When it comes to strength and power training, Olympic weightlifting exercises are highly effective and popular. Two of the most commonly used exercises are the "Clean" and the "Power Clean." These movements are not only essential for athletes and weightlifters but also great for beginners looking to improve their PRs.
In this article, we will explore the differences between the Clean and Power Clean, their variations, and which one might be better suited for your fitness goals. Let's get started!
What is a Clean?
The Clean is a classic Olympic weightlifting exercise that involves lifting a barbell from the floor to the shoulders in two distinct phases: the first pull and the second pull. In the first pull, the lifter lifts the barbell from the floor to the mid-thigh position while maintaining a straight back and an upright posture. In the second pull, the lifter explosively extends the hips, knees, and ankles, generating power to lift the barbell and catch it in a front rack position slightly at the shoulders. The Clean is often performed as part of the Clean and Jerk exercise in competitive weightlifting.
What is the Difference Between a Clean and Power Clean?
The main difference between the Clean and Power Clean lies in the receiving position. In the Clean, the lifter catches the barbell in a full front squat position before bringing themselves back up. On the other hand, in the Power Clean, the lifter catches the barbell at a higher position, typically above parallel, by quickly dropping into a partial squat or quarter squat. The Power Clean is considered a modified version of the Clean and is often used to increase power and explosiveness without the need for deep squat mobility.
In competitive lifting, Olympic lifters prefer to do the Clean over the Power Clean because you can handle more weight. Most competitive lifters have a squat max far above their Clean max. Because of this, if they can catch the bar, they’ll have no problem handling the weight during the squat position.
With Power Cleans, you’re doing a partial squat so not only will you need to catch the bar higher but you’ll need to pull it higher as well.
Clean vs. Power Clean: Which is Better for You?
Choosing between doing the Clean and Power Clean depends on what you want out of the lift. If you are a competitive weightlifter or an athlete looking to improve overall strength and mobility, the Clean may be a more suitable choice because its full range of motion engages various muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core, and upper muscle groups. It’s effectively a full-body exercise.
On the other hand, if your primary goal is to enhance power, explosiveness, and speed, the Power Clean could be the better option. The Power Clean allows you to lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions with less fatigue since the range of motion is reduced at the second pull. It targets the posterior chain muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, contributing to improved athletic performance.
You shouldn’t stop at just the Clean or Power Clean. There are plenty of variations that you can incorporate into your workout regimen. Some of these can be as simple as slowing down or pausing during the pull. Another can be using a platform to limit the pull so that you can focus on explosiveness.
Below, we highlight two variations that you can try today.
The Hang Clean is a variation of the Clean that starts with the lifter lifting the barbell from a hanging position, typically just above the knee. Hang Cleans are also different than Power Cleans because they have different starting and squat positions. This variation helps develop explosive power and strength from a dead-stop position and is often used to reinforce the second pull phase of the Clean.
Below are instructions on how to do a Hang Clean. There are six key points that you should focus on: the starting position, first pull, transition, second pull, catch, and front squat.
1. Starting Position
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell positioned on your thighs.
- Grip the barbell with a hook grip (thumbs wrapped around the bar with fingers).
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips, maintaining a flat back. This is your starting position.
- First Pull
- Begin the lift by extending your hips and knees explosively.
- Keep the barbell close to your body as you lift it up to your mid-thigh position.
- Engage your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles during this phase.
- Transition to Hang Position
- Once the barbell reaches your mid-thigh, quickly extend your ankles, and then pull your body under the bar.
- Jump slightly and allow the barbell to float as you transition into the "hang" position.
- At this point, your body should be in a slight squat position, and your shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar.
- Second Pull
- As you reach the hang position, forcefully extend your hips, knees, and ankles to propel the barbell upward.
- Generate power from your legs and hips, using them to drive the barbell upward.
- Shrug your shoulders aggressively, leading to a high pull of the barbell.
- Catch Phase (Rack Position)
- As the barbell reaches its peak height, pull yourself down by bending your knees and hips.
- Quickly rotate your elbows forward and around the barbell while bringing your hands up.
- Catch the barbell on your front shoulders (the "rack" position) with your elbows pointed forward and up.
- Engage your core and upper back muscles to stabilize the barbell during the catch.
- Front Squat and Stand
- Once you catch the barbell in the rack position, lower into a front squat position.
- Keep your elbows high and chest up as you lower your hips to parallel or below.
- Drive through your heels, extend your hips and knees, and stand up to complete the hang clean.
Pro Tip:Make sure to maintain a strong core throughout the lift to stabilize your spine. It’s also crucial to keep the barbell close to your body during both the first and second pulls, as this maximizes power and prevents the bar from drifting away. During the second pull, generate power by executing an explosive triple extension to involve your hips, knees, and ankles. In the catch phase, actively pull yourself under the bar to achieve a quick and smooth transition into the rack position.
The Muscle Clean is a technique-focused variation where the lifter catches the barbell in a front rack position without any hip or knee bend. However, the Muscle Clean still starts at the same position as a Clean or Hang Clean. This variation helps improve the lifter's speed, timing, and coordination during the Clean movement.
It’s also a great lift for beginner powerlifters who want to nail down the form before moving to a more complex movement. The Muscle Clean doesn’t put too much stress on your knees and because it’s a slower lift, you can reinforce the bar path.
Here’s how to do a Muscle Clean:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and the barbell resting at mid-thigh level.
- Employ a hook grip (thumbs wrapped around the bar with fingers) while maintaining a flat back and slightly bending your knees and hips.
- Initiate the lift by forcefully extending your hips and knees.
- Keep the barbell close to your body, ensuring it brushes against your thighs during its ascent.
- Engage your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back to provide power during the initial pull.
Transition to Hang Position
- As the barbell approaches mid-thigh, rapidly extend your ankles and swiftly position yourself under the bar.
- Employ a subtle jump to seamlessly move into the "hang" position.
- Your shoulders should be positioned slightly ahead of the bar during this phase.
- From the hang position, execute a forceful triple extension involving your hips, knees, and ankles.
- Capitalize on the generated momentum to lift the barbell vertically.
- During the second pull, emphasize a vigorous shoulder shrug for added efficacy.
Catch and Rack
- At the peak height of the lift, descend by flexing your knees and hips.
- Perform a quick and precise rotation of your elbows forward and around the bar while elevating your hands.
- Securely catch the barbell on your front shoulders, adopting the "rack" position.
- Ensure your elbows are pointing forward and upward for a stable catch.
- Conclude the muscle clean by standing up from the receiving position.
- Maintain an upright posture, keeping your chest elevated and shoulders pulled back.
- Your hips should be positioned higher than your knees, assuming a partial squat stance.
Pro Tips:Here are some key things to remember when doing the Muscle Clean:
- Keep the barbell close to your body throughout both pulls to maximize your explosive power and maintain control.
- Focus on doing the movement correctly so that you can understand the bar path more than anything.
- Prioritize swift and precise movements during the catch phase to seamlessly receive the barbell on your shoulders.
- Engage your core and upper back muscles for stabilization during the catch and receiving position.
Should You Do Cleans or Power Cleans?
Deciding between doing Power Cleans or Cleans largely depends on your training routine. If you’re an Olympic weightlifter, you’ll probably want to do a Clean since it allows you to put on more weight, which can be a huge factor in how you place.
On the other hand, if you’re doing these exercises to enhance your body for your sport, then a Power Clean might be the better choice. For example, Power Cleans are more explosive, which can be great for developing a basketball player’s vertical or a football player’s first step
Both lifts are effective for their respective function. If you’re new to lifting, remember to focus on proper form, learn how to use wrist wraps, and be consistent. You’ll start to see results in no time!