With Crossfit taking over the world, the Power Clean (and other Olympic Lifts) have gained a lot of popularity in the last years. There are still a few questions and misconception revolving around the Power Clean, but once you understand the lift, it’s a pretty straightforward and rewarding exercise.
What are Power Cleans
Power cleans, Hang Power Cleans, Hang Cleans and other derivatives of the Clean are training exercises used in Olympic Weightlifting. The sports Olympic Weightlifting has two competitive exercises, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. In order to train these lifts, Olympic weightlifters use a variety of additional exercises in their training. The Power Clean is one of those training exercises to train the Clean.
What is the difference between a Power Clean and a Clean
The difference between a Clean and a Power Clean refers to the catch position, the clean is caught in a full squat, whereas the Power Clean is caught in a higher position, generally at a knee angle of 60 degrees (for most athletes a 60 degree knee angle is where the upper thigh is parallel with the ground).
The video below shows the difference clearly, the first 2 impressions are a Power Clean, the 3rd impression is a Clean (catching in a much deeper position)
What is the difference between a Power Clean and a Hang Clean
This is a really good question and strictly speaking, most people get it wrong by comparing Power Clean vs Hang Clean. As described above, the difference between a Power Clean and a Clean refers to the depth of the catch position. The Hang (you might find Hang Clean, Hang Power Clean, Hang Snatch, etc) refers to the start position and means the exercise starts from the hang and not from the ground. The athlete holds the bar in the so-called hang and the position of the hang can also vary. I personally use
- Hang from the hip
- Hang from mid-thigh
- Hang from above the knee
- Hang from below the knee
- Hang from mid-shin (this only applies for taller athlete, smaller athletes have the bar at mid-shin, when they start off the ground)
The take-away message, a both exercises (Power Clean and Hang Clean) are training exercises of the Clean, the Power Clean refers to a modification in catch position, the Hang Clean refers to a modification in the start position.
Power Clean vs Hang Power Clean: What is the difference between a Power Clean and a Hang Power Clean
The video below shows the difference between the Power Clean and Hang Power Clean.
You can clearly see, that during the Power Clean the start position is on the ground, whilst the start position of the Hang Power Clean is in the ‘air’ / hanging in front of the body.
Why Power Clean
Power Cleans have made their way into Strength & Conditioning (physical preparation, athletic development, however, someone wants to name it…), because they are easier to learn and execute than a full Clean. The full squat position (less than 60-degree knee angle) seems to be very difficult for most athletes if they haven’t trained the full squat position.
Without getting too far off track here, but it is actually an interesting topic, that we humans do use the full squat position as we are young kids, but tend to lose the ability to get into that position once we get older.
Anyway, back to the topic of Power Clean benefits over a full Clean. The Power Clean is easier to learn and execute than the full Clean.
Concluding, Power Cleans are derived from the Olympic Weightlifting competitive exercise Clean and Jerk and used as a performance enhancement exercise for professional athletes. Power Cleans are one of the best exercises to develop and enhance strength, power, and speed.
What Power Cleans do for you
Power Cleans offer a variety of benefits and going into detail would go far beyond the scope of this article.
I personally look at three levels or categories, movement or movement pattern, physiological and psychological. Here is a breakdown of how Power Cleans work for professional athletes on each level:
- Movement Level. Basically, the Power Clean covers more fundamental movements and primal movements in one exercise than most other exercises. Essentially it teaches the so-called triple extension (extension of hip, knee, and ankle), which is a ‘thing’ that happens in most sports that involve running, jumping, throwing, kicking,… (the list could go on and on) But it doesn’t only teach the extension, it also trains and teaches landing and the absorption of forces when catching the bar (the technical term is called ‘eccentric control’). This is the benefit of a Power Clean over a Clean Pull or High Pull, where the Clean Pull or High Pull only work on the force production, the Power Clean and its’ derivative work on force production and force absorption.
- Physiological level. All sports and competitive sports require an application of force in the minimum possible time to deliver the maximum output (you can find further details in the article The 101 of Power Training). Power Cleans train the athlete’s ability to apply force in the shortest possible time to overcome the resistance (which is required for running, sprinting, jumping, kicking or throwing). As discussed above, the Power Clean doesn’t only teach and train force production, it also teaches and trains force absorption, this force absorption is related to increase muscle stiffness (stiffness is a good thing, a stiffer muscle can produce higher forces) and there is evidence that it also leads to a shift in muscle fiber types (from slow to fast).
- Psychological Level. In my opinion, this is an often overlooked aspect, the Power Clean offers a unique challenge to the psychology or mental application. The Power Clean requires you to lift a relatively heavy weight fast but also requires you to get under that relatively heavy weight quickly to receive and catch the weight. This requires full commitment and once the athlete steps on the platform to grab the weight, the athlete knows that there is no turning back. In the german scientific literature, there are two terms, which I couldn’t find in the English literature so far
- Willensspannkraft: the mental ability or psychological ability to last and sustain efforts for a long(er) duration. A marathon or a triathlon are perfect examples for that ability.
- Willensstosskraft: the mental ability or psychological ability to exert the highest possible effort in the shortest period of time. Or if you imagine the mental ability or psychological ability as an increase over time, it would be the steepest increase. Olympic Weightlifting, Shot Put in track and field are perfect examples of this ability, where once the athlete initiates the movement, there’s not much time to build something up gradually.
The Power Clean, therefore, would teach, train and challenge the Willensstosskraft and from my experience, I have seen people grow (mentally) over time, because of exactly this challenge!
This video is a good example of full commitment
How to do a Power Clean
A detailed description of the phases of the Power Clean in the article How to do a Power Clean a quick video tutorial from minute 2:22 to 5:34.
Looking at the Power Clean form or Power Clean technique, the Power Clean can be divided into different phases. Depending on author you might find slight variations in naming the phases, but essentially they are all very similar.
Phase 1, the first pull, the weight is lifted from the ground until below the knees
Phase 2, the transition, the weight has to get passed the knees
Phase 3, the second pull, the weight is maximally accelerated upwards
Phase 4, the catch, dropping or pulling yourself under the bar to receive it and rack it on the shoulders
Phase 5, the recovery, after the weight is caught and controlled, the athlete stands up to complete the lift
How much should I Power Clean?
A very common question athletes have, is ‘How much should I be able to Power Clean?’ and my answer is pretty much always the same ‘As much as possible as you can with proper technical execution.’ In my opinion technical mastery always comes first! Technical mastery is important for a couple of reasons
- Safety, the Power Clean is a safe lift, if you know how to do a Power Clean. If you don’t know how to Power Clean, it’s potentially dangerous, as much as it is dangerous to drive a car, if you don’t know how to drive (once you know how to drive it’s in most cases fairly safe)
- Progression and advancement in the Power Clean is in most cases limited by technical flaws, rather than strength (remember I am talking about athletes that use the Olympic Lifts to enhance their sport performance, not about Olympic Weightlifters). Therefore technical mastery is imperative.
- Muscle activation and kinetic chain, as we are using the Power Clean to improve sport performance, our main goal is to train certain movement patterns (such as the triple extension as it occurs in most sports), in order to have the highest carry-over to the sport performance technical mastery is required to replicate that recruitment or muscle activation order with the Power Clean as it occurs in the sport. Let me explain, generally speaking muscle activation and recruitment order occurs from proximal to distal, the inside to the outside of the body (e.g the hip extends before the knees and the knees extend before the ankle in the lower body, we can see the same pattern in the upper body, hip before trunk, trunk before shoulders and arms). You can see the exact same recruitment or muscle activation order in the Power Clean (if executed technically correctly).
I know you are waiting for some quantifiable numbers, so here we go
|Achievable||0.7 – 0.8 times bodyweight||bodyweight|
|Good||0.8 – 1 time bodyweight||1.2 – 1.5 times bodyweight|
|Very good||1 – 1.2 times bodyweight||1.5 – 1.8 times bodyweight|
|Excellent||More than 1.2 times bodyweight||More than 1.8 times bodyweight|
Please treat these numbers with care, they are not written in stone and depend on various factors, such as training age, training status, individual differences (yes, some people just can’t make the same improvements in strength as others).
Again, focus on technical mastery and the weight you can lift will follow automatically!
Power Clean Conclusions
The Power Clean is a derivative from the Olympic Weightlifting exercise the Clean and offers a variety of benefits to enhance sport performance (if executed correctly).
Those benefits are in short
- Enhancing power production
- Teaching and training force production (during the phase of the 2nd pull) and force absorption (during the phase of the catch)
- Teaching and training the kinematic chain and triple extension
- Improving Willensstosskraft
In order to have these benefits, technical mastery of the Power Clean is an absolute necessity.
More information about Power Cleans
or the Power Clean video library