attention to detail regarding “finishing the pull”. It can be used as speed practice; really focus on a fast jump in the power clean. It can also be practice for “getting under the bar” in a full clean. Since it’s probably a lower percentage of your max, it won’t significantly inhibit the press itself or the rest of the training session. Whether you want to power it for general strength work or do a full clean for Oly practice, you’ll get more repetitions which will only improve your skill. Uh, assuming you don’t suck really bad or something.

Get Effective Clean Work In
If the power clean or clean is a higher percentage of your max, then you train two movements at the same time. For example, in this 300 pound push-press, I power clean the weight:

That might be at most 92% of my max power clean (I don’t drop closer to parallel for power cleans). Yet it’s a high enough percentage where I’m receiving some stress from the power clean itself in addition to the stress applied from doing the push-presses. Assuming your technique is decent, you can kill two birds with one stone by training the power clean or clean as well as the overhead movement. This can help the lifters who need to be efficient with their time usage.

It’s Cool
Taking a weight off the floor, putting it on your shoulders, and then putting it overhead has been done as a test of strength for thousands of years. The bench press became more popular in the last fifty years because it’s used in football training and testing, but lying on your back is a poor excuse for strength compared to muscling something overhead. Being the only guy in an average gym that can put two or three hundred pounds over his head easily makes you instantly more badass than Johnny Flex mirin’ his bis, tris, kis, dis, and tis in the corner. If I see someone put a decent weight overhead out of the rack, I’ll think, “Well, he didn’t clean it.” To me, it’s like not walking a squat out; cleaning the weight is old school and badass.

It’s Functional
The CrossFit crowd often needs to validate what they do by a movement’s utility. I can’t think of anything more relevant than picking something up and moving it around. Besides, the clean and press falls into the “pressing your girlfriend” realm. If you can’t do that, then you’re not functional.

It Will Help You Not Be Fat
If you’re a fat person who doesn’t want to be a fat person, then doing more “full body” lifts will help. Training a lot of musculature has a greater systemic effect. In order to recover and adapt from systemic stresses, more calories are needed. Also, the hormonal response is different in that it promotes muscular growth and fat loss (when combined with an appropriate diet). Even if you’re still squatting in the workout, by doing some power cleans with your press, you’ll train more muscles to have a larger systemic stress to help you lose fat compared to the same workout without the clean.

You’ll Get Stronger and Bigger
Lastly, by doing the clean with your press or push-press, you’ll get stronger. You’ll be regularly training more musculature that includes the quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back, and traps. You’ll solidify your pulling technique as well as add ancillary work. You’ll get adapted to a greater work load by doing more full body lifts in the week. It will make you a better person. It will make you rich. Everyone will love you. It’ll rain tits on you. You’ll walk on the moon without a space suit and be okay.

Start cleaning your presses and push-presses. It’ll make you a better human.

36 thoughts on “Clean Your Press

  1. Say you’re doing sets of presses. Are you cleaning for every rep, or just the first and then completing the rest of the set? Either way, if you’re pulling afterwards, you think there’s still a need to warm up the DL?

  2. I find I can press the same weight easier if I clean it vs. taking it out of the rack.

    The width of my grip is the same…I figured it was the stretch-reflex at the to of the clean that was giving the extra oomph.

  3. I’m also kind of interested in what you’re doing with the grip, since you don’t seem to be racking the bar at all.

    Also, would these old timers also clean and press sets for multiple reps? Doing a heavy set of 5 out of the rack seems a lot more sensible than cleaning and pressing each one.

  4. I cleaned my presses this week and set a new rep PR from a reset on GSLP where the last time I attempted the weight was from a rack.

    Needless to say, this shit werks, breh.

  5. Yo, can Y’all recommend me a leather single prong belt? I’m leaning toward INZER but I have a question about sizing… how is the sizing related to the holes? my Spud belt right now when taught is 33” … the Inzer medium is 33-35… does that mean that the first hole starts at 33”? or is that the center hole?

    If you recommend a different belt, can you provide the same information about how the sizing relates to the holes?


  6. Great arcticle yesterday about the foot drills. Going to implement them now.

    If I am doing sets 5 then I am guessing we should just clean on the first rep?

    Another question – Is benching and pressing once a week enough or should one or the other be done at least twice a week?

    A question for the masses. I have SS 2nd edition. Would the next book purchase of choice be FIT or SS 3rd ed?

  7. And here I am, waiting for the day I have access to a squat rack from which to press…

    On a related note, this is also how I’ve been doing my sets of five for backsquat. Needless to say, I’ve reached a weight ceiling, but hey, it’s pretty damn manly to do it from the floor.

  8. @RD

    I’ve got both books. If you’re kind of a lifting nerd and really into the mechanics of lifting, SS3 is probably the way to go. The new sections on pulling mechanics and the introduction are all pretty interesting, and Rip has some helpful clarifications on nutrition and equipment. But all in all, it’s not really much you don’t already have in SS2.

    I haven’t made it all the way through FIT yet, but it seems much more geared toward programming, as well as ascribes Fitness as a whole: strength, conditioning, mobility, nutrition. FIT, I think, is a bit more academic as well and can read like a textbook, at times.

    Personally, I’d hold out for Texas Method part II.

  9. Timely Post Justin.

    I’m four weeks into My LP and my bp and Press are getting close to stalling. My main problem is that I’m too broke to pony up for some 1.25 lb plates, sad I know but I’m going back to school. Could I integrate clean and presses once a week like this.

    Monday- squat, press, dl
    Wed-squat, bench, power cleans, rdl
    Friday- squat, clean and press or pp, and chins/pull ups

    I’m answering my own question because I’m gonna try it IRREGARDLESS of what you say.

    Still, good post.

  10. thanks burnham, but another reasonable thing for me to do would be to check out amazon before I make dumb posts about how broke I am. I suppose I can afford 9.50 for a pair of plates! Still the washers are pretty choice.

  11. I feel like I’m pretty awful at the clean (and also I only just learned the difference between the full clean and the power clean) but I will commit to trying this. I’ve still got a couple weeks before my press gets back to being close to my best power clean (150 measly pounds when I gave up and subbed in rows). But maybe with improved overall strength and muscle control since I last cleaned I won’t be such a gordon fuck at it.

  12. @criedthefox:

    I have a VALEO medium size leather belt. It’s okay, although I’ve heard the Inzers are of better quality.

    I bought it when I began my lifting career. By that time I was pretty skinny/small but I could fit the belt tightly using the first holes. It’s been 1.5 years and it still fits me. I remember using a small size belt months ago and fitting with the last holes, so it seems like the ‘range’ of a medium size belt overlaps with both small and large. My guess is that the official size of the belt refers to the holes in the middle.

  13. Good timing as I was recently lamenting the one squat rack at the gym being in use on a day I wanted to press. This was the obvious solution that I totally overlooked.

  14. From listening/watching you, Justin, I started doing the same. My PP and SOHP have both gone up dramatically and I solely blame it on power cleaning my presses.

    Now, my PP is higher than my power clean. Now to work on getting both up even more!

  15. I cleaned my presses today. I matched an old PR that I haven’t been able to hit in years. Incidentally, the old PR had been set at a time when I was cleaning my presses.

  16. I’d like to start doing this, but I have trouble racking my cleans (really long forearms relative to my upper arms). I’ll give it a go anyway, but I’ll basically be catching the bar with my hands/wrists. Seems like a way to mess myself up if I’m not careful. Anyone have advice on this?

  17. Dudes – if he cleaned every rep, it would cease to be a set of presses, and become a set of clean and presses. Clean it once, press it x times, set it down.

  18. Due to having to train at home with only a 1″ bar, some weights, a weighted vest, and pullup bar I have been power cleaning the 1st rep of push presses and then doing a hang clean with every rep after that.

    For the same reason I can only do front squats.

    Does anyone have an idea of what the relationship between what you can back squat and what you can front squat typically are? What about between cleans and front squats? How about between RDLs and Dls?


  19. I clean my presses because I can’t afford squat stands. I tried to backsquat off a stack of fucking milk crates the other day. Yea, don’t try that.

    But now, after this post, even after I own stands, I will still clean my presses. Why? Let’s just say, fuck the moon, I just want a monsoon of tits in my face.

  20. Only a year late.

    Press after clean is easier for the same reason normal benches and squats are easier then benches and squats from a dead start out of the bottom. In catching the clean you load your tendons with energy which can then be redirected in getting the weight up. The same thing happens when you unrack a weight out of the bench or rack and lower it…or when you start your presses from the top (after jerking the weight into position) and lowering it. If you wanted to get no benefit from the clean, you’d have to wait several seconds after cleaning the bar to let the stored energy dissipate out of the tendons. Then the first rep would be as hard as it would have out of the rack.

    I like to press out of the rack because it makes that first rep harder, like a deadlift. The ensuing reps use the stretch reflex.

    Very nice push press.

    • Hey Gary! Good to hear from you again.

      Yeah, when I press, I definitely use a stretch reflex on rep number one. I could (and have) dead stop it, but meh.

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