The clean deadlift is an excellent exercise to build tremendous strength in the back and legs. However, do not confuse the clean deadlift with the conventional deadlift. They are not the same. As an athlete, I always liked thinking when I did my clean deadlift that it should be the same movement from the ground to the hip as you would in your classical clean.
How To Clean Deadlift
If you know your start position for your clean, then you would use the same setup. If you are unsure where your stance is, standing with your feet shoulder-width or wider than shoulder-width will be good. Your stance and where you start with your hips could change depending on your leg and torso ratio.
Once you have your stance, the barbell should be placed over the mid part of the foot when you go down to grip the bar.
I am not a fan of rolling the bar into your legs when doing any Olympic lifts because this can cause an inconsistent technique, and the margin for error is much larger. Although some athletes prefer this movement, I do not think beginners should be taught this way.
Your grip should be wider than shoulder-width or where you would typically clean. I prefer the hook grip, but a more advanced lifter could also use straps when they do their deadlifts or pulls.
Before pulling the bar off the ground, ensure there is tension on the bar, so you don't end up jolting the bar. You want a smooth accelerated movement when you deadlift the bar from the floor.
Always ensure your back is straight, lats activated, and your eyes on a target to ensure your head or neck movement stays consistent. This will also help your focus when deadlifting the weight off the ground.
When you start pulling the bar, I always like cueing to drive your feet into the ground. Foot pressure should come from your whole foot, and your toes should not be moving when you lift the weight. If that happens, it could mean you have most of the foot pressure on the heel instead of the full foot.
Keep the arms relaxed, but keep the wrists and lats activated to help keep the bar as close as possible to the body. You will not only feel stronger in this position, but it's the same way you would want to clean the bar.
When finishing the clean deadlift, you want to be fully extended or tall. The upper back and lats stay activated until you lower the bar down. Arms remain relaxed; most importantly, this would be the exact position before attempting the clean and before you get to a fully extended position.
Common Clean Deadlift Mistakes
Yanking The Bar From The Ground
When it comes to the clean deadlift, athletes often pull the bar as aggressively as possible from point a to point b without focusing on technique. I see this terrible habit with some athletes coming from CrossFit over to Weightlifting or other sports.
It's always important to remember that technique comes first. Not only will you feel stronger by doing the movement correctly, but you will also be avoiding possible injuries. Always keep tension on the bar and move the bar smoothly from the ground to the tall position.
Rolling The Bar Into You
Some athletes can get away with this movement, but I am not a fan of it when it comes to being consistent with how you move the barbell from the ground upwards.
When rolling the bar, you can start with the bar against your shin or as far out as your toes. This could drastically change the consistency of how you move, and the room for error is much more significant.
I prefer walking up to the bar with the bar over the mid-foot before bending down to grip it. This way, you can be consistent with how you pull or deadlift every time.
Rounding Of The Upper Back
Rounding the upper back is very common when athletes do a conventional deadlift. However, you are not doing the same movement when performing the clean deadlift.
It's essential to have a good posture and a straight back when doing the clean deadlift because it should look identical to how you would pull the bar from the ground to the tall position with a clean.
When you round the upper back to get a heavyweight up, it's best to lower the weight on the bar and perform the rep with good form, not to teach yourself these bad habits that will not help your clean.
Overextending At The Top
This is a common mistake I see with CrossFit athletes or even powerlifters who make the transition to Weightlifting. Overextending at the top and not keeping the shoulders over the bar can put your lower back in a very weak position. This could also cause possible injury.
The best thing to focus on when you clean deadlift is always to keep tight, even when fully extended and standing in a tall position.
If you relax at the top or push your knees forward instead of being in the tall position, it can cause you to overextend. If this happens, I would always recommend decreasing the weight on the bar by focusing on getting tall rather than extending back.
When you overextend at the top, you will also not have a good carry-over to the clean, and after all, we are doing the clean deadlift to strengthen the clean.
Clean Deadlift Benefits
The clean deadlift is a great overall strength-building exercise. Another great benefit of the clean deadlift is it's an excellent exercise for beginner-level Weightlifters. They can be taught the progression of the clean by moving the bar correctly with good form from the ground to the tall position.
If done correctly, the clean deadlift can significantly benefit your back and leg strength in the clean.
Clean Deadlift Muscles Worked
When doing the clean deadlift, the big muscles worked during this movement include the lower and upper back as well as the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. In contrast, with a conventional deadlift, you would be working a lot more back and posterior leg muscles than anything else, especially if you are a powerlifter.
When To Use The Clean Deadlift?
The clean deadlift can be used as a strength-building exercise that you will perform at the end of your Olympic weightlifting session. Depending on your program, you can do it before or after squats.
If you are a beginner-level Weightlifter doing the clean deadlift as an accessory exercise or progression for learning the clean, you will do it at the beginning of your session with a very light weight.
The clean deadlift can also be used as part of a Weightlifting complex where you might be doing a clean deadlift + hang clean or clean deadlift + power clean, for example. If doing it this way, you would be doing it with your Olympic lifts as part of your explosive exercises.
How Many Sets And Reps Of The Clean Deadlift?
The reps and sets depend on whether you are doing the clean deadlift for strength or technique as a beginner-level Weightlifter. If doing it for strength, you would typically do between 3-6 working sets for 1-4 repetitions.
You would typically work at a heavier weight if doing it for strength, between 100% to 130% of your 1RM clean. Any heavier, and you could be messing with your technique.
If you are doing this as a beginner-level athlete learning the progression of the clean, you might be doing 3-5 working sets of 2-4 repetitions at much lighter loads.
Clean Deadlift Variations
Halting Clean Deadlift
The halting clean deadlift is a clean pull that stops short of the full extended position. You would perform this movement exactly as a standard clean deadlift, except you, will pause for a few seconds in the tall position.
The halting clean deadlift is a great strength-building exercise. It can help you focus on being tall when completing the deadlift with the shoulder over the bar.
If you tend to hyper-extend in the tall position with the clean deadlift, the halting clean deadlift could help with staying tall and focusing on being in a strong and tight position at all times.
With this exercise, you would typically work between 80%-110% of your 1RM clean.
The halting clean deadlift is another excellent exercise in a clean complex; for example, halting clean deadlift + high hang clean.
Deficit Clean Deadlift
The deficit clean deadlift can be done by either standing on a small elevated platform or standing on two plates. The extra range of motion you have added now will help build more strength and teach you to stay over the bar longer if you tend to cut your pull short.
With the deficit clean deadlift, you want to focus on staying over the bar and keeping a straight back. Technique always comes first. You would be working between 80%-110% of your 1RM clean when performing the deficit clean deadlift.
Clean Deadlift From Blocks
Clean deadlift from the blocks is a strength-building exercise in the partial range. If you tend not to stay over the bar long enough in your clean, or you need to build strength in different positions, the clean deadlift from blocks is an excellent exercise.
Depending on your goal, you can do a clean deadlift from the block below the knees (also called the low blocks), from above the knees, or even from the high thigh or high blocks.
Clean deadlift from blocks is a great way to build back strength if that is what you need to do.
Clean Deadlift Shrug
The clean deadlift shrug is a clean deadlift with a shrug added when you reach the tall position. This is a great exercise to strengthen the upper back and traps.
This is also an excellent exercise for a beginner-level Weightlifter when progressing from the clean deadlift by adding the shrug. Having a strong shrug will help you in the fully extended position with the clean and can help you get under that bar when you start adding heavier weight.
You usually work between 80 and 110% with the clean deadlift shrug. When you add the shrug to the clean deadlift, it's essential to ensure that you extend upwards with the shoulders and not back. You want to focus on being tall rather than extending back.
Tempo Clean Deadlift
The tempo clean deadlift is another excellent strength-building exercise. The tempo can move upwards, downwards, or even both, depending on what you want to achieve. Tempo work is perfect for that extra strength boost; however, I would not do this for very long.
Cal Dietz is the master of talking about tempo work, and he gives some great examples in his book Triphasic Training. Too much tempo work at a very heavy weight can overload the nervous system and cause the athlete to burn out quickly.
Make sure to assess how you feel and make adjustments where needed. You would typically work between 80-100% when it comes to tempo work in the clean deadlift to maintain form.
The clean deadlift is a fantastic exercise for strength building in Olympic Weightlifting if done correctly and if you focus on moving the same way as you would in a clean.
As you can see, the clean deadlift has many variations you can add to your program, depending on your goal. It's even an excellent exercise for beginner-level Weightlifters when learning the progression of the clean. I recommend adding this exercise to your program to emphasize strength development.