the joy of strength training


January 9th, 2014 at 10:11 am

How to power clean

The power clean is one of the best movements you can do for power, strength and explosiveness. It’s a bit of a challenge to learn – but it’s no fun if everything comes easy, right?

The difference between a power clean and a clean is that in the power clean the bar is caught with the hips above parallel – in other words, in a high squat position rather than a low squat position.

Some people, including trainers, shy away from teaching movements like the power clean as they think they take too long to learn, but if you’ve got a clear, systematic teaching method, it’s possible to learn the movement much quicker than you think. In fact, in this video I cover it all in less than 5 minutes!

I have a number of different drills that I use when teaching the olympic lifts but the ones in this video, which I have adapted from those of US Weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, are the quickest way that I know to get someone power cleaning correctly, i.e. like a weightlifter would.

Three tips for the power clean

I made this video a couple of years ago while working at Ultimate Performance. The English Lit grad in me would like you to know that I am not responsible for the captions!

Anyway, in the video I tackle some common issues and errors that I see when people are first trying to learn the power clean, including:

  • Land in a quarter squat position – most people land too high, i.e. their legs aren’t bent enough
  • Drive elbows through fast and high – this is the key to a secure receiving position. I also suggest a stretch if you have flexibility problems getting into this position
  • Drive hips into the bar – most people try to go under the bar too early. You need to extend up tall (make yourself as tall as possible) before squatting down.

Using the power clean in training

The power clean is a power exercise which means it uses explosive strength – producing the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. (Confusingly, the ‘power’ in the name doesn’t refer to the type of strength but to the receiving position. A full clean would in fact generate more power.)

It is utilised by athletes who requires explosive qualities, from sprinters and throwers to MMA fighters.

Power exercises are usually done first in a strength programme since they require the most amount of force production and train the biggest, strongest muscle fibres – which are also the fastest to fatigue.

Power exercises are usually done in the 1-5 rep range for the same  reason; fatigue sets in quickly and there is a big drop off in force production.

It is possible to perform high reps in the power clean – this is often done in Crossfit – but the athlete needs to be conditioned to do this, with good form and no drop off in power. Often what happens is that after the first few reps, technique breaks down considerably and the athlete is no longer getting the power/technical benefit from the exercise, although they are probably getting a big cardiovascular hit!

For those new to the power clean, I would stick them in at the start of your routine at least twice a week, use the drills in my video as a warm up and then do 5-6 sets of 3-5 reps.

If you are using power cleans for fitness and/or you need the practise, go for the higher end of the rep range. If you want the explosive power, stick with 3 reps or fewer.

Barbell complexes for conditioning

Power cleans open the door to barbell complexes as they allow you to get the bar from floor to shoulders, providing a smooth transition between, say, a deadlift and a push press. Barbell complexes are awesome for conditioning (fitness) and you can also get stronger with complexes. A commonly-used combination is:

  • Deadlift/romanian deadlift
  • Power clean
  • Front squat
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Perform anything from 3-8 reps of each exercise, transitioning with no rest between each exercise. Complete 5 or more rounds (with or without rest in between) and you will be in pieces (in a good way)!

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  • 1

    Cooorrr the captions are atrocious. I don’t think they even got one right! Nice teaching though. 🙂

    ariane on January 12th, 2014
  • 2

    Something not right with the videos… it may just be me, but they won’t play.

    Garage Gyms on January 18th, 2014
  • 3

    Hi there, not sure why that would be, they play ok for me. Could you try a different browser perhaps?

    gubernatrix on January 20th, 2014
  • 4

    I’ve been spending the last few days reading about strength training. It’s interesting to see how there are so many approaches to it.
    For example, the Romanian deadlift – which I was surprised to find out is a form of an “isolation deadlift”. According to an article at movementfirst they argue that while it’s ok to do it, it defeats the purpose of the deadlift as a functional exercise by isolating the hamstrings. I wonder if the power-clean has any isolation in it as well.

    Deadlift on February 12th, 2014
  • 5

    Hello “Deadlift”, I’m wondering whether this is a genuine discussion point or whether you are just trying to promote your website.

    The romanian deadlift doesn’t ‘defeat the purpose’ of the deadlift, it’s simply a different exercise. It does indeed work the hamstrings primarily but it’s not an isolation exercise. It works the back muscles (particularly spinal erectors and lats) very hard isometrically. If you are keeping the bar close to your body when you do RDL, you will really feel it in your lats the next day!

    I would also argue that it is ‘functional’ for various athletes, including olympic weightlifters. I’m a weightlifter and RDLs are a staple of our training.

    gubernatrix on February 19th, 2014
  • 6

    second video states “the youtube account associated with this video is closed” for me.
    are you still at UP?

    eddie watts on March 19th, 2014
  • 7

    Love the videos and tips. The take home tip for me would be the landing tip. I feel this was the problem for me while doing the power clean, I don’t go down far enough. Thanks 🙂

    Marie on April 5th, 2014
  • 8

    Your tutorials are very helpful especially the videos. My friend has been slowly stacking up his room with weight equipments because he says going to the gym is very intimidating with those watchful eyes around but I think it is safer than doing all this training all by himself without anyone watching. Next time, I’ll bring him to a gym and enroll together. Better safe than sorry.

    Eating Healthy on April 6th, 2014
  • 9

    Thanks for providing such detailed instructions on the deadlift. Your article showed me a couple of ways to improve my technique.

    Victoria on April 25th, 2014
  • 10

    great tips gubernatrix. thanks for teaching olympic lifting, they are really useful. goodluck! on May 10th, 2014
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  • 14

    really a very helpful guide,,,, specially the videos

    Sofia on January 24th, 2015
  • 15

    I have a few clients that will most definitely benefit from watching your video. Going to email them with a link to your site and tell them to watch how its done correctly.

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    Brilliant video and dispels the myth that lifting makes girls look masculine, brilliant!!

    David on June 3rd, 2015
  • 17

    Nice post. I agree with the low rep range. I see to many programmes using power cleans as endurance exercises. I find when the smaller muscles fail technique quickly follows.

    Richard on January 11th, 2016
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