Performing an exercise very quickly or explosively develops power. Though technically very difficult, this explosive exercise (dynamic lift) is a fantastic all-round power builder. Power cleans demand excellent technique, balance, and control. Practice with light weights until perfect, and if possible spend time with a qualified weight lifting coach. If you perform it correctly, you will remain injury-free and will reap all the benefits it offers.
Power clean exercise instructions – proper form
Properly executing this exercise requires extreme discipline, tremendous explosion, and cat-like reflexes.
STARTING (INITIAL) POSITION
Stand with the balls of your feet under the bar, feet slightly more than hip-width apart. Squat down and grip the bar with an overhand grip slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be outside your knees and straight, with your elbows pointing out. Keep your head up (in a neutral position with the spine) with your chest out and shoulders pulled back. Position your shoulders over the bar with your back straight or slightly arched.
UPWARD MOVEMENT (INITIAL PULL)
Begin the power clean by lifting the bar off the floor by extending rapidly your knees and hips. (Make sure your hips and shoulders move at the same time and at the same pace). Keep your head in the neutral position with your back straight and arms fully extended as you pull the bar up as close to your shins as you can.
UPWARD MOVEMENT (TRANSITION PHASE)
Drive your hips forward and move your body weight more toward the front of your feet. Do not raise your heels off the floor. Keep your shoulders pulled back and your head in a neutral position. Continue with your elbows fully extended and still pointing out. In other words, as the bar rises just above your knees, move your hips forward and quickly flex your knees to move them under the bar. Keep the near-erect torso and flat-back position with your elbows still fully extended.
UPWARD MOVEMENT (SECOND/FINAL PULL)
With the barbell now touching the lower thigh, explosively extend your ankles, knees, and hips (rapidly jump up). Keep your shoulders over the bar, with the elbows fully extended as long as possible while the ankles, knees, and hips are extending. Shrug your shoulders and keep the arms fully extended during this time. Once the shoulders are completely elevated, flex your elbows quickly and pull your body under the bar by raising your arms as high as you can. The total accumulation of the upward acceleration will lift your feet off the floor.
Once the bar reaches maximum height, rotate the bar with your arms and hands while pulling your body underneath the bar. At this time you will need to flex your ankles, knees, and hips into a half-squat position as your feet return to the floor slightly wider than when you started. The bar should be caught in line with the anterior deltoids. Be sure that your torso is in a flat-back position when you catch the bar. After you catch the bar, stand up by extending your hips and knees.
DOWNWARD MOVEMENT (FINISH)
Return the barbell to the floor by flexing your knees and hips and lowering the barbell to the thigh area. From here, continue to keep your back straight and lower the barbell by flexing your hips and knees, keeping the barbell close to your shins as you lower it to the floor.
Power clean: Exercise demonstration video
Need help perfecting the power clean? These two video clips will answer all your questions!
Major muscles trained in power clean
The muscles trained in power cleans include most major muscle groups: the entire leg, hip, and back areas; buttocks (gluteals); front of the thigh (quadriceps); back of the thigh (hamstrings); lower back (back erectors); upper back (back erectors, trapezius, rhomboids); shoulder area (deltoids); wrist and finger flexors (palm side of forearm); and front of the upper arm (biceps).
Common technique errors for power cleans
Here are common technique errors when performing power clean exercise.
- Failing to assume a correct start position, most commonly having the shoulders in back of the barbell or the barbell too far in front of the lifter instead of above the balls of the feet.
- Having the weight on the toes and not over the mid-foot and heel areas in the start position.
- Assuming an upright position too early in the lifting motion, resulting in the barbell hitting or rubbing excessively against the thighs.
- Not rotating the elbows underneath and then to a position in front of the barbell when catching the barbell at shoulder height.
- Not performing power cleans at a relatively fast velocity.
Spotting and safety tips for power cleans
- No spotting is normally needed; if the lifter cannot complete the lift he returns the barbell to the floor.
- Bumper plates (rubber-coated weight plates) should be used to prevent damage to the floor.
- Perform power cleans on a lifting platform to help prevent damage to the floor.
- As in all lifts, technique is the name of the game. At first glance, the power clean looks like you just rapidly pull a huge weight. However, most pulls are initiated by the legs, and in the case of the power clean, the arms should remain locked during the initial pull, making this truly a hip-dominant exercise. In fact, if the arms and trapezius are too involved in the lift, the benefit of this lift for athletic performance transfer is lost.
- This exercise is very complex and can be very dangerous. Begin learning the technique with a very light bar and no weights; you can even use a broomstick. Do not add weight to the movement until the technique is mastered.
There are many ways power cleans can be performed. You can perform power clean dynamic lift using a kettlebell or a dumbbell with one arm at a time following the same procedures. The unbalanced nature of the single-arm variation recruits more of the core and shoulder stabilizers.
The power clean is one of the most common explosive lifts for improving sports performance and many credit this lift with their sports successes. It targets your gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, soleus, gastrocnemius, deltoids, trapezius, and more.
Power cleans teach the body to recruit hip and leg musculature as rapidly as possible to generate enough force to overcome the bar’s inertia. The faster and greater you can apply that force, the faster and stronger you will become. But not because you can lift the weight, rather because you can call the specific muscles involved in hip and knee extension to fire rapidly. Thus, the power clean is a recruitment tool for hip explosion. When looked at that way, you can see its value in building jumping power and driving power in the leg.