The Power Clean has long been hailed as the king of power training. Its advocates view it as the backbone of any sports performance program. Unfortunately, many athletes perform Cleans incorrectly, negating the training benefits and increasing injury risk.
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In my opinion, the training benefits of Cleans can be accomplished with many simpler exercises, which take less time to teach and are more easily executed. This may sound like blasphemy, but most young athletes should not power clean. The Olympic lifts are extremely technical and require a tremendous amount of time to teach correctly. In my experience, most high school athletes never properly execute Power Cleans to reach triple extension—the extension of ankles, knees and hips—which is the body’s most powerful expression. More often, they put their back in a compromised position with little power gains to show for it.
Progressing athletes to technical proficiency in the Clean takes consistent time and training in the skill, which comes at the expense of other sport and resistance training. Is it worth four months of one hour a week teaching athletes to Clean when they could be getting stronger? Undeniably, the Power Clean is a fantastic lift when performed with technical perfection. However, at the high school level, it is not worth the investment of time.
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Many coaches fear that their athletes won’t get powerful without the Clean. In reality, your muscles don’t know the difference between triple extension in the Power Clean and the heavy Med Ball Overhead Toss or Kettlebell Jump Squat. The difference is that Cleans take a lot of time and practice, while the alternative exercises are easy and natural for most athletes.
STACK Expert John Cissick expands on a few of these techniques in Power Training Without Olympic Lifts. Another easy way to train power is to perform exercises like the Squat and Bench Press, lower the weight to 30-60% of your 1RM and concentrically move the bar with maximal force. Power is trained very effectively with little time spent teaching. Resistance training with heavy weights while concurrently jumping and sprinting also trains power exceptionally well, as the full spectrum of strength and power are emphasized. If you use this method to train power, Jumps and Sprints should be done in a non-fatigued state and at 100-percent effort.
Most athletes don’t execute major lifts and movements well enough. They must spend time training mobility and acceleration so they can sink their hips and change direction. They need to spend time resistance training to prevent injuries and build strength for power potential. Then comes the overwhelming task for coaches to train athletes in all the skills of their sport. With so many demands on your time, its essential that programs emphasize exercises and techniques that provide the most benefit with the least time investment. Simplify the menu to the essentials and execute!
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I understand there is great value in Power Cleans and other Olympic lifts; however, they are highly technical, carry high risk, and are rarely executed properly at the amateur level. Furthermore, the training benefits are easily replicated by manipulating far simpler variables. No one will bring a loaded bar onto the football field and say clean and you win. So why not squat, deadlift, bench, pull, carry, jump, sprint, and play? Emphasize these and you’ll spend less time teaching and be able to execute drills leading to far better developments in strength, power, speed and discipline on the field.