From an athlete’s and coach’s standpoint the Power Clean can be highly rewarding. Once the athletes are becoming stronger and more explosive, you can see their confidence grow as soon as they are lifting heavier and heavier loads.
Why Power Cleans
Power Cleans are one of the best exercises if you want to become more explosive, so if you are involved in any sport that requires explosivity like running, jumping, throwing or kicking the Power Clean can help.
Once you learned and consolidated the Power Clean technique, you can start to train the Power Clean. Once you start training the Power Clean, I have seen over and over again, how the Power Clean improves movement efficiency.
Have you heard of the kinematic chain?
The kinematic chain is a biomechanical principle, that simply states that forces get transferred from one part of the body to the next part of the body. And the forces are transferred from the inside (for example, hip and trunk) to the outside(for example, hip and trunk). The simple reason behind that is, that the most powerful muscle groups are in the center of the body and the further the muscle groups are away from the body, the less powerful they are.
The Power Clean can improve movement efficiency through effective use of the kinematic chain, where the forces are transferred from the from the center of the body to the outside of the body (or from the proximal portions of the body to the distal portions of the body to use the anatomical terms).
Have look at this video, it shows exactly what I mean. You can really see, how the extension of the hip, knee and ankle, also known as the triple extension, drive the weight up.
Why are Power Cleans important
Power Cleans can make you more powerful. Once you have mastered the Power Clean technique and you are able to load up on that exercise it really makes you more powerful. I have outlined a few benchmarks from my experience in the article The Ultimate Guide to Power Cleans
What does more powerful mean?
The definition of power and the formula of power is force multiplied by velocity (a more detailed outline in the article The 101 of Power Training for Beginners), so what the Power Clean basically does is, it works on both variables of the power equation (force and velocity).
As soon as you are technically skilled and dominate the Power Clean technique, you will be able to lift quite a bit of weight. In order to succeed at the Power Clean, you have to lift the weight fast and you have to get under the weight fast. If you lift it slowly, there is no way you are going to make it.
This brings us to the next point, Power Cleans do not only teach you how to produce force and power it also teaches you how to absorb forces. The ability to absorb forces is very important for sports where athletes land and have to decelerate.
Have a look at this video, how well he gets quickly under the bar and is able to decelerate and control the weight.
More fast-twitch fibers through Power Cleans?
It is debated that this phase of catching the bar and decelerating the bar, leads to a shift in muscle fiber type towards more fast-twitch type fibers. Logically it makes a lot of sense, that if you catch a heavy weight and have to absorb and decelerate the force rapidly, that you have to rely on the high threshold motor units or fast twitch fibers.
What Do Power Cleans Train
First and foremost this depends very much on the loading pattern and the set and rep scheme you chose for the Power Clean.
Due to the high technical demand of the Power Clean, it is advisable to limit the repetitions to 5 or less. In the most cases, I use 2 reps, in some cases 3 reps and very rarely 4 or 5 reps. With my more advanced athletes, I use 1 rep. The reason for the low rep range is, that the Power Clean is technically very demanding the more repetitions you do, you will see that the Power Clean technique is breaking down.
With regards to the loading pattern, in most cases, I use between 85% and 95% of the 1RM. On variations of the Power Clean, for example, the Hang Power Clean or Hang Clean, where the range is shorter, we use less than 85% of the 1RM.
In this video, you can see an example of the Hang Power Clean from above the knee in the first repetition
The same is true for variations of the Power Clean or Clean from the blocks.
With this loading pattern and rep range I just mentioned, we can now look at the different levels the Power Clean trains.
Neurologically, the Power Clean trains the recruitment of motor units.
Recruitment of motor units means how many motor units can be activated. The closer the load is to the 1RM, the more motor units are activated. More information about the mechanisms of neuromuscular activation in this article A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
Metabolically, the Power Clean trains the Phosphagen system or ATP-CP system.
The phosphagen system or ATP-CP system supplies a high amount of energy but lasts only a few seconds (a maximum of around 6 seconds).
Technically, the Power Clean trains the triple extension and triple flexion. Technically the Power Clean is quite unique since it teaches two fundamental movements in one exercise. The Power Clean teaches the bending pattern or hip hinge during the first pull, transition and second pull and the squatting pattern during the catch and the recovery phase (more about the phases of the Power Clean in the article The Ultimate Guide to Power Cleans or How to do a Power Clean).
Muscularly, the Power Clean trains different muscle chains.
Usually, I do not think too much of isolated muscles, but the question ‘What muscles does the Power Clean train?’ comes back frequently.
So, here we go…
During the first pull and transition, the Power Clean activates heavily the posterior chain, hamstring, glutes and lower back. During the second pull, catch and recovery the Power Clean activate parts of the posterior chain and the anterior chain, mainly the quads.
Psychologically, the Power Clean trains the ability to ‘go at it’.
What does that mean?
The psychological aspect on the Power Clean is often overlooked, but the Power Clean requires like no other exercise the ability to exert a high voluntary effort within the shortest period of time.
From the moment you initiate the lift you have to commit to fully go at it and the more often you do that successfully in training the more it will train this ability to go at it, which can be quite important in a lot of sports.
The Power Cleans is just one of these exercises, where you either make it or you don’t make it. If you make it, it is fun and highly rewarding, if you don’t make it, it can be very frustrating.
This video is a good example for a high voluntary effort and commitment, you can see there is not a fraction of a doubt to commit to getting under the bar.
How often should I do Power Cleans
How often should you do Power Cleans depends very much on your goal. I assume you are not an Olympic Weightlifter and you are not training to compete in the Olympic Weightlifting discipline, right?
In my opinion, the Power Clean is a mean to an end and not the end in itself.
The Power Clean is just one exercise you use in your training to achieve a certain goal. The way we use Power Cleans is to mainly develop Strength and Power and in consequence, we use high loading (more than 85% of the 1RM). This type of training has a high impact on the nervous system and requires sufficient rest for the nervous system to recover from these intensities. For this reason, we use the Power Clean in 2 to maximum 3 training sessions a week.
If you are interested in learning the Power Clean technique, the loading won’t be that high and you are able to do more strength training session, where you include the Power Clean.
We do that with our younger athletes, that join our development program and the goal is to learn how to strength train before they actually strength train. In order to work on the Power Clean technique and consolidate the Power Clean technique, so that they can master the Power Clean in a safe way at a later point, we train the Power Clean 4 to 5 times a week with low loads, such as a broomstick or technique bar (5 kg load).
Power Clean Conclusions
The Power Clean can be a highly rewarding exercise, as it offers multiple benefits for the athlete and everyone who is ambitiously lifting weights.
The Power Clean teaches to express strength and power during the first part of the movement but also teaches to absorb forces, while decelerating the bar in the second part of the movement.
The Power Clean can be very frustrating at times, but if you stick to it, it will be worth the effort.
I have seen a lot of athletes growing physically and mentally over the years and the Power Clean had its’ contribution.
More information about Power Cleans
or the Power Clean video library