The Power of Power Cleans

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By LARRY PASTOR

So you want to become a more powerful and explosive athlete. Do you want to be faster and jump higher? If you only had one movement to train in order to work toward these goals, the power clean is your answer. Besides the  power snatch, no other movement develops the kind of hip explosion which is so important to the development of an athlete. Read on to learn better mechanics that will help you master the power clean.

What is a Power Clean?

Keep it simple: Mark Rippetoe describes the power clean as a fast deadlift followed by a jump.
In this T-nation article, Greg Everett (of Catalyst Athletics) gives a clear, eloquent definition of a power clean and how it differs from the squat clean.

A clean brings a barbell from the floor to the lifter’s shoulders. The power qualifier describes the height at which the bar is received and arrested: with the upper legs above horizontal. That is, in a clean, the athlete receives the barbell on the shoulders at some height between standing and squatting, continues into the bottom of a squat position, and finishes the lift by standing again.

In a power clean, the athlete pulls the barbell identically, but must receive it on the shoulders and stop moving downward before sinking past a parallel squat. In other words, the power clean means the athlete must pull the bar higher, get under it quicker, and stop moving immediately.

As Greg explains, achieving the goal of receiving the bar in this position requires a higher degree of hip explosion and hip turnover than a squat clean.

The Power Clean is Basically a Jump

Charles Poliquin breaks down the power clean into a fast deadlift followed by a jump and references Mark Rippetoe’s instructional hints:

Rippetoe says it’s best to think of the power clean as a jump. He teaches the power clean from the top down. He will start by having the athlete rest the barbell on their mid-thighs with their knees slightly bent, with their shoulders in front of the bar and their elbows straight. From this starting position, and without bending their elbows, he will have them jump by extending their knees and hips so that they leave the ground.
Got blocks? Pull power cleans off blocks or boxes so the bar is already at the correct “aiming point.” Practicing hang power cleans has a similar effect.
In the video below, Mark Rippetoe explains the jumping position in a power clean, describing the mid-thighs as “an aiming point….If you jump too low, then you will jump forward. If you jump too high, then you’ve diluted the power and explosion from your hips and knees.”

The Benefits of Power Cleans

For any athlete, if the goal is to make you stronger, faster, and more explosive for your sport, the benefits of the power clean benefits cannot be denied.

Racking The Bar

The benefits of training the power clean for increasing power and explosiveness are arguably about the same as the power snatch. So why train both? One benefit of training the power clean is learning how to rack the bar. By practicing the power clean movement, you are training to receive the bar correctly racked on your shoulder — which is the starting position for both the front squat and the overhead press. By training to receive the bar properly on the shoulder, an athlete is training skills which transfer over to these important lifts.

According to Caveman2.o, the rack is the most difficult part of the power clean:

The problem most people have here is not wrist flexibility. It’s that they don’t trust their own bodies yet and they think they can’t balance the bar and that it’s just going to fall off. However, if you have your upper arms properly parallel and the bar is resting nicely on your shoulders, I promise the bar is not going anywhere. You don’t need your hands at all here.

FYI: “The power clean is a mainstay of the strength workouts of many sports programs. A survey of 137 Division I football coaches found that 85 percent used the power clean to train their athletes, and a survey of NFL coaches found that 88 percent used the lift with their athletes.” – Charles Poliquin
For that reason, he chooses to teach the power clean by having his athletes practice the rack position first. By learning and mastering the rack position, an athlete is learning the majority of the clean. In order to achieve this, it is important for athletes to release their “death grip” on the bar when receiving it: opening the grip right before the bar lands on the shoulders allows you to drive your elbows up to parallel.

Heavy power cleans are better than light ones

Poliquin mentions a study done in the  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research intended to identify the ideal load to optimize power and force in a hang power clean. He explains:

Researchers compared power output in the hang clean at different loads (30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 percent of the 1RM).  Participants were collegiate male athletes who played either rrugby, field hockey, or soccer.  The 80 percent 1RM load allowed the athletes to produce the greatest amount of force, which was significantly greater than the force produced at 30, 40, 50, or 60 percent of the 1RM. Peak power output occurred with the 70 percent 1RM load, which was only slightly greater than the power produced by the 80 percent 1RM load, but substantially more than all the smaller loads.

Although the results did vary among individuals, if you are training a group of athletes to increase their power, speed, and explosiveness across the board, then heavy power cleans are the way to go.

Flexibility is king

Performing a power clean is not only about being strong; it demands excellent flexibility from the entire body, so get prepped accordingly.

  • Wrists. Stretch your wrists & triceps. Warm-up with some Front Squats using the clean grip so you get used to the rack position.
  • Hips & Ankles. You need flexible hamstrings for the 1st pull and mobile ankles for the 2nd pull. Improve your hip mobility & ankle mobility.
  • Upper-body. Keep your chest up and shoulder-blades back & down at all times. Improve upper-body posture by doing shoulder dislocations.

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