The Power Clean is one of the most common lifts in strength and conditioning programs. Strength coaches use it to develop explosive force and speed of movement in the athletes they train, because the lift, by its very nature, requires explosive movement. You need to have some serious power to get a bar from the ground to your shoulders.
But setting out to increase your max does not mean you must go heavy all the time. Instead, you can develop technique and velocity by using lighter to moderate loads and improve base strength with basic compound movements done with heavier loads.
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Build General Strength to Get Specific Gains
The Power Clean is a very taxing lift. When team sport athletes—who already have the demands of their sport to deal with—go too heavy too often, it usually backfires. This can lead to stalled gains at best and injury at worse.
To improve, you need a strong lower body and specifically a strong posterior chain—your hamstrings, glutes and back—to pull the bar.
You can increase maximal strength specific to this explosive movement through lower-body compound lifts, which are far less demanding than if you were to frequently go heavy with the Clean.
You can also rotate these lifts. Because the focus is to build strength, use 85 to 90 percent of your 1RM for multiple sets of 1-5 reps.
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Practice Less Weight and More Velocity
Because of its complexity, the lift must be practiced often.
But what kinds of weight are we talking about here? Use manageable weights (i.e., around 60 to 85%) so you can work on technique and velocity of movement. Because the emphasis is on power, keep rep ranges at 1-3 to ensure you do every repetition with maximum speed and intensity.
Next, you can focus on general strength in the muscles and movements specific to the Clean with lifts such as Squats and Clean Pulls (i.e., Deadlifts done with the same technique as the first part of a Clean.)
Here is an example of a twice-weekly training program, with supplemental work to build overall strength:
A. Power Clean – 60% of 1RM – 5×3
B. Clean Pull – 85% of 1RM – 4×4
C. Glute Ham Raise – 4×5
D. Split Squats – 3×6-10
E. Horizontal Pull-Ups – 3-4 sets with as many reps as possible in 15 seconds
A. Power Clean – 65% of 1RM – 6×2
B. Box Squat (come down to box and pause for a second, staying tight at bottom, then come up fast.) – 88% – 4-6×2-3
C. Front Squat – 4 x 6
D. Single Leg RDL – 3 x 6
E. Pull-Ups – 3 x as many reps as possible in 10 seconds
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