How to Power Clean

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Power Clean

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Related Terms: Clean, Squat Clean

Targets: Full Body

Equipment Needed: Barbell, Weight Plates

Level: Advanced

The power clean is an Olympic powerlifting movement that is frequently used in CrossFit WODs (workout of the day). The movement is also used by athletes who want to improve their vertical jumping skills and enhance explosive movements in sports and performance.

While there are many benefits to the exercise, the power clean is an advanced movement that requires the use of many muscle groups and coordinated skills. People who are new to this skill should work with a qualified coach or trainer to learn the proper mechanics before adding significant weight to the exercise

Benefits

The power clean is a core movement in many CrossFit gyms and in weight rooms around the country. This is also a movement that has been performed competitively at the Olympics by both men and women, although today they only compete in related movements: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. Other powerlifting events may include the power clean.

Even if you are not a competitive lifter, there are benefits to including this movement in your fitness regime. First, it is a full body, integrated exercise. That means that not only do you use most of the major muscle groups in your body, but you have to use them in a coordinated way to execute the actions. This requires advanced body awareness and also the ability to maintain proper alignment under stress.

If you learn to execute a power clean effectively, you are likely to improve your vertical jump (helpful in sports like volleyball and basketball), force, and speed. Any athlete who participates in sports that require explosive power will benefit from the power clean.

But what about exercisers who are not powerlifters and do not participate in hardcore sports? The power clean provides benefits for you, too.

The power clean builds lower body strength to help you lift or move heavy objects throughout the day. When performed properly, it will also help you to develop a strong postural skill that may be helpful for people who need to be on their feet all day. Lastly, this movement helps to develop the muscles in your shoulders and upper back. Strong upper body muscles help you to perform pushing and pulling movements or lift and carry heavy objects.

The power clean is an advanced movement that can help athletes improve explosive skills (like vertical jumping) and can help everyday exercisers develop power, strength, and force for use in everyday activities.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Since the power clean involves several different complex and coordinated movements, it is smart to engage the help of a qualified coach or trainer to learn the exercise. Also, try the movement with little to no weight first. When you have mastered the mechanics, add weight slowly.

There are five phases involved in the execution of a power clean.

Phase One: Set Up

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. Place the barbell at your feet. Use a lift if necessary so that when you squat down your hands can reach the bar.
  2. Lower your body into a squat position and grip the bar so that your palms are facing your legs. Hands should be outside of your shins, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lengthen the spine so that you don't feel hunched over. The back should stay long and strong throughout the entire exercise. Keep your focus forward.
  4. Engage through your core so that your back and midsection feel supported.

Phase Two: Pull

  1. Lift the bar as you stand up, keeping the weight close to your body. It should feel like you are pulling the bar up along your shins and above the knees.
  2. Continue lifting until the bar is at your thighs. The back should be straight and the shoulders should be over the hips. Ankles, knees, and hips are fully aligned.
  3. Continue to keep the core engaged and the back strong.

Phase Three: Second Pull and Scoop

  1. Bend the knees slightly to prepare for the next quick succession of movements.
  2. Thrust or "scoop" the hips forward in a powerful movement in order to pull the bar higher toward the chest. This explosive movement may include lifting to the balls of your feet. Your feet might even clear the floor slightly.
  3. Elevate your shoulders to create power as you pull the bar through the final stage of this movement. Flex through the elbows and pull them forward to prepare for the next phase.

Phase Four: Catch

  1. Pull your body under the bar as you continue lifting. Your elbows will snap forward (under the bar) and shoulders will roll forward so that it feels like your shoulder blades are pulling down and back.
  2. Drop into a quarter squat position keeping the back strong and posture erect.
  3. Catch the bar so that it rests on the front of the shoulders.

Phase Five: Stand and Release

  1. Stand up tall with the weight resting solidly on the front of the shoulders.
  2. Lower the weight down to the floor in a slow, controlled manner.

As you become more fit and add weight, have your trainer spot-check your form. If your movement mechanics or posture gets sloppy, decrease the weight until you get the movement back on track.

Common Mistakes

The most common errors that you might make when you learn the power clean usually involve your stance and your posture.

Starting Stance and Posture

First, be careful not to place your feet too wide. It might feel more stable to have your feet further apart when you begin, but it is important to keep them at only hip-distance apart. A slight outward rotation is also acceptable. (If you jump slightly during the catch phase it is also common to assume a wider stance. This should also be avoided.)

Next, be mindful of your starting posture. Always begin with a flat back, hips behind your shoulders in a low squat position. Your focus is forward and shoulders should be relaxed.

If you are not lifting a lot of weight the bar may be too low for you to grab. This is because the weight plates are smaller and the bar ends up closer to the ground. But when you can't reach the bar, you are likely to curve through the back. Using lifts under each weight plate will elevate the bar so that you can maintain a flat back.

Using Arms During the Catch

Another common mistake may happen during the catch phase. Some exercisers may try to catch the bar with their arms and keep the elbows pointing towards the ground as a result.

To protect the integrity of your upper body joints, it is important to "catch" by moving the body under the bar and letting it rest on the protracted shoulders.

Not Engaging the Core

If you are lifting too much weight, it is easy to arch the back at almost any phase of this exercise. Keep your back long and strong throughout.

If you feel that you are lifting the right amount of weight and you still find that you are arching the back, double check that you are engaging through your core through every phase of this exercise. Core stability protects your back and helps to prevent injury.

Doing Too Many Reps

The power clean is not designed to help you improve your endurance or general fitness conditioning. This movement is designed to build force and power. As such, you should only perform between one and five repetitions of the movement. If you can complete five reps with little effort, try adding more weight.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Beginners should work with a trainer when learning this move. But if you don't have access to a professional, you can try the move at home using no weight at all or simply using a long bar. This allows you to learn the sequence of the movements without the risk of injury.

While it is common to load the barbell with 45-pound weight plates or more, there is no need to lift that much when you are first starting out. Start with 10-pound plates or even less if necessary.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you master the power clean, consider adding an overhead press. This exercise is called the clean and press. The difference between the power clean and the clean and press is that you add an overhead lift at the end of the clean and press.

Safety and Precautions

The power clean is an impressive move that often attracts attention at the gym. It's easy to watch someone else do it, load up your barbell with heavy weights, and give it a try. But the risk of injury is substantial. Not only can you harm the muscles in your back and shoulders, but the joints in your lower body are at risk as well.

For safety's sake, work with a certified trainer to learn the basic movements. Then (if possible) perform the movements in front of a mirror so that you are able to check your alignment during each phase.

Give It a Try

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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