Power Cleans Muscles Worked – Introduction
Power Cleans Muscles Worked: Why to Learn + How-To Master
Your body is made from 206 bones and over 600 muscles.
While it IS possible to train many of those muscles in relative isolation, in most functional and athletic situations, they usually work in groups.
As such, it makes sense to build your workouts around multi-joint or compound exercises.
These movements tend to have the most significant carry-over to activities outside of the gym, are best for building muscle size and strength, and make the best use of your training time.
There are lots of great exercises that meet these criteria, including all types of squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, push-ups, pull-ups, and overhead presses.
But, there is another exercise you might want to add to the list: power cleans.
Power cleans are a simplified version of the Olympic squat clean, which is usually followed by an explosive overhead press called a jerk.
The clean and jerk is a very complex exercise and one that most people don’t need to do.
But, on the other hand, the power clean offers many of the same benefits and is far easier to learn.
This article reveals how and why to do power cleans.
Power Cleans – Muscles Worked
The power clean is a full-body exercise.
In fact, if you pair it with some push-ups or dips, you can train all your major muscles in a short, simple workout.
That said, the main movers and shakers used during the power clean are as follows.
What muscles do power cleans work?
The muscles targeted by the power clean are listed from the ankles upward:
- Gastrocnemius and soleus – the calf muscles
- Hamstrings – the muscles on the back of your thighs
- Quadriceps – the muscles on the front of your thighs
- Gluteus maximus – the main hip muscles
- Erector spinae – the muscles of the lower back and spine
- Core – the muscles of the midsection, including the rectus abdominis and obliques
- Trapezius and rhomboids – the muscles of the upper back
- Deltoids – the muscles of the shoulders
- Biceps – the muscles on the front of the upper arms
- Triceps – the muscles on the back of the upper arms
Power Clean Benefits – Why to Master this Exercise
Despite being a simplified version of the Olympic clean and jerk, the power clean is still quite a complex exercise.
However, there are plenty of benefits to learning and performing the power clean, so your efforts will be rewarded!
#1. Total body power and speed
Power is your ability to generate force quickly and is a critical component of most sports.
If you want to run faster, jump higher, kick harder, or throw further, power cleans can help.
However, there is a caveat; to build power with power cleans, you need to work with challenging weights and low reps, with 3-5 being typical.
High-rep power cleans will not do much for athletic performance, but more on that in a moment.
#2. Get “yoked”
Power cleans are one of the best ways to develop your upper traps and deltoids.
Big traps and delts will make you look strong and powerful.
Bodybuilders often refer to this as getting yoked.
If you want to look like a linebacker, heavy power cleans can help.
#3. Burn fat and get fit
Low-load, high-rep (12-20+) power cleans will challenge your cardiovascular system and leave you out of breath with a high heart rate.
Because of this, power cleans often feature in CrossFit and HIIT workouts.
However, because power cleans are so technically demanding, there is an increased risk of injury if you do so many reps that your technique starts to deteriorate, e.g., round your lower back.
So, while you can use power cleans as a conditioning exercise, if you want to push yourself near to failure, there may be safer exercises to choose from, such as squat jumps or sprints.
It’s also worth remembering that fitness is specific to the type of training you do.
To develop power, you need to use heavy weights and perform low reps.
High-rep power cleans are good for cardio but less effective for improving force output or speed.
#4. Increased coordination, proprioception, and athleticism.
Power cleans affect your nervous system as much as your muscles.
Learning and then training with power cleans will improve your ability to control your muscles and joints (coordination) and innate position sense (proprioception).
These adaptations will make you more athletic, and you should find you can move more efficiently and with more control and agility.
Whether you play sports or play games with your kids, moving better will improve your functional performance.
#5. Increased bone mass
It’s not just your muscles that get stronger with power cleans; your bones do, too.
Power cleans load virtually every bone in your body, and your bones respond by getting stronger and denser.
Bone density tends to decrease with age, which is a phenomenon called osteopenia.
Eventually, this can become osteoporosis, which is a medical condition characterized by porous, weak, and brittle bones.
Weight-bearing exercises like power cleans trigger bone-building cells called osteoblasts to lay down new bone tissue, delaying or even preventing osteopenia.
Power cleans are particularly good for stressing the most common sites for bone loss, specifically the hips, spine, and wrists.
How to Do Power Cleans Correctly
According to the American Council on Exercise, the power clean is an advanced strength training exercise.
Performing it correctly requires a good level of coordination and positional awareness.
Performed incorrectly, this exercise could cause serious injury.
So, before trying the power clean, make sure you are ready for it.
You need to have mastered the deadlift as that’s the start of the power clean.
If you can’t deadlift well, the chances of pulling off a good power clean are very slim.
Start learning the power clean with light weights.
Going too heavy too soon will increase your risk of injury.
Follow these steps to do power cleans correctly:
How to Perform the Power Clean With Proper Technique
- Place your barbell on the floor so that it’s about mid-shin height.
- Use light bumper plates or rest your bar on blocks to achieve this.
- Stand behind the bar with your toes under it.
- Your feet should be about hip-width apart.
- Squat down and hold the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Do NOT use a mixed grip.
- Straighten your arms, drop your hips, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Brace your core and look straight ahead.
- Make sure your lower back is slightly arched and not rounded.
- Drive your feet into the floor and quickly stand up.
- Think of this as a “deadlift jump,” although your feet should stay on the floor.
- Keep your arms straight, and do not round your lower back.
- As the bar passes your knees, pull with your arms and raise the bar up the front of your body.
- Your elbows should be higher than your hands, and you should also actively shrug your shoulders up and back.
- The bar should stay close to your abdomen and chest.
- Rise up onto your toes to continue your “jump.”
- As the bar nears your chest, bend your knees slightly, drop your heels to the floor, and shove your elbows forward so you can catch the bar across the fronts of your shoulders.
- Your upper arms should be roughly parallel to the floor.
- This knee dip may not be unnecessary when using very light weights.
- However, it’ll be helpful when you progress to heavier loads as it takes some of the impact out of the bar as it lands on your shoulders.
- Finish the lift by straightening your legs and standing up straight.
- Roll the bar down the front of your body and deadlift it back to the ground.
- If you are using bumper plates, you can also drop the bar to the floor.
- Reset your core and grip and repeat.
Power Clean Variations
The basic power clean is a great compound exercise with many benefits.
However, there are a few variations you can also use to achieve similar results:
Power clean from the hang
Power cleans don’t have to start from the floor.
In fact, if you only have small diameter weight plates, you may find lowering the weights to the ground compromises your form.
With power cleans from the hang, each rep starts and finishes with the barbell held at arms’ length just above or below your knees.
This variation is not only a little more forgiving, but it also increases time under tension for the posterior chain.
The Hang Power Clean
Clean high pull
The clean high pull starts like a power clean, but instead of driving your elbows forward to catch the bar across your shoulders, you stop with the bar in front of your chest in a sort-of upright row position.
This exercise is less technically demanding and also means your upper back has to work harder.
Think of this exercise as a high-speed deadlift and upright row combo.
CrossFit Clean High Pull
Dumbbell/kettlebell power clean
You can also do power cleans with dumbbells or kettlebells.
While coordinating two weights is a little more complicated, the movement may feel more manageable for some people.
Kettlebell power cleans are particularly enjoyable.
You can also do single-arm dumbbell, and kettlebell power cleans.
Start dumbbell/kettlebell power cleans from the floor or a hang position as preferred.
The Dumbbell Power Clean
Power Cleans Muscles Worked – Wrapping Up
Olympic weightlifting is sometimes called gymnastics with weights.
That’s a fair comment, given how dynamic the clean and jerk and snatch are.
For many people, these exercises are too skillful for general training.
However, power cleans (and their close relative power snatches) are much more accessible.
The range of motion is smaller, and the movement is more forgiving.
However, even power cleans, and power snatches are relatively complex exercises that can take time to master.
So, if you are new to this exercise, make sure you perfect your deadlift first, and then start light to reduce your risk of injury.
Keep your sets short so you can focus on perfect form.
Stop if you feel your technique is beginning to deteriorate.
This may take several weeks of regular practice.
However, once you’re power cleaning like a pro, you’ll be rewarded with an explosive exercise that offers a wide range of benefits and that’s good for athletes and non-athletes alike.
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