Power Cleans – The Exercise That Builds Explosiveness And Strength

Power clean technique

There are two main ways to teach the power clean; from the ground up and from the top down. The top down is arguably the simplest method as it uses the least number of stages although the ground up method may seem more logical. I prefer the top down method simply because of it’s, err, simplicity!
A note on grip

Many weightlifters use something called a hook grip. This involves wrapping your thumb around the bar and then closing your fingers over your thumb. This provides a very secure if somewhat painful grip on the bar. For most of us, a normal “thumbs around grip” is adequate but feel free to experiment with the hook grip if you are lifting heavy weights and feel your grip is a limiting factor.

Phase one – quarter-depth front squat

With a barbell in a squat rack at mid-chest height, grasp the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip. Push your elbows under the bar and rest it across your anterior (front) deltoids. Make sure your elbows are high so your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Try to point your elbows directly to your front. You don’t need to grip the bar in this position; the position of your arms should mean the bar is secure. Those of you with less than optimal wrist flexibility may find that the bar rests across the middle joints of your fingers. This is called the rack position.

With the barbell racked across your anterior deltoids, take a step back and place your feet in the same position you would use if you were about to perform a vertical jump. This is usually around shoulder width apart with your toes turned slightly outward.

From here, bend your knees, push your hips back and descend into a quarter-depth squat. This is the receiving position in which you will catch the barbell. For more information on the front squat, please see my article in issue 22-6.

Phase two – jump and shrug from hang position

Using the same foot position and grip described above, hold the barbell across your hips. Bend your knees slightly, push your hips back and lower the bar to mid thigh height. This is called the hang position and should resemble a Romanian deadlift.

From this stance, rapidly extend your knees and hips and jump straight up and off the ground. Jump only as high as necessary for your knees and hips to fully extend. As you jump, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears so that the bar travels as high as possible without bending your arms. Land on bent legs to absorb the impact.

During this phase, you should feel as though the bar “wants” to come higher up your body. You may even feel as though you have to hold it down. This is the key to the power clean. Many people mistakenly try to use their arms to pull the bar up when, in reality, the legs provide the majority of the force. There is an arm pull but the arms generate very little power compared to your much larger leg muscles.

Phase three – high pull from hang

Adopt the hang position with the bar resting across your thighs, your knees slightly bent and your hips pushed back. As before, jump and shrug but, as the bar already “wants” to travel up your body, use your arms and pull it up to around chest height. This should resemble a kind of “cheated” upright row. Keep your elbows above your hands and make sure the bar stays close to your body. If the bar is more than an inch/2.8 cms in front of you, the weight will be forward of your base of support and you are likely to lose your balance. Ideally the bar should skim your training top but this takes some practice. Try and keep your arm pull until the bar has reached waist height. A good pull is a late pull!

Phase four – power clean from hang position

Using the same starting position as above, descend in to a good hang position (hips back, chest up, lower back tightly arched). Explode upwards into a jump, shrug your shoulders and pull the bar upwards. As you land, dip your knees slightly, drive your elbows forwards and catch the bar on your anterior deltoids as described in phase one. Extend your knees and stand up straight to complete the rep.

Phase Five – power clean from floor

Set the bar on the floor and, with your feet in the same position you have used thus far, adopt the deadlift position. Keeping your arms straight perform a deadlift using great technique. As the bar reaches and lightly mid-thighs, transition from the deadlift into a jump and accelerate the bar upwards. Shrug your shoulders, pull with your arms and dip your knees. Catch the bar in the rack position across your anterior deltoids. Stand up straight to complete the lift. Don’t rush the deadlift/jump transition. Initially, you might even pause for a split second between stages. With practice though, these two distinct moves will begin to merge into one.


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