How to do Power Cleans

Question – How do I properly perform a power clean?

A picture (or in this case a video) is worth a thousand words:

Question – What kind of clean should I do? Power clean, hang clean, or squat clean?

Both power cleans (pulled from the floor) and hang cleans (pulled from the thigh) are outstanding exercises for bodybuilders, athletes, powerlifters and, of course, Olympic lifters alike. Hang cleans can be used to fill one (or more) of several different purposes:

  • They can be “assistance” work for a novice lifter or football player
  • They can be outstanding trap/deltoid developers for a bodybuilder
  • They can develop excellent explosiveness for power lifters, especially when done seated

The squat clean is merely a variation of both the power clean or the hang clean, where you drop into a full squat to assist in racking the bar across the front of your shoulders.

For all around benefit, stick with the basic power cleans. Hang cleans are great for an intermediate-and-beyond trainee, and squat cleans are specific to Olympic lifters.

The hanging clean is essentially a clean done from knee level instead of the floor. You stand up with the bar, bend your knees, keep your torso upright. You bend your knees and allow the bar to travel downward just to your knees, then you explosively straighten your legs, perform a power shrug/upright row, and flip your arms underneath the bar, just like in a regular clean.

From there, if you are doing a clean to press, you can use a bit of leg drive and push-press the weight overhead. Then control the weight back down. At the intermediate level, the “HCP” (hanging clean and press) can be used as a double-substitute for the power clean and the standing overhead press. It makes for a serious conditioning workout as well as an incredible developer of the delt and trap areas.

The majority of cleans that you see Olympic lifters do are going to include the full squat component. For general athletics and muscle/strength building, don’t bother with the squat component, as it takes a technically complex exercise and adds a few layers of complexity while reducing actual muscular involvement (i.e. you can do more weight with less strength because of the potential for very significant technique improvements)

Question – What is so tough about power cleans? Why are they the only exercise that most strength trainers thinks is 100% necessary?

1) Mastery of the deadlift is necessary before the clean can even be considered. This doesn’t mean “wow, he dead lifted 225”, it means “wow, that guy’s deadlifting technique is outstanding.” The power clean cannot be performed properly without the base technique mastery of the dead lift.

2) Most people would be better served by not doing the clean, rather than do the clean, but do it wrong. Once you’ve been doing it wrong, it will require de-training and re-training, a much more time-consuming process than simply the initial training of a lift. If you know how to do the clean, or if you have a knowledgeable eye to help you out with your technique, then do it. The explosive strength and acceleration it develops is a critical motor skill for athletics, and will be incredibly helpful in training many other lifts. However, if you don’t have the ability to perform it under the tutelage of someone knowledgeable, you are best served waiting until you find someone who can help.

3) In the book Practical Programming for Strength Training, Mark Rippetoe recommends that in place of the clean, the pull-up and/or chin-up be used until a solid base of conditioning has occured and overall strength has been developed.

Additionally, the power clean REQUIRES that the barbell be dropped rather than lowered slowly during the eccentric phase. Most gyms don’t have bumper plates and don’t like you dropping iron weights to the deck, even with padding on the floor. As such, the clean, though the preferred exercise, will probably not be practical or safe for most trainees.

Question – I want to be a bodybuilder, not an Olympic lifter, why should I do cleans?

For a variety of reasons:

  • Incredible traps
  • Great explosiveness which helps in dead lifts and squats
  • Grip and forearm development
  • Deltoid development
  • Technique improvement for initial pull from floor on dead lifts
  • Variety

Question – Should I do cleans or rows?

Depends on your goal. The majority of football players, track/field athletes and power lifters will want to do power cleans rather than rows. That being said, bent rows are an excellent exercise no matter what your specific athletic goals are.

The bottom line:

If you have a competent person to help, learn to do power cleans. Even if you decide to scrap these in favor of rows later on in your athletic/training “career”, you’ll at least have the opportunity to learn how to do them now so that if you choose to bring them back into your program later on, you have a solid technique knowledge base.

If you don’t have someone to help and you don’t know how to do cleans, or can’t because of injury, learn to do the rows instead.


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