The power clean is championed as the explosive exercise par excellence by numerous athletes and sports conditioning and fitness experts however, as Patrick Dale says there are more ways to skin the proverbial cat as he provides some great alternatives to the power clean.

In a nutshell, the power clean is a simplified version of the Olympic clean and jerk which involves lifting a weight from the floor to above the head in two distinct movements. The clean portion of the exercise describes lifting the bar from the floor to shoulder-height while the jerk describes driving the bar overhead.

Where true Olympic cleans use a very deep squat position when receiving the bar prior to the jerk, the power clean uses a much more upright receiving position which means a) it is easier to learn and b) lends itself to lifting big weights. Power cleans strengthen all of the muscles of the lower body as well as the arms, shoulders and upper back.

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However, the main aim when performing power cleans is to increase explosive speed and strength which will develop increased running and jumping abilities.

The biggest controversy surrounding power cleans at the moment is the use of high repetitions. Traditionally, power cleans are performed using low repetitions in the range of one to five reps. Communities such as Crossfit ® and other “hardcore” training establishments have started using high repetition power cleans as a metabolic conditioning exercise i.e. to burn calories.

While it’s true that high rep power cleans are incredibly tough and demanding, the traditionalists say that form break down, submaximal power development and a general lack of the correct tuition means that injuries are waiting to happen.

Rather than dwell too much on the who’s right and who’s wrong side in this article I want to provide you with some viable alternatives which will provide you with many of the benefits of the power clean without the alleged risks.

Kettlebell swings

Power cleans require and develop a powerful hip extension. Hip extension is a vital component in running, jumping and kicking type activities. Kettlebell swings are commonly performed using light to moderate weights, which means that the potential for developing a high degree of hip-drive power is significantly lowered.

However, as soon as you swap your 24kg kettlebell for one approaching 40kgs, the kettlebell swing becomes a valuable hip extension power exercise. To perform the kettlebell swing, hold your kettlebell in both hands and stand with your feet around hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly (note – this is not a squat!), push your hips back and lower the kettlebell between your thighs.

With your chest up, lower back tightly arched and core braced, drive your hips forward and use this momentum to swing the weight up to shoulder-height.

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Keep your arms straight, concentrate on pushing through your heels and keep your shoulders down and back. As the kettlebell begins to fall back down, try to push it down faster using your arms and back muscles. This ‘wind-up’ will mean that your next swing is even more powerful. Make your transition from down swing to upswing as smooth as possible and try to maintain a steady rhythm.

Spring! Extend your legs and hips to stand rapidly upright. As the bar gains momentum and approaches your hips, give a mighty pull and heave the bar up and under your chin. Keep your elbows up. Lower the bar back to the ground and repeat. This exercise can also be performed using a wider foot placement and a narrow grip – the so-called and similarly effective sumo high pull.

Dead-stop box jumps

Generating power from a dead-stop is hard. Doing so robs you of much of the elastic strength stored in your muscles when they are rapidly stretched. While most jumping and running activities involve a distinct “wind up” phase, power cleans do not. Subsequently, this jumping exercise is more akin to power cleans than many of the more commonly performed jumping exercises.

Place an exercise bench around one metre/three feet away from a stable jumping box. The height of your box depends on your jumping ability but somewhere between 20 to 26 inches/50 to 66 centimetres is a good place to start. Sit on your exercise bench facing your jumping box. Make sure your feet are flat and that your torso is upright.

When you are ready, lean forward from your hips and as you feel your weight shift onto the balls of your feet, jump up and onto the box. Carefully step down, sit back down, pause, and repeat. When performing this exercise try and “out jump” your box rather than simply jumping just high enough to land on it. Like all power exercises, you’ll get better results if you really give some welly!

Standing long jumps

Standing long jumps are an effective hip-drive developer. In fact, you should imagine you are doing standing long jumps whenever you do kettlebell swings to maximise hip-drive efficiency. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands by your sides.

Raise your arms above your head. Quickly lower your arms and swing them behind you while simultaneously bending your knees slightly and pushing your hips back. On the completion of your wind-up immediately transition into a powerful jump. Try to jump long and high to achieve maximum distance.

Land on bent knees so you don’t end up having to deal with a whole lot of impact. Standing long jumps can be performed as single repetitions or in sets of multiple jumps. If you perform multiple jumps make sure that each jump is of a similar length and that you move smoothly from one jump top the next while minimising ground contact time.

Imagine the floor is red hot! Because of the impact associated with this exercise I suggest you perform it on a forgiving surface such as a sprung wooden floor or rubberised athletics track. Even then, this is a high impact exercise and should be performed conservatively and only if you are used to this type of training.

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I’ve had great personal and professional results with the power clean but I also agree that they aren’t for everyone. For some exercisers and training goals, the risks simply outweigh the benefits. Luckily, in fitness, there is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat! UF

High pulls

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High Pulls are similar to power cleans but without the need to catch the barbell across your shoulders. Commonly performed using a barbell, this exercise can also be performed using a sandbag, single dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball (as illustrated) or even a resistance band. With your barbell on the floor, stand with your toes under the bar and your feet around hip-width apart.

Squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip. Drop your hips, lift your chest and tightly arch your lower back. You should now feel like a coiled.


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