As the name of this exercise implies, the power clean develops whole body power; power being your ability to produce large amounts of force very quickly. In essence, the power clean is actually a weighted jumping exercise so it develops tremendous explosive lower limbs but also works the upper body too. This greater power can help you jump higher or further, run faster or kick harder.
Often considered an exercise for athletes, the power clean has become increasingly popular lately as it often features in many Cross Fit workouts. The guys at Cross Fit perform this exercise for low repetitions using heavy weights and also, controversially, for high reps using light to moderate weights.
If pure power is your aim, low repetition/heavy load power cleans are the way to go and some experts even argue that high rep power cleans are all but pointless and do nothing for power development. On the other hand, high rep power cleans are one of the most metabolically demanding exercises around although many dyed-in-the-wool lifting coaches think that high rep power cleans boarder on being sacrilegious!
The low rep/high weight versus high rep/low weight argument will rage on and on but whichever camp you find yourself in, it’s essential that you perform this exercise with perfect form if you are going to minimize your risk of injury.
Power clean anatomy
For all intents and purposes, the power clean is a full body exercise. The only muscles that do not receive direct stimulation are the pectoralis major muscles of the chest or pecs for short. The rest of your muscles work had and in synergy to help you lift the (potentially heavy) barbell from the floor to shoulder height.
Good power cleans depend on and develop a strong posterior chain. The posterior chain is basically all the muscles which run from your heels to the base of your skull. Any weakness on the posterior chain will reduce your ability to perform the power clean.
The posterior chain is also known as the “power zone” as these muscles are involved in generating the force necessary to run fast and jump. In fact, very few athletic endeavours do not involve a significant contribution from these muscles. This helps explain why the power clean and its variations are so popular in the world of sport.
Power clean equipment
The power clean requires little more than a barbell and weight plates. Ideally, the bar should be raised to the same height as it would be if you were using full sized 20kg/45lb plates. Unless you have access to lightweight practice plates, this may mean you need to raise your bar using stacked up plates or sturdy boxes. Either way, it is important you don’t attempt to power clean a bar that is too close to the floor as this merely increases your chances of lifting with a rounded back.
It is customary when performing power cleans to drop that bar rather than lower it gently to the floor. This manoeuvre requires access to a shock absorbing lifting platform and bumper plates which are designed to be dropped. If you don’t have access to a platform and bumper plates, you will have to exercise control when putting your weights back down. I suggest carefully rolling the bar down your front and then performing a reverse deadlift. There is no need to perform this manoeuvre super-slow – just control the descent of the bar enough to avoid dropping your weights on the floor and angering your normally friendly gym manager!
Clothing wise, like any lower body exercise, firm soled shoes and unrestrictive clothing is a must. Your grip is vital for success in this exercise so chalk, lifting gloves or at the very least a hand towel are essential so you don’t suffer from sweaty, slippery palms.