In this post, I will show you EXACTLY how to power clean with the perfect technique using Chinese weightlifting.
In fact, this is the exact same process taught to build the top Olympic weightlifters in China, but it works for ANY body type!
In fact, the average power clean among Chinese weightlifters weighing 56 – 85kg is double bodyweight, but some can do much more!
So, if you want to power clean the most weight with the least stress during your Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit training, or sports-specific power clean workout, then you’ll love this power clean tutorial!
Let’s dive right in.
- Proof: Olympic Weightlifting Standards
- The Olympic Weightlifting Power Clean
- How do you do a Power Clean Step by Step?
- Bonus: Hang Power Clean
- Bonus: Hang Clean Form
- Bonus: Power Clean from Blocks
- Bonus: Clean vs Power Clean
- Questions about Power Clean Technique?
Proof: Olympic Weightlifting Standards
This post shows the proper power clean technique used in China and broken down visually in our new Chinese weightlifting book.
The Chinese are the most dominant Olympic weightlifting team in the world!
In fact, they hold more gold medals in Olympic weightlifting world championships than any other country:
When it comes to men’s weightlifting world records classes, Chinese Olympic weightlifters dominate the lightweight to middleweight Olympic weightlifting standards set by the IWF:
And when it comes to women’s weightlifting world records, Chinese athletes have surpassed the Olympic weightlifting standards set by the IWF in nearly every weight class:
So, whether you’re male or female, if you’re looking to maximize your power pound-for-pound, then you can definitely learn something from Chinese Olympic weightlifting techniques.
The Olympic Weightlifting Power Clean
Now that you’ve seen the amazing results from Chinese weightlifters let’s understand what a power clean looks like.
First, check out how a professional Chinese Olympic weightlifter performs the power clean:
How do You Do a Power Clean Step by Step?
In China, learning the power clean consists of a bottom-up approach. We break it down into 5 steps:
- Step 1: Find your Power Clean Start Position
- Step 2: Power Clean Deadlift
- Step 3: Extension Movement
- Step 4: Power Clean into Front Squat
- Step 5: Catch in a Front Rack Position
Unlike a slower lift like a back squat, it’s difficult to alter or correct your power clean technique once you start lifting, so the key is to have a good start position.
In fact, Zhao Qingkui, one of the founders of the Chinese weightlifting system, used to say, “perfect start, half done.”
Step #1: Find your Power Clean Start Position
You should walk to the bar rather than roll the bar to you while trying to set up your power clean start position.
This habit ensures you produce a consistent, reproducible, process regardless of the weight on the bar.
If you need to move the bar for spatial or safety reasons, make sure to step away from the bar and then approach it in a consistent way.
With that said, here’s exactly how to achieve a perfect power clean start position every time.
What stance should be used when performing power cleans?
Your first step in a power clean is to use a stance that maximizes your vertical force. To find this stance, just stand as if you’re about to perform a vertical jump.
Most Olympic weightlifters in China use a hip-width stance as shown below:
However, your stance might be a little wider or narrower based on how you feel comfortable when jumping.
Second, you want to be one fist-width away from the barbell.
By using your fist (instead of someone else’s), you create the optimal distance for YOU.
This distance places the bar over the ball of your foot, which is where you push from at the end of a vertical jump.
Here’s the process from our Chinese weightlifting program to easily measure this distance:
- Keep your shin vertical and place your fist on it.
- Then, move toward the bar until your fists touch the bar.
Third, move your shins forward until they touch the bar.
Touching the bar with your shins has several advantages for your power clean technique:
- It keeps you and the barbell as close as possible, which makes it easier to lift.
- It shifts your balance onto the ball of your foot, which is how you finish a vertical jump.
- Starting and finishing your pull in the same spot maintains your balance more easily, which maximizes your vertical power.
If it feels difficult to move your shins forward, try incorporating ankle & calf mobility drills in your training program.
Fourth, rotate your feet and knees outward.
Your goal is to create enough room to lower your torso between your legs and align your knees and feet like this:
This adjustment has the added benefits of:
- Concentrically orienting muscles in your glutes and hips before lifting the bar, allowing for a smooth liftoff.
- Bringing your hips closer to the bar, which makes the weight easier to lift.
- Keeping your foot flat, which allows you to push off more strongly.
The degree of rotation depends on your comfort and hip structure, but make sure your shins still contact the bar.
Now that your lower body is set, you need to grab the bar.
What is the proper grip in a power clean?
Your grip should be about one fist-width outside of your shoulder. This grip is known as a “clean grip” and has several advantages:
- This width is wide enough for you to maintain straight arms as you grab the bar with your knees out.
- This width is also wide enough for most athletes to catch comfortably in a front squat.
- When you finish the deadlift phase, this width places the barbell closest to the hip to maximize your power during the extension.
How do you determine clean grip?
To find your optimal clean grip, use your right hand and reach across your left shoulder. Then draw a straight line down from your right pinky. This line is where your index finger should be when you grab the bar. Like this:
Now, as you grip the barbell, you should use a hook grip. Which looks like this:
This grip is stronger than a normal grip because your thumb can push against the barbell rather than simply squeeze your hand.
This means you can keep your arms relaxed during the lift until it’s time to extend.
But there’s a catch:
If you’re new to the hook grip, then it can feel uncomfortable at first.
While your skin will eventually callus, you have two solutions to help you get used to it:
One solution is to use weightlifting tape to provide a layer of protection for your thumbs during the hook grip.
Another solution is to use weightlifting straps (see the Olympic weightlifter below), which lets you maintain a normal grip without tensing your arms.
What is the proper body position during the setup for the power clean?
You want to lift your head about 45˚ and push your chest forward. This movement sets you up as if you’re going to perform a vertical jump.
This position helps straighten your back and concentrically orient your back muscles sufficiently, like this:
Additionally, it’ll remove any slack in your arms, which helps you transfer energy more forcefully when you extend.
Now, you might look at this photo and say, “I can’t sit up like that.”
YOUR torso angle depends on the length of your arms, torso, and legs.
So don’t worry about looking like someone else.
Just let your body bend how it needs to keep your balance on the ball of the foot.
Step #2: Power Clean Deadlift
Here’s the truth:
You only have one chance to explode during the power clean.
So, it’s better to save that explosion for the extension rather than ripping the bar off the ground.
Additionally, a power clean deadlift is much lighter than a maximal deadlift, so you don’t need to go crazy from the floor.
Instead, think of the power clean as a smooth deadlift + powerful extension to remind you to push off the ball of the foot and keep your balance.
Here is what a smooth clean deadlift looks like:
Notice how he can still extend once the bar reaches the end of the deadlift even though he didn’t rip the bar off the ground.
Now that you know there is no need to rush your deadlift, let’s go over how to perform a power clean deadlift like a professional Olympic weightlifter.
How do you do a clean deadlift?
The key to a clean deadlift is to think about pushing through the ground rather than pulling the barbell.
The goal is to use your strength to make sure your hips and shoulders rise evenly.
So, pushing against the floor preserves your balance and upper body position.
And the movement feels more like a squat rather than a hinge movement like a deadlift.
How do I keep my bar close during a power clean?
During a power clean, you must keep the bar close to you while keeping yourself close to the bar. To do this, you must:
- Drag the bar along your VMO muscle.
- Keep your balance forward
Let’s go through these two strategies.
Case 1: Keeping the bar close to you
As the bar passes your knees, your body must adjust to keep its balance and position.
But it’s easy for the bar to drift away from you at this point, which can cause the bar to pull you forward.
In this case, you are close to the bar, but the bar is not close to you.
Dragging the bar along your VMO muscle helps avoid this separation to maintain your balance. It looks like this:
Case 2: Keeping yourself close to the bar
As the bar passes your knees, it’s easy to lean back, pull with your arms, etc. as you drag the bar.
In this case, the bar is close to you, but YOU are moving away from the bar.
To ensure YOU stay close to the bar during the power clean, keep your balance on the ball of your foot.
You should look like you’re preparing to jump, like this:
Some athletes perform hang power cleans from this location and just try to explode from here.
Other athletes get anxious, or they’ve heard the barbell should accelerate above the knee, so they try to explode from here.
But in both situations, stay calm!
The bar accelerates naturally due to your body being in a stronger position to move the bar.
Think about it:
During a heavy squat, the barbell moves faster as you get closer to standing up.
This happens because it’s easier to move the bar, not because you are pushing harder as you finish the movement. The same goes for the power clean.
So, just push smoothly, maintain your balance, and let the barbell accelerate on its own.
The final step for the deadlift is to reach the contact point for you to extend.
Where should the bar make contact in a clean?
For cleans, power cleans, and their variations, Chinese weightlifters usually wait until the bar reaches 2 – 4 inches (5 – 10cm) below the hip crease to make contact.
This spot is the highest you can deadlift the bar before either locking out or extending.
Therefore, this height maximizes the work from your legs and leaves your upper body fresher to pull during the extension.
It looks like this:
In our Chinese weightlifting seminar, we use this process to make sure you reach the highest point of contact:
- Stand up straight with the barbell.
- Take note where the barbell is touching your thigh.
- Shift your balance forward to the ball of the foot, bend your knees slightly, and lean forward as if you’re about to jump vertically.
- Stop when you feel the barbell lowering itself or when you feel the need to tense your traps/shoulders or arms to hold the barbell in place.
Once you get to this spot, it should feel like the bar is resting or pressing on your thighs.
Step #3: Extension Movement
Now it’s time to put the “power” in the power clean.
The extension, also known as the “clean pull”, is a powerful finishing movement that determines the barbell’s path.
And the goal is to maximize your vertical force, so you want an extension movement that finishes in as a straight position as possible, like this:
Clean Pull Technique
There are several techniques to transfer the most vertical force through your body during the clean pull:
- Keep the ball of your foot connected with the ground.
- Pull the bar to your belly button.
- Keep your head up and chest out.
Let’s go through these techniques, one by one.
First, keep the ball of your foot connected with the ground as you straighten your body.
This is a position of maximal propulsion, and you see it in many movements before the foot leaves the ground, like sprinting and jumping:
But, the best part is that you’re already pressing through the ball of your foot during the deadlift!
So, you just need to continue pressing through the floor and keep your balance as you throw your body upward, easy!
Second, pull the bar to your belly button.
To do this, you must use your upper traps, shoulders, and biceps simultaneously to lift your elbows, like this:
It’s like lifting some tight pants to your belly button.
This height is the highest you can pull your elbows vertically while keeping the barbell close to your body.
Now, you might wonder, “Belly button? How will I get the bar to my shoulders?”
Belly-button height is the minimum to catch in a deep squat position, but since the weight in a power clean is lighter, you’ll gain more height from a given amount of effort.
Third, maintain your head up and chest out.
The body follows the head.
So keeping your head up will help maintain upward momentum and transfer more energy through your body.
Luckily, you already set this up in the start position, so you just need to maintain it in this stage as well.
Now, I know this pull probably feels more targeted and deliberate lower than you’re used to, so try this paused clean pull from our Chinese weightlifting technique program to help build a more accurate motor pattern:
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Should you jump when doing a power clean?
No. One way you can imagine the extension is to think of it as a vertical jump where the ball of your foot is glued to the ground.
If you leave the ground during the extension, then you can’t produce any more force.
Additionally, jumping off the ground can disrupt your timing because you must wait until you land to produce more force.
Step #4: Power Clean Front Squat
You can’t relax after the extension!
You need to actively pull under into a front squat, like this:
An active pull under helps you catch the bar near its apex, which reduces the barbell stress on your joints.
For an effective pull under, you can think of the cue “power clean front squat” or “clean pull front squat.”
How do you get under the bar in a power clean?
To get under the bar during a power clean, you need to perform three movements simultaneously after the extension:
- Slide your feet
- Squat down actively
- Continue pulling the bar with your upper body
Let’s go through each of these elements.
The first movement is sliding your feet down and outward to your front squat width, like this:
You must be forceful when you lower your heels as if you’re in a puddle of water and are trying to create a huge splash.
This lowering is important because the sooner you land, the quicker you can stop the bar.
And simultaneously sliding outward puts you in YOUR squat position, which is the strongest position to support heavy weight.
If you want to build agility for this movement, try practicing this footwork without a bar during your warmup:
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The second movement is to flex your knees and hips to squat down actively, like this:
This movement places you in the most upright position while placing the bar over your midfoot.
Why the midfoot?
Because it’s the most stable point for squatting for EVERYONE.
Now, depending on your body shape, you might flex your hips or knees more to maintain the bar over the midfoot.
This individual variation is completely normal, so don’t worry about looking like someone else.
The third movement is to continue elevating the bar to you with your arms, shoulders, and upper trapezius, like this Olympic weightlifter:
Basically, you want to put the bar where you want to catch it while keeping it as close as possible to your torso.
Guiding the bar like this increases its upward speed, which keeps it from crashing down on your shoulders or wrists.
Now, due to the clean grip, your arms and shoulders naturally rotate to lift the bar once it passes your belly button. Like this:
Since this is a natural movement, your focus should be on continuing to pull the bar to your shoulders.
And one way to think about this movement is to imagine pulling your pants up to your neck.
Or you can incorporate clean speed pulls (aka panda pulls):
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Step #5: Front Rack Position
You’re almost done!
The final step is to catch the bar on the groove of your deltoids and across your clavicle.
This position is known as a “front rack position,” and it looks like this:
Like this Olympic weightlifter, your goal is to create the widest base to support heavy weights.
This position looks easy, but you’ll crumble like paper during the catch if it’s not correct.
And if you buckle, then you can miss the lift or hurt your wrists and back.
So, here are a few ways you can reduce injury risk and still lift heavy.
First, spread your elbows outward as you catch.
This movement helps prevent your mid back from rounding and prevents smaller areas from absorbing the load.
Thankfully, your elbows are already pointing away from you during the extension and pull under, so you just have to maintain that position as you catch.
But what if you have trouble keeping your elbows out?
Try placing a piece of weightlifting tape on the inner bony edge of each elbow (see the black dots in the image above).
Then make sure the tape is visible from the front when you catch.
If this fails, then make sure your head is still up and your chest is pushed out.
And if you still have trouble, then you might need dedicated front rack mobility drills to mobilize your wrists, triceps, shoulder, and mid-back.
Second, raise your elbows until the bar rolls onto the groove of your deltoids and clavicle.
The last thing you want is to waste a good lift by having it roll off your shoulders because your elbows are too low.
And you don’t want to force your elbows too high because you might push the bar into your throat or round your mid-back.
So what’s the best angle for your elbows?
The highest one that keeps your mid-back straight.
It depends on the length of your upper arm relative to your forearm.
Basically, the longer your forearm, the lower your elbows will point because you need to create enough room for the bar to rest on the groove of your shoulders.
This variation means athletes can vary within the dashed lines in the image below:
So don’t worry if your elbow angle differs from someone else.
Everyone will have their own position, but the barbell will be in the same location and contact the same spots.
Third, maintain as full a grip as possible.
The ideal is to maintain a full grip on the bar, like this:
A full grip maintains your connection with the bar and prevents the bar from rolling off you.
However, a full grip does not mean a tight grip.
In fact, your grip should be relaxed.
If your grip is tense, then your wrist and forearms flexors will concentrically orient, which can push the bar forward.
However, if your forearm is short or you have short fingers, it might not be possible to hold the bar with a full grip.
So, you might need to open your hand and support the bar with 3 – 4 fingertips, like this:
This grip is ok.
But if you support with 1 – 2 fingers, then it’s more likely your grip slipped, your elbow position is too high, or you might have movement restriction preventing a fuller grip.
Variations for your Power Clean Workout
In our list of Olympic weightlifting training exercises, we show many variations to develop Olympic power clean technique.
But we will cover several variations used in Olympic weightlifting as well as CrossFit, Track & Field, American football, and other sports.
These variations differ by range of motion, your ability to lift (overcome) the weight, and your ability to catch (yield), as you can see here:
Let’s go through these, one by one.
Bonus: Hang Power Clean
The difference between an Olympic weightlifting power clean and hang power clean is where you start the lift.
A power clean always starts from the floor, and you’re overcoming throughout the lift.
This is why the power clean is mostly red.
A hang power clean usually requires a deadlift, but you can also unrack the bar from blocks or a squat rack.
Regardless, the hang power clean begins by yielding your muscles and connective tissues to lower the bar anywhere other than the floor.
Then you reverse directions (overcome) to perform a power clean.
Because there’s a yielding and overcoming action over the same section of the lift, you’ll see a purple area before the extension.
And this purple area gets darker as you lower the bar because you must yield and overcome to a greater degree to finish the movement.
But the most popular hang position for an Olympic weightlifter is right above the knee, like this:
Now, the catch should be the same between a power clean and hang power clean.
If you catch in a quarter squat, you must pull on the bar (overcome) more than you need to squat (yield).
So this area contains only a little bit of purple.
What do hang power cleans work?
The hang power clean trains you to produce greater force (relative to the power clean) because the range of motion to lift the bar is shorter.
There are two ways you can bias your force production for a given weight.
The first way is to bias your connective tissues by using a stretch reflex.
You can do this by using a “touch-and-go style”, where you reverse your motion the instant you reach your hang position.
This style creates downward momentum, which is useful if you have difficulty yielding into a full clean and/or compensate by sitting back during the catch.
And because this height is most similar to preparing for a countermovement vertical jump, it trains similar abilities.
The second way is to bias your musculature.
You can do this by pausing in the hang position before performing a power clean.
Pausing dissipates the stretch reflex, so your muscles must stiffen more to produce enough force to catch the bar.
This variation is useful for athletes who have difficulty stopping the bar during a power clean catch or who have difficulty standing up during the recovery.
It’s also good for athletes who are very springy but not very strong.
So both hang power clean variations are great for athletic purposes or Olympic weightlifting.
How to do a hang power clean
The best way to power clean from the hang is to make your hang position as similar as possible to your power clean exercise technique. So, use this process:
- Follow the steps for the power clean deadlift and stand up straight.
- Take note of where the bar is.
- Shift your balance forward to the ball of the foot, bend your knees slightly, and lean forward without lowering the bar.
- While keeping your balance, lower the bar on your thighs until it is slightly above your knee (imagine bending over to jump straight up).
- Then follow the same steps for the deadlift, extension, pull under, and catch.
Many athletes tend to sit back on their heels to lower the bar, but this strategy creates more horizontal movement on the bar, which can throw off your balance.
And you’ll end up working harder to produce the same amount of vertical force and keep your balance with this strategy.
So, you might need to perform the sequence slowly and pause at the hang until it becomes more familiar and fluid.
Bonus: Hang Clean
What’s the difference between hang power clean and hang clean?
The difference between a hang power clean and a hang clean is where you catch the bar.
All power cleans must catch the bar at or above half squat height: where the hip crease is parallel to the knee joint.
Since you’re squatting (yielding) more relative to pulling on the bar (overcoming), this area is a darker purple compared to catching in a quarter squat.
When you catch below a half squat, then the movement becomes a hang clean:
As you pass half squat height, the barbell has greater downward momentum, and it’s impossible to pull on it any further, so all you do is yield into a full squat.
That’s why the area past half squat height is no longer purple, but instead purely blue.
What is the point of a hang clean?
The reason for using hang cleans is because power is a combination of strength and speed, and you need to develop both qualities for Olympic weightlifting.
In this case, you have more time to pull on the bar (overcome) and squat (yield).
In fact, sometimes a hang clean occurs accidentally.
For example, during the extension, you might realize you don’t have enough height to catch the bar in a quarter squat or half squat.
Instead, you yield further to catch the bar in a full squat.
This adjustment is a normal result with heavy weights because the bar will have less momentum upward after the extension.
Is the hang clean easier than power clean?
The hang clean can be easier because you don’t have to pull the bar as high as the power clean, but you must catch it lower. However, if you can’t yield to achieve a deep front squat, then the hang clean might be more difficult.
Additionally, if you can use the energy stored in your connective tissues from the stretch reflex, then it will be easier to lift the bar.
For these reasons, most Chinese weightlifters can hang clean more weight than they power clean.
Hang Clean Form
Assuming you can perform a deep front squat, here are some setup tips to improve your hang clean:
Simply follow this process:
- Set up and lower the bar exactly like the hang power clean in the previous section.
- Once you lower the bar to your hang position, immediately reverse your momentum to take advantage of the stretch reflex.
- Continue pulling under to catch the bar in a deep squat after the extension; otherwise, the bar will crash on you.
- Keep the bar over the midfoot during the catch, regardless of squat depth.
Bonus: Power Clean from Blocks
A power clean from blocks changes your starting point for the lift and shortens the range of motion relative to a power clean from the floor.
Therefore, a block power clean trains your muscles to produce greater force relative to the power clean.
The most popular block height is where the bar is just above the knees, as shown by this Chinese weightlifter:
Block Power Clean vs Hang Power Clean
Why bother with a power clean from blocks if you can use a hang power clean? The answer is: blocks dissipate the barbell’s force and eliminate the yielding component of your connective tissues.
This difference trains your muscles to stiffen more forcefully compared to the hang power clean.
This is why the block power clean is more red than the hang power clean.
In fact, the block power clean requires the most overcoming of any clean variations.
So, using blocks is an excellent addition to your power clean workout.
Another advantage from block power cleans is to reinforce your positioning.
Some athletes rush their descent to the hang position because the bar is heavy or they feel anxious.
It’s easy for these athletes to sit back as they yield or lean back to lift the bar.
Other athletes yield their connective tissues too much, so they have difficulty stopping the bar during the hang or catch.
This delay can throw them off balance from the optimal position or force them to compensate.
Blocks help minimize these issues by giving you time to get in the right position to push maximally.
Block Power Clean Technique
If you’re using a height where the bar is slightly above the knees, use this process to setup:
- Approach the bar with your feet pointing straight ahead.
- Look down to make sure the bar is directly over the ball of your foot
- Then turn your feet and knees outward as you would for a power clean from the floor.
- Shift your weight forward until you’re on the ball of your foot AND your VMO is touching the bar (you might need to adjust a little bit to accomplish this.
- Grab the bar and set your upper body.
Your body should be slightly forward as if you were preparing to jump vertically. Like this:
Bonus: Clean vs Power Clean
The main visual difference between a clean vs power clean is the height of the catch:
- A power clean is a clean where the barbell is caught at a half squat or higher.
- A clean catches the barbell in a full squat.
The pulls have the same range of motion and need an overcoming force to move the bar, so this portion is red in both graphs.
However, the difference in catch height occurs because the weight is lighter during a power clean, so the bar has more upward momentum after extension.
And the catch height produces different effects on your connective tissues.
How does this work?
Well, because the range of motion to stop the bar during a power clean is shorter than a full clean, the rate of loading on your connective tissues increases.
A faster rate of loading means your tissues must stiffen harder to stop the movement.
And since you must yield a little bit to get into a quarter squat, the catch portion is purple during a power clean.
Similarly, the rate of loading decreases as you increase the range of motion to catch the bar because you have more time to stop the bar. So you don’t have to stiffen your connective tissues as much.
In fact, you have to start yielding to get under the bar fast enough.
That’s why the graph becomes more purple as you catch lower.
Once you pass half-squat height, your pelvic diaphragm becomes more eccentrically oriented, so all you can do is yield into a full squat.
That’s why the area past half-squat height is no longer purple but instead purely blue.
You can see this in slow motion. Watch how the weightlifter racks the bar in a half squat and then gets pushed down by the bar.
This push occurs because he’s yielding.
And the benefit of this yielding action is you don’t have to pull the bar so high to finish the lift. This shorter pull is less work, so you can use more weight.
Questions about Power Clean Form?
There you have it:
Our step-by-step guide on how to power clean using Chinese weightlifting techniques.
And the best part is that you can use these techniques regardless of your body shape!
You can also use this power clean technique for Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, or sports-specific training.
And you can check out our Chinese weightlifting book for weight training solutions to troubleshoot the power clean.
Now we’d like to hear from you …
What is your main problem with power clean form?
Which strategy from today’s post are you ready to apply in your power clean workout?
If you have any other Olympic power clean technique questions, let us know by leaving a comment below right now!