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 misconceptions revolving around the Power Clean, but once you understand the lift, it’s a pretty straightforward and rewarding exercise.

This article claims to be an ultimate guide, so I want to answer the most common question revolving around the Power Clean

What are Power Cleans

The Clean is a part of one of the two competition lifts in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. The two competition lifts are 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.

The Power Clean is one of those training exercises and a so-called derivative of the competition lift the Clean and is used by Olympic Weightlifters as a training exercise to improve the Clean.

What are other derivatives and training exercises?

Other common derivatives and training exercises of the Clean are Hang Cleans, Hang Power Cleans, Clean Pull and a few more.

Before we get started, check out this Power Clean slow motion from track cyclist and Olympian 2016 Jeffrey Hoogland

Takeaway: The Power Clean is a training exercise that originates from the sport Olympic Weightlifting and is used to improve the competition lift Clean & Jerk.

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 and therefore also called ‘Squat Clean’, whereas the Power Clean is caught in a higher position.

Generally speaking, the Power Clean is caught 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 between Clean and Power Clean clearly, the first 2 impressions are a Power Clean, the 3rd impression is a Clean (catching in a much deeper position)

Takeaway: The difference between Clean and Power Clean is the catch position. The Clean is caught in a full squat position the Power Clean is caught in a position above parallel.

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. Often times you hear things like ‘No, we don’t do Power Cleans, we do Hang Cleans.’

But what is wrong with that?

In the paragraph above, I outlined, that 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

Now, the word ‘hang’ refers to the start position, and means the exercise starts from the hang and not from the ground (you might find Hang Clean, Hang Power Clean, Hang Snatch, etc).

The following video of BMX rider Kevin van den Groenendaal is a great demonstration, the first repetition is a Hang Clean, where he starts from the hang position and catches it as a full Clean, the second repetition is a Power Clean, where he starts from the ground and catches the bar above parallel. Check it out

So, back to the ‘hang’ in the Hang Clean or Hang Power Clean.

There are different hang positions, such as

  • 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)

For more detailed information, check out the tutorial ‘What is a Hang Power Clean

Takeaway: The Power Clean and the Hang Clean are both training exercises of the Clean. The difference between Hang Clean and Power Clean is, that the Power Clean refers to a modification in catch position (higher than the Clean) compared to the Clean, whilst the Hang Clean refers to a modification in the start position (from the hang, not from the ground) compared to the Clean.

Power Clean vs Hang Power Clean: What is the difference between a Power Clean and a Hang Power Clean

Now, that you understand, the terminology of ‘Power’ and ‘Hang’, you can probably figure out the difference between Power Clean vs 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.

Takeaway: The Power Clean and the Hang Power Clean are both training exercises of the Clean. Both exercises are a Power Clean, which means the catch position is higher than in a Clean. The Power Clean starts from the ground, whilst the Hang Power Clean starts from the ‘hang’.

Why Power Clean

Power Cleans have made their way into Strength & Conditioning (the physical preparation of athletes or athletic development) because they are easier to learn and execute than a full Clean. Whereas the Power Clean benefits are very similar to the benefits of the 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.

Check out the Power Clean slow motion of BMX rider and silver medallist at the Olympic Games 2016 Jelle van Gorkom, the close-up shows nicely the catch position above parallel

Takeaway: The Power Clean is easier to learn and execute than the Clean. The Power Clean benefits are similar to the Clean benefits and therefore the Power Clean is used as a training exercise for athletes to develop strength power and speed. 

Power Clean benefits: What Power Cleans do for you? What are the benefits of Power Cleans?

The benefits of Power Cleans are manifold. Especially for sports that require high levels of speed and power.

I personally look at four different angles, levels or categories.

1) technical or movement/movement pattern

2) neural or neuromuscular

3) metabolic or energy systems

4) psychological

Here is a breakdown of how Power Clean benefits based on the different categories

Benefits of Power Cleans #1 – Technical

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,

But it doesn’t only teach the extension, it also trains the so-called triple flexion or ‘eccentric control’, the absorption of forces, which has a high transfer to landing and decelerating.

What does that mean?

Imagine you land from a jump in Basketball, Volleyball, Football, whatever it might be, the better you can absorb the forces, the faster you are able to get in position for the next action. On the flip side imagine and athlete with very poor ability to absorb forces, it might take the athlete too long to get ready for the next action.

This is the benefit the Power Clean has over the 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.

Benefits of Power Cleans #2 – Neural

All sports require an application of force in the minimum possible time to deliver the maximum output.

What?

All sporting actions have a time limit, where force can be applied. I have outlined a few of these time limits in the article  The 101 of Power Training. As an example, during a sprint, the time the foot is on the ground is below than 100 ms (the better the athlete the lower the contact time), this means, you can only apply force during this time period. It doesn’t really matter what the maximum force is if it takes too long to achieve this maximum force.

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).

How can this be achieved?

In very simple words, the nervous system sends a signal from the brain to the muscle and tells the muscle to contract (or better produce force). This signal can determine

  • how many muscle fibers are activated, called rate of recruitment
  • how fast the muscle fibers are activated, called firing frequency
  • and how synchronized the muscle fibers are activated, called synchronization

For more details, please check Plyometrics benefits – Why is Plyometrics effective?

Whilst the strength lifts, such as squats and deadlifts improve the rate of recruitment, the Power Clean improves the firing frequency and the rate of recruitment.

The is one more Power Clean benefit, that is often discussed in this context of neuro-muscular activation and newer studies support this, that during the catch phase, where the bar is received and the athlete has to absorb the forces, this leads to a higher stiffness of the muscle-tendon complex and leads to a shift in muscle fiber types from intermediate fibers to fast twitch fibers.

Benefits of Power Cleans #3 – Metabolic

This Power Clean benefit isn’t that often discussed, however, the Power Clean targets the ATP-CP energy system or Phosphagen system, which leads energy up to 6 – 10 seconds.

The more often you train the Power Clean, the more you also train the efficiency and effectiveness of this energy system.

Great, but how does that help me?

If you are participating in a sport, that requires short high-intensity burst, you rely on your ATP-CP system. The better this energy system is trained, the better your performance during this high-intensity burst. Which means, you could either produce higher intensity bursts, or more high-intensity bursts.

Can I also target other energy systems with the Power Clean?

Yes, you can. You need to do more repetitions or spread out the repetition through Cluster sets. However, in order to do that you need to be highly proficient in the Power Clean technique to avoid technical breakdown.

Check out, how such a Cluster set could look. In this video track cyclist, Jeffrey Hoogland does 2 repetitions of the Power Clean followed by 20 seconds of rest, followed by another 2 Power Clean reps.

Want to read more about energy systems and how they apply to training? Check out the article 3 Steps to Develop your own Power Training Method.

Benefits of Power Cleans #4 – Psychological

In my opinion, this is an often overlooked Power Clean benefit and an often overlooked aspect in general.

The Olympic Lifts, including the Power Clean, offers a unique challenge to the psychology or mental application.

What the heck are you talking about?!

Let me explain.

The Power Clean not only 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.

The athlete needs to fully commit to the lift the moment the athlete initiates the lift. This is different to a Squat for example, where you can use the eccentric phase to get a feeling for how heavy the weight is.

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.

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 of BMX rider and double Olympian Twan van Gendt

Yes, I know, it’s a Clean and not a Power Clean. However, the focus is the high commitment and mental application.

Takeaway: The Power Clean benefits are manifold and include training and optimizing fundamental movement patterns, training the ability to produce force quickly and absorb force quickly, which is important for landing and changing direction. It maximizes the ATP-CP system for improved high-intensity bursts and it makes athletes more ‘gutsy’.

See, what others have to say about the benefits of Power Cleans

Power Clean technique: How to do Power Cleans

So, now after I outlined the Power Clean benefits, the next question is ‘How to do Power Cleans?’

Looking at the Power Clean form or Power Clean technique, the Power Clean can be divided into different technical phases. Depending on the author you might find slight variations in naming the phases of the Power Clean technique, but essentially they are all very similar.

Check out the following key points of the Power Clean technique. I have outlined the main key points, that you can spot from the side view and from the front view. As with most complex and technical strength exercises, a detailled analysis from at least 2 different view points, gives you more insights.

Start Position, bar rests on the ground

Side view
Front view
  • Bar over instep close to shins
  • Knees in front of bar
  • Hips higher than knees
  • Back flat / tight
  • Shoulders in front of bar
  • Hook or pronated grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Feet hip width apart
  • Knees aligned with feet
  • Hands grab the bar outside the legs
  • Arms straight
  • Chest up and out
  • Head straight, eyes focused straight ahead

Phase 1, the First Pull, the weight is lifted from the ground until below the knees

Side view
Front view
  • Feet flat on the floor
  • Bar moves straight up
  • Knees shift backward, making room for the bar to pass the knees
  • Hips and shoulders move together, back angle with ground remains constant
  • Shoulders remain in front of the bar
  • Feet hip width apart
  • Arms straight
  • Chest up and out

Phase 2, the Transition, the weight has to get passed the knees

Side view
Front view
  • Feet flat on the floor
  • Hips move forward
  • Knees move under the bar
  • Bar brushes / makes contact on mid-thigh
  • Shoulders in line with the bar
  • Torso upright
  • Feet remain hip-width apart
  • Arms  remain straight
  • Chest moves up

Phase 3, the Second Pull, the weight is maximally accelerated upwards

Side view
Front view
  • Explosive triple extension, extension of hip, knee & ankle
  • Arms straight
  • Shoulders shrugged
  • Bar close to body
  • Shoulders move behind the bar
  • Explosive triple extension, extension of hip, knee & ankle
  • Arms straight
  • Shoulders shrugged

Phase 4, the Catch, dropping or pulling yourself under the bar to receive it and rack it on the shoulders

Side view
Front view
  • Quick drop under the bar
  • Arms actively pull under the pbar
  • Elbows rotate around the bar
  • Actively breaking of the falling bar
  • Bar rests on deltoids
  • Feet move sideways and low to ground into a shoulder-width position
  • Knees and hips flexed
  • Bar rests on deltoids

Phase 5, the Recovery, after the weight is caught and controlled, the athlete stands up to complete the lift

Side view
Front view
  • Feet flat on ground
  • Back straight
  • Elbows up and high
  • Bar over mid foot
  • Feet shoulder width apart flat on the floor
  • Chest up
  • Head straight, eyes focused straight ahead

 

Please check out the video tutorial, which explains the different phases of the Power Clean from minute 2:22 to 5:34.

If you want to check out different sources explaining the Power Clean Technique, check out

Power Clean standards: 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 are in most cases limited by technical flaws, rather than strength (remember I am talking about athletes that use the Olympic Lifts to enhance their sports 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), 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

Women

Men

Achievable

0.7 – 0.8 times bodyweightbodyweight

Good

0.8 – 1 time bodyweight1.2 – 1.5 times bodyweight

Very good

1 – 1.2 times bodyweight1.5 – 1.8 times bodyweight

Excellent

More than 1.2 times bodyweightMore 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).

Check out some more Power Clean standards

Let me give you one advice: Focus on technical mastery and the weight you can lift will follow automatically!

Do you remember the Clean from Twan van Gendt earlier in this article? You can see it here again


Check out Twan van Gendt 6 years earlier

6 years younger, 95 kilos weaker and pretty crappy Power Clean technique, isn’t it?

I believe it has been partly my coaching, which has led to improvements, but even more Twan’s commitment and dedication to anything he does for his sport are unparalleled.

Takeaway: Treat Power Clean standards with care, focus on mastery of the Power Clean technique and the results will follow.

Power Clean muscles worked: What muscles do Power Clean work?

No discussion about Power Cleans is complete, without discussing what muscles does the Power Clean work?

The Power Clean requires a synchronized effort of different muscle groups in order to be executed successfully.

Important in the discussions about the muscular activation during the Power Clean, is to understand, that the different muscle groups can work as a prime mover, as well as a stabilizer.

What does that mean?

Very simple, just because there is no movement in a certain muscle or muscle group, does not mean they are not activated.

An example could be the muscles of the neck (mainly the trapezius, the upper part of the trapezius to be very precise). Even though the trapezius comes into play at the end of the second pull with a powerful shrug and at the beginning of the catch phase to assist the active pull under the bar, the trapezius is activated from the moment the Power Clean movement is initiated as a stabilizer.

If the trapezius wouldn’t be activated heavily, the upper body and shoulder girdle would collapse and would not allow transferring the forces from the body effectively onto the barbell.

The main Power Clean muscle groups are (listed from the bottom up, not by importance)

Calves

The Calf muscles consist of two main muscle groups, the Soleus and Gastrocnemius. The Soleus and Gastrocnemius are responsible to extend the ankle, hence lifting the heels of the ground.

The Calves are stabilizing the lower leg during the First Pull, Transition, Catch and Recovery and actively extend the ankle during the second pull, as the final link in the triple extension.

Hamstrings

The Hamstring has three main muscles, the semimembranosus, the semitendinosus and biceps femoris.

Whilst the semimembranosus, the semitendinosus only cross one joint, the biceps femoris crosses two joints. The main function of the Hamstrings is to flex the knee, as well as extending the hip.

The Hamstring is mainly active during the First Pull, Second Pull and Transition and assists during the Catch and Recovery phase.

Quadriceps

The Quadriceps are made out of four muscles, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, the vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris. Similar to the Hamstring, the three vastus muscles cross only one joint, the knee joint, whilst the rectus femoris crosses the knee joint and the hip joint and is therefore responsible for the knee extension, as well as hip flexion.

The Quadriceps are active during all phases of the Power Clean, the First Pull, Transition, Second Pull, Catch and Recovery.

As most Power Clean muscles involved mainly work concentrically or isometrically, the Quadriceps is one of the few muscles, that has to work hard eccentrically during the catch phase to absorb and break the downward forces.

Glutes

The gluteus maximus is the main muscles of the group of gluteal muscles and is responsible to extend the hip.

The glutes are mainly active during the Second Pull, Catch and Recovery phase and work as a stabilizer during the First Pull ad Transition phase.

The glutes also work eccentrically during the Catch phase.

Lower Back

The lower back and trunk is composed of many different muscles, the main muscle of the lower back is the Erector Spinae. The main function of the Erector Spinae is to extend the spine.

The lower back plays a crucial role during the Power Clean, as it has to work very hard isometrically throughout the entire movement to stabilize the trunk and allow and effective and efficient transfer of forces from the lower body to the upper body.

Back

The back is composed of so many muscles, that it would go beyond the scope of this article to outline all muscles including their functions.

One of the main Power Clean muscles of the back is the Latissimus Dorsi, which is activated isometrically to make sure the barbell stay close to the body during the First Pull, Transition and Second Pull.

Shoulders

The main muscle group of the shoulders is the Deltoids. The Deltoids have three different parts, the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid and the posterior deltoid.

One of the main functions of the deltoids is to elevate the arms.

The deltoids are mainly active at the end of the Second Pull and beginning of the Catch phase.

Neck

As outlined in the initial example, the main muscle of the neck is the trapezius.

One of the functions of the trapezius is to shrug the shoulders.

The powerful shoulder shrug is required at the end of the Second Pull and during the initiation of an active pulling under the bar during the beginning of the Catch phase.

During the First Pull, Transition and Recovery, the trapezius works as a stabilizer.

This outline is simplified, as there are many more muscles groups involved during the Power Clean.

First pull

Transition

Second pull

Catch

Recovery

Calves

StabilizerStabilizerPrime MoverStabilizerStabilizer

Hamstring

Prime MoverPrime MoverStabilizer StabilizerStabilizer

Quadriceps

Prime MoverPrime MoverPrime MoverStabilizerPrime Mover

Glutes

StabilizerStabilizerPrime MoverStabilizerPrime Mover

Lower Back

StabilizerStabilizerStabilizerStabilizerStabilizer

Back

StabilizerStabilizerStabilizerStabilizerStabilizer

Shoulders

StabilizerStabilizerPrime MoverPrime MoverStabilizer

Neck

StabilizerStabilizerPrime MoverPrime MoverStabilizer

This outline is a bit simplistic, however, it helps to make the muscular activation and muscles worked during the Power Clean a bit more visible.

Takeaway: The Power Clean is an explosive whole body movement, that activates almost every muscle in your body. The main muscles activated are the muscles of the Calves, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Glutes, Lower Back, Back Shoulder and Neck. Depending on the phase of the lift, these muscles either act as a stabilizer or a s a prime mover.

Power Clean workout: How to do a Power Clean workout

When designing a strength training program, there are different options to include the Power Clean into a strength training program.

The most common options are to include the Power Clean as one strength exercise, next to other strength exercises or to design one strength training workout around the Power Clean.

In this article, I want to focus on different Power Clean workouts with different training goals, such as strength, power and explosiveness, muscle building and technique development.

Power Clean workout for strength

A Power Clean workout plan to increase strength is characterized by high intensities, above 85% of the Power Clean 1RM and low repetitions, between 1 and 3 repetitions.

Such a Power Clean workout routine is also characterized by long rest periods between the sets, more than 3 minutes.

Power Clean workout for Power and Explosiveness

A Power Clean workout for Power and Explosiveness is characterized by slightly lower intensities than a Power Clean workout for strength.

The intensities of such a Power Clean workout plan are between 60 – 85% Power Clean 1 RM, with low repetitions, between 1 – 4 repetitions.

The speed of execution is the main focus of this training.

The rest periods of such a Power Clean workout routine are between 3 – 5 minutes, enough time for the ATP-CP system to replenish.

Important to note, the lower the intensity (60 – 75% 1 RM) you need to include variations, such as the Hang Power Clean or Power Clean from blocks. Otherwise, the weight will either fly up to the roof or athletes just use the minimal effort necessary to move the weight. This would defeat the whole purpose of focusing on the speed of execution.

By the way, very advanced competitive Olympic Weightlifters have the ability to modulate their force output, so that they can work with a maximum effort against submaximal loads. Consequently, these guys are the exception to the rule.

Power Clean workout for Muscle Building

If your goal is to build as much muscle mass as possible, the Power Clean isn’t the best exercise choice for you.

However, if you are in a sport that requires explosive efforts and you want to add some muscle mass to your body, there are ways to do that in your Power Clean workout routine.

Such a Power Clean workout for gaining muscle mass is characterized by intensities of 70 – 85% of the Power Clean 1 RM with a repetition range of 4 to 8 repetitions.

Since it is difficult to maintain proper Power Clean technique for more than 3 repetitions, you need to break these repetitions down into Cluster Sets, which means you could do 2 repetitions followed by 20 seconds rest, followed by 2 repetitions followed by 20 seconds rest, followed by 2 repetitions. This way, you have completed 6 repetitions.

The rest periods between the sets are shorter, between 90 seconds and 2 minutes.

Such a Power Clean workout routine leads mainly to a so-called selective hypertrophy, which means that it mainly targets the fast twitch fibers and results in hypertrophy of the fast-twitch fibers.

Important to note, you need a high technical proficiency in order to maintain good Power Clean form throughout the set.

Power Clean workout for a better Power Clean technique

A Power Clean workout plan to improve the Power Clean technique is characterized by lower intensities, around 50 – 70 % Power Clean 1 RM and low repetitions, between 2 and 4 repetitions.

The intra-serial rest (the rest between the repetitions) is higher, but not as high as during Cluster Sets, between 4 – 7 seconds.

The focus is to improve the Power Clean technique and that mostly goes along with a Power Clean variation, that is targeted towards improving a technical flaw.

For example, if an athlete has difficulties to actively get under the bar transitioning from the Second Pull to the Catch, the athlete could focus on Hang Power Cleans form mid-thigh or Pull-Unders in order to address to train the active pulling under the bar.

These Power Clean workouts are characterized by longer rest periods, between 2 – 3 minutes to keep fatigue levels low.

Takeaway: The Power Clean can be best used for building strength and power. If you chose to use the Power Clean to build muscle mass, you need to adjust and modify the set and rep structure.

Power Clean sets and reps: What are the best sets and reps for Power Clean

I have outlined the different Power Clean workout variations in the previous paragraph, and now you know the different Power Clean workout intensity zones, the Power Clean rep range for the desired training goal, as well as rest periods between sets.

The next logical question is what are the best sets and reps for Power Clean workouts?

Before I dive into the different Power Clean sets and reps scheme, it’s important to understand, that repetitions and sets are highly connected to the training intensity.

I have dedicated an entire article to this topic, as it is not often discussed and people mainly discuss reps and sets, without considering the training intensity.

Check out the article

In a nutshell, the total repetitions (repetitions multiplied by the number of sets) are connected to the training intensity, or better the higher the training intensity, the less total repetitions you are able to do.

I have borrowed the table from the article mention above to demonstrate this connection

Intensity

Repetitions per set

Total repetitions per session

95% 1RM or above1 – 215 – 20
90% – 95% 1RM2 – 320 – 30
85 – 90% 1RM3 – 530 – 50

 

And the example I have given in the article, how this number unfolds in a strength training workout with training intensities of 95% 1RM

Exercise

Intensity

Sets

Reps

Total reps

Power Clean95% 1RM515
Back Squat95% 1RM428
RDL95% 1 RM326

 

The total repetitions in this maximum strength training session are 19 (5 + 8 + 6 = 19) and consequently within the prescribed range of 15 – 20 total repetitions.

How does this unfold to answer the question ‘What are the best sets and reps for Power Clean workouts?’

Reverse-engineering Power Clean sets and reps

If you are looking for the best sets and reps for Power Clean, you need to reverse engineer.

What does that mean?

I have outlined the intensity based on the training goal (strength, hypertrophy or power) and I have outlined repetition guidelines for different intensity zones.

The following table is an example how such a Power Clean workout could look if you are choosing to exclusively train the Power Clean within this workout and focus on maximum strength development.

Training

Goal

Training

Intensity

Total

Reps

Power Clean sets and reps

Variations

Maximum

Strength

95 – 100% 1 RM

15 – 20

  • 8 sets of 2 reps @ 95% 1RM
  • 5 sets of 3 reps (cluster set, 30 seconds rest between repetitions) @ 95% 1RM

90 – 95% 1 RM

20 – 30

  • 7 sets of 3 reps @ 90% 1RM
  • 5 sets of 4 reps @ 90% 1RM (cluster set, 20 seconds rest after 2 reps)

85 – 90% 1 RM

30 – 50

  • 10 sets of 3 reps @ 85% 1RM
  • 5 sets of 6 reps @ 85% 1RM (cluster set, 20 seconds rest after 2 reps)

 

Is this a cooking recipe?!?

I am aware, that this table is very schematic and doesn’t take the context of the athlete into consideration (such as training age, training experience, at which point in the season is the athlete, etc).

And I myself are a strong believer, that training is as much an art, as a science, if not more an art, than a science.

My intention with this table is to show, how to modulate sets and reps depending on the training intensity.

Please also keep in mind, that this outline is meant, if you are exclusively doing Power Cleans within the strength training workout and therefore the total reps for one exercise becomes quite high.

Most often, you will do more exercises within one Strength training workout and the total number of repetitions per exercise would be lower.

I refer to the strength training workout I have outlined above, including Power Cleans, Back Squats and RDL’s.

Important is to understand the relation between the intensity, repetitions performed and exertion level.

What?

As an example, if you do 8 sets of 3 reps @ 85%  1 RM it sounds like it’s a lot of sets and reps.

However, at 85% 1 RM you are able to do 5 to 6 repetitions if you are maximally exerting, consequently, if you do 3 repetitions, you still have 2 – 3 repetitions left in the tank and are not maximally exerted and can tolerate a higher volume of sets. To read up more on the load and exertion levels, as well as the practical application of it, check out the article

Takeaway: When discussing the Power Clean sets and reps it is important to consider, that the total repetitions you can do are inversely related to the training intensity. You can do less total repetitions ata higher training intensity and more total repetitions at a lower training intensity.

Power Clean training frequency: How often should I Power Clean

Now that you know the Power Clean standards, the Power Clean workout intensities based on different training goals, as well as Power Clean sets and reps for the different training goals, the last question that stands out is ‘How often should I Power Cleans?’ or better what is the best Power Clean workout frequency?

The following guidelines will apply for Non-Olympic Weightlifters.

As mentioned earlier, very seldom you do only Power Cleans in your strength training workouts, you probably also add a squat variation and other strength training exercises to the mix.

However, the following discussion is based how often to include Power Cleans into the weekly strength training routine.

How often should I Power Clean for Strength?

In order to increase strength, you need to work with an intensity of above 85% 1RM for 3 repetitions or less.

These workouts have a high impact on the central nervous system and need you need somewhere between 48 – 72 hours to recover from these Power Clean workouts.

Please keep in mind, that the exact number of hours needed for recovery depends on multiple factors. For once the training intensity, training volume, and level of exertion, but also what other trainings you have done, as well as individual recovery capabilities.

Just to name a few…

Consequently, you can do 2 or 3 of these Power Clean trainings, when you are training to improve your maximum strength.

I would advise varying training intensities and training volume if you do 2 or more Power Clean workouts.

If you do 3 Power Clean workouts, I would also look at varying the Power Clean variations (e.g. from the ground, Hang Power Clean and Power Cleans from the blocks).

You can choose the ‘heavy – light – medium approach’, that I have outlined in the article

How often should I Power Clean for Power and Explosiveness?

To improve your Power and Explosiveness, you need to train at intensities of 60 – 85% 1 RM for 1 – 4 repetitions.

These workouts also have a high impact on the central nervous system, similar to the Power Clean workouts targeted towards strength development, and therefore, you also need around 48 – 72 hours to recover from these Power Clean sessions.

Which means, also here you can do 2 – 3 Power Clean sessions on non-consecutive days.

I have outlined in the section of the Power Clean training design, that the lower the intensity (60 – 75% 1RM) you should look at variations of the Power Clean, such as Hang Power Clean or Power Clean from the blocks to shorten the range of the movement.

Why is that?

The weight will either fly through the roof or you will have to decelerate quite early in the movement, which defeats the purpose of Power Development / developing explosiveness.

The more Power Clean workouts you do ( 2 or more), I would advise, to vary the intensity and the Power Clean variation.

As an example.

Power Clean session 1 (heavy): Power Clean 4 sets of 1 reps @ 85% 1RM

Power Clean session 2 (light): Power Clean (from blocks on mid-thigh) 6 sets of 3 reps @ 60% 1RM

Power Clean session 3 (medium): Hang Power Cleans (from above knee) 5 sets of 2 reps @ 70% 1RM

Here you can see the application of the ‘heavy – light – medium principle’.

How often should I Power Cleans for Muscle Building

The Power Clean is not the best exercise for a muscle building regimen, as it is difficult to achieve the required times under tension to elicit a hypertrophic stimulus.

However, it is possible to tweak your Power Clean workouts by including Cluster Sets to increase time under tension, while maintaining proper Power Clean technique and sufficient mechanical load on the muscles to set a hypertrophic stimulus.

As a recap, time under tension and mechanical load are the main drivers for muscular hypertrophy.

The question stands out ‘How often should I Power Clean to build muscle mass?’

A typical muscle building workout leads to ‘muscle damage’, which requires more time to recover from and build the desired extra muscular tissue.

Recovery times for a muscle building workout are between 72 – 96 hours, which means you can do 1 – 2 Power Clean sessions a week.

An important consideration is, whether you chose to do a full body routine or a split routine.

If you are choosing for a full body routine, you might include the Power Clean into 2 strength training workouts, if you are choosing for a ‘bro split’, you might only do the Power Clean in 1 strength training session.

How often should I Power Clean for a better Power Clean technique?

For a better Power Clean technique, the recommended training frequency is higher, as well as the exertion from such a training session, is lower.

Higher training frequencies ensure you get enough repetitions to practice the craft of the Power Clean, lower exertion levels mean, that you won’t have to worry too much about limited recovery.

What does that mean to answer the question ‘How often should I do Power Cleans for a better Power Clean technique?’

The answer depends on your time availability and training level.

If you are a beginner and have all the time in the world, you could theoretically do 4 – 5 Power Clean technique workouts a week.

If you are a beginner athlete and you are in a structured training program, such as my athletes, and you have 3 allocated strength training sessions a week, you can work on your Power Clean technique 3 times a week or at least work on the general underlying movement patterns of the Power Clean 3 times a week.

What are these Fundamental Movement patterns?

It’s the hip hinging pattern, the squatting pattern, he pulling pattern and the stabilizing pattern.

If you are an advanced athlete, you probably don’t do allocated technique session.

In this case we use the warm-ups to address technical issues, areas for improvement or just using the warm-up as an opportunity to refine the Power Clean technique.

Important is to have an intent and area to work on in your warm-up, rather than just going mindlessly through the motions.

The art is to find the appropriate Power Clean variations to specifically work and improve the  technical flaws in your Power Clean technique.

Depending on the Power Clean variation, the training intensity is between 50 -70% 1RM.

Take-away message: In order to answer the question of ‘How often should I do Power Cleans’, define your training goal first, look at the training intensities, training volumes and exertion levels required to target your specific training goal and keep the required recovery times for the different Power Clean workouts in mind to determine the training frequency.

Power Clean Conclusions

The Power Clean is a derivative from the Olympic Weightlifting exercise the Clean and offers a variety of benefits to enhance sports performance.

Those Power Clean 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

The Power Clean can be used to increase strength, power, and explosiveness, as well as building muscle mass (to a certain extent). To reap those benefits, you need to understand the different

  • training intensities (% 1RM)
  • training volumes (sets & reps)
  • exertion levels (from low to high)
  • training frequencies (training sessions a week)
  • recovery times
  • planning options

In order to have these benefits, technical mastery of the Power Clean is an absolute necessity.