The main reason you don’t see beginners readily tackling power cleans or even more advanced weightlifters often intimidated by them is that it is a highly technical lift and requires not only a great deal of practice to master but also coordination of multiple muscle groups and joints.
Power cleans target multiple muscles and can help build muscle mass and increase strength.
In this power cleans muscles worked exercise guide, we will discuss the muscles worked by power cleans, the benefits of power cleans, and how to perform power cleans correctly.
We will look at:
- What Is a Power Clean?
- How to Do Power Cleans
- Tips for Power Cleans for Beginners
- Power Clean Muscles Worked
- What Are the Benefits of Power Cleans?
Let’s get started!
What Is a Power Clean?
Before we go into the “power clean muscles worked“ and the strengthening benefits of power cleans, let’s cover the basics: what is the power clean exercise?
The power clean is an advanced, explosive powerlifting exercise that is typically performed with a barbell.
As a compound exercise, the power clean movement pattern utilizes multiple joints and muscle groups in a coordinated fashion, requiring not only technical precision, practice, and mastery but also making power cleans a full-body strengthening exercise.
The reason that power cleans are called “power“ cleans is because when you perform power cleans, the starting position is where you are holding the barbell in a partial squat, which is sometimes referred to as the “power position.“By performing power cleans from the partial squat position, you are able to capitalize on the explosive power from your lower body in a “reloaded“ state to help provide tremendous explosive strength and power to bring the barbell through the power clean range of motion overhead.
How to Do Power Cleans
It is best to get some specific coaching on how to properly do power cleans to prevent injuries and ensure that you are using the proper power clean technique.
Finding a personal trainer, CrossFit coach, Olympic weightlifter, or another experienced weightlifter who has excellent technique for power cleans and can provide you with some specific tips on power clean exercise form would be a good adjunct to practicing power cleans on your own.
Because the power clean is such a complex, dynamic, full-body strength training exercise, it is generally helpful to explain how to do power cleans by breaking the movement up into six different phases.
You can think of the phases of power cleans as the starting position, first pull, transition or scoop, second pull, catch, and return.
With that in mind, here are the steps for how to do power cleans:
Power Clean Phase 1: Starting Position
Setting up properly for power cleans is essential before even initiating the movement.
Here are the steps for the power clean setup:
- Place the barbell on the floor just in front of your shins so that your feet are partially under it. The position for power cleans is similar to that for barbell deadlifts, so you want to stand just in front of the barbell so that it is nearly touching your shins.
- Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes flared outward about 5 to 10°. The body positioning for power cleans is important because it helps ensure that your knees track directly over your feet.
- Sit your hips back and bend your knees to squat down and grasp the bar with your palms facing your shins and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Each hand should be just outside the respective knee. Your arms should be fully extended.
- Based on the position of your body in this partial squat, your shoulders should be just in front of the bar. Ensure that your back is straight but with its natural curves by keeping your chest up and tightening your core.
Power Clean Phase 2: First Pull
Once you are in the proper position for power cleans, you can initiate the movement with the first pull:
- Keeping your core tight and your back in a straight but neutral position, forcefully extend your hips and knees to pull the barbell up, tracking it close to your shins as if performing a barbell deadlift. As you snap your body up from the partial squat into the extended position, your hips and shoulders should rise up at the same rate and at the same time.
- Make sure to keep your weight distributed evenly between both feet while pressing your heels into the ground.
- Your arms should remain extended, and your shoulders will still track slightly in front of the bar as you drive it upward just in front of your shins.
Power Clean Phase 3: Transition (Scoop)
This phase of the power clean helps you get from the first pull to the second pull, so it basically helps transition you from a movement that is somewhat like a deadlift to being able to press the barbell all the way up to the top of your shoulders.
- Once the barbell is above your knees, pop your hips forward forcefully, shifting your weight towards the front of your feet while still keeping a soft bend in your knees.
- The barbell should be just against your thighs. Think about explosively thrusting your hips forward so that you can set yourself up for a powerful second pull of the power clean exercised.
Power Clean Phase 4: Second Pull
This phase of the power clean is where we get the term “power“ because you are in the partial squat position with your knees slightly bent, and the barbell is just in front of your thighs.
Here, you perform an explosive triple extension of your hips, knees, and ankles, keeping the bar close to your body but allowing it to come up over your thighs to your torso.
- As you perform the triple extension of your hips, knees, and ankles, you will simultaneously shrug your shoulders upward and flex your elbows slightly so that you can pull your arms and body under the bar.
- Think about thrusting your hips forward toward the wall in front of you to make sure that they are fully extended and that you are maximizing the power generated by your hips and glutes.
Power Clean Phase 5: Catch
This is one of the trickier phases of the power clean exercise.
- Bend your knees and hips to drop back into a partial squat while keeping your core tight and torso upright, allowing your body to come under the bar by simultaneously rotating your arms and hands on the bar so that they essentially create a “shelf.“ Basically, your hands will move into a position so that the palms are facing upward, cupping the barbell, with your elbows fully bent.
- Drive your elbows forward to bring your upper arms parallel to the floor.
- Press through your heels to extend your knees and hips to stand upright, using this power to help drive the barbell fully up into the catch position right along the front of your shoulders and clavicles.
- This is the end position. Your elbows should be straight out in front of you, and your palms should rotate almost backward with the barbell just under your chin along the top/front of your shoulders in a good, strong, balanced position.
Power Clean Phase 6: The Return
The ending position of the power clean is when you are standing fully erect with the barbell up in the catch position at the top/front of your shoulders and clavicles. Basically, the return phase of the power clean movement reverses the motion and sets you up for the next rep.
- Rotate your hands and arms to gradually lower the bar back down in front of your torso to the top of your thighs.
- Begin flexing your hips and knees at the same time to lower the bar back down to the floor, sitting your hips back, keeping your spine neutral and chest up, and allowing your shoulders to again track slightly in front of the bar as it is lowered down right in front of your shins to the floor.
Tips for Power Cleans for Beginners
Because power cleans are an advanced weightlifting exercise that requires technical precision and coordination along with strength and explosive power, it is very important to build up gradually with the weight lifted as well as the number of reps and sets that you perform.
For this reason, when beginners ask: “What is a good starting weight for power cleans?“ a good strength coach or personal trainer will likely recommend that beginners start with just a PVC pipe or wooden dowel or an unloaded barbell for advanced weightlifters who are just starting out with power cleans.
This way, you can focus your efforts and attention on mastering the proper power clean technique rather than simultaneously trying to manage heavy starting weights for power cleans.
Once you understand how to perform power cleans correctly, you can start increasing the weight or adding weight plates to the barbell as appropriate.
Another good power cleans tip is to keep your knees pressed outward slightly throughout the movement, particularly during the first pull as you bring the bar up to hip height.
By consciously pressing your knees outward slightly, you can generate more tension in your glutes and hamstrings, which is particularly helpful for driving the barbell up during the initial phase of the power clean exercise.
power clean muscles worked
As can likely be surmised based on the steps for performing power cleans, the list of muscles worked by power cleans is extensive.
Like the deadlift, the primary power cleans muscles are those found in the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back extensors, and calves), but you will also get plenty of work with some of the anterior muscles (quads) as well as your core.
Your biceps and deltoids also help the barbell up to the catch position, and the forearm muscles help provide the grip strength to maintain control of the loaded barbell.
What Are the Benefits of Power Cleans?
Learning how to do power cleans correctly takes time and practice, but it is well worth the effort for most advanced athletes as there are many benefits of power cleans.
Here are some of the top power clean exercise benefits:
- Power cleans are a full-body movement that strengthens most of the major muscle groups.
- Power cleans help develop explosive power
- Power cleans can help improve deadlift performance
- Power cleans help improve multi-joint coordination and simultaneous as well as sequential muscle activation.
- Studies have found that consistent power clean training improves the rate of force development, which is essentially a measure of your explosive strength or power, which can be very helpful for athletes in sports such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball, weightlifting, volleyball, etc.
- Due to the vigorous nature of power cleans and the fact that the list of power cleans work nearly all of the major muscles of the body, this high-intensity, full-body strengthening exercise can boost metabolic rate and burn fat.
To learn more about full-body, metabolic workouts that target numerous muscle groups at once, check out our guide to the best CrossFit exercise here.