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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