Apart from being the coolest sounding exercise ever, what is a power clean? Why should you be doing them? And what is the proper technique and programming for them? Let’s discuss.
What are Power cleans?
This movement is not something that most beginners will be told to try, and it is something that depressingly few gym rats will ever do in their lifetime. The power clean is a variation on the regular clean. The clean is an Olympic movement whereby the weight is pulled from the floor, and caught in a deep squat position. More info on full cleans here. We are talking about power cleans here however.
A power clean is the same as a regular clean, but you catch the bar in a standing position, perhaps with a slight bend in the knees.
So to sum up, the bar starts on the floor, is violently pulled up, and then caught by the lifter in the standing front squat position.
Why do Power Cleans?
Power cleans are not the easiest exercise to master. And as a result, many people shy away from this incredible movement. Let’s look at some of the benefits of power cleans:
- Huge, Powerful traps. Every gym monkey out there wants to have huge traps bulging around their neck. However, the way to get them is usually by some badly done shrugging on the dumbbell rack. Power cleans will fix your traps. The traps are used hugely in this movement, and plenty of weight will be moving through them, stimulating growth.
- You will become more explosive. Many people who are training for a sport need to become more explosive. Cleans are a way to train your body to become explosive. You will be pulling very fast and hard, and this will crossover into your sprinting, or any other hip dominant activity you are doing. Athletes should do cleans.
- Hypertrophy. Wanna get big? Thought so. Cleans are a great way of recruiting a massive amount of muscle and triggering growth. Olympic lifters don’t look jacked for no reason. Throw these in to you training, and trigger a massive anabolic effect.
Why not normal cleans?
Although normal cleans are a superior move in terms of recruiting more muscle and having a greater impact on the body, they are also much harder. Few people have the mobility and strength required to safely perform full cleans. Power cleans offer the majority of the benefits with a level that is much more widely accessible. However, even Olympic athletes perform the power clean in training, as the movement still has huge benefit for them.
Performing the Power Clean
So we have praised this movement and all its virtues, let’s get down to how to perform this movement properly.
Think of this as one movement, not a collection of smaller movements. Many people try to “muscle” the weight up. It can be tempting, especially if you come from a bodybuilding background to deadlift, then upright row the weight. However, the movement is more of a jump than an upright row. So think more about your body being an explosive object, rather than the movement being similar to a bicep curl.
- Take a deadlift stance.
- Deep breath.
- Pull the weight hard up to the knees.
- When the weight reaches your knees, you are going to extend your hips. This however is not a gentle or slow hip extension. It has been described as “violent” or “hard”, so you must put a lot of power in to this hip extension. This is what is going to propel the weight upwards.
- Don’t use your arms to bring the weight upwards. Your arms are merely holding the weight, the momentum should totally come from your hips.
- Imagine this movement as a “jump shrug”. Some people allow their feet to leave the floor.
- At the same time as you are “jumping” (or extending your hips) you should perform a very hard and fast shrug.
- This should propel the weight up at a fast rate.
So now the weight is flying towards your face, what do you do next? This is how to catch the weight.
- Pull your body under the bar. You should catch the bar with a slight bend in the knees. If you are not able to get the weight that high, you are either not explosive enough, or the weight it too heavy.
- Catch the weight on your front delts, not your hands or wrists. This is an important point, as if you are dropping 100kg on your wrists, there is only so long that it will continue without severe injury.
- Your finishing position should be the traditional “front squat” position. You may need to develop a little wrist flexibility to comfortably be able to hit the position.
Watch this video to see a beautiful slo-mo execution of the movement:
So those are the tips on being able to execute a proper power clean. What about some variations to go with this?
Variation 1 – Hanging power clean. This is the same as a power clean, but instead of starting from the floor the bar starts from around the knee. This enables you to concentrate on the hip extension part of the movement.
Variation 2 – Power clean from blocks. This again is the same, but the starting position would be some elevated blocks. This is great for athletes trying to improve their explosive power. The blocks ensure that right from the start of the movement, you lift the weight explosively.
Variation 3 – Kettlebell power cleans. This can be done with one or two kettlebells. This can be a good way to learn the movement before you start with a barbell. It focuses on the hip extension, and catching the weight up high.
This should get you started on the road of using Power Cleans to get stronger, more muscular and leaner.