Points of Power: Three Key Positions to Improve Your Power Clean
Your power clean capacity says a lot about your weightlifting technique—speed, explosiveness, timing—it’s all there. What should you be focusing on to dial in your power clean skills and claim beast status? Justin Barchus, owner and head coach at Kraken Strength out of Oregon, is a CF-L2, collegiate baseball coach, and USAW certified strength coach. He breaks down your body’s ideal positions in the setup, first pull, second pull, and third pull. His cues will have you conscious of your hamstring tension and hip extension timing. Be sure to use his Points of Power in your next session and check out the Kraken Blog for more training tips!
Nail these cues, and hit a new power clean PR
The Olympic lifts have long been known as some of the most dynamic and complex lifts in the strength and conditioning arena. It takes years of training to become an elite weightlifter, and even the elites continue to drill their form.
When you’re looking to add these lifts to your training repertoire, two of the key objectives you want to prioritize are positioning and core-to-extremity muscle engagement.
To really nail down one or both of those technical goals, we need to simplify a complex lift. Let’s break down the power clean into three basic positions to achieve a safe and powerful movement pattern.
When setting up for your power clean off the floor, any good coach will look for a couple of key points in your positioning. Prepping your body to pull a heavy weight means tension. It’s important that your setup position isn’t relaxed or lazy.
If you’re able to lock in your hamstring and lat tension in your setup, you’ll have a solid starting point to lift the bar off the floor.
Your hamstrings are the catalyst for your power clean, so it’s tremendously important to create tension before you lift the weight off the ground.
There are two distinct cues we can use if you’re having any issues creating that tension: raise your hips slightly until you feel it, or my favorite, “press your knees back”.
Pressing your knees back in your setup will get you out of a quad dominant “squat-like” position, and into a better pulling position with your posterior chain at the ready.
A cue that’s often forgotten when lifting heavy weight off the ground—engaging your lats (latissimus dorsi) stabilizes your upper back and keeps your shoulder blades retracted. This subtle movement is key to keeping your upper back in a good position when pulling the bar from the ground to your hip.
One cue we use to create lat engagement is to think about rotating your hands outward, like you’re pulling the bar apart or turning a door handle.
Another valuable cue is “elbow pits forward”. If your elbow pits are facing inward then your lats are most likely not engaged. If they’re facing forward, we’re getting the external rotation in the shoulders necessary for lat engagement.
First & Second Pulls: Passing Through the Knees
The next positions are where we start to build momentum towards the explosive part of the power clean. It’s extremely important to keep your back and core tight through this segment of the lift, so try to think about a couple of cues.
Shoulders Over the Bar
A fatal move for any Olympic lift is letting your shoulders rise at a faster pace than your hips during the first pulls. Aim to have both your shoulders and hips rise at the same time.
Focus on keeping your shoulders perpendicular to the bar when it reaches the knees (this is considered the end of the first pull). That way you’ll maintain hamstring/posterior chain tension and keep your lats engaged right before your explosive hip extension.
When you pass your knees, raise your chest aggressively for the second pull, driving the bar back toward your hips. This portion of the lift leads us to our final key position…
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Third pull: the trigger
The third key position in the power clean is the point where your hips make contact with the barbell. I like to refer to it as “the trigger” due to the nature of the hip explosion that happens afterward.
A few specific points of power will help you get the most out of your hip extension, resulting in a strong power clean.
Be Patient in the Hip
As the weight gets heavier or fatigue builds during Olympic lifts, we tend to let our trigger fall from our hip (the target) down to the upper, or even mid-quad.
By exploding too early, you lose a ton of energy that comes from your hip extension. You’ll also have issues keeping the bar path close to your body as you get ready to receive it in the catch. Be patient with your third pull, let the bar come all the way up to your hips before shrugging upward to catch.
Get Your Chest Vertical
To combat the temptation to pull from your quad instead of your hip, fight for a completely vertical torso position. Getting your torso vertical will help you drive the bar upward while keeping it close to your body.
The lower your torso angle, the further away from you the bar will travel during the lift, which makes catching it that much more difficult.
If you’re able to get to a great body position with the bar in the third pull trigger, your power clean catch will be smooth and solid.
There are 10,000 ways to break down the Olympic lifts and their variations. Some of the best athletes in the world train every day for years just to master the snatch and clean and jerk technique.
Nobody expects immediate mastery from you—the important part is taking small steps to improve your lifts over time. The key to improvement often lies in a little simplification of a complex process.
Next time you plan on attacking some power cleans in the gym, keep these three Points of Power in mind. Even if you focus on just one cue and drill it for the day, it’ll make a huge difference in your training progress!
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