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What is the Power Clean?

The olympic lifts are excellent tools for athletic development. That being said, they are also amongst the trickiest to teach. The first problem is a lack of understanding and adherence to clear and specific terminology. We recognize that many coaches and trainers use slightly different verbiage when teaching lifting technique, specifically with the olympic lifts. This often leads to heated debate for almost no reason – but we do still need to establish a baseline of common language regarding the movements themselves when training athletes. Your athletes should know exactly what you require of them on every single rep.

By no means are we trying to say that what follows is the hard and fast rule when it comes to talking movement and technique, but it is the way we approach it here at PLT4M, and we think it works pretty well.

Let’s use the Clean as a starting point in our discussion. The clean (as part of the clean and jerk) is one of only 2 “Olympic” lifts. For reference, the squat, bench press, and deadlift are considered “Power Lifts”. As an olympic lift, the clean has a few different pieces, as well as multiple variations. In order to discuss and prescribe the clean in our workouts, we need our athletes to understand all of the relevant terminology.

As defined by the IWF’s rules for competition, a clean is when a barbell is “pulled in a single movement from the platform to the shoulders, while either splitting or bending the legs.” Simply put, a clean is a lift that moves a barbell from the floor to a front rack position at the shoulders.

This is often misunderstood right from the get-go. For example, too often we have coaches or athletes saying “Power Clean” as a direct counter-point to the Hang Clean (to refer to cleaning from the floor as opposed to an established hang position). In fact, any clean is from the floor unless denoted otherwise, the power actually refers to the catch position. While this may not be detrimental in the sense of harming the program or athlete, it does make for confusion that can lead to inefficiency or improper loading. So first we must establish a concrete understanding of the starting position. Here are the three most basic.

  • Clean = From the floor
  • Hang Clean = From an established hang anywhere above the knees
  • High Hang Clean = From the pockets, or jumping position

Next up is the receiving position. It must be acknowledged that there is some discrepancy amongst coaches and trainers as to what constitutes a clean rep, regardless of starting position. Many coaches claim that a full clean requires a full squat. Some coaches simply abide by the IWF definition and believe that depth of the catch does not matter (even a split catch, like on a split jerk, is accepted in competition but is rarely used). Crossfit has popularized specifying the full movement in detail to be completely clear on any rep. A squat clean requires a catch with hips below parallel, while a power clean requires hips above. If the clean is labeled by neither, the athlete is allowed to perform the movement with either catch (often determined by the load).

Here at PLT4M, this is also the stance we’ve taken for clarity of movement prescription. We’d much prefer the load determine an athlete’s depth. Thus, a light warm up set of cleans would likely only require a small power catch, while our heavy 3×1’s will often result in a full squat. The beauty of teaching the power position catch is that it naturally allows for the athlete to continue dropping into a fuller squat without changing anything.

To summarize – here at PLT4M, we ascribe to a terminology model that works in 3 pieces. Let’s use the Hang Power Clean as an example.

  1. Hang (Initial Position of the Barbell, in this instance above the knee, or position “2”)
  2. Power (Catch Position, in this case in a quarter squat, or anything above parallel)
  3. Clean (The base movement at hand, to be modified by the 2 words, or lack thereof, before it)

This model allows for very specific instruction when so desired. It also allows for the opposite. If all we say is “Clean,” we mean for the bar to be taken from the floor (because that is the definition of a standard clean), and intentionally do not specify a catch position. This allows the athlete to catch in whatever way they need to at the given load. If we do want to specify a catch position, we simply add it. This gives us the ability to be very specific when prescribing our workouts.

We are sure some coaches have strong feelings about the terminology they use, and we are by no means saying that you are doing it wrong. We are simply providing a cohesive approach you may use teaching and informing your athletes when using the olympic lifts. We’d love to hear any and all thoughts!