Dumbbell Power Clean: Step-by-Step Instructions, Videos, and Programming Tips

By Matt Walter
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Learn how to perform the dumbbell power clean.

The dumbbell power clean is a variation of the barbell clean in Olympic weightlifting. It targets the entire body and is a versatile exercise that can be used to improve strength, power, and athleticism. In this blog post, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform the movement, as well as videos and programming tips. Let’s get started!

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Table of Contents

Video: Dumbbell Power Clean Demonstration

How to Perform the Dumbbell Power Clean: Step-by-Step Instructions

The Setup

Dumbbell Power Clean Starting Position

Step 1: Place a pair of dumbbells on the ground about shoulder width apart. The handles of the dumbbells should be parallel to each other, with the heads of the dumbbells running in front of and behind you.

Step 2: Step between the dumbbells so that when you grab them your palms will be between your mid-foot and toe box. Your feet should be about hip-width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead or just slightly out.

Dumbbells Lined Up With Toe Box

Step 3: Hinge at the waist, drive your hips back (load your hips), bend at the knees, and squat down to grab your dumbbells. Your chest should be up, hips in line with or slightly higher than your knees, back arched, shoulders down and back, arms fully extended, and traps relaxed.

Coach’s Tip: Check to make sure that your shoulders are slightly in front of the dumbbells when viewed from the side. If they aren’t, straighten your legs slightly until they are.

Phase I: The First Pull

Dumbbell Power Clean First Pull

Step 4: Drive with your legs to push away from the floor. Your back should remain arched and your hips and chest should rise at the same time. Keep your shoulders in front of the dumbbells for as long as possible and do not bend your arms.

Coach’s Tip: The dumbbells should be held at your side with the handles parallel to each other, or the front heads of dumbbells just slightly pointed toward each other.

Step 5: Continue extending your ankles, knees, and hips until the dumbbells are just above knee level. You are now in the Power Position. Your knees are slightly bent and your torso is mostly upright.

Phase II: The Second Pull

Dumbbell Power Clean Second Pull

Step 6: Continue to push aggressively against the floor and explosively drive your hips forward, almost as if you’re trying to jump. When you reach full extension (up on your toes, knees and hips fully extended) aggressively shrug your shoulders to your ears, causing the dumbbells to accelerate upwards.

Coach’s Tip: Make sure your arms are straight throughout this entire phase.

Phase III: The Third Pull and Catch

Dumbbell Power Clean Third Pull

Step 6: Once your shrug is complete, pull your arms high and to the sides. The dumbbells will rise along your rib cage to just below your armpits.

Step 7: Pull yourself under the dumbbells and bring your elbows around and in front of your body. Receive the back head of the dumbbells on your shoulders in a partial front squat position. Your head should be up, back arched, elbows high and in front of your chest, knees and hips slightly flexed, and your knees behind your toes.

Coach’s Tip: Don’t think about pulling the dumbbells up with your arms, think about pulling your body beneath the dumbbells.

Step 8: Extend your knees and hips and rise to a fully upright position.

Dumbbell Power Clean Finished Rep

Step 8: Set the hips back and keep the back arched while lowering the dumbbells until the handles of the dumbbells are at the midline of the shins or back on the ground.

Dumbbell Power Clean Points Of Performance

  • Feet hip-width apart, toes pointed straight ahead or very slightly out
  • Hold the dumbbells so that the handles are parallel to each other
  • Dumbbells begin on the ground, just outside of the feet
  • Shoulders begin slightly in front of the dumbbells
  • Back arched, neutral spine
  • Drive with the legs, weight distributed over your entire foot
  • Hips and chest rise at the same rate
  • Hips extend explosively
  • Arms remain fully extended as long as possible
  • Shoulders shrug, arms pull high and wide toward the ears
  • The back head of the dumbbell is received on the shoulders
  • Receive the dumbbells in a partial squat position
  • Rise to a fully standing position with the dumbbells on the shoulders

Dumbbell Power Clean Notes

The dumbbell power clean has a similar range of motion and cycle rate as the barbell power clean. It’s a very beginner-friendly exercise because dumbbells will naturally stay close to your body, unlike the barbell which needs to navigate around your knees, thighs, and hips.

The rack position is also more forgiving with dumbbells than with barbells. Dumbbells give you more freedom of movement, which is great for beginners or those with wrist or elbow concerns.

How much weight you can handle in this movement will eventually be limited by your grip and upper body strength.

The Purpose of the Dumbbell Power Clean

The dumbbell power clean is an explosive movement that can be used to develop explosive power, strength, and athleticism. It’s a total-body movement that recruits muscles throughout the entire body, including the core. The dumbbell power clean is a great way to improve your Olympic lifts, which are key movements in many sports.

Programming the Dumbbell Power Clean

Depending on your goals, you can program the dumbbell power clean in a variety of ways.

If you are looking for explosive power and athleticism, perform sets of 3-5 reps with heavier weights and 120 to 150 seconds of rest between sets.

If you are looking for muscular endurance and conditioning, perform sets of 15-20 reps with lighter weights and 45-60 seconds of rest between sets.

You can also use dumbbell power cleans in circuit training workouts as part of a whole-body weight or strength workout.

But the best way to use dumbbell power cleans is in a CrossFit WOD. You will see this movement programmed somewhat regularly in CrossFit classes and competitions.

The most common weights used in CrossFit are 35-pound dumbbells for women and 50 pounders for men. And you may see reps anywhere from 8 to 15, completed for 3-5 rounds or as part of a 12-15 minute AMRAP.

Try CrossFit Open WOD 17.2 to get a good idea of how effective dumbbell power cleans can be.

  • AMRAP in 12 minutes
  • 2 Rounds of:
  • 50 ft Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  • 16 Toe-to-Bars
  • 8 Dumbbell Power Cleans (50/35 lb)
  • Then, 2 Rounds of:
  • 50 ft Dumbbell Walking Lunges (50/35 lb)
  • 16 Bar Muscle-Ups
  • 8 Dumbbell Power Cleans (50/35 lb)

Dumbbell Power Clean Benefits

Dumbbell power cleans are a full-body compound activity that improves functional power and strength. But the biggest benefit to dumbbell power cleans is simply that they are an easier and more accessible alternative than the barbell variation for some people.

The Olympic lifts are incredible for building strength, power, coordination, and explosiveness. But not everyone is ready for, or can, perform the barbell version. You can still get most of the same benefits with dumbbells.

Dumbbell power cleans can be both a strength exercise and a cardiovascular exercise. Heavier dumbbells for fewer repetitions will improve explosive power and strength, while lighter dumbbells cycled quickly for higher reps will build conditioning.

Dumbbell movements also force both sides of your body to work independently. This is great for developing muscular balance, motor skills and coordination, and preventing any dominant side from taking over.

Common Dumbbell Power Clean Mistakes

Check for the following errors in your technique and use our suggestions to remedy them.

Rounding Your Back

Rounding Your Back

This is extremely important. Any time you are performing a squatting or hinging movement it is imperative that you maintain a neutral spine. Rounding your back causes spinal compression and can lead to back pain or injury. Reset if your back is rounded at the start, arch your back, and drop your hips to get into position.

Hips Rising Too Fast

Hips Rising Too Fast

The power for this lift comes from your lower body, not your upper body. Make sure you are pushing off the ground with your feet and extending your hips to generate the most power possible. Your chest, hips, and knees should all rise at the same time. Don’t let your hips rise too fast!

Uncontrolled First Pull

The first pull (from the ground to just above your knees) is the slowest phase of this movement. While you want to push away from the floor with power, the most important thing is to make sure you are in a good position for the second pull, which is the most explosive phase. Pushing too hard off the floor may cause you to lose control or get out of position before the explosive second pull.

Receiving the Dumbbells Too Low

The dumbbells should be received in a partial front squat with the knees and hips slightly flexed. The power variations of the Olympic lifts force you to elevate the weight high and to very quickly get beneath the weight. If you are catching the dumbbells too low, in a deep squat, you are missing out on these training points and performing a different lift entirely (the full squat clean).

If you find yourself receiving the dumbbells too low, lighten the weight and focus on elevation and catching the dumbbells higher.

Dumbbells Swing Away From Your Body

Dumbbells Not Staying Close to Your Body

This will reduce the effectiveness of the lift and make it more difficult to complete. And the further away the dumbbells get from your body the more stress they are going to cause to your low back. Keep the dumbbells close to your body as you drive them upward.

Excessive Forward Lean

This can put excessive stress on the low back and is a common cause of injury. Make sure to keep your torso upright throughout the entire lift.

Early Upright Torso

Extending your hips and knees prematurely will reduce the power you generate from the lift and make it more difficult to complete. Keep your body in a slight squat position as you extend your hips and knees to generate the most power possible.

Rushing the Starting Position

A house is only as strong as its foundation. Spend the extra few seconds to make sure that you are setting up correctly before you begin the first pull.

Variations of the Dumbbell Power Clean

Variations of the dumbbell power clean include the single-arm dumbbell power clean, the dumbbell muscle clean, and the dumbbell power clean and jerk. These variations will serve the same purpose as the dumbbell power clean, with some additional elements added in.

The single-arm version will require more stabilizing from your core and overall balance.

The jerk or press adds direct shoulder involvement.

The muscle clean forces you to pull the weight very high without the ability to dip and drive with your legs.

Alternate exercises that are similar but serve slightly different purposes include the dumbbell clean, dumbbell power clean and press or jerk, as well as hang variations of any of these.

Hang variations are performed exactly the same as the full movements, except the lift begins with the weight hanging off the ground. The hang positions are:

High-Hang: Upper thigh, just below the hip crease

Hang (or mid-hang): Anywhere from knees to mid-thigh

Low-Hang: Anywhere off the floor to below the knees

Muscles Worked by the Hang Power Clean

Leg Muscles

The primary muscles involved in the dumbbell power clean are your quadriceps, hamstrings, erector spinae, and glutes. You will also target your traps when you shrug to elevate the dumbbells and your calves when you reach triple extension.

Back Lat Muscles

Although these muscles are worked with the dumbbell power clean, this is not a great exercise for building these muscles.

The Olympic lifts are performed very explosively, usually for low reps, and they generally omit the eccentric phase of the movement. Even when performed for multiple reps, the eccentric phase is not a focus, which is necessary for muscle hypertrophy.

Use the dumbbell power clean to build strength, explosiveness, or conditioning, but choose other compound movements that are more controlled during both the eccentric and the concentric for building muscle.

But aren’t Olympic weightlifters jacked?!! Yep. They sure are. They’re genetic freaks that get bigger by simply picking up pencils to sign their scorecards. And they train ridiculously hard, for years and years, with incredible coaches, and they perform heavy compound movements to assist their Olympic lifts.

Pick Up Some Dumbbells for Home Workout

If you’re weightlifting or training for hypertrophy, save up and get a set. You’ll want a variety of weights to follow your progressive overload pattern. If you’re into functional fitness or just want to get in shape, pick up a pair of 35s or 50s.

Titan Fitness Hex DBs – these are inexpensive as far as dumbbells go, but they’re good quality. I have a pair of 50s and they’ve lasted.

Rogue Hex DBs (singles or sets) – I love the contour of the handles on these. And they’re indestructible. I drop mine a lot!

Conclusion: The Hang Power Clean

The dumbbell power clean is a great exercise for developing strength, explosiveness, and conditioning. It is not as effective for building muscle mass, but it still targets several muscles in the body. This lift can be performed with variations to serve different purposes. Spend some time perfecting your starting position and make sure you are using the correct weight for your level before attempting this lift.

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Matt has been a Certified Personal Trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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