Power Clean: Muscles Worked and Benefits

Power Clean: Muscles Worked and Benefits

The power clean is a highly effective exercise for increasing muscular power. Strength coaches all over the world recommend them for their athletes.

It’s a compound movement, so it targets muscle groups all over the body. No, it's not the easiest exercise, but it works really well!

So, what muscles does the power clean work?

This movement primarily engages the lower body muscles. This includes the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

In addition to the lower body, the power clean also works the muscles in your upper body. Power cleans engage the traps as well as your biceps, shoulders, and forearms. 

If you want to build strength and increase your explosiveness, then power cleans are for you. Its explosive nature makes it an excellent exercise for developing power. It can even be great for enhancing athletic performance.

Don’t worry, we’ll get into all that in this article.

Now for the question you’ve been waiting for: What is a power clean?

What is a Power Clean?

The power clean is a compound exercise that has multiple components to it. 

It involves lifting a barbell from the floor as fast as you can for momentum. As the bar moves upward, you must squat beneath the bar and catch it in a front squat position.

Then you must stand upright with the bar.

Power cleans are a staple exercise in Olympic weightlifting and have gained a lot of popularity in CrossFit. This is due to their effectiveness in developing full-body strength and power. 

I mean, it’s a very athletic movement!

Power cleans are a great exercise for anyone looking to improve their athleticism. It also takes maximum effort to produce this kind of power, so your heart gets a great workout too!

If you want to get strong, be fast, and become a better athlete ... do power cleans!

However, it's important to remember that power cleans are a demanding exercise. It also requires the proper technique and should be approached with caution. Power cleans are definitely not an exercise I recommend to beginner weightlifters.

One thing I recommend is making it the first exercise of your workout after warming up. This allows you to exert more effort and focus on maintaining proper form throughout the movement. 

If you throw power cleans in when you’re already fatigued, 2 things can happen:

• You won’t have as energy to generate power, so your results may suffer.

• The risk of injury increases as your form begins to compromise.

So, do yourself a favor when attempting power cleans. Start with light weight to practice your form, and do them at the beginning of your workout!

Now, let’s take a look at the muscles we’re targeting in the power clean.

Power Clean: Muscles Worked

Not many exercises can increase full body speed and power like the power clean. Out of the ones that do, power cleans are arguably the best!

It’s a compound exercise, so it targets muscle groups all over the body. There are a lot of little muscles involved too, but we’re going to cover the main ones.

Here are some of the primary muscle groups worked in a power clean.


The quadriceps, located at the front of your thighs, play a critical role in the power clean. Their main job is to straighten your knees.

So, as your knees extend during the upward phase, the quads generate significant force to propel the barbell upward. After the catching portion, they are used again to squat the weight up.

Think of it like having an explosive deadlift and front squat in the same exercise. The quads are heavily involved in each rep.


Your hamstrings get a good workout here too. These are the 3 muscles that run along the back of your thigh from your butt to your knees.

They work with your glutes to help extend your hips as you pull the bar up from the ground. Think of a Romanian deadlift and how that works your hamstrings. That movement is within the power clean, but in a very explosive manner.

They play a big role in helping the bar gain momentum on the way up so you can drop underneath and catch it.


Your glutes are extremely important in power cleans. Their job is to extend your hips, and this could be the biggest contributor to helping build bar speed on the way up. 

Also, after you catch the bar, they are a big part of the final front squat to finish the movement.

Your glutes are very strong and play an important part in power cleans. If you want to power clean heavy weight, you must build strong glutes!


Your calf muscles are crucial in a power clean. 

Their primary role is to extend your ankles, allowing you to get up on your toes at the top of the lift. This doesn’t sound like much, but that little push makes a big difference!


The large muscles between your shoulders and your neck are your traps. When you do power cleans, your traps are heavily engaged. Most of the time, mine are sore the very next day!

Just like your calves, at the top of the movement is where they come in. As you get up on your toes at the top, you will also shrug your shoulders. 

Your upper traps do pretty much all the work in shrugging your shoulders. The combination of your calves and traps working together at the top of the lift is crucial.

Without those two working together, you wouldn’t be able to power clean nearly as much weight.


The muscles of your core are important too. In power cleans, their main job is to stabilize your spine. They also help transfer the force from your lower body to your upper body.

Anytime you’re lifting heavy weight, you NEED a strong core to handle that weight. Otherwise, you’re risking a nasty back injury. Trust me, those aren't fun!

Spinal Erectors

Your spinal erectors are a group of muscles that run along the spine. They help maintain proper spinal alignment and prevent excessive rounding of your back.

If you lift heavy weights with a rounded back, you’re asking for an injury. So while these muscles play a supporting role in power cleans, they’re just as important as the rest.


Your biceps do get a little work when pulling the weight up. Once your ankles extend and your shoulders shrug, your biceps help to pull the weight up further.

This is important as you need a little extra height to allow yourself to drop beneath the bar to catch it.


The deltoid muscles, particularly the front and side of your deltoids, help in a couple of key areas.

For one, they work with your biceps for that final pull at the top of the movement. This portion is similar to doing an upright row.

They also help control and stabilize the barbell as you catch and hold it in the front squat position. 

All these muscles work together to perform every power clean. I told you it was basically a full-body exercise.

Now that we've talked about the muscles involved, let’s dive into the benefits of power cleans! After that, we'll discuss exactly how to do a power clean.

Power Clean Benefits

Power cleans are an exercise not everyone needs to do, but most can benefit from. At least, if they're done correctly.

In addition to improving strength and power in the exercise, here are some other benefits:

Power Cleans Can Help You Run Faster

As a strength & conditioning coach, I used to have my athletes do power cleans regularly. One reason has to do with increasing sprint speed. 

A faster athlete is a better athlete! Allow me to explain.

When you sprint, you’re pushing off one leg at a time to propel yourself forward, right? In order to do this, you must extend your hip, knee, and ankle on that side at the same time.

This is called triple extension, and you want to do this as fast as you possibly can.

During the power clean, you’re lifting the weight as fast as possible. We do this to throw the weight up with enough momentum to drop beneath it and catch it.

When lifting the bar in a power clean, you’re extending your knees, hips, and ankles at the same time.

Just like when you sprint.

So, as you train to get stronger and faster with power cleans, you’re becoming stronger and faster in the actions you need for sprinting too.

With enough power clean training, you can see a huge difference in your sprint speed!

Power Cleans Can Help Improve Body Composition

The power clean is a highly demanding exercise that activates several muscle groups. 

Anytime more muscle gets involved, you’ll burn more calories. If you have a fat loss goal, this can really help!

Producing maximum force is great for strength and muscle development too. Building muscle will always result in more calories burned over time too.

So power cleans can help improve your body composition in a couple of different ways.

Power Cleans Improve Coordination and Balance

The power clean requires precise coordination between the lower body, upper body, and core. Timing is a big factor too.

As a result, practicing power cleans can enhance coordination and balance. This leads to improved overall athletic performance and movement efficiency. I've personally noticed these benefits firsthand!

Power Cleans Improve Grip Strength

Grip strength plays an important role in the power clean. To do it right, you need to maintain a secure grip on the barbell throughout the movement. 

If you can’t hold onto the bar, you can’t do power cleans. You just can’t.

Over time, performing power cleans can significantly improve grip strength. Having a stronger grip will spill over into other exercises, and may help in your everyday life in ways too. I know it has personally helped me in more ways than just opening up pickle jars! I can carry all my groceries, move furniture more easily, and so much more.

But, now that we understand the benefits, let’s go over how to properly do a power clean!

How to Do a Power Clean

As always, technique and form have to come first in order to safely and effectively do a power clean. Especially when it comes to a complex Olympic lift like a power clean, you want to make sure you do them right!

Follow these steps closely:

1. Grab a barbell and load it with some weight on a deadlift platform.

2. Walk up to the bar until your shins almost touch it. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 

3. Squat down and grab the barbell with an overhand grip, wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your grip is secure and your hands are outside of your legs.

4. Engage your core, and pull up on the bar enough to get your body lower into a squat without lifting the bar. This is the starting position.

5. To begin, engage your quads and glutes as you drive your feet into the floor to stand up with the bar. Keep the bar as close to your body as you can while lifting it.

6. As the barbell rises above your knees, forcefully thrust your hips forward to straighten them. As you do this, use your calves to get onto your toes, and shrug your shoulders hard to pull the bar upward.

7. As the bar is on its way up, do one final pull with your arms in the same way you would do an upright row. Your elbows should be bent and pointed outward at the top.

8. When the bar is as high as you can get it, start lowering into a front squat position. As you squat down, pull your elbows to your sides and circle them around the underside of the bar. Your hands should never let go of the bar. 

9. Your elbows should be pointing forward as you catch the bar atop your shoulders. You are now in a full or partial front squat position depending on how low you catch the bar. 

10. From the front squat position, use your quads, glutes, and hamstrings to stand up with the bar. Again, make sure your back remains straight.

11. If you have rubber bumper plates on a deadlift platform, you can drop the bar and reset for another rep. If you don’t, then carefully lower the bar to your thighs, and then back to the ground.

12. Repeat this for reps.

Power cleans are not an easy exercise to learn on your own. I highly recommend having a coach or certified personal trainer watch and critique your form in the beginning.

That way, you can be sure you’re doing it correctly and safely! Trust me, it took me a lot of reps and practice to get them down myself.

Getting the Most of Your Power Cleans

The power clean is an incredible exercise! It's one I find myself going back to time and time again.

It can help you build muscle, run faster, and improve your athleticism. They’ve helped me in those ways, as well as tons of people I’ve coached and trained too. It also burns a ton of calories.

To get these benefits though, you have to do more than just power cleans. What I mean by “more” depends on your goal though.

If you are doing them to build muscle, you have to follow the right diet. 

If you’re doing power cleans to help you lose body fat, you have to follow the right diet.

If you are wanting to improve athleticism, you’ll need to add in other exercises too. Plus, your diet can be extremely helpful here as well.

There's a lot that goes into earning great results, and not everyone knows exactly how to reach their goals. With how many different variables there are, I don't blame them either. If you search through social media or the internet in general, you can also encounter a lot of bad information.

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