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June 21, 2022
Everyone needs at least one power exercise in their program to make their training regime complete. Generating explosive power is the hallmark of a true athlete. However, the most popular power exercises, the snatch and the clean and jerk, are extremely technical and take time to learn. If you have ever thought this, you might want to try the power clean, a version of the clean. While you’ll still need to set aside some time, the power clean still offers the same power production while minimizing some of the technical and mobility aspects.
In this article, we’ll go over:
In the sport of Olympic lifting, there are only two movements with one being the clean and jerk. A highly complex movement, the clean and jerk, is performed by first pulling a loaded barbell off the ground and propelling it to the shoulders. This part of the movement is known as "the clean." From here, the lifter will "jerk" the bar up to finish the movement with an overhead press. That said, the power clean is a variation of the first part of this movement, the clean.
When performed as a clean, a lifter will jerk the bar up but also drop into a full-depth squat. As this occurs, they pull themselves under the bar to catch the bar on the shoulders in what's called the front rack position. From here, the lifter will perform a front squat until the body is fully extended.
With that in mind, the clean is highly complex and requires a high level of mobility to perform correctly. Because of this, the clean has several slight variations that are designed to either train one aspect of the clean or to just simplify the movement. The power clean is one of those variations.
The power clean differs from the clean when the lifter catches the barbell at the top of the lift. As a lifter pulls the barbell up to their shoulders, instead of dropping into a full squat position, they only bend their knees slightly until they're in a partial squat position.
What this does is requires the lifter to use more "power" to propel the bar higher as they are not dropping so low. While it may be "harder," as you must produce more power to propel the bar farther, it's actually less technical due to less flexion in the lower body joints.
While you aren't able to lift as much weight with the power clean, it's an excellent explosive movement that utilizes full-body movement to improve your strength and power.
The power clean is a full-body exercise that will tax all of the major muscle groups in your body. No muscle will go untouched when performing this exercise. That said, several muscle groups will definitely be targeted when performing this movement.
All Olympic lifters have massive traps due to the power shrug they perform for every movement. This is a movement that works in conjunction with the triple extension to propel the bar up. Further, the upper back must fire throughout the entire movement to keep the shoulders back and aid in keeping the back tight. This is going to hit your traps, rhomboids, posterior delts, and even your lats.
The majority of the power production you produce is going to come from powerful hip extension. This requires your entire posterior chain to work together, which includes:
These muscles are the key to a powerful power clean and will play a massive role in the power clean. You must have a powerful posterior chain to have an impressive power clean.
While the glutes and hamstrings are often focused on due to their role in hip extension, realize the movement also requires leg extension. This brings us to a common error with the power clean (or clean), which is neglecting to take advantage of the quadriceps and calves.
As the quadriceps are the primary leg extensors, they play a vital role in this movement. This is why a very effective cue for the power clean is "push the ground away" as an attempt to recruit the quads to a higher degree.While you obviously can't push the ground, what this means is to pretend as if you were pushing the ground down as you pull up. Doing so will cause you to activate the quads.
The calves will then take over once the hips are fully extended to finish off the movement. If you were to compare this to a natural movement, the power clean is similar to the vertical jump. If you want to improve your vertical jump, you strengthen your quads and calves.
Holding a loaded bar under these forces is going to require a STRONG grip. If you have weak forearms, training the power clean will force muscle growth and strength. It's kind of mandatory.
Power cleans a favorite choice to improve power for all types of lifters. It doesn't matter if you're training for the Olympics or just wanting to improve your overall health and add some muscle mass; the power clean is a great power exercise to have in your arsenal. Here are the top reasons you need to be proficient in this movement.
1) Increase Power Production And Explosive Strength:
The primary benefit of the power clean is an increase in full body power production. In fact, this is the reason to perform this movement. In the world of strength and conditioning, the term "power" refers to the ability to move a load at a high rate of speed. This is why it's often referred to as "explosive" strength, as if a bomb was set off.
The power clean is an easier version of the clean, making it a great choice for any lifter wanting to up their training.
2) Improve Performance:
The power clean is a full-body movement that requires strength and power as well as high levels of skill. As a result, improving your power clean will lead to an improvement in just about every other performance variable.
For example, while strength is the key component for top-speed sprinting, power production is necessary for acceleration or change-of-direction. Power production also plays a critical role in other physical movements such as throwing, kicking, punching, and jumping.
In other words, if you are an athlete of any type, power production is likely important to you.
Still, due to the power clean being able to improve your neuromuscular system, it will have a positive effect on all of your other barbell movements.
3) Easier To Perform Than The Clean:
Even though the Olympic lifts are the king of power exercises, the majority of lifters ignore them as they are so technical. This means that if you wanted to use the clean to increase your explosive power, you would need to spend a lot of time practicing this movement. You would need to prepare to spend quite a few months before your skill gets to a level where you can load the bar sufficiently enough to elicit muscular adaptations.
As most people don't have this kind of patience, they choose to just not train these power lifts. This means most people miss out on a vital performance variable. However, the power clean provides an easier alternative to improve your power production without needing to spend the extra months practicing.
To be clear, the power clean is still a technical movement, so you will still need to dedicate some training time. However, it's not as technical. This is due to it eliminating the drop to a full squat which is generally the hardest part of the clean to learn.
4) Requires Less Mobility:
In conjunction with the power clean being easier to learn from a technical standpoint, it's also easier to learn from a mobility standpoint. The normal clean has you drop into a full squat and catch the bar, which is loaded with substantial weight. This requires significant mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles, which some people don't have/
While you still need sufficient mobility in your shoulders for the front rack position, the power clean requires less mobility in the lower body. If a trainee were to attempt a clean without the proper mobility or flexibility, it could result in an injury. As the power clean has you catch the bar in a partial squat, the mobility required is significantly less. This makes it a great option to train as you work on your mobility.
While we never want to encourage you to just ignore issues, we also want you to be smart about your training. Therefore, if you do have mobility issues, be sure to work on that so eventually you can perform a full clean if you desire.
5) Improve Muscular Coordination:
Because the power clean is such a highly complex movement, it is quite demanding on your neuromuscular system, the system that communicates instructions from your brain to your muscles. In other words, it tells your muscles how to work. While this is a very rudimentary explanation, improving your neuromuscular system is vital for increasing muscular strength, improving balance, learning new skills, and creating great muscular coordination.
One of the best ways to improve your neuromuscular system and muscular coordination is by performing complex movements. When you perform a body movement that's more technical, it forces your brain and muscles to work better together. Being that the power clean is a complex movement, it's going to improve your muscular coordination as well as other aspects.
6) Easier On The Lower Body Joints:
Weightlifting is a bit contradictory as, on the one hand, it's excellent for your bone health. That said, there's a threshold that exists as doing too much can actually cause overuse injuries. Or, perhaps you have bad joints from other causes. Both of these scenarios can make getting into a full squat position unpleasant. On top of this, you're also catching a barbell with heavy weight, which can make it more uncomfortable.
Including the power clean into your program can cure either situation as the power clean requires minimal knee flexion. This makes it great to use if your knees need a break or to prevent issues from arising with your knees.
The power clean can really be broken down into 4 different segments. While these 4 segments run together smoothly, they each have their different guidelines and cues to execute properly. That said, it’s easier to look at these 4 segments separately in order to break down the complexity. Here is how to perform the power clean.
Proper positioning of your power clean setup will dictate how well you execute the lift. The goal is to put your body at a biomechanical advantage that allows you to project the most force upwards. That said, spend some time practicing this.
Now that we went over how to perform the power clean, you probably realize that there's quite a bit to learn. That said, if you know how to perform it correctly, it'll be one of the more effective movements you can use. Therefore follow these methods to make the learning process as easy as possible.
One of the best ways to learn power clean is to use a method called segment training. This method of training basically breaks up complex movements into smaller movements that are easier to practice. You can use the practice of these smaller segments separately and put them together when you feel ready.
Above we went over 4 segments of the power clean. This makes it easy to divide the power clean up. We will also add some other training exercises.
Yes, you should spend time solely learning the proper starting position. We would strongly suggest you use a video camera or mirror so that you can look at your body and adjust as necessary.
For the first pull, mimic pulling the bar up with force. Focus on keeping your arms straight and back tight. Further, you can drive up farther than your knees and stop once you hit your thigh.
Practice the second pull separately as well as adding the catch. This is basically the hang clean which we will discuss below. However, this is a great way to practice the most technical part of this lift. Really focus on the hip extension and producing a pop.
The power shrug can be performed from either the ground or hang clean. To perform this, you basically do the entire movement but stop as full hip extension with a shrug. In other words, you do everything but catch the bar. This is also similar to a high pull which we’ll discuss below.
Still, you can perform this with either just a shrug (keeping your arms straight) OR a shrug while pulling the bar high.
The scarecrow clean will allow you to practice "flipping" the bar at the top of the second pull. Getting under the bar is one of the more difficult transitions, as you need the weight of the bar to land in the correct spot to avoid any uncomfortable banging. You can also practice your catch.
To perform this movement, use an empty barbell. Start the movement by pulling the barbell up to your chest with your elbows high. When ready, come up on your toes and flip the bar while transitioning underneath. Remember to catch the bar in a partial squat with knees slightly bent.
Other than these, we strongly advise you to film yourself performing the movement. There’s no better way to learn other than watching yourself.
Power clean variations are also a great way to improve your power clean. However, they can also be used as a stand-alone exercise to train different movement patterns and add some variability.
The hang power clean is the same as the hang clean, but again, you catch the barbell high. Instead of pulling from the ground, you will first deadlift the weight up until the barbell reaches the knee. You will then let the bar hang as you hold this position. When ready, you will then perform the power clean from this hang position.
This version almost eliminates the 1st pull as the starting position begins at the 2nd pull. Being so, the hang clean will force you to improve the power production of your hip extension and power shrug. Further, it's a great choice to give your joints a rest since you do not need to bend over so much. That said, don't expect to use a lot of weight when you first begin.
The power clean from blocks has you start with the load resting on two blocks to elevate the height of the load. Its primary purpose is to just decrease the range of motion to give your body a bit of rest. Instead of pulling all the way from the floor, you can raise the load a few inches which can have a significant effect on the flexion in your joints as well as decrease the need for mobility.
A great aspect of the power clean from blocks is that you can arrange the height to hit various training variables. For example, if you just want to decrease the range of motion, you can raise the load by 2 inches or so. However, you could raise the load all the way to your knees to concentrate on the 2nd pull.
Setting the clean variations aside, there are several other exercises that work great as accessory work to help strengthen the movement patterns. Use these as accessory work to help improve your power clean.
Even though you don't hit a full-depth squat in power clean, the front squat will still help improve your power clean. One of the primary mechanisms is to improve your front rack position, as you will still need to catch the bar. This can also help improve your wrist mobility and teach you to to properly support the bar. Further, the front squat is actually a great exercise to strengthen the core and teach it to brace correctly.
Snatch grip high pulls (normal stance, wide grip), and sumo high pulls (wide stance, medium grip) are less complicated power exercises that can be used to improve your pulling power. Differing in their setup, both versions have you pull up a loaded barbell in a similar fashion as the clean, except you don't catch the bar. These are generally done with heavier loads with lower reps. That said, these are great accessory movements to help you strengthen your movement pattern.
Many people will confuse power training with strength training and assume it's better to train with a heavier weight. However, because power is the relationship between mass and speed, you are actually able to generate higher rates of power with lighter loads.
Studies show that using loads of 40-60% offers the optimum weight to produce the highest amounts of power¹. That said, loads of 60-70% 1RM are generally used when power is the primary goal. Still, it's not uncommon to use higher loads when attempting to increase your explosive strength. At the end of the day, you should include both ranges in your training.
Either way, stick to low reps (<4) as you don’t want to allow fatigue to build-up. Every rep should be performed at 100%.
The power clean might be the optimal power exercise for those merely looking for a great exercise due to its simplicity (relative to the clean). It taxes the entire muscular system and produces a lot of power due to the barbell traveling a further distance.
Together, this makes it the perfect choice for your general lifter who is looking for an easier option to add some versatility to his training. At the same time, the most serious lifters also benefit from it as an accessory to the clean and jerk as if you're forced to use lighter weights while limiting the flexion required from the joints. At the end of the day, power clean is a phenomenal exercise regardless of what your goal is.
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