Why Athletes Shouldn't Clean Like Olympic Weightlifters

How the Olympic Clean differs from the Power Clean, why one is more suitable for athletes, and how to avoid errors.

One of the best exercises for developing power is the Power Clean. It is a staple in various programs at the professional, college and high school levels—especially for football players. However, this is one of the most butchered exercises seen in the weight room (more on this later).

Depending on what your coach specifies, the Clean can be performed one of two ways: the Olympic Clean or the Power Clean. Let's break down the differences between them and see which one is right for you?

RELATED: How to Fix Common Power Clean Mistakes

Olympic Clean

Why Athletes Shouldn't Clean Like Olympic Weightlifters

The Olympic Clean is obviously the move you see performed in the Olympics, by both both men and women. You pull an enormous amount of weight off the ground, get underneath the bar while performing a deep Squat, then ascend out of the Squat while carrying the weight on your shoulders. It is extremely difficult to master, but it allows for explosively lifting massive loads off the ground.

Power Clean

Power Clean

The Power Clean is similar. It requires you to move the bar very rapidly off the floor. The bar remains close to your body at all times while you perform a triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. Once your body is fully extended, you get under the bar to "catch it." The catch is what makes the exercise significantly different from the Olympic Clean.

RELATED: How to Perform the Power Clean

When you perform the triple extension movement with the Olympic Clean, there is a brief pause in the movement of the bar, when it doesn't travel up or down but almost stays in place. When your body is fully extended, the bar is positioned near your hips. Then you drop under the bar so it sits on your shoulders as your elbows shoot forward. Because the bar remains low, you must get into a full Squat to complete the movement. Then you ascend and stand straight up, maintaining the weight on your shoulders at all times.

With the Power Clean, the same triple extension movement occurs, but the bar continues to travel up. While this is occurring, you keep pulling the bar toward your chest and get under it in a similar fashion—by shooting your elbows forward and performing a half squat. Like with the Olympic Clean, you must stand straight up, maintaining the weight on your shoulders at all times.

RELATED: Power Clean Variations for Strength and Power

The main difference between the exercises boils down to the path the bar travels. In the Power Clean, since the bar moves much higher, you will probably not be able to lift as much weight. You have to work very hard to pull the bar as high as needed to get into the correct half squat position. Many strength and conditioning coaches advocate this movement over the Olympic Clean, because the lifter has to create more force to make the bar travel further. Since you start in an athletic position and apply great amounts of force to bring the bar to the proper position, it is more sport-specific—similar to jumping for a rebound or an interception. Also, the technique is slightly easier to master and mobility is not as extreme in the Olympic Clean, so it's typically the preferred version.

Olympic Cleans, however, allow you to pull more weight from the ground, since the bar does not have to travel as far. More weight pulled can equal greater strength and power development. This is why Olympic athletes can lift such an enormous amounts of weight, beyond their own body weight, at such incredible speeds.

Both exercises are complex to learn, but can be essential tools for developing power. It is important to know the differences between the two exercises and how they might fit in with your goals.

Safety is always a key when learning these exercises; seek professional advice to learn the proper technique, especially if you want to make sure you are doing them correctly.

5 Common Power Clean Errors (and Fixes)


1. Legs and feet too wide at the start

It is important to have a narrow base, feet about hip-width apart and pointed straight ahead. By doing this, you can achieve maximal force when extending your body throughout the movement. With a wider base, you limit your range of motion, and you cannot apply as much power. Plus, it limits your ability to catch the bar, since you are already in a wide stance.

2. Hips don't initiate the movement

Similar to the Deadlift, you want to make sure your chest stays upright at all times. The bar and your hips should move at the same time as you complete the movement. If they do not, then power and/or safety will be compromised.

3. Not contracting/setting your shoulders and back prior to the movement

It's crucial that your back is not rounded and that you bring your shoulder blades down toward your armpits. This ensures that your back is set and reduces your upper body's susceptibility to injury prior to the lift.

4. Improper catch

Learning the proper way to catch the bar in the half squat is important for finishing the movement. Once the triple extension has occurred, you must bring the bar toward your chest and quarter squat under it, while your elbows shoot forward and the bar lands on your shoulders (like the position for the Front Squat). To practice this, set up a bar on the squat rack just below chest height. Place your hands in the same position on the bar as they would be with the Power Clean, then rapidly get your body under the bar and drive your elbows forward, placing the bar on your shoulders. This is an excellent tool I use for my clients to practice the final step in Power Clean technique.

5. Performing too many repetitions and/ or performing them too quickly in succession

The Power Clean relies heavily on technique. It is about the quality of the movement, so the maximum amount of repetitions should be limited to 5 or 6. Going beyond that starts to compromise power output and/or technique. It is also important to pause briefly between reps to refocus and execute the lift to the best of your ability. Power Cleans are not for conditioning. They are meant to train your body to apply as much force as quickly as possible.

Read More: 

How to Power Clean: The Ultimate Guide (w/ Photo & Video) 

Power-Ups for Your Power Clean: Supplemental Lifts to Help You Get Stronger

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