How to Do Power Cleans: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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The power clean is an advanced movement that requires the use of many muscle groups and coordinated skills. People who are new to this exercise benefit from working with a qualified coach or personal trainer to learn proper mechanics before adding it to a total body strength routine.

Also Known As: Clean, squat clean

Targets: Full body

Equipment Needed: Barbell, weight plates

Level: Advanced

How to Do a Power Clean

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

There are five phases involved in the execution of a power clean. They are the set up, pull, pull and scoop, catch, and release.

Phase One: Set Up

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and place the barbell at your feet. If your flexibility is limited, use a lift or blocks to elevate the bar so you can reach it more easily.
  2. Lower your body into a squat position and grip the bar with your palms facing your legs. Your hands are outside of your shins, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lengthen the spine so you don't feel hunched over. The back stays long and strong throughout the entire exercise. Keep your focus forward.
  4. Engage your core so 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 along your shins and above the knees.
  2. Continue lifting until the bar is at your thighs. The back is straight with the shoulders over the hips. The ankles, knees, and hips are fully aligned. 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 to pull the bar toward the chest. This explosive movement may involve lifting to the balls of your feet; your feet might even clear the floor slightly.
  3. Elevate the 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 your shoulders will roll forward, making it feel as if 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 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 are compromised, decrease the weight until you get the movement back on track.

Benefits of the Power Clean

The power clean uses most of the major muscle groups in your body. It is a core movement in many CrossFit gyms and weight rooms and has been performed competitively at the Olympics (although today, Olympians only compete in related movements: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk).

This exercise can help athletes who want to improve vertical jumping skills and enhance explosive movements in sports and performance. Even if you are not a competitive lifter or athlete, there are benefits to including this movement in your fitness regime.

For example, the power clean builds the lower body strength needed to lift or move heavy objects. When performed properly, it can help you develop a strong and healthy posture, which may be helpful for people who are on their feet all day.

This movement also helps to develop the muscles in your shoulders and upper back. Strong upper body muscles help you to perform pushing and pulling movements or when lifting and carrying heavy objects.

Other Variations of the Power Clean

You can modify this exercise to better suit your fitness level and goals.

No Weight for Beginners

If you are new to this exercise, try the movements using no weight at all or simply using a long bar. This allows you to learn the sequence of the movements while practicing safe weight training methods and techniques.

Clean and Press

Once you master the power clean, consider adding an overhead press. This exercise is called the clean and press. To do this more challenging variation, add an overhead lift at the end of the clean, pressing the bar toward the ceiling before returning it to the floor.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common Mistakes

Here are the most common errors made with the power clean, as well as how to avoid them.

Wide Starting Stance

It might feel more stable to have your feet further apart when you begin, but it's important to keep them at only hip distance apart. If you jump slightly during the catch phrase, it is also common to assume a wider stance. This should also be avoided.

Improper Starting Posture

It's also important to be mindful of your starting posture. Always begin with a flat back and the hips behind your shoulders in a low squat position. Your focus is forward and your shoulders are relaxed.

Curved Back

If you aren't lifting a lot of weight, the smaller weight plates can make the bar closer to the ground. If you can't reach the bar easily, you're likely to curve through the back. Using lifts under each weight plate elevates the bar so you can maintain a flat back.

Not Engaging the Core

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

If you are lifting weight that is too heavy, it's easy to arch the back at almost any phase of this exercise.

Using Arms During the Catch

Some exercisers try to catch the bar with their arms, causing the elbows to point toward the ground instead of out. Protect the integrity of your upper body joints by moving the body under the bar during the catch, letting the bar rest on protracted shoulders.

Doing Too Many Reps

The power clean isn't designed to help improve endurance or general fitness conditioning. Instead, it builds 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.

Safety and Precautions

If you have issues with your back, shoulders, or lower body joints, it may be best to avoid the power clean. Ask your doctor or physical therapist whether this movement is safe for you. If you feel any pain at all during the power clean, end the exercise immediately.

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 beginning. Start with 10-pound plates, or even less if necessary. Aim to complete between one and five reps.

Try It Out

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

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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