Power Clean – What You Need to Know

The power clean is an Olympic weightlifting move which is also extremely functional. It will allow you to develop explosive power, especially through the lower body. It’s also fantastic for developing your body’s coordination and proprioception, while also developing the mass and strength of your muscles.

What is the Power Clean?

The power clean is the first half of the clean and jerk movement. It involves lifting a weight from the floor and cleaning it to the rack position. In this position, the bar is resting across your clavicles in line with your shoulders and you are in an elbow out position.

There are three key positions throughout the proper execution of the power clean;

  • The hang – in this position you have brought the bar up to the level of your mid-thigh.
  • The rack – this is when the bar comes up to sit on your deltoids. The bar will be resting on your fingertips and your elbows will be extended in front of you. The meat of your shoulders will take the brunt of the weight.
  • The jump – this is when you unlock your hips and knees, pushing your butt back and letting your shoulders come forward. As a result of this action, the bar will go halfway down your thigh, stopping a little lower than the hand position. From this position, you jump directly up as you simultaneously bring your elbows through and drive the weight up to the rack position.

Muscles Worked During Power Clean

Power-Clean-and-Muscle-Clean-Muscles-Exercised

The power clean is a lower body focused exercise. It will directly stimulate the following muscle groups:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves

In addition, power cleans will improve the strength of your core, especially the erector spinae at the base of your lower spine. Your grip will also be enhanced, as will the strength in your forearms.

Power Clean Benefits

The power clean will provide you with a full body workout that focuses on your posterior chain. These are the muscles on the back of your body and include your lats, erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings. At the same time, you will be developing your grip strength as well as building your deltoids and biceps.

The power clean is a taxing movement that burns a lot of calories. This compound exercise will stimulate fat metabolism and bring on the excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect, so that you are burning excess calories for at least 24 hours after your workout.

Because the power clean targets the muscles of your posterior chain, it will help you to improve your posture which will, in turn, allow you to be more balanced and agile while also helping to eliminate back pain.

In common with other compound Olympic moves, the power clean causes micro tears on your bone shafts. In a similar way that working out causes micro tears in your muscle fibers that then grow stronger, your bones will likewise become stronger after every power clean session, provided that you are getting plenty of micronutrients in your diet.

We mentioned proprioception at the outset. This means that you have a high level of awareness of your body and are able to move it at will. The complex movement patterns that are required for the power clean help you enormously in this regard. As a result, you will become more balanced.

The power clean is a fundamental compound old-style lift that will allow you to get stronger faster. It will also add thickness to your physique. It’s the kind of move that the old-style bodybuilders from the 60s and 70s used as foundational movements before they move into the more conventional bodybuilding exercises. As a result, their physiques had that thick look of raw power that is missing from many top-level bodybuilders.

Because it is a compound weightlifting move, the power clean has also been shown to stimulate the body’s release of hGH. The more hGH you have coursing through your body, the stronger and more muscular you will be. 

Power Clean FAQs

What sort of set, rep scheme should I use with the power clean?

The power clean is an extremely taxing exercise. If you perform too many reps, your form will inevitably break down, leaving you open to potential injury. For that reason, you should focus on a lower set and rep scheme. Five sets of three reps is about right for most Olympic lifters. However, you can cycle in singles and doubles every couple of weeks. 

In terms of the weight you should be lifting on the power clean when doing low number sets, the general guideline is that the power clean weight should be around 50% of your dead lift.

Have a look at the intensity table a bit further down.

How does the power clean differ from the squat clean?

The power clean involves cleaning the bar from the floor and bringing it to the rack position. The squat clean is a more complex move that adds a full front squat once the bar is in the rack position. It is a more explosive move that is also more metabolically taxing than the power clean.

How does the power clean differ from the hang clean?

The hang clean involves performing the racking movement from a standing position, as if you are in the top position of a dead lift. It is, essentially, therefore, the top half of the power cleaning movement. It is a useful exercise to help you train your technique and to improve the weight of your lifts.

Can the power clean be done with dumbbells?

Yes, you can perform the power clean with dumbbells. This adds an extra element of coordination to the exercise, making it even more difficult to master. To perform the dumbbell power clean, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards. Position the dumbbells outside of your feet.

Reach down to grab them just as you would in the barbell power clean and then lift them back to the starting position. Make sure that your back is flat. Perform the jump portion of the exercise by hinging at the hip to lower the weights to mid-thigh level and explosively jumping directly into the air as you bring the elbows forward to rack the dumbbells at shoulder level.

How to Power Clean

  1. Stand in front of the bar as if you were about to perform a deadlift. Your feet should be slightly narrower than shoulder width apart and slightly pointed outwards and the bar should be 1 inch in front of your shins. This will have it riding over your midfoot.
  2. Take a double overhand grip on the bar that is one hand width wider than the outer edge of the knurling on each side. This is considerably wider than you would grab it if you were performing a dead lift.
  3. As you go down to grab the bar, keep your knees out. Squeeze your chest up and look at the floor about 18 inches in front of you.
  4. Look up as you drive the bar slowly up your legs. When the bar gets just above your knee level, jump straight up in the air, imagining that your shoulders are rising right up to the level of your head. As you jump, bring your elbows forward to rack the weight at shoulder level. 
  5. Now let the bar travel down your torso to a point just above your kneecaps and move into your next rep by performing the jump. 

Intensity

This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RMIntensity LevelUsefulness
60-70LightTechnique
70-80Light-mediumTechnique, Speed work
80-85MediumPower, muscle gain
85-90Medium-HeavyStrength
90-95HeavyStrength
95-100MaximumStrength
How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Form points

The_Power_Clean
  • Take your time with the initial dead lift from the floor. If you go too fast at this point, your form will probably break down.
  • Don’t use the power of your upper body to bring the weight. This is an explosive move that does not rely on the strength of the back muscles to accomplish the lift. Remember that there is no upright row component to this exercise. It is speed, form and explosive power rather than strength that gets the bar into the rack position.
  • The explosive part of the exercise should begin with the jump. At the beginning of the jump you want your shoulders out in front of the bar.
  • Do not bend at the elbows until you are fully erect. If you bend your elbows too early on, the bar will be too far away from your body and you will lose balance and coordination. This can be dangerous.
  • Always maintain a natural arch in your lower spine.

Conclusion

The power clean is a foundational compound Olympic weightlifting exercise that should be in your arsenal if you are after raw strength and power. Take your time to learn the correct technique points, starting with just an unloaded Olympic bar. Once you have your form on point, you will be able to quickly add weight. Keep your reps in the 2 to 5 range and work consistently at this move and you will reap the benefits.

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