Looking to improve your lower body power and explosiveness? Want to learn the power clean with dumbbells to accomplish that? I’ve got you covered. In this article we’re going to be looking at:
- What Is the Power Clean with Dumbbells?
- How to Perform Dumbbell Power Cleans
- Points Of Performance for the Power Clean with Dumbbells
- Exercise Variations for the Power Clean With Dumbbells
- What Muscles do Dumbbell Power Cleans Work?
- Dumbbell Power Clean Benefits
- Dumbbell Power Clean Alternative
- Dumbbell Power Clean Sets & Reps
- Dumbbell Power Clean vs Barbell
- Power Clean with Dumbbells: Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
What Is the Power Clean with Dumbbells?
The power clean with dumbbells, aka the dumbbell power clean, is a weightlifting variation that builds lower body power and explosiveness.
The term ‘power’ in this context refers to any clean caught above a parallel squat position.
How to Perform Dumbbell Power Cleans
This is an optional step, but you can start your dumbbell power cleans by setting up your dumbbells so that they’re raised a few inches off the ground on a box or block. This will better replicate the start position of a barbell power clean. You can also do the movement from the ground, but I’ve found many lifters struggle to be mobile enough to comfortably hit that position
1) Dumbbell Power Clean Start Position
Your dumbbell power clean start position should have your weight over midfoot, shoulder over the dumbbell, and back flat, with a strong, braced core.
2) First Pull
Initiate your dumbbell power clean by driving with your legs and pushing the ground away, keeping your shoulders over the dumbbells for as long as possible.
3) Second Pull / Triple Extension
When you reach the ‘power position’ (knees slightly bent, torso mostly upright) drive aggressively through the floor almost as if you’re trying to perform a vertical jump. This will accelerate the dumbbells upwards and give you the power you need to clean the dumbbells to shoulder height.
4) Third Pull / Receive
As your dumbbells are rising, pull yourself underneath them, whilst using your arms to guide the dumbbells into a comfortable receiving position. Here’s a video demonstration of the dumbbell power clean:
Points Of Performance for the Power Clean with Dumbbells
Power cleaning with dumbbells has three main points of performance. As a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting, I can tell you that these are the same points we use for barbell power cleans too:
- Weight Distribution (Are you balanced throughout the movement)
- Posture (Are you in the right position?)
- Bar Trajectory (Is the bar/dumbbell heading in the right position?)
With the dumbbell power clean, we’re generally looking for your weight distribution to be over midfoot, for your posture to be braced with a flat back, and for your dumbbells to be close to your body throughout the lift.
Exercise Variations for the Power Clean With Dumbbells
Hang Power Clean with Dumbbells
The hang power clean with dumbbells is performed exactly the same as the power clean with dumbbells, except that you start with the dumbbells higher up your body (‘Hanging’)
How do you hang a power clean with dumbbells?
To achieve this ‘hanging’ start position, you stand up with the dumbbell, then slightly bend your knees, followed by hinging at your hips (push your butt back) to reach the desired position.
Typical hang power clean variations include:
- High hang power clean: In which you start with the dumbbells at upper thigh level
- Above Knee hang power clean: In which you start with the dumbbells just above your knee
- Below Knee hang power clean: In which you start with the dumbbells just below your knee
Single Dumbbell Power Clean (Vs Double Dumbell Power Clean)
So far we’ve mainly looked at performing the power clean with two dumbbells. Another great variation is to perform the power clean with a single dumbbell.
All the same technical cues and technique steps apply, only you’ll have to work a little bit harder to stabilise yourself with an uneven load (since the weight is only on one side)
Dumbbell Power Clean and Jerk
The dumbbell power clean and jerk adds an overhead movement after you’ve completed your dumbbell power clean. The jerk is meant to be quick, snappy, and caught with locked-out arms.
Overhead Dumbbell Variations You Can Add To Your Power Clean
- A press: uses just your shoulder to push the dumbbells upwards
- A push press: uses a small dip and drive with your leg as well as a push with your shoulders to drive the dumbbells upwards
- A push jerk: uses the same dip and drive and shoulder press to elevate the dumbbells, but also adds in a small second dip under the dumbbells as they’re on their way up.
These variations allow you to add some extra upper work, targeting your shoulders and upper back.
What Muscles do Dumbbell Power Cleans Work?
The main muscles involved in dumbbell power cleans are your:
- Quads: These are your prime movers for knee extension
- Hamstrings: These are your prime movers for hip extension
- Glutes: These are your prime movers for hip extension
- Erector Spinae: These muscles support your torso position and keep your back flat and stable during hip extension.
The dumbbell power clean is also assisted by your traps to elevate the dumbbells (big shrug) and your calves to achieve triple extension.
Top Tip: If your goal is purely to build the size of these muscles, dumbbell power cleans are a poor choice of exercise (more on why later)
Hanging cleans muscles worked
The same muscles are worked with all hang clean variations. The only difference is that you’ll spend more time in each position due to the top-down (hinging over) setup. Because of this, you might find hang power cleans more fatiguing.
Dumbbell Power Clean Benefits
The dumbbell power clean provides you with three main benefits:
- You can build some power and explosiveness in your lower body
- You’ll develop better motor skills and coordination
- You might find it an easier and more accessible alternative to the barbell power clean
Benefits of Clean and Press
If you choose to add an overhead press after your dumbbell clean, then the benefits of the clean and press also include:
- Shoulder, tricep and upper pec strength
- Increased overhead stability
Dumbbell Power Clean Alternative
Some good dumbbell power clean alternatives you could perform if you don’t have access to dumbells include:
- Kettlebell power cleans
- Barbell power cleans
However, a common question I get asked as a coach is:
“What can replace power cleans?”
As in, if you want an exercise to develop lower body power, but you don’t want to do power cleans at all, what can you do? Here are 4 great power clean alternatives:
- Vertical Jumps
- Broad Jumps
- Kettlebell Swings
- Weighted Squat Jumps
Dumbbell Power Clean Sets & Reps
When athletes ask me “how many reps should I do for power cleans?” my response is always to ask “why are you doing them?”
And since you’re using dumbbell power cleans to develop lower body power and explosiveness, I would keep the total reps per set low, something in the 2-6 range would be good.
I would then perform 3 to 6 sets, with at least 90s rest in between.
The goal here is to bring as much quality and intensity to each set as possible.
Dumbbell Power Clean vs Barbell
The dumbbell power clean and barbell power clean both share a similar movement pattern, and both develop lower body power. There are 2 main differences.
1) Dumbbell power cleans tend to be a little easier to learn for beginners, and are less demanding of mobility, especially around the shoulders and thoracic spine (upper back region)
2) Barbell cleans can be loaded FAR heavier than dumbbells. Many of my athletes can power clean 100kg+ on a barbell, but trying to use two 50kg dumbbells is just incredibly awkward and cumbersome.
“For most athletes, you’ll get to a point at which dumbbell power cleans are just too light to be a good choice anymore.”
Power Clean with Dumbbells: Frequently Asked Questions
How heavy dumbbell should I use?
For dumbbell power cleans I recommend you use a dumbbell heavy enough to get a good feel for the movement, but not so heavy that your technique starts to get a bit wonky. You’re aiming for quality movements and good speed.
Do power cleans increase your deadlift?
Dumbbell power cleans tend to be too light to have a real carryover to your deadlift. Barbell Power cleans can be loaded heavier, so can have some carryover, but it is still pretty minimal. If you want to increase your deadlift, programme more deadlifts and close variations (pause, tempo, RDL etc) Here’s a programme you might find useful.
Is power clean necessary?
A power clean is only necessary if you want to get good at the power clean. There are plenty of alternative exercises that you can use to develop power and explosiveness. So you only need to do power cleans or dumbbell power cleans if you enjoy them.
Can you do front squats with dumbbells?
Yes, you can use a double front rack to perform front squats with 2 dumbbells, as seen in the video below. Just like with power cleaning with dumbbells though, eventually, you’ll need to swap to a barbell front squat to add more weight.
Do power cleans build muscle?
Not really. Both dumbbell and barbell power cleans are poor choices of exercises for muscle building (hypertrophy) This is because they are performed very quickly, with low reps, and no controlled eccentric. Essentially the opposite of what we want for building muscle.
If you want to build leg and back size, go with squats, Romanian deadlifts, pull-ups and those sorts of exercises.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Get in the gym and start training the power clean with dumbbells. Get stronger, more powerful and more explosive.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.