My coach used to teach us that despite we perform the snatch and the clean from the platform using two arms and there are the pull and the power position in both of them, these are DIFFERENT exercises with different amplitudes, dynamics, and accents.
As for the clean vs power clean, they may also seem to be almost identical, yet, there’s a huge difference hidden behind a similar look.
So what’s the initial difference between the clean and the snatch? And what’s so specific about the full clean vs power clean? Reveal the answers to these and other questions here.
Clean vs power clean. The difference between the clean and power clean is in the catch height. In the clean, athletes squat rather deep to catch a barbell which usually allows them to lift more weight. In the power clean, a weightlifter doesn’t go down but pulls a bar as high as possible and catches it right away.
Clean vs Snatch
At first, we must compare the technical features of the clean to those of the snatch and fully understand all specificities:
- Different starting positions. For the clean, the grip is more narrow, the feet are closer to the bar, and the shoulder line is only slightly beyond it.
- The angles in the ankle, knee, and hip joints are significantly wider. That gives a possibility for a powerful start.
- Less time is given for the barbell acceleration due to the shorter pull.
- The contact point in the power position is lower (with the proper technique) due to the narrower grip.
- The barbell speed on average is 20% lower than during the snatch.
- The height of the barbell catch on average is 23% lower than in snatch.
- Ground reaction force during the barbell stabilization in the catch phase on average is 34% higher than in the snatch.
According to the features of each exercise technique, it is clear that the clean logically differs from the snatch. If during the snatch performance the pull height and the barbell acceleration play the essential role, then while doing the clean, it is the first pull strength and solid catch in the squat position with instant subsequent recovery that matters.
What Is the Clean?
The clean is the first part of the clean and jerk – the Olympic weightlifting exercise. It is the most optimal and effective way to transfer a barbell from a platform to the shoulders.
First, an athlete must set up the proper starting position: a bar projection is at the mid-foot, the shoulder-width stance with the arms slightly wider on the bar. The arms should be straight, the shoulders must cover the bar. Look straight ahead and open the chest. The back is flat throughout the whole exercise.
Start pulling the bar, keeping the shoulders above it. The best point for the power position is the upper part of your thigh. After the explosion, continue the movement, directing your elbows up. Rotate them while going down under the bar at the same time.
Receive the bar on your shoulders. It happens at different squat depths, depending on the weight you are using. The heavier the bar is, the lower you go down.
After catching the bar, recover instantly and fix it on your shoulders. Then, lower the bar on the platform controllably or perform the jerk if that is required.
What Is the Power Clean?
The power clean is one of the variations of the clean. Yet, it has its own peculiarities, mechanics, and effects.
In order to perform the power clean, follow all the steps from the previous part about the clean up to the power position. However, after the explosion, direct the bar powerfully up and receive it as high as you can without going down to the squat position. The depth of the catch also varies from almost the upright position to your hips parallel to the ground in case the load is rather big.
Some athletes also ask me about the muscle clean vs power clean. The first one has no body-bar contact point while the latter is more similar to the clean in terms of explosion. Usually, the muscle clean is performed with light weights as a warm-up or a drill to improve the turnover technique.
Power Clean vs Squat Clean
Despite the clean and power clean may seem to be quite similar, there are some significant differences that you should consider while planning your training.
1. Muscle Activation
The clean is quite longer in time and more demanding in terms of muscle activation than the power clean. Basically, it includes the whole another exercise as a part of its technique – the front squat.
Therefore, the clean makes your muscles work harder and longer. It particularly targets your quads, which are responsible for rising, and back, which supports your front rack position during the recovery.
Though you may think that the clean is harder in terms of strength, it is still more beneficial when it comes to lifting maximum weights. Its mechanics allow you to handle a heavier bar in case your leg and back muscles are developed sufficiently.
Thus, beginner athletes often find the power clean easier in terms of technique and muscle tension and can handle more kilograms in this way. Still, advanced weightlifters are always stronger in the clean.
On the other hand, the power clean brings some significant benefits to your muscles as well. It develops explosiveness, speed, and accuracy in the movement.
2. Heavy Weights
The fact that weights beyond 80% 1RM are rather heavy for anyone is obvious. It means that the further weights added will make upward travel of the barbell (when the maximum acceleration power is applied in the second pull) decrease.
The maximum flight height of the barbell becomes lower and lower, while the catching point may vary according to the athlete’s mobility but still has its minimal limit. The data collected from the top-level athletes have shown that the difference between maximum barbell height and catch points is approx. 19% (to compare with 9% in the snatch). I’ve put these arguments forward to clearly justify the utility of the power clean in athlete’s preparation.
It’s not a coincidence that I focus so much on this case. Training programs built by the majority of athletes are aimed at maximum results, including their maximum result in the clean and jerk, but at the same time, they rely on the power clean too much. Each of them has its own explanations – it is faster, no need to rise from the deep squat, mobility limitations, etc.
However, the maximum barbell velocity in the clean is far less than in the snatch. As the difference between maximum barbell upward travel and the catch point is approximately 19%, it is WRONG to go for a higher catch in the clean with the maximum weight. The athlete MUST understand and be ready for heavy weights to hammer him to the platform. It means that this phase must be practiced well.
It’s rather naïve to assume that working on the power clean only will make you ready for the big weights. They will surely press you down and your muscles and “angles” will turn out to be unready for such loads and positions. If you have no skill in operating with light weights in the deep squat position you are unlikely to have it when weights get real either.
I believe that the power clean is a good auxiliary exercise. It must be used in the preparatory period both as a separate independent exercise and in complex with squats and jerk variations.
It’s perfect to develop the explosive strength of your legs, the quickness of elbows turnover, and the solidness of the barbell catch. But if 1RM clean is what we are talking about, then the accent must be shifted to deep squat clean variations. Also, you should mind that excessive work volume in the power snatch and power clean inevitably leads to knee tendons inflammation and injury.
Nobody canceled the oscillation qualities of the bar. However, this effect is easier to see with extreme weights during top athletes’ performance.
The bar seems to be bent beyond the breaking point and the fact that the athlete easily copes with this and lifts this weight up looks like pure magic!
According to biomechanical analysis, the axle load during snatch performance on average is 143% of the barbell weight. During the clean, this index pumps up to 173%, which means that the barbell falls on the athlete with 30% more weight and aggressiveness.
This is a result of the following factors:
- The grip is wider in the catch phase of the snatch. Thus, the bar suffers less bending effect due to distanced fulcrum points.
- Because of the bigger movement amplitude in the snatch, the difference between the maximum barbell height and catch points is approx. 9% (10% less than in clean).
- Clean pull phases are always made with a more narrow grip, making the bar bend more. In addition, the distance the barbell falls from in the catch phase is higher, giving it additional acceleration.
Such a detailed examination of movement phases is also crucial for understanding the importance of the ability to work with barbell amortization from the deep squat. Thus, you should practice coping with oscillation exactly in the full clean position to be able to handle it successfully at a competition.
For those who think that it is important only when the barbell has 3 or more plates on each side, I want to say that the bar oscillates even with no plates at all. Just try to make the high pull and feel for yourself. Besides, I’d like to note that this skill requires a long development and not only in the clean but also in the front squat.
To sum up, the power clean is a great and useful exercise. It could be used separately in functional fitness and many other speed-strength sports (American football, track and field, wrestling). It’s perfect to develop the explosive strength of your legs, the quickness of elbows turnover, and the solidness of the barbell catch in weightlifting.
But you should follow the proper methodology and technique, taking into account the biomechanical peculiarities of the deep-squat clean if you seek improvement in clean & jerk maximum.
What do you choose: the clean or the power clean, and why? Share your thoughts below!
Why Trust Us?
Author: Sergii Putsov
Head of Sport Science, PhD
Experience: 20 years
Best Results: Snatch - 165 kg,
C&J - 200 kg
Sergii is a professional weightlifter and National team member in the past. Competed in 94 kg w/c, won multiple medals on national competitions.
Nowadays Sergii is responsible for designing training programs, writing blog articles, doing live commentary of international weightlifting competitions, running different sport & fitness educational seminars, including Olympic weightlifting together with Oleksiy Torokhtiy all around the globe.
Reviewed by: Oleksiy Torokhtiy
Olympic Weightlifting Champion
Experience: 21 years
Best Results: Snatch – 200 kg,
C&J - 240 kg
My name is Oleksiy Torokhtiy. I am a professional athlete with 20 years of experience in Olympic weightlifting. I have won multiple European, and World titles and have taken part in two Olympic Games (Beijing 2008, London 2012).
After finishing my career, I have committed myself to coach, and as of 2022, I’ve hosted 200+ weightlifting seminars all over the globe. I’m the founder of an international sportswear and accessories brand, Warm Body Cold Mind (my motto), author, and creator of a series of training programs and eBooks.
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