Breaking down the Power Clean

Many articles have been written on power clean technique. Arguably the most comprehensive of those was done by Max Aita. In this article, I am presenting the methodical approach we take to teaching that particular lift. Context is everything, so the first part of the article will briefly discuss our system as a whole before actually going into the more technical aspects of olympic lifting.

Our strength and conditioning system in a nutshell:

  • Our athletes come in to work out as a group
  • Every athlete works off an individualized template
  • Each session lasts one hour
  • Every session follows the same structure:
    • Warmup
    • Speed
      • Jumps
      • Medicine Balls
      • Olympic Weightlifting
    • Strength
      • Upper Body Push
      • Lower Body Push
      • Upper Body Pull
      • Lower Body Pull
      • Multiplanar Core Stability (×2)
    • Stamina
      • Alactic capacity or lactic power
  • Strength training takes 30 minutes net (two trisets, performed for three sets, with sets starting every five minutes)
  • Warmup takes around six minutes
  • Stamina takes around six minutes
  • Effectively that leaves around 15 minutes, at most, for the speed block that consists of three exercises

From the above line out, you can see that our time resources are very much limited, so we need to keep our teaching progressions very time efficient.

The Clean can be divided into four (or five, however you look at it) parts. From the floor, the barbell is moved just above the knees in the first pull. A short transition (possibly a distinct phase) transfers it to the power position, approximately mid-thigh. From there, the forceful triple extension, also called the second pull, is performed. While the bar is still moving up, the lifter pulls himself under the bar. This is the third pull. Finally, a front squat concludes the clean. In a power clean, the barbell is caught in something like a quarter squat rather than a full squat. A muscle clean has the athlete receive the bar with almost extended knees. When working from the hang position (just above the knees), the first pull is eliminated alltogether. The permutation of starting and receiving position yields many variations of the clean:

  • Full Clean: First Pull, Transition, second Pull, Third Pull, Full Squat
  • Power Clean: First Pull, Transition, second Pull, Third Pull, Quartet Squat
  • Muscle Clean: First Pull, Transition, Second Pull, Third Pull
  • Hang Clean: Transition, second Pull, Third Pull, Full Squat
  • Hang Power Clean: Transition, second Pull, Third Pull, Quarter Squat
  • Hang Muscle Clean: Transition, second Pull, Third Pull

The hang power clean stil involves a forceful triple extension (arguably the aspect of olympic lifting that transfers most to sports) and some amount of deceleration. The simplification that comes with eliminating the first pull prevents a lot of spinal alignment errors. Kim Goss has written a good article arguing against this simplification, but we squat full ROM in our program and we also do jumps, so we cover most injury prevention aspects at different points of the session.

At the UKSCA, I learned a top down approach to teaching the clean, whereas at the ASCA, I learned a bottom up approach. While none is necessarily better (or worse), I have decided to go with the former. Hence, we construct a hang power clean by teaching the individual parts of the movement in the following order:

  1. Hands free front Squat
  2. Front Squat
  3. Third Pull (drop clean)
  4. Second Pull (Isometric Shrug)
  5. Second Pull (Power Shrug)
  6. Second Pull (Clean Pull from Hang)

After all these individual movement parts have been taught (and mastered by the athlete), were first go to slow muscle cleans before actually doing the whole exercise. For each phase, we will plan one or two weeks, so there will be no actual cleans performed for at least a month. Videos for all individual exercises are presented after the article.

This progression serves several purposes. For one, it helps us screen for wrist and ankle mobility before actually going to the catch. Skills are built on position, pattern and power. If an athlete can not get into the appropriate position to perform a skill, a proper pattern can not be learned. Adding power to compromised positions and faulty patterns can lead to injuries down the road. This corresponds to Gray Cook’s rule of „don’t add fitness to dysfunction“. It is a pity that many trainers seem to ignore this basic concept.

The truth is that if an athlete can not front squat and/or catch the bar in a proper front rack, he will not be allowed to clean in our program. Exposing deficits in this regard early on (ie, the first week), we give the athlete time to addres these issues. The second stage, the drop clean, can be skipped (and re-introduced at a later point) if the athlete is unable to hit the proper position at this point in time. The teaching progression will then look slightly different.

  1. Hands free front Squat
  2. Front Squat (Issue identified)
    1. start working on rack position
  3. Second Pull (Isometric Shrug)
  4. Second Pull (Power Shrug)
  5. Second Pull (Clean Pull from Hang) (do not progress until front rack has been fixed)
  6. Third Pull (drop clean)

In this alternative teaching timeline, by the time the athlete gets back to the third pull, he should have increased front rack mobility to a sufficient degree. If this still has not happened, that athlete will stay at the pull variations of the lift, namely, a clean high pull from hang. Bob Alejo has argued that the only thing that is unathletic in the olympic lifts is the catch. The UKSCA, on the other hand, presents force plate data that shows a very strong similarity between the ground reaction force seen in the catch and deceleration in running. Dr. Mike Young, at this year’s PSTM conference, pointed out that the force velocity curve is flipped during concentric muscle action. Put differently, while muscles produce higher forces concentrically when moving slow, in an eccentric contraction forces are higher at faster speeds. This may indeed point to the usefulness of catching the bar. There are certainly valid arguments for either position. Anyways, safety first – if position is inadequate, we do not add power.

Suchomel et al (2017) categorize weight lifting derivatives according to their position on the force velocity curve. In their taxonomy, the hang high pull and mid-thigh power clean are directly adjacent to each other, so the substitution of one by the other will most likely not decrease transfer to athletic activities too much.

It bears repeating that at this point of the session, the focus is on movement learning more than any physiological or neuromuscular adaptation. Once an athlete has mastered the power clean, it can become a part of his dynamic effort day in the strength part of the workout. By organizing our session this way and teaching complex exercises to all athletes from the beginning, we achieve a couple of beneficial things

  1. athletes know how to clean and jerk and snatch when it is time to do so. As soon as it is time to perform a dynamic effort session, we can load the pattern rather than spending a large portion of the training block to teach the fundamentals. A little practice, done consistently, can yield very good results over the long haul.
  2. Every athlete is exposed to some fast movement – jumps for the lower body, medicine balls for the upper body, olympic lifting for the whole body. Even if loads are low, there will be a higher movement velocity than what is later experienced in a max effort day. This can serve as the potentiation part of the warmup (Jeffreys 2007).
  3. There is a certain coordinative aspect to learning the lifts. This means the central nervous system gets excited. Also, the athlete gains competence in unfamiliar positions, which can potentially result in higher resilience, which is especially important for combat sport athletes who must be able to tolerate force in all planes and directions.

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind (I stole that mindset from Mike Boyle), so I might change the teaching progression in the future. At the moment, however, we are rather successful with what we do, so for now, we will stick to that. If you are interested in learning weightlifting for sports performance, feel free to visit us at the Shinergy Base here im Vienna. Alternatively, if you want my team to give an in-house workshop for your athletes, just contact me and we might work something out.

So long, don’t get hurt


Hands Free Front Squat
Front Squat
Drop Clean
Isometric Shrug
Shrug with ankle extension
Shrug with ankle extensions from Hang
Jump Shrug from Hang
Clean Pull from Hang
Hang Power Clean


Jeffreys, Ian. (2007). Jeffreys I (2007) Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning. (6) 12-18. Professional Strength and Conditioning. 12-18.

Suchomel, Timothy & Comfort, Paul & Lake, Jason. (2017). Enhancing the Force–Velocity Profile of Athletes Using Weightlifting Derivatives. STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING JOURNAL. 39. 10-20. 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000275.