There a few things you can do in the gym that provide more satisfaction than nailing a heavy clean. It looks impressive, but you’re not just doing a flashy move for the sake of it – it’s an incredibly effective move for building strength. And you don’t just have to take our word for it – here’s Tom Wright, head coach at online coaching group Movable Muscle, on the benefits of the clean.
“There isn’t a much better developer of strength and power than the clean,” says Wright. “Explosive power primarily comes from the hip drive, which is the crux of all weightlifting movements. It teaches you to create whole-body tension and work your body as a unit. It’s great for co-ordination, timing and structural integrity.”
The power clean is an excellent exercise but also a tough one to master, and it’s not something you should be attempting the first time you walk into the gym. Below you’ll find Wright’s tips for achieving perfect power clean form, plus some advice on variations on the exercise that will help you build the strength and power to perform it correctly.
Whether it’s the power clean or a variation of the move, Wright recommends doing cleans once or twice a week to help build full-body power.
How To Do The Power Clean
The power clean is a terrific exercise with many benefits, but it’s also a move that you need to do correctly to get the most from it and reduce the risk of injury. Here are Wright’s key tips for every stage of the exercise.
“Foot placement should be at shoulder width, with weight evenly distributed throughout the sole, and toes turned slightly out,” says Wright. “One big thing often overlooked is engaging the lats. This is essential for keeping a tight back and maintaining a good body position when getting the bar off the floor.”
“In the first pull, your hips should stay low and not come up faster than your shoulders,” says Wright. “Try to push the floor away as you drive upwards. Keep your arms locked with your knuckles turned towards the floor. Your elbows will just be touching the outside of your thighs. This position doesn’t change until the bar makes contact with your thighs.”
“The second pull is where you violently drive your hips forwards,” says Wright. “Contact with the bar is a result of this, not the aim. This power will transfer into the bar but focus on hip drive and not ‘bar-bang’. It is at this point you pull your elbows as high as you can and begin your drop into the catch.”
Catch the bar
“A clean should closely resemble a front squat,” says Wright. “As soon as the bar is above the hips, your aim is to get into the front rack position and catch the weight with your legs. Once the weight become too heavy to power clean you’ll need to rely on your lower-body and core strength because you catch the bar much lower. This is why front squats are so important in any programme featuring cleans. From here you need to stand the bar up so keep your knees out, chest up, and drive like hell.”
“When dropping under the bar you want the transition to be as fast and smooth as possible,” says Wright. “Keeping the bar close to your body will allow you to bring the bar and your shoulder together. Your elbows should be turned out and driving forwards and up to get into the rack position. A missed front rack ends in a missed lift nine times out of ten.”
Power Clean Assistance Moves
Add these exercises to your workouts to target the key muscle groups so you can lift a heavier weight in your cleans.
Why Doing a hang version of the clean makes it simpler and allows you to concentrate on injecting a powerful hip drive into the move.
How Pick up the bar from the floor as if you were doing a deadlift. Start the move by bending forwards (hingeing at the hips) to send the bar down the front of your thighs until it is just above your knees. Push your hips forwards powerfully to raise the bar, then catch it as if you were performing a conventional clean.
Why The front squat will give you the leg strength you need to stand up with the bar once your caught it.
How Rest the bar on the front of your shoulders with your palms facing upwards and your elbows high. Simultaneously bend at the hips and the waist to lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then stand up and return to the start. Keep your weight on your heels and mid-foot throughout the move.
Why This move will improve your control during the first and second pull and strengthen your hamstrings.
How Set up as if you were going to perform a clean. Slowly raise the bar off the floor by straightening your legs without altering the angle of your torso. Keep the bar in contact with your legs and raise it until it touches your knees, then lower it back to the floor and repeat the move.
Movable Muscle is an online coaching group that provides programming for fitness professionals looking to unlock their full athletic potential
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.