As a compound exercise, the hang clean utilizes multiple joints and muscle groups in a coordinated fashion, requiring technical precision, practice, and mastery, as well as power and strength.
Hang cleans target multiple muscles and can help build muscle mass and increase strength.
But, what muscles do hang cleans work?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss the benefits of hang cleans, how to perform hang cleans correctly, and ultimately answer your question, what muscles does a hang clean work?
We will look at:
- How Do You Do Hang Cleans?
- What Muscles Does A Hang Clean Work?
- What Are the Differences In the Hang Clean Muscles vs Power Clean Muscles Worked?
Let’s get started!
How Do You Do Hang Cleans?
Before we go into the “hang clean muscles worked“ and the strengthening benefits of hang cleans, let’s cover the basics: how do you do a hang clean?
Generally, it is best to get some specific coaching on how to properly do hang cleans to prevent injuries and ensure that you are using the proper hang clean technique.
Finding a knowledgeable personal trainer, CrossFit coach, Olympic weightlifter, or another experienced weightlifter who has an excellent technique for hang cleans exercise form would be a good adjunct to practicing this lift on your own.
Because the hang clean is such a complex, dynamic, full-body strength training exercise, it is sometimes broken down into phases when trying to learn the movements.
With that in mind, here are the steps for how to do hang cleans:
- Rack the barbell with the J hooks set to hip height.
- Stand facing the bar with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bracing your core and keeping your back straight.
- Unrack the bar gripping it with an overhand grip and your hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Angle your elbows outward slightly to engage your lats.
- Step back away from the power rack so that you have enough room, allowing the barbell to hang above your knees in front of your thighs for the hang clean starting position.
- From there, perform an explosive forward hip drive to dip under the bar.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips back to drop down into a full front squat for the catch. Keep your core tight, your chest up, your shoulders down, and your spine neutral, making sure to brace your core.
- Then, from the full squat, explode up with the bar to the standing position by performing a powerful triple extension of your hips, knees, and ankles while pressing through your heels and using your glutes, quads, and core muscles.
- This is the end position. Your elbows should be straight out in front of you up high and your palms should be rotating almost backward with the barbell just under your chin along the top/front of your shoulders in a good, strong, balanced position.
- Finally, for the return, to set up for the next rep, you will essentially reverse the motion by rotating your hands and arms to gradually lower the bar back down in front of your torso to the top of your thighs.
What Muscles Does A Hang Clean Work?
As can likely be surmised based on the steps for performing hang cleans, the list of muscles worked by hang cleans is extensive.Hang cleans are a compound exercise that works most of the major muscles in your body, improving both functional strength and overall strength for other strength exercises.
Like squats and power cleans, the hang clean is a triple extension exercise, which means that it requires the simultaneous extension of your hips, knees, and ankles.
Like the deadlift and the power clean, the primary hang cleans muscles worked are those found in the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back extensors, and calves), but you will also work with some of the anterior muscles (quads) as well as your core muscles.
One of the main differences in the muscles worked by hang cleans vs power cleans is that the hang clean targets the glutes more than the power clean because of the full squat.
Also, the power clean is more of an equal posterior chain muscle exercise because of the full deadlift component.
Basically, with the hang clean exercise vs power clean, because the barbell starts above the knee instead of the floor and then you have to descend into a full squat for the catch, the hang clean requires a more explosive hip drive than the power clean.
This makes hang cleans especially beneficial for building strong glute muscles.
Moreover, because you have to complete a front squat with the barbell in front of your shoulders with the hang clean vs power clean lift, the hang clean is a better exercise for building quad strength and glute strength coming down and up out of the squat.
Having strong glutes reduces the reliance on the hamstrings and low-back muscles, which decreases the risk of low-back pain.
The glutes should be one of the strongest and most powerful muscles in the entire body, and the primary drivers of hip extension (pulling your hip and leg backward) when you walk, run, and jump.
However, if you’re not properly activating your glutes, or if they’re too weak, the compensatory over-reliance on the smaller muscles in the lower back can cause muscle strains.
Therefore, even though learning how to do hang cleans can be intimidating, especially for beginners or those who are just starting CrossFit or Olympic powerlifting, adding this exercise to your workout routine can be very beneficial.
They can help improve other weightlifting exercises like squats, and also for reduce the risk of low back pain, and improve your power and strength for running, walking, and jumping.
Because of the triple extension movement pattern, the list of muscles worked by hang clean workouts includes the quads, hip flexors, adductors, calves, hamstrings, and shin muscles like the tibialis anterior.
The smaller hip rotators and smaller glute muscles like the gluteus medius also help provide hip and pelvic stability so that you have a strong, stable base of support as you perform the front squat and press out of it.
Although we tend to think of the hang clean as a leg-dominant movement, there are also many core muscles worked by hang cleans.
These include the deep transverse abdominis and multifidus, along with the erector spinae, rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and pelvic floor muscles.
All of these core muscles worked by hang cleans are activated to help properly brace your core to stabilize your spine against the weight of the barbell and keep your trunk in an upright position rather than bending or twisting to one side if you have strength imbalances in your legs.
Another key muscle worked by hang cleans is the trapezius, also known as the traps.
The traps are one of the hang clean muscles worked because when you get the barbell into the front rack position as you catch it beneath your chin, you have to engage your traps to hoist the barbell and control your scapulae properly.
In fact, aside from shrugs, hang cleans are one of the best exercises to strengthen the traps, particularly in a functional way.
Other upper body muscles worked by hang cleans include the:
- Deltoids in the shoulders (which are involved in the pulling motion and in rotating your shoulders and arms for the catch)
- Biceps and triceps in your upper arms
- Brachioradialis and all of your forearm muscles
- Other grip strength muscles in your hands and fingers so that you can grip onto the barbell and thrust it around, rotating it through the different phases of the hang clean execution
What Are the Differences In the Hang Clean Muscles vs Power Clean Muscles Worked?
Overall, the muscles worked by hang cleans and power cleans are similar, but the emphasis or how the muscles are worked during the hang clean vs power clean exercise differ somewhat, especially in terms of the leg muscles.
The leg muscles worked during power cleans are primarily involved during the pull whereas the leg muscles worked by the hang clean are more significantly involved in the squat from the catch position back to standing.
Because the first part of the power clean is essentially like a deadlift, power cleans really work the posterior chain muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes, whereas the hang clean is a better exercise for building quad strength and glute strength coming down and up out of the full front squat.
To learn more about full-body, metabolic workouts that target numerous muscle groups at once, check out our guide to the best CrossFit exercise here.