The Power Clean: A Step-by-Step Guide with Pictures, Video Demonstrations, and Tips

By Matt Walter
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Learn how to perform and program the power clean

The power clean is a variation of the Olympic weightlifting clean, performed without a full squat and pulling the bar higher than with the full squat clean.

The power clean is a weightlifting exercise that is used to improve explosive power and strength. It is a complex lift and can be difficult to learn without proper instruction. But, with patience and practice, this lift will build power, explosive strength, and muscle.

In this article, we will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to perform the power clean, as well as pictures and video demonstrations of the lift. We will also discuss the purpose of the power clean in your training, and how to program it into your workout routine.

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Table of Contents

Video: The Power Clean Demonstration

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

Step 1: Approach a loaded barbell on the floor. Position your feet hip-width apart and point your toes slightly out. Distribute your weight evenly across your entire foot. The barbell should be close to your shins, but not touching yet. Hinge at your waist and bend knees to grip the barbell with a clean grip (overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width).

Coach’s Tip: Begin with your hands in the hook grip. Your back should be arched, shoulders back, elbows turned out to the sides (not pointing backward!), head and eyes forward, and arms straight roughly vertical when viewed from the side.

The setup for the clean with the back straight, head up, eyes forward, and hips higher than the knees

Setup Summary:

1. Feet are hip-width, toes are turned slightly outward
2. Legs are flexed at the knees slightly
3. Trunk is flexed, back is tightly arched
4. Hips are slightly higher than knees
5. Shoulders are in front of the bar
6. Arms are straight
7. Head is looking forward

Step 2: Push with your legs and drive your feet through the floor to begin standing and bringing the bar toward your knees. Keep the same back angle as your starting position until the bar reaches mid-thigh.

Coach’s Tip: Your knees, hips, and chest should all rise at the same time. This will maintain your back angle.

Step 3: Continue pushing against the floor aggressively. When the bar reaches your knees, explode with a powerful leg and back extension, extending your hips and knees. Keep the barbell close to your body and allow it to brush your upper thighs as your hips extend.

Step 4: Once you have reached full extension (standing upright with the barbell at mid-thigh and up on your toes), aggressively jump and slide your feet out to your squat stance. At the same time, forcefully contract your shoulders and bring your elbows high and wide toward your ears, pulling the bar up along your body.

Coach’s Tip: From mid-thigh, you’re basically just trying to jump as high into the air as you can, while holding a barbell. And, think calves and traps! This will help you get up on your toes and begin your upper body pull.

Step 5: Quickly bring your elbows around to the front of your body and throw them high toward the ceiling. This creates your clean-rack position, a shelf across your upper chest and shoulders for the barbell to land on.

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

Step 6: Catch the barbell on your shoulders in a half-squat position. Resist downward momentum, rebound, and return to a fully standing position. For the power clean, the thighs must remain above horizontal.

Coach’s Tip: Think about keeping your elbows high or pointing forward when you stand up out of the partial squat. When the bar is heavy the weight going to want to pull your upper body forward. Push your elbows toward the ceiling to help keep your torso upright.

Power Clean Notes

My long history with training legs and finding the barbell hack squat

Any clean or snatch variation, where the bar is received on the shoulders with the thighs horizontal or higher, is considered a power lift. Some coaches consider a lift caught with the thighs parallel to the floor (exactly horizontal) to be a squat clean and not a power movement.

Just remember the purpose of the movement here. If the weight is forcing you to catch the barbell at exactly horizontal or below, you are missing the purpose. You want the barbell traveling high and forcing you to be quick under the bar.

Some lifters may also deliberately catch power cleans with a wider foot stance than with their full squat clean. This allows them to get further under the barbell, but the position makes getting into a full squat impossible.

Just be careful to not “starfish.” You don’t want to catch the barbell with such a wide stance that your knees cave inward. This can cause a lot of stress on the hope, knee, and ankle joints.

The Purpose of the Power Clean

For athletes and Olympic weightlifters

The power clean is used to increase speed and force production in the second and third pulls because it restricts the lifter’s time and distance to get beneath the bar. The bar must explode high and the lifter must get beneath the bar very quickly in order to complete the movement.

The power clean can also be used in place of the full squat clean for lighter training days.

For beginners

Along with the hang power clean and the hang clean, the power clean is a great first step in learning the clean for beginners. It allows you to learn the three pulls of the clean without having to drop into a full squat.

For those with limited mobility

It’s also a useful variation for individuals who do not have the mobility to get down into a full front squat. Not everyone has the mechanics or genetic structures to reach a rock bottom squat. The power clean is still an incredibly useful exercise for building power, explosive strength, explosiveness, and muscle.

For Functional Fitness

The power clean is often prescribed in CrossFit, GRID, and other functional fitness styles of training and competition. Even if you don’t plan to compete in one of these disciplines, learning how to perform the power clean properly will reduce your risk of injury while you use the movement to improve your fitness.

Programming the Power Clean

Power cleans are generally programmed for 1-3 reps. This is an explosive movement.

Weightlifters usually perform some type of clean movement 2-3 times each week. The power clean can be used for 1 or 2 of these sessions as a lighter clean movement, even at 100% capacity.

For speed training: use 60-75% of your 1 rep max power clean.

For light training days: use 70-80% of your 1 rep max power clean.

*Base your percentages on your 1 rep max power clean

If you don’t know your max power clean, use a target number of reps instead. Try the following 1 month progression to get you started.

Week 1: 2 x 3, 2 x 2

Week 2: 2 x 3, 2 x 2, 1 x 1

Week 3: 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 2 x 1,

Week 4: 2 x 2

*week 1 is read as 2 sets of 3 reps, followed by 2 sets of 2 reps.

Common Errors With the Power Clean

Do Not Round Your Back

Starting position errors:

The setup for the power clean is incredibly important and often overlooked by new athletes. Remember, a house is only as solid as its foundation. So check and correct any of the following errors.

Starting with a rounded lower back

This is one of the most common mistakes new trainees make.

A rounded back places excess stress on your lower back and takes the emphasis of the first pull away from the legs. This will kill your ability to be explosive with your legs. It also tends to lead to an early arm pull in order to get the bar into the right position above the knees.

Make sure your core is tight, your lower back is arched, and your hips are set back.

Starting without enough bend in the knees

I often see athletes starting their cleans with their legs almost straight and their hips up in the air. This will cause you to pull with your back instead of with your legs. The clean and snatch will build powerful legs, but not if you take them out of the equation.

Bend (flex) the knees enough that your legs do most of the work in the initial pull off the ground. But don’t bend your legs so much that your hips drop below your knees. Your knees should be bent, hips higher than your knees, and your shoulders should be just above the bar (not in front of it).

Starting with a rounded upper back

A rounded upper back is generally caused by the athlete looking down instead of straight ahead or slightly upward. The loss of a neutral spine in this position not only makes it impossible to generate maximum force, but it places the spine in a dangerous position.

Look straight ahead of slightly upward, chest proud, shoulders back, and keep your back tight and straight.

Staring with your arms slightly bent

Once your arms bend you lose your power. Power will be generated by your legs and hips. Your arms are simply anchors attaching you to the bar. Keep them straight until you reach full extension.

Errors Performing the Lift

The power clean is a complex lift with many phases. Perfecting your form takes time. Pay attention to the following common errors when performing the movement.

Not triple extending

At the end of the second pull, you should reach full extension in the knees, ankles, and hips/back.

Lack of full extension is usually due to weak legs. However, it can also be a learned habit. Try focusing on your contracting calves. This will help you get up on your toes before you pull beneath the bar.

Jumping forward to catch the bar

This can be caused by not fully extending and getting the barbell back (see the previous error), or if you start your initial pull too far forward on your toes and not using your tripod foot.

Work on fixing triple extension or try some lifts in bare feet and focus on distributing your weight equally across your whole foot.

Jumping backward to catch the bar

This isn’t as bad as having to jump forward, but it’s not ideal.

Pulling the bar too far backward is usually caused by an excessive lower back extension. Work on getting tall during the pull instead of arching your back.

Early arm pull

Again, once your arms bend you lose your power. Eventually, your arms will have to bend to pull beneath the bar, but this should not happen until you reach full extension.

Lighten the weight and focus on keeping your arms straight.

Power Clean Variations

Hang power cleans and power cleans from blocks are the primary variations of the power clean.

I love having my own garage gym. I can train whenever is convenient, which helps when raising a family. And for Olympic lifting, all you need is some bumper plates and a barbell.

Bumper Plates

Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.

Titan Fitness 230 LB Economy Bumper Plate Set – This is the set I have at home. They’re inexpensive and they’ve held up.

Titan Fitness 230-Pound Elite Bumper Plate Set – This set is more expensive than the last, but they are incredible.

Barbells

Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home. I love it. You can get this in both 20kg and 15kg versions.

Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell, and is one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games. In my humble opinion, this is the best barbell that most people can buy (along with the Bella bar for women).

Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.

Rogue IWF Approved Olympic Weightlifting Bar – if you need a true, dedicated Olympic lifting bar, you won’t be the quality or price of this one. It comes in both 28mm and 25mm shaft diameters, designed for male and female competitors.

Conclusion: The Power Clean

The power clean is a weightlifting movement that involves the transfer of power from your legs to your upper body. It’s an incredibly effective exercise for developing explosive power and strength. In this article, we’ve outlined how to perform the power clean correctly with step-by-step instructions, pictures, video demonstrations, and tips. We’ve also discussed some common errors that people make and provided helpful corrections. Finally, we’ve shared some variations of the power clean that you can try in your own training program.

Learn how to find your perfect snatch grip, and how to use it for more than just the Olympic barbell snatch
Learn how to perform and program the Olympic clean and jerk
Learn how to correctly perform and program the snatch balance
Learn how to perform and program the hang clean
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AUTHOR

Matt has been a 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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