Which Muscles Does a Dumbbell Clean Press Work?

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The clean and press is one of the most all-encompassing movements you can do. The more traditional form, the barbell clean and press, is one of two weightlifting exercises chosen for the Olympics. It involves the legs, back, shoulders and core to move weight from shin-height to all the way over your head.


The clean and press is one of the original strength movements. It was introduced to the Olympics in 1896 as a one-handed movement. The Olympics then moved to a two-handed version of the exercise in 1920 and started to use weight classes to make the competition more fair.

Muscles Used in the Clean

The clean and press involves many muscles of the body, making this one exercise a total-body workout. In a 2005 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers measured muscle size of younger Olympic weightlifters, who routinely perform the clean and press, and compared this to average people who didn't perform the exercise. The researchers found that the Olympic weightlifters had bigger forearms, upper arms, chest muscles, back muscles and quadriceps.

You can break the movement down into phases: the deadlift, the clean and the press. During the deadlift, you're bringing the weights from shin-height to around hip-height. The clean is a powerful hip movement that uses momentum to swing the weight up from your hips to your shoulders. From there you dip your knees slightly and then drive up with your legs and arms simultaneously.

Muscles Used in the Deadlift

The deadlift portion involves a lot of effort from the group of muscles known as the posterior chain. As the name suggests, these muscles run up the backside of your body and include your calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back muscles and lats, which are the biggest muscle in your upper body and run from your shoulders to your lower back.

Muscles Used in the Clean

After the posterior chain helps you lift the weight up to your hips, it's time for the clean portion. Using the momentum you gained from the deadlift, you thrust your hips forwards and lean back, getting as tall as possible. This movement is called a triple extension because you're extending your ankles, knees and hips to explode up into the air like you're jumping.

The jumping motion is important in this exercise because it allows you to power the dumbbells up to your shoulders. A 2004 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that there was a strong relationship between the height that people could jump and how well they performed in Olympic weightlifting competitions, which include the clean and press.

The muscles you use to triple-extend are your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. In your upper body, you're using the muscles of your upper back like your trapezius and rhomboids to prevent the weight from pulling your arms and shoulders forwards. Don't forget that this whole time you're using the muscles of your forearms to grip the weight in your hands and prevent it from slipping out.

a photo of a man lifting barbell and disks

The clean and press is a classic weightlifting movement.

After you triple extend and drive the weight up you have to land and squat down as quickly as possible. The momentum from the clean gets the weights moving upwards, but you have to squat down to catch the weight at shoulder height to prepare for the press. To catch the weight you need a very strong core, which includes your four abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominis).

Then you need the muscles of your back, the erector spinae, which run parallel up the side of your spine, to hold your back in place. You'll use your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes to stiffen your lower body in the squat position and stand up with the weight after you catch it.

Muscles Used in the Press

Now you're standing with the weights at shoulder height. You're going to bend your knees slightly and stick your butt back in a mini-squat. Then you drive up, as if you're jumping, and press the weight with your shoulders. When you press up, you use your deltoids, trapezius and triceps to get the weight up. To drive up with your legs from the squat position you once again use your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.


There are few muscles that you don't use during this total-body movement. In order to get the weight from shin-height up over your head, you need to use your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, lower and upper back muscles, abdominals, shoulders, triceps, and forearms. Try just a simple set of ten repetitions of this exercise and it will leave you breathless from the sheer amount of energy it takes to complete even one repetition.