The Power Clean
Written by Nichole Kribs

A Power Clean is an Olympic Lift and is a full-body exercise where an athlete takes a barbell from the floor and efficiently moves to their shoulders – in one motion – while landing in a “power” receiving position. Besides being its own event in the Olympics, you will see it in training programs for many sports like football, basketball and track as well as in CrossFit.

Power Cleans can be performed in a variety of different ways in each program including: technique work, heavy for maximum strength, and even “for time” as frequently appears in CrossFit.  Here is a demonstration of a Power Clean:

The Benefits Of Power Cleans

Power Cleans are very good for anyone looking to develop more athleticism. We do advise that beginners work with a coach to learn proper technique first. In order to benefit from doing Power Cleans, one needs to execute it with proper form and this will be crucial in helping prevent injury.

There are many benefits derived from doing Power Cleans (read up on the Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting here). The lift requires – and also develops – speed, athleticism, timing, power, explosiveness and mobility. Expect to get stronger and more explosive from performing Power Cleans – not only with the Power Clean itself, but also in your general athleticism and sport. 

But be selective in what type of program you follow. The Power Clean is a very complex movement and requires coaching, time and practice to perfect. The best way to do this is to follow a program that puts emphasis on “positional work” for the lift and keeps the percentage low.

This way a beginner is learning exactly how each position of the lift feels and can create better body awareness when performing the lifts. Ideally, beginners will work with a coach who can provide hands-on coaching. If you don’t have access to a coach at your gym then try our Invictus 3-Day Weightlifting Program.

How To Do a Power Clean

As mentioned before, if you are a novice lifter then please find a local Olympic Weightlifting coach to work with so you can learn how to properly set up and execute a Power Clean. If you are comfortable with the basics on how to execute a power clean, then incorporate these movement suggestions below:

1 – Establish Grip Width 

This will be the same width every time you clean and front squat. When the bar is in the hang position (arms straight and hanging at sides) it should rest in the hip pocket or belt line. Usually if you place your hands a thumb distance away from the knurling, you should be pretty close to this position. You can mess around with it to find your ideal grip as you get more comfortable.

2 – Use Hook Grip

This is where the thumb grips the bar first then the fingers grip the thumb. The hook grip is the strongest grip you can use so even though it can be uncomfortable at first, you’ll be better off in the long run if you can push through the initial discomfort.

3 – Start Position 

Stand as close to the bar as you can and squat down to grab a hold in your hook grip. Your shoulders should be stacked on top of the bar, feet hip to shoulder width apart, back set tight and eyes up. Note that this is a slightly different set-up than what you would use for a deadlift – the hips are lower here and it is important that you are looking straight out in front of you and not to the floor.

4 – The Pull 

This is the 1st phase of lift from the floor to the mid-thigh. During this portion of the lift, the angle of your back shouldn’t change too drastically and the bar should be moving at a slow and controlled pace as you begin to stand it up. Pull the bar back into you and your knees back into a straighter position. Save your hip extension for the next phase – they shouldn’t open yet which is why your back angle shouldn’t change.

5 – Extension

Also known as the jump or triple extension, is the 2nd phase of the snatch. Once you stand your bar from the floor to mid-thigh (phase 1 – the pull), THEN you will drive your feet into the floor and open your hips as hard as you can while you drive your shoulders back behind you. The bar should fly up because of this effort – make sure to continue to control it toward your body so you don’t lose it out front or behind.

6 – Receiving 

This is the 3rd phase of the clean and should be thought of as more of a PULL UNDER the bar rather than a “catch” of the bar. Meaning, once you jump that bar up toward your shoulders in phase 2, you can’t just relax and hope to catch it after that. You must quickly move your feet out a little to your squat stance and actively PULL yourself down against the bar and into the strongest power position you can muster. Once you ACTIVELY get to your position, you can keep the bar from crashing down on you by driving your elbow around as quickly as possible and keeping them high in your front rack position. 

Common Mistakes in the Power Clean

There are a handful of “mistakes” that are also the byproducts of trying to muscle through your cleans. If you commonly face one or more of these issues, try out this drill and see if it doesn’t correct the other parts of your lift by setting you up to use your powerful legs to their potential.

1 – Not Keeping the Bar Close on the 2nd Pull

Your super-stiff arms are actually helping the bar swing out and away from your hips – not allowing you to properly explode to your finish and putting you in a terrible position to receive the weight for which you will likely have to overcompensate to hit. (See next point) Instead of using your grip to hold the bar in place, relax your arms a bit and use your lats and upper back to keep it close. 

2 – Muscling up the Weight

This is when you use your arms and back to pull the weight up to you shoulders and it is not very efficient use of your energy, nor does it train hip power and explosiveness. Instead, use your legs to drive through the floor and focus on harnessing your hip power through reaching extension! This should create momentum on the bar so it continues to move upward as you pull under the bar to meet it in your power position.

3 – Having Trouble Getting Elbows Through

If your arms are stiff and your elbows are locked out from your death grip, they can’t move as fast around the bar and your range of motion in your front rack position is likely reduced, making it harder to get into a good receiving position. Try loosening your grip a bit to see if that helps. If it is more of a mobility issue, see the section below for some ideas to address this.

Power Clean Tips

1 – Breathe in, brace hard and use the lats that were graciously given to you. Failure to engage the lats will most likely result in an early arm bend or shift forward off the ground.

2 – The bar, your shoulders and your hips should all rise at the same time.

3 – The bar’s immediate goal is to pull you forward and down. Stay balanced on your whole foot through liftoff and do not let that bar pull you forward onto your toes. Side note: don’t OVER correct by shifting too far back on the heels either.

4 – You can NEVER jump too hard. Yes, you’ll need to adjust your power output according to how much weight is on the bar, but your drive should always be explosive.

5 – If your hips go out, the bar goes out. If your hips go up, the bar goes up. More on the proper hip drive here.

6 – Jump that bar up, and as it’s moving up, USE THE RESISTANCE OF THE BAR TO PULL YOURSELF DOWN AND AROUND THE BAR. At no point in your lifting career should you jump, drop/ dive, and then catch the barbell.

Power Clean Mobility

One thing about a power clean is that it eliminates the need to squat, so if you have mobility issues with your squatting, you can still do power cleans (instead of squat cleans) while you work on them. There are a few great methods to mobilize the muscles and tendons needed to catch the bar in a beautiful front rack position. 

The “rack” position is where you receive the bar on the shoulders in the Power Clean. Having good mobility in this position will ensure you are able to use as little effort as possible when receiving and standing with the weight. Here are some tips on “How to Get a Better Rack” that focus on the triceps, lats, thoracic spine and shoulders – all areas that, when restricted, can cause problems for your Power Clean.

How to Warm Up for Power Cleans

Here is an example of a barbell complex that many of our athletes use to warm up when heading into a session for the Clean (& Jerk). This warm-up is designed to be completed with a barbell and is used to prime movement patterns for the clean and jerk. 

Once you have completed the unweighted barbell complex then put a little weight on the barbell and complete the remainder of the complex. Go ahead and try out this complex the next time you are warming up for your session.

Power Clean Form

Here are points of performance for the set up in the Power Clean:

1 – Shoulders over the barbell

2 – Shoulder blades pinned together

3 – Weight distributed in midfoot

4 – Midline and back braced

Here are points of performance for the finish position in the Power Clean:

1 – Barbell sitting comfortably on the shoulders with elbows pointing forward (rack position)

2 – Weight distributed evenly in the foot

3 – Landing position anywhere above parallel in the squat

Power Clean vs Squat Clean

The Power Clean differs from a Squat Clean in the landing position. For a clean to be considered ‘Power,’ it must be received above parallel. 

There are a couple of reasons you would use one version of the clean over the other. A coach might prescribe Power Cleans in an athlete’s program to help them work on pulling the bar higher and explosiveness in the second pull of the lift. And an athlete might choose to use Power Cleans in a CrossFit-style workout because they are faster than Squat Cleans when cycling the lift

To see the difference between the Power Clean and Squat Clean, check out these videos:

Power Clean

Squat Clean 

Power Cleans from Hang

Positions are crucial when it comes to the Olympic lifts. Being out of the correct position can have a catastrophic effect on your lifts. It can make the bar pull your body forward or it can cause you to swing the bar away from your body. You may also pull with your arms to soon or end up jumping forward – and the list goes on. That is why working from different positions of the clean, like from the hang, can help athletes improve with their technique. 

What exactly is this “hang” position? The “hang” refers to where the barbell starts while performing the Olympic lifts. There are three starting positions; the high hang, where the bar is high on the femurs; the mid hang, where the bar is in the middle of the femurs, and finally the low hang, where the bar is between just above or just below the knees.

Hang positions take away the need to navigate the knees, which makes the lift less complicated and in turn allows the lifter to focus more on speed and other technicalities.

Here are some points of performance for a Mid-Hang Power Clean: 

1 – Let’s start with the feet; your weight needs to be back on your heels. Try to stay as flat footed as possible; when you are teaching clients for the first time, over exaggerate it a little bit so they get the feeling of being back on their heels.

2 – Next come the knees. You want to have a slight bend in your knees with your knees stacked over the ankle joint.

3 – The final piece is the torso; you want to have your chest and shoulders over the bar with a slight arch in your back. One key thing that you must do, especially with heavy weight, is to keep your lats engaged. This helps to keep the bar close to your body and not letting it hang away from your body. A key factor to this position is that you are trying to counterbalance the weight; in other words, you are trying to not let the weight pull your forward. That is why you have to push your hips back and shift the weight back to your heels.

Power Cleans with Dumbbells

Power Cleans with dumbbells are a great option for those just learning how to power clean and/or for those who have limited mobility. Many of the same principles outlined earlier will be applied except instead of using a barbell, an athlete will hold a set of dumbbells at their sides. 

Olympic Lifting Competitions vs CrossFit Competitions

An Olympic Weightlifting Meet has different rules and standards for Cleans than a CrossFit Competition. There is order as to what lifts you take first, weight classes and time standards. In an Olympic Weightlifting meet, an athlete has 3 opportunities to snatch and 3 opportunities to clean & jerk. The athlete must declare what their weight will be before attempting the lift and they’ll have 60 seconds to lift on their turn. Regardless if the athlete makes or misses the lift, they can not decrease in weight, they can only increase. 

A CrossFit Competition may have Olympic lifting in the competition but it generally is not set up like an Olympic Weightlifting Meet. The CrossFit Competition may have something like a Power Clean ladder (increase in weight every X amount of time), a 3-RM Power Clean, or the Olympic Lifts could be paired with another movement. 

Power Clean Workouts for CrossFit

Workout One

Every 7 minutes, for 28 minutes (4 sets) for times:

400 Meter Run

8 Power Cleans (185/135 lbs)

500 Meter Row

 

Workout Two

Ten rounds for time of:

8 Power Cleans (95/65 lbs)

10 Bar-Facing Burpees

 

Workout Three

Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 12 minutes of:

12 Dumbbell Power Cleans*

12 Alternating Reverse Lunges with Dumbbells

12 Burpees

Power Clean Workouts for Olympic Lifting Programs

Workout One

Every 90 seconds, for 9 minutes (6 sets):

Power Clean x 1 rep

*Sets 1-2 = @ 80%

*Sets 3-4 = @ 85%

*Sets 5-6 = @ 90%

 

Workout Two

Every 2 minutes, for 6 minutes (3 sets):

3-Position Power Clean

(high hang, mid-patella, floor)

 

Workout Three

Every 2 minutes, for 12 minutes (6 sets):

Power Clean with a 3-second pause at knee


Interested in adding more Olympic Weightlifting to your program? Whether it’s for supplemental work to get more technique practice in on your lifts. Or if you want to train like an Olympic lifter, whether it be for an upcoming event or just for fun, get yourself registered for the Invictus Online Weightlifting Program with Coach Jared Enderton!

learn more about the Invictus Weightlifting Program

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