Power Clean vs Squat Clean – Introduction
When it comes to squat clean vs power clean – what’s the difference and which is better for you?
No matter if you are a novice weightlifter or have years of experience, you may still not be using these powerful compound movements properly in your workout.
The squat clean and power clean require power, precision, and technique.
Both movements help you develop explosive power, muscle mass, and core strength.
While the clean is a weightlifting move, it’s also an Olympic lift and is used in powerlifting and CrossFit.
It’s the first part of the clean and jerk movement.
In general, the clean is the movement of pulling the barbell from the ground to your shoulders in one clean and smooth motion.
This is where the clean got its name!
This article aims to help you with that by providing a deep dive into the distinctions between the function, technique, and results of a squat clean vs power clean.
First, let’s dig into the differences between the squat clean vs power clean.
Table of Contents
- Power Clean vs Squat Clean – Introduction
- Squat Clean 101
- Power Clean 101
- Squat Clean vs Power Clean – Comparison
- Squat Clean vs Power Clean – Final Thoughts
Squat Clean 101
The first thing to understand about a squat clean vs power clean is that you are going to be able to lift heavier weights with a squat clean.
If you can power clean the weight, you can squat clean it.
You have to trust yourself and use proper techniques.
In competition, both a power clean and squat clean is allowed; however, most lifters opt for the squat clean so that they can lift heavier.
During a squat clean, the lifter pulls the barbell from the ground and gets under the bar in a full squat position.
For the movement to count as a squat clean, you must land in a deep squat with your hip crease below parallel.
You must finish the movement by standing up with the bar on your shoulders.
You may hear the squat clean referred to as a ‘full clean’ or just a ‘clean’.
The main difference between a squat clean and a power clean is whether or not you catch the bar in a full squat position.
Muscles Worked by a Squat Clean
Just about every major muscle group is worked during a squat clean.
This movement works:
- Both the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus
- Core and abdominals
How To Do a Squat Clean
As mentioned, a squat clean is a technical lift, and the technique matters.
The technique is essential so that you perform the lift without hurting yourself, and so you complete the lift properly.
How to do it:
#1. Setting up for a squat clean
- To perform a squat clean, you will have a barbell on the floor loaded with weight, preferably bumper plates.
- The starting position is with your feet hip-width apart in front of the barbell.
- Next, you must bend at the hips and knees to lower yourself and grab the bar.
- Your grip on the bar should be about shoulder-width apart.
- While in this position, you should extend your torso and draw your shoulders down and back.
- This allows your head, spine, and pelvis to form one long line.
- Next, focus your eyes on the floor in front of you.
- You want to take a deep breath into your belly and brace your core like you were about to take a punch in the gut.
#2. Leg drive into the floor
- Begin the movement by pushing into your heels to extend your hips and knees while pulling the bar from the floor
- You must lift your shoulders and hips together.
- It’s important that they are in sync.
- As the bar passes your knees, you finish extending your hips, knees, and hips.
- You must be explosive while keeping the barbell as close to your body as possible.
- You aim to pull the bar as high as possible while straightening your body.
- As you pull, you should shrug your shoulders.
#3. Catch the bar
- As the bar reaches your stomach, you want to bend your elbows and drive them forward as quickly as possible.
- You want to catch the bar in the front rack position, which is when the barbell rests on your shoulders.
- As you are beginning to catch the bar in this position, at the same time, you want to drop your body under the bar.
- When you feel the barbell get close to your shoulders, you have to drop into a squat.
- The key is to be fast.
- You must drop into the squat position before the barbell lands on your shoulders.
#4. Keep your core tight
- As you quickly lower yourself into a squat, you want to keep your core tight and your spine long.
- Your chest must be up, and elbows pointed forward.
- You should go as low as you can without misaligning your head, spine, and hips.
- You want to avoid your pelvis tucking under, or your lower back rounding forward.
#5. Stand up
- Drive out of the bottom of the squat and stand up, so your hips and knees are fully extended.
- You can then lower your arms and carefully drop the bar to the floor with control.
How to Squat Clean Demonstration
Squat Clean Pros and Cons
There are a number of pros and some cons to a squat clean.
- Full body workout
- Improves explosiveness and power
- Can lift more
- Develops the lower body
- Not best for beginners
- Not ideal for those with limited mobility
- Higher risk for injury
- Must have substantial hip, ankle, and low back mobility
- Technically demanding
Power Clean 101
What’s the main difference between a power clean vs squat clean?
The answer is that a power clean does not require you to drop into a squat when you catch the bar.
The power clean movement is not considered a triple extension exercise.
That means you are not extending the hips, knees, and ankles at the same time.
You can complete a power clean with a shorter range of motion, making it easier to complete.
Typically, you will lift less weight when doing a power clean than with a squat clean.
As a result, the power clean is an ideal weightlifting exercise for beginners.
It requires fast twitch muscle fibers, which makes it a preferred movement in CrossFit.
Muscles Worked by a Power Clean
The muscles worked by a power clean are almost the same as a squat clean.
However, you may notice that the power clean works more of your back than a squat clean might.
This clean variation works:
- Both the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus
- Core and abdominals
How To Do a Power Clean
The movements for a power clean are incredibly similar to a squat clean.
However, you do not squat under the bar in power clean.
Instead, you get into a ¾-inch stance.
In a power clean, when you extend your hips, knees, and ankles quickly to pull the bar off the ground, you are providing momentum to throw the weight up smoothly and quickly.
You shrug your shoulders to pull your elbows under the bar.
As the bar lands on your shoulders, you stand up.
Power Clean Pros and Cons
There are also a number of pros and cons to consider for the power clean.
- Best for beginners and CrossFit athletes
- Develops upper body power and strength
- Targets fast twitch muscle fibers
- You’re not able to lift as heavy
- Shoulders, elbows, and wrists are more susceptible to injury
Power Clean Demo
Squat Clean vs Power Clean – Comparison
Now that you have the details on a squat clean vs power clean, it’s time to take a close look at these two types of cleans and compare them based on specific criteria:
Both the power clean and squat clean are considered compound exercises because they target multiple muscle groups and develop overall strength and explosive power.
Both movements stabilize the spine by engaging the core muscles and maintaining proper form throughout the lift.
However, each clean targets slightly different muscle groups.
The squat clean targets the muscles of the anterior and posterior chain.
These muscles include the biceps, delts, lower back, quads, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
A well-executed squat clean works the muscles of the entire body.
A power clean primarily targets the upper body muscles with less activation of the muscles in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Instead, a power clean draws power from the hips, shoulders, upper back, and arms.
Winner: Squat Clean!
Power and Strength Development
The clean ranks up there as one of the most challenging weightlifting exercises.
It requires tremendous amounts of strength, skill, and coordination.
Even though the squat clean and power clean are effective for strength and power development, how they are effective is different for both of them.
The squat clean is more technically demanding because you must execute the movement while dropping into a full front squat.
This full-body compound exercise strengthens the legs and lower body but is also a great way to hone your coordination and stabilization muscles.
The power clean, on the other hand, isn’t as technical but puts more strain on your upper body, especially your lower back.
Power cleans build muscle mass and power in the shoulders, back, and arms.
In addition, the power clean targets fast twitch muscle fibers, so it carries over better to activities like powerlifting, football, and sprinting.
Winner: Power Clean! Even though the squat clean allows you to lift heavier, the power clean builds mass and speed.
Training and Competition
Both the clean and power clean are one part of an Olympic weightlifting movement called the clean and jerk.
The clean is the first portion, and the jerk is the final execution.
Either variation of the clean is allowed in a competitive environment.
However, most lifters are likely to use the squat clean as it allows them to lift more weight.
Winner: Squat Clean!
Karlos Nasar 220kg (485lbs) Clean & Jerk World Record
World Weightlifting Championships – 2022
Risk of injury
A squat clean has a higher risk of injury.
It is technically demanding and may cause injury to the lower back, knees, and ankles.
You could also injure yourself while performing a power clean, especially when you do not have the proper form or technique.
Winner: Squat Clean! But only by a small amount.
You can injure yourself during any exercise movement.
Always warm up properly, start with light weights, and don’t exceed your capabilities!
Squat Clean vs Power Clean – Wrapping Up
When comparing clean vs squat clean, you immediately notice that they are both compound exercises that help you build power, strength, and explosiveness.
The power clean is much easier for beginners and ideal for those that consider themselves intermediates.
A squat clean is an advanced move because it is technically more demanding.
It also targets the muscles of the lower body.
Any weight amount that you can power clean, you should also be able to squat clean.
However, a squat clean allows you to lift even more weight.
When you are deciding which movement is ideal for you, you want to understand your training plan and goals.
Then you can decide which one is best for your fitness goals.
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