When it comes to building strength, power, and overall athleticism, two popular exercises often stand out: the power clean and the deadlift. Both exercises offer unique benefits and target various muscle groups, making them integral components of strength training routines. In this article, we'll delve into the specifics of these exercises, highlighting their techniques, the muscles worked, and the advantages they bring. Whether you're a powerlifter, an athlete, or someone looking to enhance their fitness level, understanding the differences between power cleans and deadlifts can guide you towards making the right exercise choices for your goals.
What is a Power Clean?
A power clean is a weightlifting exercise that is commonly performed in strength and conditioning programs, particularly among athletes and those looking to build explosive strength. It is a variation of the clean exercise, which is an Olympic weightlifting movement.
The goal of the power clean is to catch the barbell at shoulder height, with the lifter dropping into a partial squat to receive the barbell on their shoulders. The lifter then stands up to complete the lift. Unlike the full clean used in Olympic weightlifting, the power clean doesn't involve catching the bar in a full deep squat position.
The power clean is an effective exercise for developing full-body explosive strength, speed, and coordination. It primarily targets muscles in the hips, legs, back, and shoulders. It's often included in strength training programs for athletes in sports like football, basketball, track and field, and more.
How to Do a Power Clean
Doing power cleans may seem complicated, but that’s only if you don’t know the essentials like the setup, first pull, second pull, catch, and more. Below, we show you how to do a power clean from the very beginning.
Equipment Needed:Barbell, weight plates, lifting shoes (optional), and a safe lifting mat (optional).
- Approach the barbell with your feet hip-width apart.
- The barbell should be positioned over the middle of your feet.
- Bend at your hips and knees to grip the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing you) or a mixed grip (one palm facing you, one palm facing away). Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
2. Starting Position:
- Your back should be straight, chest up, and shoulders over or slightly ahead of the bar.
- Hips are higher than knees, with a slight bend in your knees.
3. First Pull:
- With a strong and explosive movement, drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees simultaneously.
- As the barbell rises off the ground, keep it close to your body by pulling it in with your lats.
- Maintain a straight back, focusing on a neutral spine.
4. Second Pull:
- As the barbell passes your knees, rapidly extend your hips and fully stand up. This generates upward momentum on the barbell.
- Simultaneously, shrug your shoulders and pull the barbell upwards using your arms.
- As the barbell reaches its highest point, quickly drop into a quarter squat position.
- Rotate your elbows forward and underneath the barbell while dipping slightly under it.
- The barbell should land on the front of your shoulders (deltoids) and upper chest.
- Your upper arms should be parallel to the ground, with your elbows pointing forward.
6. Stand Up:
- From the quarter squat position, push through your heels to stand up.
- Keep your core engaged and maintain an upright posture.
7. Lowering the Barbell:
- To lower the barbell, reverse the movement. Lower it back to the starting position under control.
Related:How to do a Hang Clean
Muscles Used During Power Clean
During a power clean, several muscles are engaged. Explained simply, they are:
- Quadriceps (Quads): These muscles in the front of your thighs help you extend your knees and lift the barbell from the ground to your shoulders.
- Hamstrings: Located on the back of your thighs, these muscles assist the quads in straightening your knees during the lift.
- Gluteal Muscles (Glutes): These muscles in your buttocks are engaged when you explosively lift the bar and extend your hips.
- Erector Spinae: Running along your spine, these muscles keep your back straight and stable throughout the power clean.
- Trapezius (Traps):Found in your upper back and neck, the traps play a role in controlling and stabilizing the bar during the lift.
- Deltoid Muscles (Delts): These shoulder muscles help raise and support the bar as it moves upwards.
- Calf Muscles (Calves): Located in your lower legs, they assist in maintaining balance and control during the lift.
- Forearm Muscles: Your forearm muscles, including the wrist flexors and extensors, are used to grip and control the barbell.
In a power clean, you're essentially working your legs, hips, back, shoulders, and even your grip strength. It's a dynamic exercise that targets various muscle groups, making it effective for building overall strength and power.
Benefits of Power Cleans
Power cleans are revered due to their many benefits. Some of these include increased endurance, fat loss, and strength building while also helping out with muscle imbalances. We go more in-depth below.
Improved Endurance Capacity
Engaging various muscle groups during the power clean and incorporating it into timed barbell cycling or high-intensity functional routines leads to enhanced aerobic and anaerobic capacity. This holistic approach cultivates better muscular endurance, ultimately translating to elevated athletic performance.
Enhanced Fat Loss
Compound movements, such as the power clean, demand maximum effort and engage multiple muscle groups, resulting in increased metabolic rate and body fat burn. These exercises trigger excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), commonly known as the afterburn effect.
EPOC, or the afterburn effect, signifies the energy and oxygen (calories) your body requires to repair muscles post-workout. It significantly contributes to your daily calorie expenditure and enhances your metabolic rate. Studies show that longer, more intense resistance training sessions with heavier weights can amplify the EPOC effect, making compound movements like the power clean particularly effective for calorie burning and fitness gains.
Maximal Strength and Power
The power clean engages all major muscle groups. This approach accelerates strength development, allowing you to make substantial progress in a shorter timeframe. Importantly, even without heavy weights, performing compound movements with high volume can lead to faster strength gains compared to relying solely on isolated exercises.
Rectification of Muscular Imbalances
Power cleans are bilateral exercises that engage each side of your body independently, promoting the development of strength, force generation, and core stability. They play a crucial role in gradually addressing and correcting muscular and postural imbalances. In contrast, isolated movements often overlook these imbalances. Additionally, exercise machines can potentially worsen muscular imbalances, as stronger muscle groups tend to compensate for weaker ones.
It's essential to strike a balance between isolated and functional training. While isolated movements can contribute to muscular imbalances, they should be incorporated alongside functional training to rectify imbalances by strengthening weaker muscle groups. This comprehensive approach ensures a more well-rounded and balanced fitness regimen.
What is a Deadlift?
A deadlift is a foundational strength training exercise that involves lifting a weighted barbell or object from the ground to a standing position. It's a compound movement that engages various muscle groups, primarily the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and core. The goal of the deadlift is to develop overall body strength and functional fitness by targeting all the major muscle groups simultaneously. The exercise also challenges grip strength and upper body muscles since you’re holding the barbell upright
Deadlifts are effective for building raw strength and power, especially in the posterior chain. It improves posture, enhances core stability, and aids in injury prevention by strengthening the muscles that support the spine. Their functional nature, mirroring everyday lifting movements, makes them relevant for real-life activities which is why everyone should consider adding deadlifts to their workout split.
How to Do a Deadlift
Gear Needed: Barbell, weight plates, lifting shoes (optional), and wrist wraps (optional but recommended)
To perform a deadlift:
- Position yourself in front of the loaded barbell with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your feet are directly under the bar, and your shins are lightly touching the bar.
- Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backward and bending at the waist, creating a hinge motion. Grasp the bar with both hands, employing an overhand grip, on either side of your legs.
- Prioritize maintaining your hips at a lower level than your shoulders. To establish a strong foundation, contract your shoulder blades together, engage the lats, and activate your core muscles.
- Begin the ascent by driving your feet into the ground and lifting the weight. Throughout this motion, ensure the barbell remains in close proximity to your body.
- Upon reaching the pinnacle of the lift, focus on contracting your glutes while maintaining an upright position. To maintain proper form, try to avoid leaning back once you’ve reached the end position.
Muscles Used During Deadlifts
Since deadlifts are full-body exercises, there are multiple muscles targeted during this compound lift. Here are the ones to keep a look out for when doing deadlifts:
- Erector Spinae: These muscles run along the length of the spine and are responsible for keeping the back straight and stable during the deadlift. They help maintain proper spinal alignment throughout the lift.
- Gluteus Maximus: The largest muscle in the buttocks, the gluteus maximus, is a powerhouse for hip extension. It's heavily engaged as you lift the barbell from the ground, working to straighten the hips.
- Hamstrings: Located at the back of the thighs, the hamstrings assist in both hip extension and knee flexion during the deadlift. They play a significant role in the initial pull from the ground.
- Quadriceps: Situated at the front of the thighs, the quadriceps aid in extending the knees as you stand up with the barbell. They work alongside the glutes and hamstrings to generate power.
- Core Muscles (Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis, Obliques): The core muscles work in unison to stabilize the spine and maintain proper posture. They prevent excessive rounding of the back and provide a strong foundation for the lift.
- Trapezius and Rhomboids: These muscles in the upper back are responsible for retracting the shoulder blades and pulling them down. They keep the shoulders back and the chest up during the movement.
- Forearm Muscles and Grip: As you hold onto the barbell, muscles in the forearms and hands are engaged to maintain a firm grip. Grip strength is essential for controlling the barbell throughout the lift.
- Latissimus Dorsi: The "lats" are large muscles that run from the upper arm to the spine and contribute to pulling the barbell close to the body as it's lifted off the ground.
Benefits of Deadlifts
Deadlifts are a popularbarbell back exercise because they provide a number of benefits that you won’t see with other weightlifting exercises. Here are four of the best benefits that come with doing deadlifts.
Functional fitness is all about practical strength, even though it doesn't solely focus on building muscles. One exercise that fits perfectly into this approach is the deadlift. When you do deadlifts, you work out key muscle groups like your glutes, trapezius, hamstrings, and both your lower and upper back. This means you'll become noticeably stronger.
What makes the deadlift special is that it's not just about getting stronger for the sake of it. It's about gaining strength that you can actually use in your everyday life. Imagine lifting and moving heavy objects or even carrying groceries – the strength you build from deadlifting can come in handy for these real-world activities, making your daily tasks easier and more manageable.
Improved Grip Strength
Deadlifts are excellent for improving grip strength because they require you to hold onto a heavy barbell throughout the exercise. When you perform a deadlift, your fingers, hands, and forearms must work hard to maintain a secure grip on the bar. Over time, this consistent demand on your grip during deadlifts leads to increased grip strength. It's like a strength training exercise for your hands.
Lifting straps are used in deadlifting to enhance grip by securely wrapping around the barbell and your wrists, preventing the bar from slipping. They are particularly useful when grip strength becomes a limiting factor or when lifting very heavy weights, reducing the risk of dropping the bar. For a full breakdown, read our article onhow to use lifting straps correctly.
Deadlifts can play a crucial role in injury prevention by bolstering the strength of the muscles surrounding vital tendons and ligaments. This is particularly important for safeguarding your joints, especially in areas like the hamstrings and lower back. When these muscles are strong, they provide essential support to the joints, reducing the risk of injuries.
Reduce Lower Back Pain
Deadlifts can reduce lower back pain by strengthening the muscles in your lower back, hips, and core. This improved muscle strength and stability supports better posture, reducing strain on the lower back. Additionally, deadlifts promote spinal stability, increase flexibility, prevent muscle imbalances, and teach proper body mechanics for lifting, all of which contribute to a healthier and pain-free lower back.
Deadlift vs. Power Clean: Main Differences
Both power cleans and deadlifts offer distinct benefits and serve different purposes. Take a look below at some of the key differences between the two exercises.
Here are some other comparisons between the deadlift and common lifts:
Range of Motion:
Unlike the power clean, where you need to lift the bar above hip level, the deadlift covers a shorter range of motion. The deadlift involves lifting a heavy barbell from the ground while standing up straight, then carefully lowering it back down. This is done slowly and with control.
On the other hand, the power clean starts with a phase called a "deadlift pull." However, the power clean has a unique second phase that's explosive and fast. This involves extending your ankles, hips, and knees, thrusting your hips forward, and jumping. After fully extending your body, you bend your elbows to pull the barbell up to your chin.
The deadlift emphasizes raw strength and power, while the power clean demands a higher level of explosive strength. This distinction leads to a consistent trend: your deadlift weight will typically surpass your power clean weight. As a helpful guideline, consider that you should be capable of power cleaning around 60% of your one-rep max (1RM) deadlift weight. This difference in requirements between the two exercises showcases the unique aspects of each lift and the varying types of strength they target.
Difficulty of Exercise:
Deadlifts are easier to do than power cleans. They require a shorter range of motion and the movement focuses on one pull only. Power cleans have two phases, making it difficult to master the exercise unless you’ve learned the deadlifts.
If you’re a beginner lifter, start with the deadlift. If you’re a powerlifter looking to try something new, then try the power clean.
Building Muscle vs. Explosiveness:
Deadlifts involve lifting heavier weights at a controlled pace, contributing to muscle growth and raw strength. In contrast, power cleans focuses on generating explosive movements with heavy weights, promoting muscle development for quick acceleration and athleticism.
If your goal is to enhance explosive strength, power cleans are the way to go. However, when it comes to building larger muscles and increasing overall strength, deadlifts take the lead.
Deadlifts emphasize control over heavy weights, while power cleans prioritize control over both weight and speed. Power cleans are advantageous for developing greater muscle coordination as they require control over both the weight and the speed of the movement. In contrast, deadlifts focus on handling heavy weights without the same emphasis on speed.
Power cleans are the clear winner here. Power cleans focuses on building explosiveness more than deadlifts. Deadlifts help develop explosiveness too, but it’s hard to compare to the clean. Rather, try comparingpower cleans versus hang cleans if you want to become more athletic.
Both exercises are relatively safe to do. As long as you focus on proper form, injuries are fairly low risk. However, when compared head-to-head, power cleans are a little more complicated, so you’ll need to be cautious when performing the lift. For instance, while you can dodeadlifts without shoes, you’ll need them for power cleans to protect your feet in case you drop the bar during the second pull.
Commonly Asked Questions
Are Power Cleans Better Than Deadlifts?
Both exercises serve different purposes. Power cleans enhance explosiveness and athleticism, while deadlifts focus on strength and muscle building. Choosing which exercise to do depends on what you’re looking for.
However, the two exercises can complement one another. Since you only use partial effort during the power clean, you can use the lift as a way to maximize force output. This translates to certain mechanics used in thesquat or deadlift.
Should Powerlifters do Power Cleans?
Yes, powerlifters should do power cleans. Powerlifters can choose to incorporate power cleans into their training routines to benefit from improved explosive power and overall strength. Power cleans engage multiple muscle groups and can enhance the initial phase of lifts like the deadlift and squat. This exercise provides variety in training and can help powerlifters break through plateaus. However, mastering the technique and ensuring proper coaching is essential to safely and effectively integrate power cleans into their regimen. While not mandatory, power cleans can be a valuable addition for powerlifters looking to enhance their performance.
How Much Can You Power Clean versus a Deadlift?
Since you’re not bringing the barbell past your hip, the deadlift has a shorter range of motion. Therefore, deadlifts focus more on raw strength and muscle. On the other hand, since power cleans are thrust into your upper body, you’ll need more explosiveness.
In the battle of power clean vs. deadlift, there's no clear winner. Both exercises offer unique benefits that cater to different fitness goals. Incorporating a combination of power cleans and deadlifts into your training regimen can lead to a well-rounded strength and athleticism development. Consider your objectives, training level, and preferences to make the best choice for your fitness journey.