Know Your Lifts: The Clean and Power Clean

by Brett on November 5, 2013 · 21 Comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports, Visual Guides

Start: Bar over balls of feet. Arms vertical. Back arched slightly. Head up, elbows facing out. Weight balanced over the foot.  1. Start by pushing feet against the floor, pulling knees back so bar can travel straight up or slightly back staying close to body. Lift starts off slowly and then culminates into an explosive, full-body extension.  2. As bar rises above knees, keep weight in the heels as long as possible and begin to extend hips forward. Keep arms straight and bar as close to body as possible.  3. When the bar reaches about mid-thigh, quickly and powerfully extend hips, knees, and ankles as if trying to jump straight off floor. As bar gains upward momentum, shrug shoulders as fully and quickly as possible. Bend and raise elbows outward, keeping bar close to body as it rises up. The bar should contact the body at the upper thigh or the hips as full hip extension is achieved.  4. As soon as hip extension is achieved, quickly pull body underneath bar, landing solidly in front squat position with gaze forward and torso upright. As you do so, rotate elbows forward and under bar, allowing grip on the bar to loosen as your wrists turn upward. Catch bar on fronts of shoulders – bar between peak of deltoids and throat.  Variation: Power Clean. Catch the bar in a quarter-to-half-squat position. This variation requires bar to be pulled higher than full clean.  Once the bar feels steady, slowly stand upright. For heavy loads it might be easier to “bounce” out of squat position without pausing at the bottom.

“Know Your Lifts” is an illustrated guide series that shows how to perform basic weightlifting exercises. Check out our previous guides on the High-Bar Back SquatDeadlift, and Shoulder Press.

On the docket today is an Olympic style lift that’s become popular among football players and Crossfitters: the Clean (or Power Clean). The clean is a full-body exercise that’s great for building the explosive power needed to suplex a grizzly bear. It’s a complex movement that requires plenty of practice in order to perform safely and effectively. With our illustrated guide above, we attempted to break down this lift into its component parts to help beginners learn it. Take it slow, start with light weight, and you’ll soon be cleaning with the best of them.

Thanks to Barry Schroeder and Jim Schoenberg of CrossFit Sandstorm for consulting on this post.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 vpostman November 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

I was just doing these the other day! I am pretty sure just watching my grip improved my efficiency like twofold. Make sure you pay attention to this technique stuff! And thanks for the excellent illustration!

2 John S November 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm

As someone that learned these through internet readings and youtube (and then alone at the gym), the most important thing that I can say is go slowly with adding weight and make sure form is perfect even during warm-ups.

Outside of that a few things that I think might help or that I do personally:
-practice front squats as well, you want that position to feel very natural.
-instead of thinking about shrugging the weight up and pulling elbows out during triple extension (the “jump”), just think about extending and then pulling yourself under the bar into a front squat.
-For the first pull (ground to ~knees), I sit back more than I would for a deadlift, but this one might just be personal. I’ve found it helps me pull the bar appropriately though, so it might help others looking to learn it.

Oh, and don’t catch it with your forearms vertical, that would destroy your wrists at higher weights.

3 Joe November 6, 2013 at 6:46 am

Something to look into as you advance in this lift and also the snatch (squat and power) is the hook grip. Hurts like hell at first, but helps your grip tremendously.

4 Claude November 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

Did ALOT of these in high school. Our football coach was sure this was the key to “explosiveness”. I think he was right.

5 Ry P November 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

Now that I have a good visual for this, I might learn it once I’m past my squat for x 1.5 my weight

6 Matthew November 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

Now that you have this, are you going to make a poster to add to my collection of the other 3 Know Your Lifts in my weight room?

7 Tyler November 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Love me some cleans!

8 Chris November 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm

The best advice I ever got about power cleans were to pretend you are an armless person attempting to push another person off a cliff.

Very strange metaphor but it tells you exactly what you need to do.

9 Serafin Nunez November 7, 2013 at 11:33 am

Power Cleans have always been my favorite lift… both as a player and as a coach. No other lift builds lower-body explosiveness like Power Cleans.

10 Sean November 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Thanks Brett! I’ve been an avid weightlifter since my teens, but honestly I haven’t done this lift for many years, instead focusing more on squats and deadlifts for legs and back. But this really is an awesome lift, and impossible to beat for explosive strength. You’ve inspired me–I’m gonna have to give these a try again!

11 James Sargent November 10, 2013 at 12:07 am

These would make excellent posters

12 Derek Simpson November 10, 2013 at 5:30 am

Coming from a former olympic weightlifter in high school, a job well done on a great illustration!

Too many people don’t understand this movement…

I may need to print this out on a poster and post it on my workout wall.

13 Dr.Ghoul November 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

These illustrations are the best! I look forward to seeing more, they helped me so much with my weight lifting. A.O.M. rules!

14 John Bohlig November 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Great article,and clear ,concise instruction. Well done!

15 Carter November 17, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Cleans are a very complex movement and are the one things that I hired a personal trainer to help me with. Learn to deadlift really well, and then find someone who has experience coaching Oly lifts. The movement is really complex, and it’s easy to train bad movements that are hard to undo. Learn it the right way from the start, and then use illustrations like these as a checklist to make sure you’re still doing it right.

If you can’t find/afford a trainer, at least read Starting Strength by Rippetoe.

16 KW November 22, 2013 at 10:46 am

It’s a good graphic, but I think it is unlikely anyone will learn to do the Olympic lifts properly from a graphic. I see people doing these horribly all the time and grinding bad habits into their neuromuscular systems. You need someone who knows how to give you feedback and actually coach you. Find someone who has taken a coaching course from USAW – not just a personal trainer who says he knows how, especially not if they learned it at Crossfit. Better yet take a USAW course yourself. They last about two days and cost about $500.

17 Shimarenda November 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I love the graphic. I learned how to do this from a friend who was a powerlifter and former Olympic lifter. My only concern with the graphic is that the man is not wearing a belt. I wouldn’t attempt any significant weight without one.

18 Leonardo Werlang November 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Here’s a tip for beginners, that might come in hand in some cases:
I started to clean with low weights, but I only learned the lift when weights started to go over 100lb. Lighter than that, I could manage do pull the bar with my arms, and that would screw the lift.
The heavier weights made me do it the right way.

19 Brandon December 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I’ve been strength training for about a year and this was one of the fundamental lifts I worked with in addition to Squats and Heave and Military Press.

One thing that really helped me learning this lift (in addition to having a qualified coach teach me) was breaking down the movements and practicing them individually like High Clean Pulls and Dead Hang Power Cleans, in addition to Front Squats.

20 Anna Dawson December 13, 2013 at 2:00 am

Amazing article… Most people suffer from elbow pain due to weight lifting. It usually occurs due to over use of tendons during weight training workouts. There are various stretching exercises for cure this pain.

21 Alex Lorin March 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Lifted wrong once a long time ago and boy oh boy it was not fun. Nice guide – should be a gyms.

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