The Power Clean – Benefits, Limitations, Progression and Alternatives

The Power Clean - Benefits, Limitations, Progression and Alternatives 1

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

The power clean is, without question, the most difficult lift in the AW Training Program.

In fact, I used to only reserve it for the more elite athletes I trained.

The lift is in the program because of the significant benefits the power clean will give an athlete. If there was only one exercise I could do or prescribe to my athletes, it would be the power clean, no doubt.

But many athletes don’t know how to correctly power clean and many are even intimidated by the lift.

So today, I’ll talk about some of the benefits of the power clean and some concerns with the lift.

We’ll also talk about a proper power clean progression and some power clean substitutes. That way, if you still don’t feel comfortable doing the lift, or don’t have access to a qualified professional to teach you the lift, you can at least get some of the same benefits.

Power Clean Benefits

Probably the biggest benefit of the power clean is that it is truly a full-body exercise. It involves the “triple-extension” of the hips, knees, and ankles, that simulates many sport and real-life movements. It develops full-body explosive power and force production.

The power clean is ground-based, multi-joint, and multi-planar, which increases efficiency with many movement patterns. It works on the complete “posterior-chain”, and includes both upper-body and lower-body movements.

Limitations of The Power Clean

The biggest reason people shy away from the power clean is that it is so technique dependent.

Because it’s so technical, it can take a while to master the lift, and incorrect technique can lead to injury, more so than many other lifts.

Further, the power clean is a drain on your Central Nervous System, and should only be done for limited reps and with almost full recovery between sets. (Crossfitters, I’m watching you…)

It’s also best to do power cleans on a proper lifting platform, with Olympic bumper plates, and most gyms don’t have these.

Some strength coaches feel that teaching the lift is a waste of time, because it usually takes so long for athletes to master. While I agree the progression can take a period of time, once an athlete “gets it” it’s well worth their while, as the benefits are so great.

Basic Progression and Alternatives for the Power Clean

In order to learn the power clean, athletes move through a basic progression of exercises, before performing a full power clean. You’ll need to be able to hold the bar on your chest with a clean grip – this will require decent wrist mobility. Then, master each of these lifts in order to progress to the power clean:

  • Deadlift
  • Front Squat (with the clean grip)
  • Hang Jump Shrug
  • Power Jump Shrug
  • Hang High Pull
  • Power High Pull
  • Hang Clean
  • Power Clean

So you can see, it can take a while to move through each of these lifts.

Because with the AW Training Program, you already do front squats and deadlifts, as you learn the lift, when the program calls for power cleans, begin with hang jump shrugs, and progress from there.

As far as alternatives, you could use plyometric exercises, but plyos do not give anywhere near the benefit of power cleans. So I suggest using any of the progression lifts in place of power cleans, but realize they won’t give you the same benefits.

Power Clean Considerations

Lastly, here are some key points to watch for and are the most common problems I see with power cleans.

In the ready position, athletes can stand with their feet too wide, and have too loose a grip on the bar. As they get ready to lift, they keep their shoulder behind the bar, rather than over it, and they keep their elbows turned in instead of out.

  • You’ll see athletes not perform a proper triple extension and “lift with the back” and pull with the arms letting the bar get too far away from the body rather than shrug the bar.
  • Finally, they have difficulty catching the bar because their elbows are too low, and they don’t get low enough into the front squat position to catch the bar as well.

So keep practising. It’s a great lift, fun as hell to do, and will give you many benefits.

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