In this post, I’m going to 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 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
- Bonus: Power Clean from Blocks
- 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 Olympic weightlifting team is the most dominant 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 having 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
Here’s exactly how to achieve a perfect power clean start position every time.
First, find your stance width.
Your first step is to use a stance that maximizes your vertical force.
So, all you need to do is 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 bit 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 will place 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 yourself 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:
- 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 in between your legs, and align your knee with your foot like this:
This adjustment has the added benefits of:
- Activating muscles in your glutes and hips prior to lifting the bar, which allows for a smooth liftoff.
- Bringing your hips closer to the bar, which makes the weight easier to lift.
- Keeps 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.
Fifth, 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 as close to the hip as possible 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 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.
Finally, 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.
It straightens your back and activates 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 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, there are the three keys to performing a power clean deadlift like a professional Olympic weightlifter:
First, 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.
Pushing against the floor preserves your balance and upper body position so you can use your quads and glutes rather than emphasize your lower back.
Second, you want the bar to pass along the inner side of your knee and thigh.
As the bar passes your knees, it’s easy to lean back, pull with your arms, etc. which will change your balance.
In this case, the bar is close to you, but YOU are moving away from the bar.
You might wonder, “how do I keep my bar close during a power clean?”
To ensure YOU stay close to the bar during the power clean:
- keep your balance forward
- drag the bar along your VMO muscle,
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.
Many beginners worry “where should the bar hit on power clean?”
Chinese weightlifters usually wait until the bar reaches 2 – 4 inches (5 – 10cm) below the hip crease to start the extension.
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:
Many beginners worry “where should the bar hit on power clean?”
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 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 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 a straight position, like this:
There are several ways to ensure a straight position for you to transfer the most vertical force through your body.
First, keep the ball of your foot connected with the ground as you straighten your legs and hips at the same time.
This is a very athletic position, and you see it in many movements before the foot leaves the ground like sprinting and jumping:
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.
And, 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 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 weight in a power clean is lighter, you’ll gain more height from a given amount of effort.
Third, maintain your head and chest position.
The body follows the head.
So keeping your head up will help maintain a proud chest, and transfer more energy through your body.
Luckily, you already set this up in the start position so just need to maintain it in this stage as well.
Now, I know this pull is probably 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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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 stress on your joints.
For an effective pull under, you can think of the cue “power clean front squat” or “clean pull front squat.”
Regardless, you need to perform three movements simultaneously after the extension:
The first movement is to slide your feet down and outward to the width of your front squat, 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 is important because the sooner you land, the quicker you can stop the bar.
And sliding outward simultaneously puts you in YOUR squat position, which is the strongest position to support a 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 is completely normal, so don’t worry about looking like someone else.
The third movement is to continue elevating the bar 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 will naturally start rotating 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 vertically 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 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 the heavy weights.
This looks easy, but if you crumble like paper during the catch, 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, which reduces the stress on your spine.
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 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 provides the most stability by preventing 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 tight, then your wrist flexors and forearms will contract which can push the bar forward.
However, if your forearm is short or you have short fingers, there’s no way 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.
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.
Bonus: Hang Power Clean
The difference between an Olympic weightlifting power clean and a hang power clean is where you start the lift.
A power clean always starts from the floor.
A hang power clean usually starts with a deadlift, then you lower it anywhere other than the floor, then you perform a power clean.
And, the most popular position for an Olympic weightlifter is right above the knee, like this:
Why use this in your power clean workout?
Because this height is most similar to preparing for a vertical jump, which trains your explosive ability.
If you pause at this position before performing a power clean, then you bias the rate of force development.
If you touch and go, then you use more elastic energy and bias power production.
Both variations are great for athletic purposes or Olympic weightlifting.
The main issue is making your hang position as similar as possible to your power clean exercise technique.
Many athletes tend to sit back on their heels to lower the bar but NOBODY jumps like this when trying to jump vertically.
So you’ll get less athletic benefit and less weightlifting benefit if you use this.
In fact, sitting back will position you to create a lot of forward movement which can push the barbell forward, making the lift harder and more stressful.
So, you might ask “what’s the best way to power clean from the hang?”
Just follow this process to realize the benefits of the hang power clean for athletic purposes or learning proper power clean technique:
- 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.
Bonus: Hang Clean
What’s the difference between power clean and hang clean?
The difference between a hang power clean and a hang clean is where you catch the bar.
Whether you start your power clean from the floor or hang position, you must catch the bar above 90˚ of knee flexion.
When you catch your hang power clean in a lower position, then the movement becomes a hang clean:
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.
The benefit of the hang clean is that you can lift heavier than a hang power clean, which focuses more on the strength side.
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 and instead squat lower to catch the bar.
This is a normal result with heavy weights because, as the bar gets heavier, it will have less momentum upward after the extension.
So, is the hang clean easier than power clean?
In terms of work, the hang clean is easier because you don’t have to pull the bar as high as power clean.
However, the weight is heavier and the catch is deeper. So if your front squat mobility or strength isn’t great, then the hang clean might be more difficult.
Assuming you can perform a deep front squat, here are some tips if you’re wondering, “how can I improve my 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
Like a hang power clean, a power clean from blocks changes your starting point for the lift.
The most popular position is to use a block height, so the bar is just above the knees as shown by this Chinese weightlifter:
So, if the height is the same, why bother with a power clean from blocks if you can use a hang position?
Like we mentioned earlier, “perfect start, half done.”
Some athletes rush their descent to the hang position because the bar is heavy, or they feel anxious.
This can throw them off balance or force them to compensate.
But placing the bar on blocks dissipates the force from bar onto the blocks rather than your muscles and joints.
This means you have time to get in the right position to push maximally.
What’s that position?
If you’re using a height where the bar is slightly above the knees, then you should look like this:
If you were to see through the blocks, the proper power clean technique has the bar over the ball of your foot.
You want your body to be slightly forward as if you were preparing to jump vertically.
Then you follow the steps 2 – 5 from earlier.
Now, if you don’t have problems with your hang clean, then you might wonder “what is the advantage of the power clean from blocks?”
The answer is: since there’s no descent to setup and the range of motion is shorter than from the floor, using blocks biases rate of force development.
This is great for sports requiring explosiveness from a dead stop and weightlifters wanting to improve their concentric overcoming ability.
So, using blocks is a great addition to your power clean workout.
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 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!