Power Clean Form: Learning The Basics Of Olympic Lifting
If you are training in Olympic weightlifting or CrossFit, sooner or later you are going to be tasked with mastering the power clean.
You have likely seen power cleans performed by Olympic trainees on your social media feed or at your local gym.
But, remember that the experts always make physical challenges look easy. While the power clean might appear as one simple, fluid, motion, in reality this exercise is a very technical and advanced one.
Practicing and perfecting your power clean form can be a difficult feat, but not an impossible one. Like all full body exercises that require an athlete to move a loaded barbell with power and precision, nailing down correct power clean form will test your strength, stability, mobility, and coordination.
In today’s article, we are talking about everything power clean form related. My intention is to give you a better understanding of what this movement requires, why you should be incorporating power cleans into your Olympic weightlifting or workout routine, and how to perform power cleans correctly.
What Exactly is the Power Clean?
A power clean is a hip-hinge, barbell movement. It involves moving a loaded barbell from the floor position to an upright, front racked position, where you are standing tall and the bar is resting “front squat style” on your shoulders and open hands.
In essence, the power clean is the basis of many different Olympic weightlifting movements, which is why so many athletes strive to perfect their power clean form.
The power clean is also a variation of the clean and jerk, one of the two competitive lifts in Olympic weightlifting competitions.
The main difference between the power clean and the clean and jerk is that in proper power clean form, the barbell remains stacked in front of your body instead of getting pressed upward to complete the “push jerk”.
What are the Benefits of Power Clean Form?
Working out with power cleans (will using correct power clean form, of course), has immense benefits for all athletes, not just individuals training in Olympic weightlifting. Hear me out…
- 1The power clean does for athletes what the name implies, it trains power. The power clean is an explosive movement, and therefore learning how to move with speed and precision is a skill that can easily translate to a number of different sports that require immediate and coordinated acceleration movements (think football players and sprinters).
- 2The power clean is a full body movement. Like all full body exercises (or compound movements), when you workout with proper power clean form, you are challenging a number of different muscles...nearly 200, to be more exact! Exercises that challenge a number of different muscle groups are prized for being more effective in strength building, endurance, weight loss, and in developing your functional fitness for everyday life.
- 3Improve your deadlift. Since power clean form is essentially you performing a “super-deadlift”, power cleans can be used as an accessory lift to help you improve your overall deadlift. Just like the deadlift, the power clean helps athletes strengthen their posterior chain, back, glutes, and hamstrings.
- 4Train your triple extension. When you perform the correct power clean form, you master something called “triple extension”, which is when your ankles, knees, and hip joints extend simultaneously. This athletic skill has numerous benefits for sport performance, including improved sprints and vertical jumps.
- 5Strength your Olympic lifts. As I mentioned earlier, the power clean is a key movement in Olympic weightlifting training, and mastering power clean form can help you add weight to your overall clean and jerk lift.
How to Execute Proper Power Clean Form
When we break down this fast barbell movement, you will see that there are actually 5 key parts to maintain correct power clean form during the power clean. Read on to learn more about each.
1. The Set Up
To imagine setting up for proper power clean form, picture your standard barbell deadlift starting position, but with a lower hip angle.
You will want to be standing behind the loaded barbell, with the barbell positioned on the floor.
Make sure that your feet are shoulder width apart, and your shins are marking contact with the centre of the barbell.
When you grab the barbell, keep your hands shoulder width apart as well. Maintain a strong overhand grip and align your shoulder sockets directly above the barbell.
Once holding the barbell in their starting position, lift your chest and keep a forward gaze. Cue to keep your chest upright in this position: imagine that you want to show off the logo on your t-shirt and keep it lifted.
Before the pull, sit your butt down. Pull your shoulder blades down and back. Breathe in and fill your diaphragm to create tension and stability in your core (as you would before a heavy deadlift or squat).
Common Mistake: Not engaging your core before the power clean pull. Create tension in your core as if you were going to receive a punch to your abdomen. This can help keep your movement strong and controlled.
2. The Pull
Now it is time to create movement in the barbell by pulling it up from off the floor. With proper power clean form, the force to first initiate this movement needs to come from extending your legs (you are keeping your arms straight at this point).
Pull the bar upwards, and keep it as close to your body as possible. Once the bar passes your knees, you are going to bring your hips forward and chest upright.
Do not forget to maintain a flat back and forward chest throughout this first pull.
3. The Pull Under
Now comes the more technical pull. Once the bar is moving past your hips, you need to continue this explosive movement by moving yourself under the weight of the bar.
In one fluid motion, you are going to bend your knees slightly, lean back slightly, extend your ankles as if to jump straight up (here is where that “triple extension” comes into play!), and shrug your shoulders to begin to move your elbows and hands under the bar.
The bar needs to stay as close to your body as possible at this point in the movement, in order to maintain your correct power clean form and to stay in control of the movement.
Common Mistake: Ensure that you are not using sheer upper body strength to “shrug” up the barbell. This is not correct power clean form, and it can lead to injury. The force in this pull up and under should come from your hips.
Also make sure that you are not over-jumping here; the idea is to extend your ankles, knees, and hips upward, not to actually jump up high.
4. The Catch
After this slight but explosive jump in which you perform the “pull under” movement, you are going to drop into a quarter squat (knees slightly bent) position to catch the bar in a front squat position.
In order to catch the barbell safely, make sure that you are maintaining tension in your core.
And do not misinterpret the use of the word “catch” here to imply the barbell is being thrown and caught; rather, this is a very slight change in weight positioning between you and the barbell, and the weight never moves away or out of alignment from your body.
When you catch the barbell, you are going to drive your elbows forward and rotate your wrists back to rack the barbell in front of your shoulders.
Make sure that your shoulders are taking the brunt of this weight, and your fingertips are just resting on the bar (your hands should not be holding the weight in place).
Common Mistake: Be careful not to land with your feet too wide. Try to recreate the width of the stance you would take for a squat to land in correct power clean form.
Make sure as well that you are not catching the bar with your forearms vertical; the weight should be stacked on the front of your shoulders with your elbows forward, not over your wrists, as this can strain your joints and put you at risk of injury.
5. The Stand
Finally, you stand. Sounds simple enough, but it is incredibly important that you finish this movement as strong as you started it, with a tight core and a strong drive up through your feet.
You want to make sure that your form is good - especially through this step - to ensure that your back is safe!
Power Clean Safety Tips
As you can tell from my lengthy instructions for correct power clean form, this is a very technical movement.
If you have never learned how to do a power clean before, I suggest working with a qualified trainer to learn and perfect the basics of power clean form and reduce your risk of injuring yourself.
As well, you should never perform a power clean with a loaded barbell, until you have perfected the movement with just the bar.
And, you should not try a power clean with a bar, until you have practiced and learned the movement without using any weight at all; I suggest using something like a broomstick to simply get the feel for the movement before adding weight.
The move common errors in power clean form come from performing the power clean with too much weight, too quickly. Power cleans work best when they are controlled; always train with a weight you feel confident with and progress slowly.
Be cognizant of how many reps you are performing of your power cleans. To maintain correct power clean form during your sets, I suggest you do not go higher than a 5 rep scheme.
Why? In a power clean, you are pushing your body to the limit with this explosive, fully body movement. Do that too many times, and eventually you will get fatigued and your form will break down. And, performing fast, complex barbell movements with poor form is a recipe for injury.
When you are learning how to do correct power clean form, do an honest assessment of where you are on your fitness journey. Have you mastered the basics of a hip hinge? Do you have the mobility to catch the bar in a front racked position? Is your core strong enough to maintain stability and tension throughout the movement?
It is better to take a set back and build up the foundations of your fitness, before attempting these complex movements. And again, it is even better to work with a knowledge trainer who can identify your personal areas of need.
If you're looking to build a home gym or have a home gym and want to set it up to be power clean friendly, I'll briefly list some of my favorite products I use to safely and effectively perform this technical lift.
Barbell - Rogue Olympic Barbell
The Rogue Olympic Barbell is a must as deadlift bars and other powerlifting-centric bars have too much "whip" or bend in them for power cleans.
This is the bar I use myself and it is rated for 200 000 PSI tensile strength along with knurling and a 28mm bar diameter.
Plates - Rogue Competition Plates
Next you'll want plates, but not just any plates will do.
Many rubber plates you find online or at fitness stores will do an adequate job, but if you're getting into Olympic lifting, competition plates are best.
These plates come in either KG or LB units and remain some of the best around.
Barbell Collar - Rogue Aluminum Barbell Collar
This is an optional product but it's worth including in my recommended list for the burgeoning Olympic lifters out there.
Barbell collars, like the Rogue Aluminum Barbell Collar, help keep plates from shifting or even falling off during lifting.
During a technical lift that requires plenty of balance, you don't want them moving around.
You can also opt for cheaper options like metal clips or less heavy-duty material collars.
Flooring/Platform - Rogue 8x8 Olympic Platform
Even with competition plates, you can't be dropping the bar directly on your floor.
This Olympic platform allows you to insert rubber tiles (sold separately from the frame) to create an 8' x 8' space to safely complete your lifts.
This is a must-have and doubles as a general home gym flooring solution for deadlifts, stretching, bodyweight exercises, etc.
Mats - Titan Fitness Silencer Drop Pad
Lastly, if you don't have the space or the money, or if you simply just don't want to commit to a flooring option, there are crash pad options.
The Titan Fitness Silencer Drop Pads are wonderful for the fact that they work well and they can be transportable.
They don't have the versatility of a true Olympic platform, but they do exactly what you need and that's protecting your floor from your bar and plates.
Power Clean Form: Final Thoughts
When performed with proper power clean form, power cleans of the king of Olympic style lifting. This barbell movement gives the athlete immeasurable benefits to improve their overall strength, power, stability, and coordination.
Remember that when learning correct power clean form, it is not a race. Progress with caution, take your time, and celebrate the small wins. In time and with consistent practice, power cleans will become second nature to you.