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Re-Learning the Power Clean (Updated June 13)

Updated: 6 days ago

The Power Clean is an awesome movement. It trains power, speed, and coordination, all by providing an opportunity to display graceful movement. The Power Clean also provides a lot of value to trainees as a light pulling exercise. It can be used in combination with your deadlift training as a way to not add stress but also continue the practice of setting your low back and increasing your ability to produce power, thus driving your deadlift up further. For reasons I could further expound on, it's worthwhile to learn, or in this case, re-learn, to do correctly. As a barbell coach, I can not accept having such shallow experience to draw on with such an important lift. I firmly believe that as a coach, it's just as important that I continue to push myself to grow as it is for my clients. This is me practicing what I preach. Trying new things, making mistakes, growing and making progress.

This post will serve as a journal for the next [undetermined] weeks to chronicle my path to re-learning the Power Clean. The Power Clean is one of those classic movements that you'll see performed across every high school weight room in the country, albeit performed terribly. It is one of the most popular movements to learn, yet one of the most poorly-taught movements out there.

To provide the context of "re-learning" this movement, here is my experience with it: I learned it in my high school weight room, have no idea how good I was at it then, and have since performed it a handful of times in the last 12 or so years.

Arm-pulling a power clean
Freeze frame of incorrect "arm pull" habit I'm trying to break

During a brief stint training for a Super Total meet, I practiced the Power clean for about 6 weeks. During that time, I made lots of errors. The main thing I found consistent trouble with was a heavy arm-pull action, where the elbows bend before the bar makes contact with the thighs, so I know going into this that'll be a point of emphasis.

Overall, the first half of the Power Clean is similar to the first half of the deadlift. The few changes are in

1) The stance - In the deadlift, I open my toes to a roughly 30 degree angle, where in the Power Clean my feet will be straight forward. This allows me to properly jump in the Power Clean.

2) The grip - I will be using a hook grip in the Power Clean. The hook grip is a style of grip where the thumb in wrapped around the bar but under the fingers, instead of over them. My grip width will also change, as I find the right position to get the elbows forward.

Going forward, I will be Power Cleaning once per week, doing 5 sets of 2. These Cleans will take place after heavy pulls each week, either a Rack Pull or a Halting Deadlift. For a full look at my programming for this summer, you can watch me break my program down here:

Week 1 — May 22, 2024

Power cleaning with straight arms
Drastically improved arms

My first foray into re-learning the Power Clean went better than expected. Although I chose an extremely light weight to start with (115 lbs - roughly 23% of my deadlift) I didn't see the errors I was expecting. The difficulty I had previously with arm-pulling seemed to be alleviated by cueing myself to "pull the bar off the ground slow." I am focusing on accelerating the bar with the hips, not the feet, and that seemed to allow me to time the jump and arms better. (It also helps that I've spent an exorbitant amount of time over the last two years learning to extend my back properly.) The bigger problem that showed up this time was the elbows. I struggled to get my elbows forward into the rack position. If you watch closely, the bar actually travels backwards toward my throat instead of straight up in a vertical line.

Week 2 — May 29, 2024

This week was a slight regression in technique. I, of course, went to the top of the range of weights I gave myself and it may have cost me. While I had plenty of bar speed to rack the bar, the insistence I had on being a bit slower off the floor to make sure my arms stayed straight resulted in a slight pause/hitching motion on some of my reps. My timing was poor, my hips were late, and the whole thing got a bit jerky. My desire to punch my elbows further forward also led to some balance issues. Overall, the speed is there and there is still much to build on.

Week 3 — June 6, 2024

Week 3 saw some major progress in some aspects of my performance, and some regression in others. There were 2 of the 5 sets where I felt like I gave the lift the proper explosiveness they deserved, but the others where I was a bit hesitant. It's hard to tell from the video (below) but the first rep of this set I didn't actually hit my thighs on the way up, leading to a drastic arm pull and a muscled-up, slower rep. One major area of improvement was in my balance. I never felt like I was being pulled forward or backward this week, and I was more successful in cueing myself when to throw the hips, although not perfect. I feel like I have definitely made progress. The weight on the bar is still going up, but the 10 pound jumps will probably conclude by next week. This week I had a modest 145 pounds on the bar. Next week may see 150 or 155. It'll take a bit better focus on speed to do so.

Week 4 — June 13, 2024

This week presented some new challenges that led to old struggles. I struggled more with arm pulling the bar, especially as the my rest times were shortened trying to fit this lift in during my son's nap. I also took another 10 pound jump in weight this week, as it was just more expedient to strip the bar down to 155 instead of all the way down and reloading 150.

I've noticed that when I pull the slack out of the bar so much so that the bar leaves the ground, I actually have a harder time accelerating the bar through the middle point of the lift. I actively had to try to flex my triceps as to not bend the arms, and was successful by the 5th set. This week, however, I struggled to make contact with the bar consistently and with speed. My hips were often late coming through and I continued the "pausing" motion in the middle of the rep. I am also still unhappy with my finishing with the elbows. They are still too vertical and not coming forward enough at the top . The video below is of my 5th and final set, which was probably my best set of the day.


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