The power clean is one of the most effective exercises for building explosive power.
But, there may be circumstances where doing power cleans just isn’t an option. Maybe you have an injury limiting your ability to perform the movement, maybe you’re lacking equipment or maybe you’ve not been taught how to properly power clean and you don’t feel comfortable with the lift.
Are there any good power clean alternatives that will still improve explosive power?
Power cleans are effective at building power because of the emphasis it places on the triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. Effective power clean alternatives mimic this triple extension, allowing the lifter to still develop explosiveness.
So, yes, there are plenty of power clean alternatives out there. In fact, in this article, I’m going to show you 10 different exercises that can still develop explosive power if you’re not able to power clean, how to perform each exercise and common mistakes to avoid.
Here we go.
Power Clean Alternatives
What you’ll notice with each one of these power clean alternatives is that the goal is to find creative ways to still work on the explosive triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. This triple extension is the movement pattern seen in countless movements across sports from jumping to sprinting to making a tackle on the football (or rugby) field.
By changing the equipment we use, modifying the lift itself or implementing single-arm movements we can mimic the triple extension and still work on improving power without having to power clean.
Weighted Box Jumps
Power cleans help you jump higher by developing the same movement pattern as a jump, so what better Power Clean alternative exercise could there be than jumping itself?
- Plyo Box
- Weight Vest or Dumbbells
- Grab a box that is the proper height for your jumping ability
- Start just far enough away from the box so that your hands will not hit the box when you swing them.
- Once you’re in position, stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
- Now raise your arms overhead and extend up onto the balls of the feet.
- Start your countermovement by hinging at the hips, bending the knees and throwing the hands down and back behind the body.
- Immediately redirect by driving the feet through the floor, throwing the hands up and triple extending through the hips, knees and ankles.
- Land softly on the box by bending the knees upon landing and absorbing the force of impact.
- Step down off the box and repeat.
Pick a box that is an appropriate height. You should land on the box in roughly a quarter-squat position. All too often I see athletes jump on a box that is way too high, causing them to have to land in a full squat position.
This is wrong for two reasons. First, picking your feet higher so you can land in a full squat doesn’t actually mean you jump any higher. Second, having to land in a full squat to make it onto the box eliminates any room for error. If you jump perhaps even an inch not high enough you could end up missing the box.
Don’t stand too far away from the box or you’ll end up jumping at the box instead of up onto the box. This horizontal trajectory can make landing and stabilizing on the box tricky.
Always land with your feet completely on the box. If you get in the habit of landing on the edge of the box and you miss a little, you’ll end up with your shins into the edge of the box.
The Clean Pull is a variation of the power clean that involves the explosive triple extension of the movement but without the catch. This can be a great alternative for anyone dealing with a wrist or possibly even a shoulder injury/limitation.
- Bumper Plates
- Start with feet hip-width apart with toes straight ahead (or ever so slightly pointed out).
- The bar should be over the middle of the feet.
- Grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width.*
- The wrists should be slightly curled so that the knuckles are pointed straight down to the ground. This will also naturally rotate the elbows, pointing them laterally away from the body.
- Shoulders slightly over the bar, arms straight, hips slightly higher than the knees.
- Back should be flat or have a slight arch. Shoulder blades should be pulled back and the upper back including the lats should be engaged.
The ‘First Pull’ simply refers to the portion of the movement that involves moving the bar from the floor to the knee.
- The last thing that should happen as the lifter is setting up in their starting stance is to take a deep breath in and engage, or brace, their core. This helps the lifter both protect their back as well as aid in the transfer of power from their legs to the bar.
- Raise the bar off the floor at a constant speed using the legs by driving the feet through the ground. Arms should stay straight and the barbell shouldn’t be ‘yanked’ off the ground.
- Hips and shoulders rise at the same time (torso angle remains constant)**.
- As the bar comes up, keep the bar close to the shins and the feet should remain flat, driving the feet hard into the floor.
Second Pull (and finish)
The second pull involves getting the bar from just above the knee to the power position. The power position is the point where the athlete is nearly vertical and where the final triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles will occur followed immediately by the shrug and pull from the arms.
- Once the bar crosses the knees, the bar is then pulled explosively, bringing the shoulders back and up.
- As the lifter continues to drive vertically, the shoulders will end up slightly behind the bar and the hips, knees slightly bent and ankles will have just a bit of flexion left in them.
- From the power position, this is where the final explosive hip extension occurs along with the full extension of the knees.
- The foot drive shifts from the whole foot to now extending up through the balls of the feet.
- The triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles is followed instantaneously by a quick, aggressive shrug.
- Bar is pulled vertically close to the body as the traps shrug to elevate the bar.
- Now, either retrace back to the floor or drop the bar and then reset.
*An easy way to get your grip in the right position is to place your hands one thumb length away from the start of the knurling of the bar. This width will work for 90% of lifters. Wider athletes may end up sliding their hands just a bit wider and vice versa for narrow athletes, but it’s a good starting point for anyone.
**One of the biggest mistakes with clean technique is that lifters will shoot their butt up first, locking their knees out and then they end up pulling the bar with their back instead of their legs. This is most often caused by lifters trying to rush the first pull too much. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
Another common mistake is the lifter ‘swinging’ the bar away from their shins, usually because they are worried about the bar hitting their knees. However, the knees will naturally slide back out of the way as you extend.
Med Ball Throw
The med ball throw is a great alternative for anyone who isn’t comfortable with their power clean technique or maybe doesn’t currently have access to a gym.
- Medicine Ball
- First, make sure you have enough ceiling height to be able to do Cannonballs. I recommend doing them outside to avoid this issue altogether.
- Grab the ball with both hands cradling under the ball. Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Pull the shoulder blades back, engage the lats and core, slightly bend the knees and hinge forward at the hips.
- Allow the medicine ball to fall in between the shins.
- You should now be in a good athletic position that looks very similar to the starting position of a Hang Clean.
- From here, explosively drive the feet through the ground and aggressively extend the hips and throw the ball as high as possible*.
- Allow the ball to hit the ground, grab it, then reset and repeat.
Do NOT try to catch the ball directly out of the air. This is a great way to jam a wrist or a finger. Allow the ball to hit the ground first before grabbing it for the next rep.
*Cannonball Throws can either be done straight up in the air or behind you to a partner. If working with a partner, stand facing away from them and throw the ball at about a 45 degree angle. The goal is to throw the ball as far as possible in the air.
Single Arm Snatch
The Single-Arm Snatch is another great movement that can be done in the weight room that involves explosive triple extension. (You should be noticing a common theme in the movement patterns of each of these Power Clean alternatives)
It’s an alternative I like to use if an athlete has a limiting injury to one arm or perhaps a shoulder. Jammed fingers during football season always lead to a few Single-Arm Snatches.
- Grab a dumbbell and stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Put a slight bend in the knee, brace the core and set the back – shoulder blades pulled back, lats engaged, chest out.
- Hinge forward by pushing the hips back and let the dumbbell slide down right in between the knees, coming at a stop just below the knee.
- You are now in the ‘power position’.
- From here, drive the feet through the floor and aggressively extend the hips, driving the shoulders up and slightly back.
- As you reach triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles – use a quick, powerful shrug and allow the elbow to break and begin the pull with the arm.
- Keep the dumbbell close to the body as it travels up.
- Once the dumbbell reaches the highest point of the pull, rotate at the elbow to catch the dumbbell overhead while simultaneously dropping the hips into a quarter squat and shift the feet slightly out.
- Finish the rep by standing tall and lowering the dumbbell down to the shoulder first and then back to the starting position under control.
- Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch arms.
The dumbbell should travel close to the body all the up until it gets about head height, then rotate the elbow, drop the hips and catch. Don’t allow it to swing forward out away from the body.
The second technique flaw is not staying braced through the return of the dumbbell to the starting position, oftentimes from being in too big of a hurry to knock out reps. Letting the dumbbell, especially the heavier you get, yank the shoulder down at the bottom of the rep is asking for trouble.
Kettle Bell Swing
The Kettlebell Swing is similar to the Single-Arm Snatch, but with a few key differences. For starters, we’re going to use a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell (although technically you can still Kettlebell Swing with a dumbbell by holding the head of a dumbbell).
Kettlebell swings are generally done with both arms, but can just as easily be done with one if necessary.
Kettlebell Swings are one of my favorite Power Clean alternatives to use with beginners because of the simplicity of the movement.
- Kettlebell (you can also use a dumbbell by grabbing the end of it)
- Approach the kettlebell with a stance slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Take a deep breath, slightly bend the knees, hinge at the waist, and squeeze the kettlebell with both hands.
- Maintain a neutral spine, eyes focused on something just in front of you. (DO NOT CRANE THE NECK).
- Initiate the movement by pulling the dumbbell off the ground and into the “power position”.
- The power position is where the hips are flexed (loaded), knees are slightly bent, and you are now going to drive the kettlebell forward.
- Extend the hips and knees (DO NOT LET GO OF THE KETTLEBELL), driving the kettlebell forward.
- The kettlebell will drift from the hip extension to about shoulder height but should not go any higher.
- Gravity will bring the kettlebell back down.
- Actively “pull” the kettlebell back to the power position. You should never feel loose or out of control as you swing.
- As you pull the kettlebell and prepare for the next rep, remember to keep a tight abdomen and upper back.
- This movement is fast and works on rapid force development via hip and knee extension.
The kettlebell swing is a great movement to train rapid hip extension and flexion. Remember to always keep a neutral spine (DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK).
Choosing the proper kettlebell weight is important. Heavier is not always better. Because of the rapid nature of the kettlebell swing, the emphasis should be on velocity, speed, and power.
I would recommend starting light and you will be able to increase weight easily as you get more comfortable with the movement.
I highly recommend novice lifters to start with the kettlebell swing before moving to more complicated movements such as cleans or snatches.
Weighted Squat Jumps
Want to do weighted jumps, but don’t have a box to jump onto?
No worries, you can do weighted squat jumps without a box. Use a weighted vest or dumbbells just like with the box jumps, but instead of jumping onto a box, perform a quarter squat and jump straight up into the air.
Make sure to land soft, by bending and absorbing force on contact with the ground.
The biggest difference between a weighted box jump and a weighted squat jump (besides obviously the box) is you need to be more mindful of the volume of jumps you do in a given workout.
Landing on an elevated box reduces the amount of force on landing and helps protect the joints. Jumping high into the air and landing back down to the ground, especially with added weight, can be stressful on the joints and with enough reps could lead to issues like shin splints or tendonitis.
Have a giant tractor tire just laying around (who doesn’t, right)? Put that thing to use and get in some Tire Flips. Tire Flips might actually be the closest comparison to power clean out of all the exercises on this list.
- Make sure you have plenty of space to be able to safely flip the tire.
- Start with the tire laying on the ground on its side.
- Stand with toes almost against the tire, feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Drop the hips and reach under the tire.
- Once you have a good grip under the tire flatten your back and brace your core.
- Drive the feet through the ground and aggressively begin to extend the hips.
- If the tire is heavy, you can slide one knee under the tire to help with leverage once the tire is high enough.
- When the tire gets above stomach height, flip your hands around so you can begin to push the tire.
- Push the tire forcefully forward – extending with both your arms and legs.
- The tire should land on its side. Repeat for the designated amount of distance or reps.
The biggest key to Tire Flips is perhaps in finding the right tire.
Every school I’ve ever worked at had big tires that were used for Tire Flips. However, the size and weight of these tires have all been drastically different. They’ve ranged from tires that were barely heavy enough to be worth using to tires that took two and sometimes even three football players to flip.
Just like with Deadlifts and Power Clean, it’s extremely important to drop the hips, use the legs and keep the back flat. Once fatigue starts to set in I generally see athletes resort to using more back than legs. If form reaches this point then it’s time to stop flipping the tire.
Push Press is different from Power Clean as it puts more of an emphasis on the shoulders than does the Clean. However, the same principles of bracing with the core and then using the hips in a coordinated fashion to create maximum power are still very much the same.
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper Plates (technically possible to do with Iron Plates, but Bumper Plates are highly recommended)
- Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
- Grab the barbell with your index finger on the knurling or just outside the knurling. (Flexibility and what feels comfortable are important here).
- Flex the elbows up slightly and keep your knuckles fairly vertical to the ceiling.
- You are not taking a “Front rack” position here. The elbows will be slightly up but the bar is not resting on the anterior delts.
- To unrack the bar, take a deep breath and brace the abdominal muscles and upper back. Use a staggered stance to unrack the bar.
- Take 2 steps backward and be sure that you will not hit the hooks or anything above your head when you start to press.
- Initiate the movement with a “dip” or bend of the knee that will help you propel the barbell up with momentum. Do not bend the knee forward onto the toes.
- Think about how you initiate a squat. The knee bend should be very similar to this movement.
- This is a quick movement that helps get the barbell moving upward.
- As you extend the legs, push the barbell up. Be sure not to hit your chin. Lock the rep out by holding the barbell overhead for about 1 second.
- Some coaches use the queue “push your head through the arms” to help lock out the rep and stabilize the bar overhead.
- Slowly bring the barbell back down to prepare for the next repetition.
The push press is a compound movement specific to Olympic lifts and powerlifting (depending on the event). This is also a great movement for field and court sport athletes that need overhead strength and power. This movement should be trained and programmed according to goals, injury history, athlete readiness, and time of year.
Hang Power Clean
The Hang Power Clean is the final power clean alternative that still involves a full lower body triple extension. I place it here because it so closely compares to the power clean that it’s almost hard to consider it an alternative.
The only real difference between the power clean and the hang power clean is the starting position. Instead of starting from the floor, the hang power clean starts the bar at mid-thigh level.
Other than the starting position, extension is the same and the catch is the same as a power clean.
With it being so similar, who would this be good substitution for?
About one out of every ten athletes that I start working with has such limited flexibility that it’s very uncomfortable, or even impossible, for them to achieve the proper starting form for a power clean.
For these athletes, starting from a hang position is a good substitute while we work on improving their mobility so they can start from the floor position.
Starting on lifting blocks is another good solution to raise the bar higher off the floor to make the starting position more comfortable and attainable for anyone with limited mobility.
DB Seated Power Clean
Have a lower extremity injury and can’t do anything standing? The DB Seated Power Clean is a perfect alternative.
This exercise allows the lifter to stay seated throughout the duration of the lift and focuses more on the upper body portion of the lift.
I use DB Seated Power Cleans with athletes who have a lower body injury, like an ACL injury for instance. Obviously, this isn’t working the triple extension like all the other power clean alternatives, but it does emphasize the upright row and a modified dumbbell catch.
It also makes the athlete feel more involved in the lift that the rest of the team is doing and when you are recovering from an injury like an ACL, all upper body workouts can get a little boring and monotonous.
The DB Seated Power Clean mixes things up, keeps the athlete engaged and is still a great upper body exercise.
Power clean is one of best exercises you can do to improve athletic performance. Whether your field of play is a stadium filled with 100,000 people or your Sunday rec softball league, power cleans can help you perform better at your sport.
However, sometimes, for a number of different reasons, you might not be able to clean. If that’s the case then I hope one of these 9 Power Clean alternatives can fit in its place.
Finally, if you need a program – one featuring many of the exercises listed in this article – take a look at the Strength and Conditioning Programs that I currently have available.