Power cleans are a great exercise and should rank right up there with the squat and deadlift for being included in everyone’s training routine. Yet, you hardly ever see anyone doing them anymore. They used to be a staple exercise because athletes understood that the exercise is great for building a combination of size, strength, and explosive power for your entire body.
So what is your goal for lifting? Are you an athlete looking for better performance which means training for endurance, explosive power, and agility? Maybe you are a bodybuilder looking for more muscle size and trying to ensure that all of your muscles are well developed? In both cases the power clean can help with those goals; the exercise is just that good.
Benefits of the Power Clean
Along with working on quickness, muscle coordination, foot speed, timing, and balance, this exercise is great for building core strength in the hips and shoulder girdle. Increasing your strength in both of these areas pays immediate dividends in almost all of your other big lifts.
When you start the exercise it is all about the legs, hips, and lower back as you bring the bar from the floor to the waist in a hybrid deadlift/squat motion. Then as you flip the weight up to your shoulders, the back, shoulders, and arms come into play. Really the only muscle not working directly is the chest. Your forearms are holding the bar and the abs and core muscles stabilize. Plus if you add a final press to the motion you get more shoulders, triceps, hips, and quads. That is a lot of benefit from a single exercise.
For sets and reps, this is a great exercise to work with in the 12 to 15 repetition range and really two to three good work sets is all you need. A lot of people incorporate this exercise into a core routine using other big lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, working out three days a week with a day of rest in between.
More than likely many people don’t do this exercise because they have no one to show them how to do it properly. Much like deadlifts and squats, it takes a bit of time and work to master the form. Far too many people rely on machines and gym trainers instead of learning the classic, heavy iron work that builds strong, powerful bodies.
You start with a moderately weighted barbell on a rack. Using a lighter weight in the beginning is important to master the movement. Also when adding weight stick to 25 pound plates instead of larger ones for a greater range of motion on the bottom of the movement.
Un-rack the weight and hold it with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Step back a few paces so you have room to work. Start with a standard foot stance with toes pointing forward. Look straight ahead. Keep your back flat and lower the bar towards the ground keeping it close to your body. Make sure to drop the hips back and down. At the bottom of the motion make sure your shoulders over or in front of the bar. Push your feet down into the ground, driving through your hips to stand up, not pulling with your arms. As the bar passes the knees accelerate and jerk the bar up using the traps and shoulders, bend your arms and push with the calves to finish the explosion and letting the bar travel to apex to get your arms and shoulders under it.
The movement starts slow and then accelerates before ending smoothly. There is no jerking in the movements. To bring the bar back down to your waist, dip the hips down as your flip the bar off your shoulders. Again, this is a practiced movement that gets smoother the more time you spend teaching your body how to do it.
The Bottom Line
This is a fantastic exercise that has applications for everyone. While it may seem intimidating to learn and execute, the benefits far outweigh the small bit of time you need to spend learning proper technique. Give it a try for your next workout!