The power clean is an explosive whole body movement used by weightlifters and athletes to develop strength and power.
While it began as an essential Olympic weightlifting movement, the power clean has become a staple in the training programs of team athletes and people who practice CrossFit.
This movement is broken down into several phases and requires a good deal of technique to perform properly.
In this article, we’ll review the power clean, including how to perform it, a few variations, its benefits, the muscles worked, and several common mistakes people make when doing this exercise.
The power clean is a technical movement that requires the coordination of several of your body’s major muscle groups.
The term “power,” in this context, means that the bar is caught in a partial squat, or power position.
Before adding weights to the bar, beginners will benefit from practicing the movement with an empty barbell or section of PVC pipe to make sure they are using proper form and avoid getting injured.
For best results, consider consulting a certified trainer, if you have access to one. They can walk you through the movement and help critique your technique.
To best explain how the power clean is performed, it can be broken down into six phases, as follows.
The 6 phases of the power clean
1. Starting position
Before initiating the first part of the movement, proper setup is key:
- With the barbell just in front of your shins, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, with your toes pointed slightly outward. This allows your knees to track directly over your feet.
- Squat down and grasp the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width and your hands facing your legs.
- Your arms should be just outside your knees and fully extended, with your shoulders just slightly in front of the bar.
2. First pull
- While maintaining a natural curve in the spine and strong torso, forcefully extend your hips and knees to drive the bar off the floor, keeping the bar close to your body. Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate.
- Keep your arms extended, heels on the ground, and shoulders slightly in front of the bar as the bar travels upward.
- The weight should be distributed throughout your entire foot.
3. Transition (scoop)
- As the bar rises above your knees, thrust your hips forward, bending your knees slightly and shifting your weight toward the front of your feet, to move your thighs against the bar.
- This sets you up for a powerful second pull.
4. Second pull (power)
- As the bar comes off of your thighs, explosively extend your hips, knees, and ankles. Keep the bar close to your torso.
- As your hips, knees, and ankles extend, rapidly shrug your shoulders and flex your elbows to pull your arms and body under the bar.
- Drop into a partial squat position, keeping your torso strong and erect.
- As your body comes under the bar, your arms and hands should rotate around and under the bar to create a shelf — hands facing upward, elbows fully flexed, and upper arms parallel to the floor.
- After gaining control and balance, stand up tall, with the bar in the catch position on your shoulders and clavicle.
6. The return
- When you’ve completed the rep, rotate your hands back around the bar to remove it from your shoulders and clavicle. Gradually lower the bar back down to your thighs.
- Simultaneously flex your hips and knees to lower the bar back down to the floor.
- Set up the bar for the next rep.
The power clean is a complex movement that takes time and practice to learn. For best results, you may want to consult a certified trainer to walk you through the six phases and critique your form.
Due to its unique movement pattern and whole body muscle recruitment, the power clean can provide several potential benefits when incorporated into your training program.
Creates explosive power development
The power clean is well known for its ability to help athletes improve their explosiveness and power development.
This is why strength and conditioning coaches use the power clean as training for sports such as football, baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer.
A 2019 study in 20 active males found that adding in the power clean as a part of a 10-week training intervention resulted in significant improvements in markers of power development (
In particular, the less experienced participants had greater improvements in the rate of force development, which is a measure of explosive strength.
Incorporating the power clean into your strength and conditioning regimen may boost your power development and sport performance, especially if you are new to training.
Can improve body composition
Another desirable benefit of performing the power clean is that it can provide body composition improvements.
High intensity resistance exercises like the power clean can stimulate muscle growth and fat loss (
In fact, a 2021 review study found that performing regular resistance training can reduce body fat percentage and body fat mass in healthy adults (
Based on these findings, including the power clean as a part of a well-balanced training program may yield great improvements in muscle mass and body fat percentage.
Can help improve coordination
Considering that the power clean is a highly technical movement that takes a good deal of skill to complete, including it in your training regimen may improve your overall muscle coordination.
They found that the weightlifters exhibited significantly better muscle coordination while performing the exercise than the unexperienced participants.
This suggests that becoming competent at the power clean may indicate improvements in muscular coordination during exercise, which may carry over into athletics and activities of daily life.
The power clean is a challenging movement that comes with several potential benefits, such as boosting explosive power development, enhancing body composition, and improving overall coordination.
While the power clean is one of the more common clean variations, there are a few other alternatives that you should be aware of.
The hang clean is quite similar to the power clean, though there are a few factors that differentiate the two.
First off, instead of starting from the floor, the movement is initiated from the hang position.
This means that you lift the bar from the floor before starting the movement and hold it in front of your mid-upper thighs, with your arms hanging straight.
From there, you lower the bar slightly to start the movement and develop momentum.
The transition (scoop) and second pull phases are identical to the power clean. However, the other step that differs between the hang and power clean is the catch portion.
The power clean is caught in a partial squat, whereas the hang clean is caught in a full front squat.
Clean and press
For those who have become good at the power clean and are looking to increase the intensity of the movement, a suitable progression would be the clean and press.
For this exercise, instead of lowering the bar back down after the catch portion, you’ll dip your legs slightly, drive your hips forward, and press the bar overhead.
The clean and press requires an additional level of strength, coordination, and stability to perform correctly.
By incorporating a pressing movement into the exercise, you’ll add an additional upper body strength component, which transfers well to a number of sports.
Clean and jerk
The clean and jerk is one of the two competition movements performed in Olympic weightlifting. The other one is the snatch.
The clean and jerk also includes an overhead portion, but instead of pressing the barbell overhead, you’ll dip your hips slightly and explosively power the barbell up in the air.
In the clean and press, you press the bar overhead in a slow and steady manner, but in the clean and jerk, you swiftly jerk it overhead instead.
Another differing factor is the catch portion of the clean and jerk.
Most often, the bar is caught in a full squat in this exercise. During the clean and press, on the other hand, most people catch the bar in a power, or partial squat, position.
You can add this fundamental Olympic weightlifting movement to most strength and conditioning programs.
That said, athletes and coaches often opt for the clean and press because it’s slightly easier to perform and may have better carryover to some sports.
The power clean is among the most common clean variations of the exercise, though some other popular ones include the hang clean, the clean and press, and the clean and jerk.
Considering that the power clean is a complex movement that requires a good deal of skill and technique to complete, there is quite a bit of room for error.
The best way to avoid mistakes and injury is to start with little to no weight and focus on dialing in your technique before adding weight to the bar.
Here are the top mistakes that people often make when learning the power clean.
Hyperextending the lower back
While performing the power clean, it’s important to keep an erect torso and maintain a natural curve in your spine.
A common error that some people make during the first pull portion of the power clean is hyperextending their lower back.
Hyperextension refers to extending your back beyond a neutral spine.
Over time, as you add weight to the power clean, this could increase the potential for injury.
Pulling the bar off the ground too fast
While the goal of the power clean is to move the bar quickly and promote improved power development, proper positioning is very important.
Sometimes people tend to pull the bar from the ground too fast, resulting in a breakdown of positioning. For example, it might cause them to shift forward or backward.
Similar to hyperextending the low back, this could lead to injury in the long run when the weights get heavier.
To avoid this, gradually increase the load on the bar while prioritizing technique over the total amount of weight lifted.
Letting the bar travel away from the body
Yet another common error when performing the power clean is letting the bar get too far away from your body during the pulling portion.
Ideally, you’ll want to keep the bar as close as possible to your body while it travels up your shins and thighs. This will maximize the efficiency of the movement.
Letting the bar get too far away from your body requires you to work harder to stay in position. This, in turn, impacts the amount of weight you can lift and the efficiency of the movement.
Supporting the weight with your arms
During the catch portion of the power clean, a common error is holding too much of the weight with your arms.
Your arms are just there to stabilize the weight while your hands, clavicle, and shoulder muscles create a shelf for the barbell to rest on.
Often this error is due to a lack of wrist mobility or allowing your knees to get too far forward.
By practicing the power clean with a PVC pipe or just the bar without weights, you’ll better be able to perfect your form. This will also help improve your technique with heavier weights.
The power clean is a complex movement that requires a good deal of skill to complete. This creates a large potential for error. The most common errors are hyperextending the low back, pulling the bar too fast from the ground, letting the bar get too far from your body, and supporting too much of the weight with your arms.
The power clean is a whole body movement that stimulates many of the major muscle groups throughout the body.
These are the primary muscle groups worked while performing the power clean.
The hamstrings, located on the back of your thighs, are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. They play a major role during the pulling portion of the power clean to get the bar off the floor and up to the mid-thighs.
The gluteus maximus is mainly responsible for the extension of the hip joint during the power clean. It allows for the explosive extension of your hips at the end of the second pull, propelling the bar outward and upward into the catch position.
The gluteus medius and minimus are important stabilizers of the hip throughout the movement.
Your quadriceps, or quads, are responsible for knee extension. Their major role during the power clean is to absorb the force of the barbell during the catch portion and extend your knees to stand up tall with the added weight.
Your calves allow for flexion and extension of your foot at the ankle joint. During the power clean, the calves help plantar flex the foot to continue the momentum developed by thrusting your hips.
The large muscles of the back, such as the lats and traps, serve to keep your spine aligned during the power clean. They also provide pulling force to get the bar off the floor and into the catch position.
The biceps, located on the top of your upper arm, are responsible for elbow flexion. When you’re performing the power clean, they provide pulling strength and help flex the elbows to get the arms in position for the catch.
The muscles of your shoulders, also known as the deltoids, or delts, play a crucial role in creating a shelf and supporting the barbell during the catch portion of the power clean.
Your abdominal muscles work in conjunction with the muscles of the lower back to provide trunk support and keep the spine aligned throughout the movement.
The power clean is a high intensity, full body exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes, quads, calves, back, biceps, shoulders, and abdominals.
The power clean is a high intensity Olympic weightlifting movement often used by athletes, CrossFitters, Olympic weightlifters, and recreational gym-goers to develop whole body explosive strength and power.
Regularly performing the power clean comes with several potential benefits. The most significant benefits are:
- boosting explosive power development
- enhancing body composition
- improving overall coordination
The movement requires a good amount of skill and technique, so it’s important to start out with light weights to make sure you have the proper form and avoid injury.
Due to the complexity of the movement, some common lifting errors often emerge. Sticking with lower weights until your technique has matured can be especially helpful.
Seeking guidance from a certified training coach is highly recommended when getting started, if you have access to one.
If you are an athlete or exercise enthusiast looking to improve your whole body power development and coordination, adding the power clean to your training regimen may have great benefits.