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 9 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.
Table of Contents
Power Clean Alternatives
What you’ll notice with each one of these power clean alternatives is that the goal is 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 sport 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 alternative could there be than jumping itself?
Grab a weight vest or dumbbells and find a box that is an appropriate height for your jumping ability. It should be a height where you can land in a quarter squat position with a maximal effort jump.
Standing with feet shoulder width apart, aggressively dip the hips back and down, keeping the feet flat and the chest up. Then quickly drive the hips and explode up to the box. Work to absorb force and “land soft” by bending the hips and knees on impact when landing on the box.
Step back down to the floor (get a shorter box if necessary to help you step back down to the floor) and repeat.
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.
While I do believe there are benefits in the power clean catch, the most important part of the lift for developing power is the pull. The clean pull still allows the lifter to perform this part of the lift by simply cutting out the catch.
Setup in the exact same start position as a power clean. The first pull to above the knee is the same, as is the second pull to the power position.
The difference in the clean pull comes during the third pull. Instead the breaking the elbows and allowing the bar to rise up the chest, keep the arms straight and finish the lift with the hip extension and shrug. Set the bar back down to the floor, reset and repeat.
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.
Take a med ball outside and execute med ball throws.
To perform a med ball throw, stand tall with feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Reach the med ball overhead and then hinge at the hips, keeping the back flat and core engaged.
Swing the ball down between the legs and then explosively drive the hips and throw the med ball directly overhead.
Now, what goes up must come down so be mindful of where the ball is falling to. Also, I don’t advise trying to catch the ball coming down as it’s a good way to jam a wrist or finger.
You can also do med ball throws with a partner by standing about 15 to 20 yards away from each other (depending on how powerful you are and how heavy the med ball is) and take turns throwing the ball up and behind you to your partner.
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 exercises)
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.
To perform a single arm snatch, grab a dumbbell (start light until you get the hang of the movement and then slowly increase weight as appropriate) and stand tall with feet should width apart.
Hinge the hips back, slight bend in the knee, keeping the back flat and chest big until the dumbbell lowers down the midline of the body to mid-shin height.
Make sure the core is braced and explosively drive the hips and pull the dumbbell high, keeping it close to the body. Rotate the arm and catch the dumbbell at full extension. Lower back down and repeat.
Kettle Bell Swing
The kettle bell swing is similar to the single arm snatch, but with a few key differences. For starters, we’re going to use a kettle bell instead of a dumbbell (although technically you can still kettle bell swing with a dumbbell by holding the head of a dumbbell).
Kettle bell swings are generally done with both arms, but can just as easily be done with one if necessary.
The starting position will be identical to the single arm snatch. From that same hinged position with the kettlebell just below the knee, drive the hips forward and lift the kettlebell, arms straight, up in front of the body to about eye level.
When doing kettlebell swings, the hips should be driving the movement – the arms act more so as guides and the kettlebell should feel almost weightless at the top of the swing.
Let the kettlebell swing back down and prepare to brace the core at the bottom of the swing. At the bottom of the swing you should be right back in the starting position. Drive the hips forward again and swing the kettlebell back up in front. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
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.
Starting in a good athletic position? Check. Explosive hip drive? Check. Total upper and lower body movement? Check.
Technique check: Focus on using and driving with your legs when doing tire flips. Once fatigue sets in, tire flips can turn into a movement where the lifter uses no legs and almost all back to move the tire which could potentially lead to an injury.
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 alternatives can fit in it’s 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.