Teaching Power Clean

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Another great site on strength and conditioning.  http://www.strengthcoach.com.  I always go to this site when I have questions about the weight room.  This article is posted on their website, I have summarized and paraphrased it to make it shorter to read.

Click here If you need a turn key Strength & Conditioning Program for high school weight rooms

Power Clean: A Natural Progression

Power cleans have a mythical reputation. They are frequently referred to as the “gold standard” of power development training; the thing “real” athletes do; the Holy Grail of strength and conditioning.
However, they are rarely seen – if ever – in most training facilities. If they are seen, they are reserved for a select group of elite athletes.

Teaching power clean is one of two things to the untrained strength coach:  (1) intimidating because of the daunting list of technical knowledge needed to do them correctly and concerns of injury;  (2) taught incorrectly by the overconfident coach who is increasing the chance for injury.

A coach should be able to take a beginning athlete from zero to a solid power clean pattern in a relatively short amount of time (1 – 4 sessions). We focus is on grooving the correct movement pattern and laying a foundation which future power development can grow and flourish. Adding weight and increasing load will comes later. Results come from hard work over time; period. The value of a power clean is profound. It REQUIRES EXPLOSIVE HIP and SHOULDER STRENGTH coupled with TOTAL BODY COORDINATION.  It’s an innately dynamic, athletic movement and why they are so coveted by serious athletes looking to optimize their power development.

“The power clean teaches timing and athletic synchronization of complex, multi-joint movement; the commitment involved in getting under the bar …

it trains rate of motor unit recruitment, thus improving neuromuscular efficiency; and it teaches explosion, the mental cue for highly efficient motor unit recruitment.”

— Rippetoe, Mark and Lon Kilgore. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Trai

Guiding Principles

1. Safety
The challenge of cleans is that a lot of things going on in a short amount of time. A beginner should focus on the correct movement pattern before worrying about weight.
Quality movement done safely is the key, so do not put fitness on-top of dysfunction. We must correct any poor movement patterns before we can go too far with the power clean.
Also critical in teaching combination lifts such as the power clean, is showing beginners how to “miss”, or mess up correctly.

2. Sharp, Precise Movement
Power cleans are beautiful total body exercises. They help an athlete develop greater hip explosiveness, muscular coordination, and efficiency. We want to emphasize sharp, precise
movements with a high degree of coordination. Two additional benefits are increased range of motion as the athlete develops and the application of “super-stiffness” concept to the athletic movement.

Super stiffness is when all muscles at a joint stiffen together.  The total stiffness at a joint suddenly becomes more than the sum of individual muscle stiffness… All the muscles are activated at the same time, TOGETHER.  This requires rapid muscle activation onset and force development.  Super stiffness occurs very briefly so the motor control system must be highly tuned to ensure optimal super stiffness.

–McGill, Stuart, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, Wabuno Publishers, 2004. Available from

3. Lift Alot of Weight Really Fast
Adding weight and lifting it quickly is a huge focus AFTER the correct movement pattern of the power clean has been established. Letting athletes get success – repeatedly – and proficiency with the movements
before going anywhere near a 1 rep max is key to long-term success. Heavy loads can be introduced when the athlete has “earned it” through clean technical execution.
We need heaviness with quickness. This is a tough relationship to balance. If we are training athletes from many disciplines for power, we must be committed to reinforce the importance of quickness and explosiveness. A one rep max is not what we are interested in. Being able to consistently generate powerful athletic movements is. Explosiveness is what we are after. The cue “Quick. Move quickly,” should be heard frequently during training sessions.

4. Continuum Approach

 “stopping is not an option; modifying is.”

We need to apply this principle to cleans as well. We need to take our athlete as far as he or she can go. Load can go up, but we must constantly be mindful of quality movement.

“Better to Be Light and Right”

Lower weight at a faster speed is better than a heavy weight moving at a slow, grinding speed. If an athlete is missing alot or form begins to deteriorate, then it is up to you as the coach to either lower the weights and / or regress the exercise; in order to keep the quality of movement and quickness component intact.

Pre-cursors to the Power Clean Progression

Kettlebell / Dumbbell series
Begin with KB and DB to focus on key movement patterns that are easier to manage than with a barbell.

1. KB Swings
Focus: Big hips, double extension

  • Big chest
  • Shoulder blades down and back
  • Tall, tight back
  • Relaxed arms / tethers
  • Hips hinge back, shoulders out over toes
  • “Pop” hips
  • Full extension
  • Find “weight-less-ness”

2. DB Snatches
Focus: Follow-through, complete motion

  • Hip drive
  • “Rip it” – big pull on the DB
  • Elbow pulls up
  • Keep DB close to body
  • Snap / punch hand to sky

Power Clean Progression
Barbell Series

Once comfort with the pre-cursor movements is achieved, an athlete is ready to work through the barbell progression for a power clean.
When using a barbell, we start all athletes from the hang position – we get there by having athletes take the barbell off of blocks. Pulling the barbell off the floor tends to be challenging for most
beginners. Initially, our focus is on learning the power clean motion, which takes the weight from an athletic posture up to the shoulders. The benefit / risk ratio and time utilization don’t justify working
through the challenges of coming off the floor at the early stage of learning. We see coming off the floor to clean as part of a progression and can be an athlete’s focus at a later date.

1. Hands-Free Front Squat *
Focus: Teaching the athlete to hold the barbell on shoulders. Also, keeping chest and elbows up during the squat motion.

  • Tall, tight back
  • Chest out
  • Barbell racked on shoulders
  • Elbows up
  • Hips back

2. Clean Grip Front Squat
Focus: Squat pattern

  • Tall, tight back
  • Chest out
  • Elbows up
  • Deep squat
  • Controlled down + drive up

3. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
Focus: Setting the ready position and super-stiffness of the back with hip flexion and extension

  • Tall, tight back
  • Shoulder blades down and back, pinched together
  • Curl wrists / bending the bar
  • Hips move back
  • Bar slides down leg – maintaining contact
  • Bar to just above the knees (hang clean position)
  • Drive hips forward

4. Power Shrug *
Focus: Triple extension

  • Stand tall
  • Drive through heels and drive up
  • Extend hips
  • Pull shoulders to ears
  • Arms remain relaxed

* Not all exercises in the progression are meant to be used long-term. Some are included as a teaching tool to illustrate a concept or mechanic to a new athlete. Once the movement is understood, there won’t be a need to keep it in a workout. Examples are the hands-free squat, the jump shrug and the drop squat.
5. High Pulls
Focus: Triple extension and pull

  • Slide bar down thighs – get into an athletic stance
  • Explode bar off of high thighs
  • Full extension with hips
  • Big Pull – driving elbows up
  • Keep the bar close to your body
  • Quick, move quickly

6. Flip Cleans
Focus: Integration and sequencing of movements

  • Start from the hang position
  • Explode bar off of high thighs
  • Big pull
  • Keep it close to body
  • Elbows around bar and up
  • Quick, move quickly
  • Legs remain straight

7. Drop Squat *
Focus: Squat pattern, getting under the bar, timing

  • Stand tall
  • Drop quickly into squat position
  • Back tall, tight throughout
  • Stick bottom position

8. Power Clean
Focus: Integration of movements and explosiveness

  • Back tall and tight
  • Shoulders and hips move together
  • Bar hits high thigh
  • Full hip extension
  • Bar close
  • Big pull
  • Quick, move quickly
  • Move feet
  • Drop into athletic stance/bent knees
  • Fast elbows


Click here If you need a turn key Strength & Conditioning Program for high school weight rooms

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About Me

Coach Stewart has coached football for 27 years, winning championships with 6th graders, 8th graders, high school freshman, and high school varsity. He coached 9 years at the youth and freshman level, always serving as head coach. After completing his college at age of 28 he has coached 21 years at the varsity level, 13 as the varsity head coach.

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