Volt's Guide to the Hang Clean

We love getting questions from our Volt coaches! It shows us just how committed you are to improving your athletes’ performance, starting in the weight room. And one of the most frequently asked questions we get is about the Hang Clean.

Volt uses three base lifts—the Back Squat, the Bench Press, and the Hang Clean—to calibrate or inform the loading of all other movements. The weight we prescribe for your DB Goblet Front Squat during a Hypertrophy block, for example, is based off your Back Squat 1RM, while a DB Standing Press is informed by your Bench Press 1RM. This is why frequent retesting of your strength numbers (recalibration) is so important, and why Volt programs ask you to retest so often: so your entire training program continues to progressively overload you as you grow stronger. It’s the foundation of Volt programming and is a key ingredient to the success we’ve seen in our Volt Family teams.

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All that to say: the Hang Clean is a crucial lift for our athletes. Not only is it necessary for providing accurate loading for the rest of your training program, it trains the body to produce high levels of force explosively and with control—a beneficial training adaptation for all athletes, from linebacker to soccer midfielder. As such, I think it’s useful to break down how Volt recommends the Hang Clean be performed, in order to elicit the proper training adaptations, stay safe in the weight room, ensure that your strength numbers are as accurate as possible.

First, let’s break down the differences between the Clean and the Hang Clean.

Why Does Volt Use the Hang Clean Instead of the Clean?

The Hang Clean is a variant of its parent lift, the Clean, the main difference being the starting position of the bar. In the Clean, the bar is pulled from a resting position on the floor. In the Hang Clean, the athlete stands up with the bar, then starts the lift from a hang position (more on hang position variants below). Why does Volt use the Hang Clean instead of a regular Clean to calibrate strength numbers? It all boils down to safety.

The Clean is a more demanding movement than its Hang variant, requiring athletes to possess fantastic hip mobility prior to even attempting the lift—and this can be difficult for high school and college athletes to accomplish safely. The Hang Clean, on the other hand, teaches the same movement mechanics (triple extension through ankles, knees, and hips; dynamic shoulder shrug; high pull of the bar with the arms; dropping beneath the bar to receive the weight in the front-rack position) in a way that allows the movement to be scaled to the athlete’s lifting experience, mobility, and core/spine stability.

The Hang Clean also requires athletes to actively load the hips (glutes and hamstrings) before perform the explosive movement, making it directly applicable to explosive jumping ability. In any explosive movement, from box jumps to push jerks, there is a countermovement before the explosive component. You can’t just jump onto a box without first creating elastic energy in your legs by bending your knees and hips. This stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), is present in the Hang Clean—but not the full Clean. In the full Clean, there is no countermovement prior to the explosive component, which can make it harder to teach and execute correctly. And because Volt prioritizes teaching hip-hinge mechanics in our athletes, as it transfers well to vertical jump ability, the Hang Clean makes more sense for testing.

If we were training athletes to compete in an Olympic lifting competition, in which the Clean and Jerk is one of the two primary movements, we would focus on training athletes to perform the full Clean. But because we are geared toward sport performance, not competitive lift performance, the Hang Clean is a tool to teach athletes to express strength explosively—with the end goal being improved athletic performance. It all depends on your training goals!

So those are the main differences between the Clean and the Hang Clean, and the reasoning behind why Volt chooses to use the Hang Clean as a benchmark movement instead of the full Clean. The Hang Clean is a much more approachable lift than the full Clean, meaning more athletes will be able to execute it properly. (Although I should mention that Volt does prescribe full Cleans in some training programs, but only in more advanced levels of movement progression.) 

Now let’s break it down even further to talk about how Volt recommends athletes perform the Hang Clean.

What is the Correct Hang Position: Below or Above the Knee?

There are a few different "hang" positions from which to start the Hang Clean. Some coaches recommend starting the lift with the bar just below the knee—others want the pull to begin just above the knee. Some even want athletes to lower the bar to mid-shin before beginning the pull. We say: it depends.

While our movement technique videos (link) show the bar starting at a position just above the knee, each athlete has differing needs. Those with shorter femurs may want to start the pull just below the knee, in order to get enough explosive hip extension to move the bar. Those with longer legs may start the pull above the knee. Keep in mind, too, that hinging more deeply (bringing the bar further down the legs to start the lift) makes it harder to keep the path of bar close to the body as you pull it. So starting with the bar above the knee can make it easier for athletes to keep the bar close to the body—a good technique to reinforce before moving on to a full Clean.

Anatomy, lifting experience, and personal preference all influence where your Hang Clean should begin. Most importantly, and you should always perform the lift in the safest manner possible for your body.

Where Should I Catch the Bar: Power Position or Full Squat?

Now that we’ve addressed where to start the clean, let’s talk about where athletes should be catching or receiving the bar. There are two positions for catching the bar in the Hang Clean: 1) in the “power” position, with more than 90 degrees of knee flexion, or 2) as the athlete drops down into a full squat position.

You will notice that all Volt movement technique videos, coaching points, and instructions show the athlete catching the bar in the “power” position, with knees only slightly bent, and NOT in the full squat—technically, in the greater weightlifting community this movement is called a Hang Power Clean. So then why don’t we just call the movement a Hang Power Clean to begin with? Because while we want to instruct the movement in the most inclusive way possible, we also don't want to limit our athletes to only catching the bar in the power position.

A Hang Power Clean is a more approachable, learner-friendly version of the Hang Clean. A Hang Clean may not be immediately attainable for athletes with mobility issues, while a Hang Power Clean allows the body to learn the proper hip-hinge mechanics without demanding the mobility required to drop into the full squat. For young athletes or novice lifters, it often makes more sense to start the clean in a hang position and finishing in the power position. But for older athletes or those with several years of serious strength training under their belts, catching the hang clean in a full squat may be appropriate. As always, we defer to the coach and/or the athlete to know which variation of this lift is right for him or her. Volt prioritizes athlete safety above all, and so we will continue to show a Hang Clean pulled from above the knee and caught in a power position in order to provide athletes with the most basic—and accessible—version of this Olympic lift.

The Takeaway

The beauty of Volt is that it is infinitely scalable. I personally start my Hang Cleans from above the knee, but catch them in a full squat. One of my coworkers starts his below the knee and catches the bar in the power position. We all do what makes the most sense for our bodies, our comfort and experience levels—while never forgetting that the ultimate goal of this lift is not to execute this lift perfectly, but to allow the lift to help us become better athletes.

So, when it comes to the Hang Clean, you can either rely on Volt’s recommended technique or find the variation that works best for you: your weight room, your athletes, your lifting experience, etc.  And always remember that this movement is just one tool of many you use to improve athletic performance—and not a goal in-and-of itself.