The Power Clean is an Olympic style lift that is dedicated to developing and maximizing, as the name implies, power. This technique of lifting weight is great in any sport, and even for non-athletes. As Olympic weightlifting coach Mike Burgener said, “Anytime you lift something from the floor to your shoulders — whether it’s a barbell, a toolbox or a toddler — you’re doing a version of the power clean.” There are a few variations of this lift, but here we’ll just focus on some basic tips for the traditional power clean lift.
Know the phases
The power clean lift involves four phases: the first pull, the transition, the second pull and the catch. Here’s a short video on what this looks like when it’s all put together:
Don’t push so hard that you drain yourself before you attempt a power clean, but don’t go into this with cold muscles either. Make sure the lower back, arms, legs, ankles and wrists are loose and warm.
Start with high reps at a low weight
This is essential for mastering the proper form. Make sure your muscles get used to the smooth motions before adding any additional weight. You can even start with no weight at all just to get the correct form down.
Take it slow
The videos you see of trained professionals or competitors can be misleading. The first pull of the power clean does not rely on a fast burst of energy. In fact, going too fast can risk injury. The first pull should be steady and smooth, not jerking. Speed in the first pull comes after much practice, if at all.
Focus on form before you start
Keep your feet hip-width apart. Feet that are too close or too far apart can greatly impact the ease (or difficulty) of this lift, and not in a good way. Don’t do anything until you’ve planted your feet properly.
Keep your hips high
You’ll know you’re in the right position when the hamstrings are engaged. This is a slightly different form than straight dead lifting.
Turn the elbows out
During the first pull, turn your elbows out while maintaining straight arms. This forces the correct muscles in your back to carry the load rather than your arms.
Don’t bend your arms during transition
This is tempting when you begin to lift the bar past your knees. When the bar is being lifted from the ground to your mid-thigh area, you want the knees to be bent, not the elbows. Only in the second phase, or second pull, do your elbows bend. So remember: keep your arms straight.
Pull up with your trapezius and upper back.
The bulk of your strength is not going to come from your arms. It will come from your upper back and the muscles around the base of your neck.
Keep the bar close.
This is a key detail in all of the phases, but it’s especially important in the second pull. During the second pull, your shrugging motion will be doing the pulling (not your arms), and your lower body will be providing the velocity and power. The bar has to be close to your chest in order for your bent elbows to get underneath it in time for the catch phase.
Jump with full extension
Some lifters tend to simply lean forward on their feet. The goal here is to fully extend the lower body to lengthen it. You can practice this lower body muscle movement with some floor exercises that work on extending your legs, ankles and feet to be as long as possible. Some lifters jump with enough force to fully come off the ground. This is not necessary for proper form, although it does indicate a powerful drive through the lower body, which is a good thing. At the very least, you should aim to end up on your toes.
Again, you’re not using your arm muscles to lift. The rapid contraction of the muscles in your upper back is what will move the bar. The sharper and harder you contract, the more velocity you’ll have in order to get underneath the bar in the catch phase.
Catch with knees slightly bent
Do not try to catch the bar with your knees locked straight. You’ll need the spring and softness of bent knees to morph into the catching phase. After you catch it, proper form dictates straightening the knees to a full-standing position.
Reset the bar on your shoulders
When you have completed the second pull and initiated the catch phase, the bar should be resting against your shoulders. This is not a matter of pulling the bar toward you. You want to place yourself underneath the bar during the catch phrase in order to end up with this positioning.
Lower slowly, keeping the bar close to the body
You can think of this as rolling the bar down in the reverse motion. Bend your knees to help catch the bar on your lap, and then lower it with straight arms to the floor.
Avoid throwing the bar down
One, this could cause injury if the bar lands on someone’s foot. Two, slowly bringing the bar back down works the backs of the arms that didn’t get engaged on the way up. Three, this could damage the equipment or the floor. Throwing is sometimes part of Olympic style training where lifters have access to specially designed rubberized mats, but your safest best is to slowly lower the bar to the ground.
Look straight ahead
It can be tempting to look at your feet or hands, but you want to keep the proper neck alignment. Keep your head up and look forward at all times.
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