Barbell Power Clean Exercise Guide

If you're someone who wants to get your foot in the door of Olympic lifting but feels a little intimidated, the Power Clean is the perfect way to start. It is relatively easier to learn than the other lifts but offers the same benefits.

Power clean is an incredibly powerful movement that targets the entire body, especially the posterior chain. It helps develop the muscles in your back, shoulders, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core while demanding for strict mental concentration as you focus on performing the movements safely and correctly. This is not only widely used by lifters, but also by athletes who sought to improve their athletic performance.

It is important to emphasize the importance of form and technique as they are keys to maximizing the efficiency of the power clean. This article will walk you through how to perform the exercise correctly to help you get the best out of it. We will also discuss tips, variations, and alternatives that you can do to take your routines to the next level. So, read on and enjoy. 

How To Do Barbell Power Cleans

Power Clean is broken down into five phases.

Setting Up

Before diving right into lifting, starting with the correct and proper form is essential.

Assume a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell at your feet. Get into a squat position, extend your arms to the front and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, palms facing toward your legs.

Your hands should be positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and weight should be evenly distributed on your feet. This is the starting position and will prepare you for the first pull.

First Pull

From the squat position, lift the bar up as if you're trying to push the floor away with your feet. Make sure to keep the weight close to your body.

Continue lifting the bar up to your thighs with your core engaged throughout the motion. This will help you keep your back straight and spine neutral.

Scoop

With your knees slightly bent, "scoop" or thrust your hips forward as you pull the bar higher up to your chest. This portion requires an explosive movement that involves shifting your weight towards the front of your feet.

Then, quickly shrug your shoulders and flex and pull your elbows forward.

Catch

This portion is called the catch because that's exactly what you will do -- catch the weight so that it rests on the front of your shoulder. Do this by dropping into a quarter-squat position, driving and rotating your elbows forward, and flipping your wrists back, which will create a "shelf" for the bar.

Keep your balance and control then stand up straight with the bar still in the catch position.

Release

When you're finished with the rep, remove the bar from your shoulders and lower it back down. Engage the core and hinge at the hips to relieve the pressure on your back. Repeat the steps until you have reached your desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Do not hyperextend your lower back during the first pull portion. Avoid placing excessive pressure on your spine by keeping your torso erect and spine neutral. This will reduce your chances of straining or hurting your back.
  • Keep the weight close to your body. This will help you maximize the efficiency of the exercise.
  • Use your arms to stabilize the weight, not to catch it. Catching the bar with your forearms will cause your elbows to point downwards instead of out, which can add stress to your joints and limit the weight that you can carry.
  • Keep your feet at a hip-width distance apart. Going too wide will limit your mobility and will increase the difficulty, especially in the scooping portion.
  • Stretch before your exercise. Lack of flexibility and mobility in your hips and wrists can limit the range of motion that you can do with this exercise and reduce its efficiency.

Benefits

  • Strengthens the lower body. A strong lower body will greatly help us with practical, everyday functions such as lifting heavy objects and moving furniture.
  • Benefits athletes as it promotes power development, therefore improving their athletic performance.
  • Stimulates muscle growth and fat loss
  • Boosts balance and coordination as the power clean requires several different muscles groups to work together
  • Improves posture as it strengthens muscles in your posterior chain, which plays an essential role in maintaining good posture

Illustrated Guide

How to do barbell power clean

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Spinal erectors
  • Mid-back muscle groups

Secondary Muscles

  • Biceps
  • Brachialis
  • Forearm Flexor
  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings

Barbell Power Clean Variations

No Weights

An important variation, especially when you're just beginning, is to practice Power Clean with no weights or load added to the bar. Proper form and correct technique are keys to maximizing the benefits of this exercise so it is important to master these first when starting out, rather than focusing on how much weight you can lift or carry.

Gradually add weight once you get the technique down. It may take some time, but your patience will surely pay off.

Hang Clean

With the power clean, the lifter grasps and stands with the bar until it is at your thighs, which prepares the lifter for the pull. The Hang Clean is a variation of the power clean where the bar starts in a static position -- the ground-- then the lifter proceeds with the pulling.

With this difference in approach, the power clean allows for a larger range of motion than the hang clean, making it the better choice if you want more activity for the quads, glutes and hamstrings area. If you want to focus more on upper body development, hang cleans are the way to go.

Both variations are fantastic exercises you can add to your training routine to help you achieve the total body power you aim for. 

Barbell Power Clean Alternatives

Kettlebell Clean

The kettlebell clean is a great exercise to add to your power clean routine. Like the power clean, It is an excellent total-body exercise as it targets multiple muscle groups at once and develops the posterior chain. It also trains power and explosiveness and is great for people who want to build strength and endurance. Use one or two kettlebells, depending on your experience and training goals.

Kettlebell Squat and Swing

If you're familiar with the classic squat and swing movement, then this exercise should be easy for you too. It is a natural progression from the traditional hold, squat, and rise-up exercises that works your shoulders, back, and core. Not to mention your heart rate due to the momentum and explosive swing.

This is one movement to advance to, once you have mastered your hold and have full control. With your feet wider than hip-width apart, have your toes pointed slightly out. Hold the kettlebell with both your hands between your legs and ensure your abs are engaged. Check that your back is straight, then squat down.

Take a quick breath in, press down on your feet, then explode up swinging the kettlebell in front of you as your legs straighten.  Exhale out and return to the starting position while the kettlebell returns between your legs.

Power Snatch

Once you've mastered the power clean, you will probably be in search of another explosive movement that will blast your body. The Power Snatch is a strength exercise that starts in a similar position but then will require you to explode upward to bring the bar overhead. This lift is more complicated than the clean and requires lots of time and practice to master. 

Start with the bar on the ground, above your feet halfway between your ankle and the tip of your toes. 

Extend your arms, place your hands about 2-3 feet apart and grab the bar in a wide hook grip position. Squat down keeping your head and back in neutral spine, feet a little less than shoulder-width apart and slightly pointed out. 

Bring the bar up in a straight line, thrusting your hips toward the bar and extending your knees.

While shrugging your shoulders, once the bar is a little above your hips, elbows slightly flexed, carry the bar overhead as you’re dropping under the bar in a squat.

Stand up and stay stable for a second or two, then safely drop the weight. 

Back Exercises Guide

Kevin Harris
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