The Power Clean is an explosive full-body exercise that can help any athlete in any sport–if it's performed correctly. But this exercise—like all Olympic lifts—is very technical and needs to be executed with precision in order to achieve maximum benefits while reducing your chance of injury.
Ideally you would learn to Power Clean under the guidance of a certified strength and conditioning coach. But I understand that's not always possible, so in this article you'll find a step-by-step photo guide on how to perform the move.
First we'll talk about why you should perform the Power Clean. We'll then show you how to execute the move itself. Lastly you'll find a guide to exercises and drills that will help you learn the move if you're new to it.
Benefits of the Power Clean: Why Do This Exercise?
"Power" is the Power Clean's first name. That immediately should tell you why this exercise is so valuable to athletes, who depend on explosiveness to effectively block linemen, outjump opponents for a rebound, or crush a serve in volleyball (just to name a few activities). The Power Clean trains "triple extension"—your ankles, knees and hip joints must extend simultaneously—which is a key movement for athletic performance. The exercise also recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers, which generate the greatest force and speed. And athletes who need to jump are especially well-served by learning the Power Clean, which has been shown to improve vertical jump more effectively than traditional powerlifting moves like the Squat.
Power Clean: Muscles Worked
What muscles are involved in the Power Clean? Literally all of them. Just look at the activation chart above. Your core, quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes are the driving force behind most of the movement, but your traps and shoulders are engaged during the second pull. And that's to say nothing of the muscles in your arms, forearms and back, which also get involved. Simply put: this exercise works the entire body.
Power Clean Technique: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Bottom Position
Begin with the bar on the floor, keeping your feet hip-width apart and the bar close to your shins over your shoelaces. Grip the bar with an overhand grip with your forefinger about a thumb's length in from the edge of bar knurling (the rough part where you grip). Your arms should sit just outside of your legs.
Curl your wrists in toward your body. Your elbows should be rotated out to the sides with your arms held completely straight.
Keeping your feet flat, bend at the hips and knees. At this point, your thighs should be slightly above parallel and your shoulder blades pinched together. Your eyes stay focused straight ahead.
Step 2: First Pull
Squeeze the bar off the floor by extending your legs, making sure to keep your back flat and your chest and shoulders up. Use a powerful leg drive throughout this phase.
Step 3: Scoop
The scoop leads into the second pull. The bar should be just above your knees. Keep your chest out, head back and shoulders slightly forward.
Step 4: Second Pull
Violently explode out of the scoop position. Keeping your arms straight, jump straight up by fully extending your hips, knees and ankles (triple extension), while simultaneously shrugging the bar explosively as your shoulders move up and back.
Step 5: Catch
Quickly drop into a quarter-squat position with your back straight and hips back. Your elbows rotate around the bar in an aggressive whipping action and into a racked position. The bar should be resting high on your shoulders and collarbone.
End the movement by standing up with the bar. Here's how it looks when it all comes together. Shout-out to USA Weightlifting Coach Glenn Pendlay for some excellent cues that will help you put this all into motion.
Now that you've seen how it's all done, let's go over some important points to remember.
Remember: The Power Clean is Not a Hang Clean
In the Power Clean, you always start the lift with the weight on the floor. The Hang Clean starts with the weight held above the knee.
Power Cleans Are Usually Best Performed Light
Because the Power Clean is complex, it's a move that should be practiced often. But that doesn't mean you should overdo it in terms of weight. In fact your Power Clean workouts should almost always be performed with manageable weights—think 60 to 85% of your max. More important than load is your speed of movement. You want to achieve maximum velocity on every rep. So it's a good practice to keep your rep range limited to 1-3 reps per set. Perform each with as much speed and intensity as you can.
Yes, you can max out—occasionally. (Here's what it looks like when two football players combine to Clean nearly 600 pounds at once.) But most of the time your goal is to take a reasonable weight and let 'er rip fast, and with clean form.
Problems Everyone Should Know How to Solve
Legs and feet too wide
You want to perform this lift with a narrow base. Your feet should be about hip-width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead. If your base is wider, it limits your range of motion and prevents you from applying as much power as you could.
Not engaging your shoulders and back before a rep
It's crucial that your back is not rounded during this lift. Engage your back and bring your shoulder blades down toward your armpits. This ensures that your back is set and reduces your upper body's susceptibility to injury.
Muscling up the weight
You want to launch the barbell by forcefully extending your hips. Practice extending the hips while keeping the barbell close to your body. To learn this movement pattern, try the Hang Jump Shrugs demonstrated by STACK Contributor Miguel Aragoncillo in this video:
Performing too many repetitions—or performing them too quickly in a row
Power Cleans are not for conditioning. They are meant to train your body to apply as much force as quickly as possible. So the maximum number of reps you should do in a set is 5 or 6. If you go beyond that, you'll fatigue and compromise your power output and/or technique, and then you're defeating the whole purpose here. For this same reason, it's important to pause briefly between reps to reset, refocus and execute the next rep to the best of your ability.
Lastly, it's worth noting that while the Power Clean is a great exercise with powerful benefits, not everyone should do it. Especially younger athletes. If you don't feel comfortable with the move, or just don't think you have the technique mastered, you can try these Power Clean alternatives that deliver a lot of the same benefits.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock