What Muscles Do Power Cleans Work?

We all know that going to the gym can be a rewarding experience, but working out can come with some positives and negatives. For example, building muscle can be a slow and painful process, but it is something that we have to endure if we want to remain fit and healthy. 

When it comes to working on our muscles, numerous benefits come along with the process that have a profound effect on our bodies. Not only does weightlifting strengthen our muscles and bones, but it can also increase energy levels and even elevate positive emotions. 

If you are looking to build up your muscles, then the best method to ensure muscle growth is the power clean. This Olympic weightlifting move is both an impressive thing to accomplish, and a rewarding lift for your muscular system. Not only is it difficult to perform, but the power clean is also a move that promises to work out a variety of muscles across the body. But what muscles do power cleans work? 

Down below we have compiled all the information you need concerning power cleans and the benefits that come with performing this move. By following this guide, you will learn how to execute a power clean, while also understanding how the exercise is beneficial to your body. So why not take a look and start working on those muscles!

What Is A Power Clean?

A power clean is an Olympic weightlifting movement that has been performed by both men and women during the Olympic games. Beyond that, the movement is often performed in various workout routines around the world and is considered one of the most effective core movements for building muscle in the stomach area. 

The power clean is considered a highly advanced move and it is often performed by professional athletes who wish to strengthen the muscles located in their shoulders and arms. However, the movement has also been utilized by athletes who wish to improve their vertical jumping skills. 

The power clean itself is a movement that involves lifting a barbell weight into the shoulder area, while also moving from a squat into a standing position. The full-body exercise requires the use of various muscles groups and coordination skills, which makes it a particularly complex movement to execute correctly. 

If you are interested in performing a power clean or adding the move to your usual exercise routine - then we have outlined the movement in the following step-by-step guide. Although our guide has been created for educational purposes, we do not recommend attempting to perform a power clean alone if you have never executed the movement before. 

Exercisers who are new to the weightlifting move should only consider performing it with the help of a personal trainer or coach - to learn the correct mechanics of the method. 

How To Perform A Power Clean

The power clean is an advanced weightlifting move that requires the use of several different and complex movements. So we suggest performing it with a coach or trainer for the first time. 

We would also recommend beginning the lift with little or no weight so that you can truly understand the mechanics of the move before exerting yourself. Once the movements have been mastered, then you can begin adding weight slowly to your bar. 

What You Will Need: 

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

Step One: Setting Up

  • Stand in a tall position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place the barbell in front of you and by your feet. If you have difficulty with limited flexibility, then you can utilize blocks to reach the bar when needed. 
  • Lower yourself into a squatting position and grip the bar so that the palms of your hands are facing your legs. Your hands should be on the outside of your shins and should be shoulder-width apart. 
  • Straighten your spine to ensure you are not in a hunched position. Your back should remain strong and straight while you perform the move. Keep your eyes facing forward. 
  • Engage your core, to support your back and midsection. 

Step Two: The Pull

  • As you rise into a standing position, lift the bar while keeping the weight close to your body. The experience should feel like the bar is moving along your shins and above your knees as you lift it. 
  • Continue to lift the bar until it is at your thigh area. During this, your back should remain straight and your shoulders should be over your hips. Your ankles, knees and hips also need to be fully aligned. 
  • Always keep your core engaged and your back strong for support and stability. 

Step Three: The Thrust

  • For the following movements, you should bend your knees slightly for more support. 
  • Thrust your hips forward and pull the bar higher toward your chest. This powerful movement should also include lifting the balls of your feet. You may even rise from the floor slightly. 
  • Elevate your shoulders to create a force as you pull the bar into the final stage of this particular movement. 

Step Four: The Catch

  • As you continue to lift the bar higher, you should pull your body under it. During this process, your elbows should snap forward under the bar, and your shoulders should roll so that it feels like your shoulder blades are being pulled down. 
  • From this you should then drop into a quarter squat position, ensuring that you keep your back strong and erect throughout. 
  • Then catch the bar so that it rests on the front of your shoulders - once completed you have fully executed the catch movement. 

Step Five: The Release

  • Stand tall and firm, with the bar resting solidly on the front of our shoulders and hold this position. 
  • Then lower the bar back down to the ground in a slow and controlled manner. Do not drop the bar as this could lead to damage and injury

Like with any weightlifting move, you will be able to execute the power clean more efficiently with each session. Eventually, you will no longer need a trainer and you will be able to add more weight to the bar. 

However, adding more weight can sometimes work to make your posture and movements messy. If this happens, then we advise decreasing the amount of weight you have on the bar until you are comfortable again and executing the movements with precision. 

What Muscles Do Power Cleans Work?

As we have previously mentioned, the power clean is often considered a core movement that can be used to build muscles in the stomach and shoulder area. However, the exercise itself is actually an effective full-body workout that can be used to strengthen various muscle groups across the body. 

Shoulders and Back

Although this may be an obvious statement, when you perform a power clean you are greatly engaging the muscle groups found in your shoulders and back. During the execution of the movement, you are expected to hold your back in a straight and firm position. 

By doing this you are helping to work the muscles in your back, in particular the traps which are located at the top of your back in-between your shoulders. Your traps and shoulders are primarily engaged during the “thurst” stage of the movement, where you are expected to elevate the bar. 

Legs

It is a common misconception that the power clean only strengthens muscles located in the upper part of your body. However, this is not entirely the case!

When performing a power clean you will move from a squat into a standing position and it is this movement that engages the muscles in the lower part of your body. The muscles the power clean targets include your calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes. 

Stomach

The power clean can also be used to tighten the muscles located in your core, such as your abdominal muscles. When it comes to performing the movement, you will have to engage your core muscles numerous times, as this will help to ensure the strength and stability of your posture.

By engaging your core, you are using those muscles to their fullest potential and therefore allowing them to grow and build. 

How Not To Perform a Power Clean

When you perform a new weightlifting movement for the first time, you are always going to make mistakes. However, you should never let this deter you from performing the exercise ever again, as mistakes can be easily corrected.

The most common mistakes you will encounter when performing a power clean will often involve your posture and core. 

Down below we have outlined the various errors you may encounter and how they can be rectified for the benefit of your body and muscles. By following these points, you will be able to perform a power clean that is clean, precise and free from error. 

Feet Position

A common error often performed during a first time power clean, is the exerciser placing their feet in a wide position. Although this may feel like a more secure and stable placement for lifting the weight of the barbell, it should be avoided at all costs. When you perform your power clean, your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

A slight rotation of the feet is also acceptable, but they should never be placed in a wide position. If you jump when executing the “catch” stage, then it is also common to land in a wide stance, you should also try to avoid doing this during your power clean. 

Posture and Stance

You should always be considering your posture when performing a power clean move, as this is one of the most important elements to correctly performing the lift. Always begin the movement in a squatting position, your back should be straight while doing this and your hips should be behind your shoulders.

If you are experimenting with power cleans, then you may perform the exercise with a weightless bar, which means the bar will be lower to the ground. Sometimes this can mean curving your back when you go down to pick it up. To avoid this use blocks or lifts to raise the bar off the ground. 

Engaging Your Core

Because power cleans involve lifting a large amount of weight, sometimes you will naturally curve or bend your back to withstand the pressure. However, this can be damaging to your body and should be avoided.

When performing the move, always make sure that you are engaging your core, as this will provide security to your back and its posture. By engaging your core throughout every step of this exercise, you are reducing the risk of injury or exertion. 

Using Your Arms

It is often common for some exercisers to try and catch the bar using their arms, which results in their elbows pointing towards the ground. When you catch the bar, you are meant to place it on your shoulder area, as this is the correct way to perform the move.

Catching the bar with your arms can damage the integrity of your upper body muscles, which could lead to severe injuries. Make sure that when performing the catch, the bar rests on your shoulders and not your arms. 

How To Stay Safe

We understand that the power clean is an impressive move, one that can often get a lot of looks at your gym. However, it is still an advanced move and the risk of injury can be substantial. Not only can this exercise severely damage the muscles in your shoulders and back, but it can also wreck the joints in your lower body. 

When performing this move, we always recommend using a coach or trainer to talk you through the basic mechanics of the move. Having a professional close by can also be an extremely helpful tactic, as the professional will be able to pinpoint any errors in your performance.

Performing power cleans can be extremely difficult, so assessment is always a helpful tool in bettering your execution.