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Mastering the Power Clean

Power Cleans Opener

Develop power and strength with this explosive lift.

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS & Noah Bryant

When it comes to barbell movements, the power clean is the Rolls Royce of muscle fiber recruitment. Sure you can squat heavy or perform plyometrics for explosive power. But there is no “or” with the power clean. You can lift heavy and explosively.

Correctly performed, the power clean can help almost any athlete excel in his sport. The most obvious benefit is the power that one must generate to get a bar from the ground to your shoulders. Furthermore, catching a power clean builds the ability to “absorb shock,” important for football, rugby and any combat sport for that matter.

Unlike the circus side show functional training charades that have become common place, the power clean works the whole body as a system, truly making it “functional” for anyone, from the bouncer throwing patrons out of an unruly kick-and-stab bar, to the competitive golfer and an NFL linebacker.

Couple this with the fact that the power clean builds power and coordination, and because of the large muscle groups involved, a favorable anabolic hormonal response results.

By manipulating the set and rep scheme of the power clean this exercise can go from a pure power exercise, to an exercise that can promote power endurance and hypertrophy.

Why Power Cleans?

Newbies to the iron game believe that power cleans only benefit the purely strength/power–oriented athlete. Old heads know better!

In the early days of bodybuilding, men built mammoth physique, and still competed successfully internationally in weightlifting. After all, what good is a huge truck with a four-cylinder engine? John Grimek was not only a Mr. Universe, but also a member of the 1936 United States Olympic weightlifting team. Vern Weaver, another all-around bad ass, reached the pinnacle of both bodybuilding and weightlifting.

Modern-day bodybuilders should take note of this and consider incorporating the power clean into their routine. It can be used as a warm-up before they hit their regular workout (works great for squats and deadlifts), or with some careful planning of volume and intensity, it can be used as a major part of their workout to gain size.

Too bulky or inflexible to give power cleans a whirl? Great! Try high pulls.

Recently, there has been an explosion in the popularity of the power clean and the Olympic lifts because of the growing sport of CrossFit. It may be en vogue for wannabe bodybuilders to bash on CrossFit, but it has single handedly done more for the popularity of weightlifting than anything else, and for that we raise our glass.

CrossFitters use the Olympic lifts in a different way than most people: they perform the Olympic lifts in a high-rep fashion to build muscular endurance and conditioning.

Regardless of why you are using the power clean, you will get more out of it doing it correctly.

How to Perform the Power Clean

In a sad state of strength training affairs, a lot of people never give the power clean a shot because they have been told that the movement is too complicated. They’ve also been led to believe that the benefits of performing the power clean don’t outweigh the investment of time one must make to learn the lifts. This is just not true. The basic movements of the power clean aren’t complicated. Most people can fully extend their hips. Can you perform a vertical jump? Yes? Then you can, with practice, learn the power clean.

You know the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, this video is worth ten thousand words. As you are watching this video (with the sound turned on) be sure to pay attention to a few things:

  • • Body posture/back position throughout the lift
  • • How the bar stays close the lifter’s body the entire time
  • • Full triple extension of the ankle, knees, hips
  • • How there is very little “pulling” with the upper body
  • • Body position in the catch phase — weight on heels

Final Thoughts

Power = force x distance/time. The power clean is lifted over a great distance, very rapidly and with heavy weight. This epitomizes power. Build a more powerful you with powerful benefits of the power clean.


Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit www.JoshStrength.com

Noah Bryant is a 2-time NCAA Champion and 4-time All-American in the shot put, with a personal record of 20.80 m. He holds the school record in the shot put at the University of Southern California. Noah represented the United States in the 2007 World Track and Field Championships and the 2011 Pan-American Games. He was regarded as one of the strongest shot putters in the world, with a 210 kg (462-pound) clean and 150 kg (330-pound) snatch.

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