What do Power Cleans train?
The Power Clean has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, for Cross-fitters the Power Clean is a regular part of their training and competition.
Athletes of various sports use the Power Clean to enhance their sports performance, to run faster, jump higher and hit or throw harder.
But what do Power Cleans actually train? Understanding what Power Cleans train can help your training or the training of your athletes.
This article and video discusses
The Power Clean is a movement that combines relatively heavy loads with an explosive effort. This combination leads to some unique adaptations.
But what are these adaptations?
What do Power Cleans train
Before I explain what the Power Clean trains it’s worth mentioning, that, in my opinion, the Power Clean is not a good exercise for multiple repetitions.
The Power Clean is an exercise that is technically very demanding and you will see the technique deteriorate the more repetitions you do. Therefore I usually limit the repetitions to 3 or less, in exceptions I might do 4 or 5 repetitions, but not more.
The Power Clean is an exercise that is technically very demanding and you will see the technique deteriorate the more repetitions you do.
If I am in a training phase where my athletes work with higher repetitions, I chose to break down the multiple Power Clean repetitions into cluster sets, this allows getting sufficient rest between the repetitions to avoid the technical breakdown.
What are Cluster Sets? It basically breaks down the repetitions into Clusters. Check out the example of 2016 Olympic finalist Niek Kimmann performing a combination of Hang Power Cleans and Power Cleans in a cluster set.
Everything discussed below refers to a repetition and set scheme of 5 or fewer repetitions, more likely 3 or fewer repetitions.
One model, I am using to dissect different exercises and movement to analyze what they train is as follows.
- Neural level or neuromuscular level, understanding the neuromuscular activation
- Metabolic level or energy system, what energy systems are active and what is the primary source of energy
- Technical level or the movement patterns, what are the main fundamental movement patterns needed to perform and execute the Power Snatch correctly and efficiently
- Muscular level, the muscles worked and activation of different muscle groups
Let’s go through that step by step.
What do Power Cleans train neurologically
I have discussed the different neurological adaptations in the articles
- A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
- Why understanding the Mechanics Behind Plyometric Training will make you jump like Michael Jordan
- 4 Unexpected Benefits of Plyometric Training
In a nutshell the different neurological adaptations are ,
- The rate of recruitment, the number of motor units that can be activated
- The firing frequency, how fast the signal travels from the nerve to the muscle fiber to activate the muscle fiber
- The synchronization, the synchronized effort of activation and co-activation of different muscle groups
Depending on the loading pattern you chose, the Power Clean can help you to train and improve the firing frequency, how fast your muscle fibers are activated or the Power Clean can help you to train the rate of recruitment, how many of your muscle fibers can be activated.
Depending on the loading pattern you chose, the Power Clean can help you to train and improve the firing frequency, or the rate of recruitment.
If you want to improve the firing frequency, you chose for lower intensities, around 60 – 80% of your 1 RM in the Power Clean for 1 – 4 repetitions.
If you are used to doing Power Cleans and you chose for 60 – 80% 1RM, you will realize the weight is relatively light. Therefore I suggest you shorten the range of the pulling movement and perform the Power Clean from the hang or from the block.
This way, you ensure, that you are still exerting a maximum effort when performing the exercise.
It’s very common to see, that once you are working with submaximal loads on the Power Clean (below 85% 1 RM), that athletes take it a bit easier and don’t exert full effort when performing the exercise.
This can have two reasons
- because the load is relatively light and the athlete can successfully lift the load with sub-maximal effort.
- because if you apply the same effort to the exercise as you do on heavier loads the bar will ‘fly’ quite high and for most athletes, it’s very difficult to modulate the forces to control the bar.
If you want to improve the rate of recruitment, you chose for higher intensities, above 85% of your 1 RM in the Power Clean for 1 – 3 repetitions.
When you are choosing intensities above 85% of your 1RM, I advise performing regular Power Cleans (from the ground), if you shorten the range of the pull and chose for higher intensities you are likely not to succeed.
What do Power Cleans train technically
Technical development refers to movement patterns or better primal movement patterns.
The 7 primal movement patterns are
For a detailed overview and tutorial about primal movements, also called fundamental movements, check the article
The Power Clean trains a variety primal movement patterns,
- the bending pattern: during the first pull and transition phase you are statically hinging from the hip and during the second pull you are actively extending the hip
- the pulling pattern: I know there is a big debate on how much you are actually pulling the bar or not pulling the bar. However whether you believe you are actively pulling the bar upwards at the end of the second pull or whether you believe you only and solely pull yourself actively under the bar, it’s a pulling pattern either way.
- the squatting pattern: after the completion of the second pull, when you pull yourself actively under the bar to receive the weight on your shoulders you are initiating the eccentric phase or descent of a squat, once you received the bar and recover with the bar on your shoulders, you are performing the concentric phase or ascent of a squat.
For a detailed explanation of the different phases of the Back Squat and the Power Clean, have a look at the articles
So, what are these movement patterns good for?
Essentially the so-called triple extension and triple flexion is a combination of a bending pattern and squatting pattern.
The triple extension refers to the extension of hip, knee, and ankle and happens in almost all sporting actions, where you have to run, jump, change direction and throw or hit.
The triple flexion refers to the flexion of hip, knee, and ankle and happens during the deceleration of the sprint phase, the deceleration when changing direction and while landing after a jump.
What do Power Cleans train metabolically
By performing 5 or fewer repetitions, the Power Clean trains the Phosphagen system or ATP-CP system, which provides energy for 6 – 10 seconds.
Check out this short tutorial which outlines the different energy systems well
Even though I don’t really use the Power Clean as a conditioning exercise, it could theoretically be used to train the ATP-CP system.
If you participate in a sport that is characterized by short high-intensity burst, followed by a rest period, you could theoretically choose the Power Clean as a conditioning exercise to train the metabolism of the ATP-CP system.
What muscles do Power Cleans train
One question that is often asked revolves around Power Clean Muscles worked or the ‘Power Clean muscles’, however, during the movement of the Power Clean, muscular activation changes.
Please check out the table of the muscles used in the Power Clean
As we discussed above ‘What do Power Cleans train technically’, during the different parts of the Power Clean, different movements occur, which also results in different muscles being activated at different times.
During the first pull and transition phase, the posterior chain (hamstring, glutes, and lower back) is strongly activated, while during the extension of the second pull and during the catch phase and recovery phase the anterior chain (quadriceps) is strongly activated.
One of the benefits of the Power Clean is that it trains almost every muscle in the body in a functional way.
Also check out this video that explains that the Power Clean is a full-body movement and activates a chain of muscle groups.
I know the word ‘functional’ has been misused in recent years and has been used with different meanings to it. The latest discussions have agreed, that functional refers to describing a function or fulfills a function.
- What Is Functional Training?
- Functional: Ban The “F-Word”
- Is Your Training Functional Or Circus Act?
Consequently functional in this context refers to, that it trains movement patterns that occur during most sporting actions as well as in daily life activities.
Concluding What do Power Cleans train
Power Cleans have numerous benefits and are therefore used as a part of training to improve performance.
Power Cleans train
- to activate more muscle fibers and to activate the muscle fibers faster
- movement patterns that occur during most sporting actions
- the ATP-CP energy system, which provides energy for high-intensity bursts
- almost every single muscle in the human body, which makes it a great exercise to prepare for the demands of your sport, as well as the demands of daily life
If you want more Power Clean information, check out The Ultimate Guide to Power Cleans.