Barbell Clean & Press Alternatives

The barbell clean and press is one of the Olympic lifts, with the other being the snatch. With the clean and press, you lift a barbell from the floor to your shoulders and then push it overhead.

The clean and press is a full-body exercise, and doing it will increase strength and power. It’s also useful for muscle-building. On the downside, the barbell clean and press can be hard to learn, and you also need plenty of space to do it.

The good news is that there are several barbell clean and press alternatives that are just as effective.

Even if you have the necessary space and equipment you need to do the barbell clean and press, it’s always useful to have alternatives in your training toolbox. That way, you are less likely to get bored doing the same exercises over and over.

Also, doing the same exercise with different equipment stresses your muscles slightly differently, which can help make your workouts more productive. For example, switching from the barbell clean and press to the same exercise done with dumbbells or a medicine ball will shock your body into new levels of fitness and strength.

However you do clean and presses, you’re efforts will be rewarded. It’s one of the most productive and beneficial exercises around!

Barbell Clean & Press Alternatives

How to Do the Barbell Clean and Press

All clean and press variations are performed in more or less the same way. Only the training apparatusbarbell clean and press differs. Apply these instructions to all of the exercises listed below. If you need to modify your technique, we’ve included details on how to do so in the descriptions.

  1. Stand with your feet between shoulder to hip-width apart with your toes under the bar.
  2. Squat down and hold the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Straighten your arms, drop your hips, lift your chest, and look straight ahead. Brace your abs.
  3. Without bending your arms or rounding your lower back, stand up explosively. As the bar passes your knees, pull with your arms.
  4. Dip your knees and drive your elbows forward. Catch the bar across the front of your shoulders. Stand up and pause for a second or two.
  5. Bend your knees slightly, and then extend them again. Use this momentum to help you push the weight up and overhead to arms’ length.
  6. Lower the bar back down to your shoulders and then your hips before putting it back on the floor. Reset your start position and repeat.

Needless to say, the clean and press is a complex movement, and it may take you a few workouts to master it. Start off with light weights and even an empty bar, and treat your first few workouts as practice sessions. Only increase the weight when you know you’re doing the exercise correctly.

Alternative Exercises

While the barbell clean and press is a superb exercise, it’s not the only way to do this movement. Here are six equally effective alternatives, some of which are much easier to master and more forgiving if you make a mistake.

1. Medicine Ball Clean and Press

medicine ballThe medicine ball clean and press is a much more manageable exercise than the barbell version.

The weight is invariably lighter, and it won’t matter if you inadvertently drop the ball. On the downside, you will need to squat a little lower to grip the underside of the ball.

The movement is basically the same. However, instead of gripping a bar, you hold the ball in your upturned palms. Feel free to drop the ball after the overhead press.

2. Dumbbell Clean and Press

Using dumbbells instead of barbells means you’ve got twice as many weights to control. This means this variation is potentially more challenging than doing it with a barbell. We say potentially because some people actually find dumbbell clean and presses easier because the weights follow a more natural and forgiving path.

You’ll need to squat lower to grip your dumbbells, so this variation requires more flexibility and mobility. However, this issue can be negated by doing “hang cleans,” where you start each rep from about knee-height instead of the floor.

For extra variety, you can also do the dumbbell clean and press using just one weight at a time. This requires less coordination but increases the need for core stability.

3. Log Clean and Press

If your gym has a log, you’ll probably enjoy log presses. Most logs have fixed parallel grips, which makes for a different but equally effective movement. Because logs have a large diameter, you roll them up the front of your body instead of lifting them cleanly.

The main disadvantage of log clean and presses is that even an unloaded log is heavy. You’ll need to be reasonably strong to do this variation. This is not an exercise for beginners.

4. Fat Bar Clean and Press

fat bar cleanFat bars are, as their name suggests, thicker than regular barbells. They also don’t rotate like standard barbells do.

This makes them much harder to grip and lift. Your clean and press technique should remain largely unchanged when you use a fat bar, but you’ll need to release your grip slightly on the bar as you transition from the initial pull to catching it on your shoulders.

A standard Olympic bar would revolve, negating the need for this maneuver.

Because fat bars are harder to grip and handle than regular barbells, you may need to use less weight than usual when you try this exercise for the first time.

5. Kettlebell Clean and Press

Kettlebell clean and presses are a lot like the same exercise done with dumbbells. The main difference is that the handles on kettlebells tend to be thicker and a little harder to grip. In addition, you’ll need to flip the weights over as you transition from the initial pull to catching the weight on your shoulders. This can take some getting used to.

Like dumbbell clean and presses, you can do this exercise with one or two weights as preferred. Using one kettlebell is technically easier than lifting two but also increases core activation.

6. Sandbag Clean and Press

sandbagThe sandbag clean and press is a great exercise for anyone who wants to build a stronger grip and increase balance and stability.

The sand is continuously shifting, so you’ll have to work extra hard to control the weight. Also, with no convenient handles to hold, you’ll need to grip the bag material, which is much harder on your hands and forearms.

Technically, sandbag clean and presses fall somewhere between using a log and a fat bar. The shifting sand means that each rep will be slightly different, and you may find yourself having to wrestle the bag up instead of lifting it cleanly.

Because of this, the sandbag clean and press is an excellent exercise for athletes.

Bottom Line

Not so many decades ago, the clean and press was a commonly performed exercise. In fact, anyone who lifted weights did this exercise, even bodybuilders. With the advent of things like strength training machines, the clean and press started to fall out of favor, and the only people doing it were Olympic lifters or athletes training for their chosen sport.

CrossFit rekindled interest in the clean and press, and it’s made its way back into mainstream fitness training again. That’s good to see because it really is one of the most productive exercises around.

That said, the barbell clean and press is not always practical. For a start, you need a barbell and bumper plates, both of which are expensive. To protect your floor, you should also do clean and presses on a weightlifting platform.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to the barbell clean and press, many of which are more accessible. Each one works the same muscles, but you won’t need a full-sized barbell or expensive platform to do them. This means you can do clean and press at home or in commercial gyms not set up for Olympic lifting.

Whatever your fitness goal is, the clean and press can help you get there faster. Use these alternatives to keep your workouts fresh and interesting, and so you can do this great exercise even if you don’t have a suitable barbell and training space.


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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