I would like to talk you through an exercise which is very commonly done erroneously and, what is even worse, is many times described and depicted with wrong technique. My name is Rogelio and I am the author of the recent yet increasingly popular blog www.manlycurls.com
I want to write this power clean tutorial because I am personally tired of seeing people giving bad advice on the power clean or seeing videos on Youtube of the exercise performed incorrectly. I am not writing this because I feel like I am the ultimate online reference for the power clean or because I think I have accumulated enough broscience to talk about something I don't have a clue about. I am a former competitive Olympic weightlifter, having easily power cleaned 285lbs at a bodyweight of 180lbs and, most recently, got back into doing power cleans after almost a year of no lifting and did 275lbs at 180lbs body weight after only 4 weeks of re-learning the lift on my own with my knowledge (with video proof on my Youtube channel). Suffice to say, I know a thing or two about this lift and owe much of my knowledge to my past Olympic coaches, reading from the greatest strength coaching authorities as well as plenty of my own experimenting and years under the belt.
The lift is simple in appearance but requires a few pointers that are a bit tricky to learn. Namely, you take the barbell, rested on the floor, to your shoulders in one single and fast motion. The barbell is caught with the upper thighs at or above parallel to the floor (below parallel is known as a clean instead). The lift develops a sense of explosiveness, teaching the body to work as a single piece in utilizing all of its muscles. All muscles in the powerful posterior chain region (hamstrings, glutes, lower & upper back and shoulders) are utilized while concomitantly developing great power and strength transferable to any area outside the gym, most commonly the gridiron or fighting ring.
Alright, now that I have introduced the lift to you, we will now be looking at how to perform it. I will use myself in the pics, I don't look pretty and I am covered in chalk. If you worry about how you look when you're lifting, you should not be even reading about how to perform a power clean. Full stop.
Let's get on with the program:
Approach the rested barbell on the floor. Place your feet, shoulder width apart, at the center of the barbell's length (most barbells have a knurled mark in the center). Your mid-feet should be positioned just below the barbell.
THE SET UP
Now squat down and grab the barbell at about shoulder width while keeping the elbows flared out. Straighten your back as you raise your buttocks slightly and at the same time move your shoulders over the barbell. You should FEEL a nice stretch in the hamstrings when you hit the right position. Play with the set up but you want to have your shoulders just over the barbell or slightly in front which will automatically position your upper thighs above parallel to the floor (the degree differs depending on your flexibility and leverages). You are set now, take in a big gulp of air 'cos you are about to move that damn barbell off the floor.
The pull has two phases: first and second pull. I will make it easy for you, the phases are distinguished by the vertical distance travelled. The first pull conveys the pull up to knee height while the second pull is the pull from knee height and up. They are NOT two paused lifts, they transition smoothly from first to second, it is only that different muscles are actively called upon during each phase as the barbell goes up. In essence, the power clean is a one massive smooth and snappy pull that can be divided, for learning's sake, in two phases. That's all, stop reading any garbage that armchair experts like argue about while merely being able to power clean their body weight.
Raise the barbell with the SOLE and ONLY power of your thighs, thus your back shall remain at the same angle as the initial set up. Don't do anything with your back, just push up with your thighs while keeping the same angle in the back. Simple. This is imperative and many people go wrong here. Keep the barbell very close to the lower legs as it travels up to knee height and watch those elbows, try to keep them flared. Think of your arms as ropes, don't use them to pull here!
When the barbell reaches knee height, you then PUSH your for hips forward hence the angle of the back is opened. Think of standing up with the barbell and throwing the barbell up to the roof. As soon as your hips have been pushed forward (which happens in a split of a second!), shrug your shoulders up and pull with the arms. The thrust of the hips is so powerful that you will be unintentionally raising yourself on your toes which is known as the triple extension. Effectively, the transition from first to second looks like this:
Dont worry about standing on toes, going up in the air or "third pulls" as the armchair experts like to argue about. Just worry about inflicting the most power you can to the forward hip thrust described and then shrugging those shoulders up. The barbell will fly up like peanuts, it is time to catch it. Your triple extension should look like this:
As soon as you have triple extended (up on your toes having finalized the forward hip thrust and shrugging of the shoulders), the barbell is flying up and you drop down in a squat to catch the barbell on your shoulders. This needs to be fast and furious, you have to move your feet from up on your toes to a solid plantar stance (feet solid on the ground). The power clean is not for the pretty gym boys, it is used by the toughest of sportsmen for a reason, so go under that damn barbell like you mean it. To catch the barbell, rotate your elbows up so they are about parallel to the floor and squat down so that your upper thighs are at or above parallel to the floor. Tense your torso (including abdominal wall) right before before catching it. You can tell straight away who knows his power cleans and who doesn't by the way they catch their power cleans. Trust me, once you get to 250lbs and above, that thing will crush you if you don't grow some toughness and actually spend time under the barbell instead of reading and armchairing.
THE ALPHA MALE VICTORIOUS STANDING UP
Simply, squat up with your elbows still at about parallel to the floor. Once you have stood up, drop the barbell or lower it under control back to the floor. Be proud, you have just performed the most explosive movement any gym-goer can do.
You can incorporate power cleans into any bodybuilding split. I'd recommend you to incorporate them on either back or leg day and always leave at least a day apart between power cleans and doing either back or legs. So if on Day 3 you do Back day with power cleans, do Leg day on Day 5 or 6. Do 5 sets of 5 reps on them or 8 sets of 3 with the same weight, aim for about 25 total reps. Go heavy and hard and always do power cleans as the FIRST exercise of the day as they require a skill component which is affected by fatigue.
In terms of what weights to shoot for, you should be able to power clean your body weight soon if you work hard at it. You goal is to do at least 1.5x your body weight for which other reputable strength coaches and myself agree, so if you weight 180lbs you should go for 270lbs or if you weight 200lbs, you should go for 300lbs. This number should be long-term and one that will give you enough power and strength to own pretty much anyone wherever physical conditioning is required.
Don't forget to check out my blog as I write about fitness, health, lifestyle and have covered the power clean even more as I love strength sports. You can also find my videos, experiments and other 21st century male stuff there. Also, if you liked this tutorial, please feel free to like my Facebook page (Manly Curls) as I frequently update through my Facebook and Twitter pages.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
All the best.