Power cleans may sound like an industrial-strength dishwasher fluid, but they’re actually one of the most effective full body lifts anyone can learn:
What NOT to Do
Power cleans are ideal for those involved in competitive sports, yet many athletes struggle with the lift, as seen below:
Poor form and execution eliminate the benefits of power cleans. The technical demands of the lift require more practice than simple bench presses, preacher curls, or even barbell squats.
We’ll break down each phase of movement, step-by-step:
Phase 1 – The First Pull:
- Stand behind barbell.
- Keep feet parallel, at hip width, while your shins touch the bar.
- Keep your arms straight.
- Keep your lower back in a natural arch.
- Slightly bend your knees and lean forward.
- Push your hips back, and take a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width overhand grip on the bar.
Lift your chest while looking straight ahead.
Lower your hips to slightly below shoulder level.
- Keep your elbows locked.
- Shift your weight onto your heels.
- Keep the weight close to your body while pushing your knees back.
- Raise your chest and drive your hips forward.
- Lift the bar from the floor to just above your knees.
Phase 2 – The Transition
- Keep looking forward, while your lower back remains in its natural arch.
- Keep your arms straight and your shoulders directly over the bar.
- Keep pulling the bar upward until it’s at your mid-thigh.
- With your weight on your heels, set up to explode off the ground.
- Extend your hips.
Phase 3 – The Second Pull
- Explode forward and upward with your hips.
- Straighten your knees.
- Extend your ankles, emulating a jump.
- As the bar gains upward momentum, explosively shrug your shoulders while keeping your arms straight.
- Bend and raise your elbows upward to your ears.
- Keep the bar close to your body.
- You shouldn’t be lifting with your armsthey should be acting as anchors.
Phase 4 – The Catch
- Once you’re fully extended, pull your body underneath the bar.
- Keep looking forward while landing in a quarter-half squat.
- While squatting underneath the bar, rotate your elbows under the bar.
- Loosen your grip as your wrists turn upward.
- Catch the weight on the front of your shoulders.
- After you’ve caught the bar, complete the quarter-half squat.
The Benefits of Power Cleans
Since the power clean is akin to a super-deadlift, it strengthens your posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, calves, lower, and upper back.
It’s a full body workout that adds muscle density and functional strength from head-to-toe, including superior grip strength. In fact, by hitting nearly 200 muscles, your body undergoes an anabolic surge that drives muscle growth and promotes fat burning. Be sure to learn proper form and to ramp up gradually.
Power cleans also activate your central nervous system, increasing your muscle fiber recruitment, because it triggers high threshold muscle fibers, which assist in explosiveness.
Athletes who rely on split-second acceleration such as sprinters, football players, and rugby players benefit significantly from the power clean.
Also, athletes who need to generate immense force in one swift full body movement, such as golfers and baseball players (pitchers and hitters), reap the rewards of this full body lift.
A Final Caution
If you’ve never performed the power clean, we must stress the importance of starting slow and light. You need to develop the flexibility in your elbows and wrists, while learning the complicated muscle engram pattern throughout the rest of your body.
We suggest practicing with a broom or thin PVC pipe. Once you’ve graduated from that, move onto the bar without any weight.
Only when you’re able to fluidly complete the movement with correct form, should you graduate onto bigger lifts.