The Power Clean is the most popular lift among all of the Olympic Lift variants done with athletes.
But, while athletes all over the country from high school weight rooms all the way to NFL facilities, the question is, “SHOULD athletes Power Clean?”
According to a poll I did of about a dozen Division I Strength and Conditioning Coaches, Power Cleans came in 2nd when asked the question, “What are the top 5 exercises to improve athletic performance.”
So it’s safe to say that many Strength Coaches think Power Cleans are important.
Let’s look at 3 reasons why I believe all athletes should power clean.
3 Reasons Athletes Should Power Clean
The Triple Extension
The main reason athletes should Power Clean is the benefit provided through the triple extension of the lower body.
What is Triple Extension?
Triple Extension is referring to the full extension of the hips, knees and ankles.
The triple extension that is trained with the Power Clean is the same triple extension movement pattern that is seen when athletes sprint, jump, tackle and really almost every explosive movement done on the field or court of play.
The more power the athlete is able to generate by being able to apply more force to the ground, the more explosive the athlete. This means being able to accelerate faster to the ball in soccer, jump higher on the basketball court or be more explosive of the line of scrimmage in football.
Essentially, it’s the equivalent to putting a bigger engine in the same car. The car may look the same, but the power the car is able to generate is higher.
Coordination of Power
Not only will an athlete become more explosive with Power Cleans, but they learn how to be able to coordinate and use that power.
With many exercises in the weight room and especially exercises that involve the use of machines, moving more weight is simply a matter of applying more force, getting stronger and then next time applying even more force.
Power Cleans are more complex and I think that is a great thing.
If you start driving too hard too soon in the lift you won’t be as powerful once you get to your power position. Additionally, if you start pulling with your arms too soon you’ll negate some of the power coming from your hips.
The athlete has to not only try to apply more force, but they have to learn how to coordinate their body and their effort to create MAXIMUM power.
This ability to not only generate power, but to do it in a coordinated fashion is exactly what an athlete has to do in sport.
Think of an Offensive Lineman.
At the snap of the ball, they need to step toward and fire their hands at a moving target all while trying to generate as much force as possible to try to move another human being against their will. The defender may move in any direction and the offensive lineman still needs to be able to move their feet, their body and their hands and continue to generate force.
Power Cleans demand of not just force, but coordinated force means that the exercise isn’t just building muscle – it’s building a better athlete.
Is the Catch Important?
If the triple extension is most important part of the lift, then do athletes really need to catch the Power Clean? Could you just do Clean Pulls instead?
If the technical side of being able to teach the catch is a concern within your program, then yes, you could absolutely just do Clean Pulls instead of performing the full movement.
However, the catch does come with it’s own benefits.
Learning to Absorb Force – Being an athlete, especially in contact sports, involves not only generating force, but learning how to absorb that force as well.
Almost nothing does that as well as catching a power clean. The catch teaches how to engage, brace and receive the weight on the shoulders.
Think of our lineman again shooting off the ball in football. The moment he collides with the player on the other side of the ball, he is both exerting and receiving force.
Learning how to absorb force with the catch on a Power Clean is invaluable to athlete’s learning and improving how to do this.
Coordination – The catch is a movement that requires a good bit of timing and coordination. There are a lot of moving parts (shifting the feet, rotating the elbows, lowering the body’s center of gravity) that athlete has to simultaneously exert force on and control.
I believe that anytime you can add movements that help the athlete create and coordinate force in space, you can help improve the athlete’s overall athleticism. If we’re improving athleticism then we are building a better athlete.
When Should an Athlete NOT Power Clean?
While I believe that in general every athlete should Power Clean, there are a few situations when an athlete should not Power Clean.
Doesn’t Know Proper Technique
First, if the athlete doesn’t know how to Power Clean, then they should not Power Clean. As many benefits as a Power Clean has, it can also be a dangerous lift if not done correctly.
You have to make sure you have a coach who can teach you how to perform the movement correctly.
If you are a Coach reading this and you are not confident you can teach the lift correctly, then you should not have your athletes doing them. I would strongly encourage you to seek a Level 1 USAW Weightlifting Course to learn how to properly teach the movement.
If you have an injury that inhibits you in any way from performing the Power Clean, then you shouldn’t do it. I find that a little common sense here can go a long way.
Finally, for me personally, I will not have Football Players catch in-season. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t have Baseball or Basketball players catch in-season either.
For my football players, their hands and wrists get really beat up in-season and I don’t want to add to that.
But, Coach, you shouldn’t really catch with your wrists anyway, right? Shouldn’t they be catching the bar with their shoulders?
Yes, that’s correct… in a perfect world. However, beat up bodies and joints from practice and games can sometimes lead to compromised technique by athletes improvising on the fly.
In my opinion, it’s just not worth the risk of having of aggravating a wrist or elbow when in season, we can just focus on pulls.
Also, as I mentioned early, one of the key benefits of the catch is working on absorbing force. In-Season we are already doing plenty of that as well.
In addition, for sports like basketball and baseball, the wrist is so critical for their sport that, for me, the risk-reward of having them catch in-season isn’t worth it.
Should athletes Power Clean?
In my opinion, 100% yes.
The ability to improve not only force production, but athleticism as well makes it an extremely valuable tool for the improvement of any athlete.
And I realize I use football for many of my analogies and that’s just a force of habit from having played and worked with football my entire career.
But, I’ve also worked with Track, Basketball and many other sports and all of them have aspects of their sport that can be improved with Power Cleans.
Just make sure that you have a coach (whether that’s you or someone else) that can teach them PROPER technique so avoid easily preventable injuries from poor technique.
Hope you found this article helpful and until next time, stay strong!