When you first start weightlifting there’s a lot of new terminology to sift through, when all you really want to be doing is getting stronger and more explosive. To help with that we’re going to start by tackling the power clean versus the clean (also known as the ‘squat clean’ in crossfit circles) We’ll be looking at the key differences, which is harder, muscles worked and ratios between the two.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Power Clean Vs Clean: What’s the Difference

Fundamentally there’s only one difference between the power clean and the clean, and that is the height at which you catch the bar.

Power clean x clean demonstration

A power clean means that you catch the barbell above a parallel squat position. As in, your hip crease is above the top of your thighs.

A clean means that you catch the barbell below a parallel squat position. As in your hip crease is below the top of your thighs.

Is the Power Clean Harder than the Clean?

Since you have to catch the bar higher, some people assume that the power clean might be harder than the clean. In reality, the reverse is often the case.

Power cleans tend to require the use of lighter weights than cleans, making them overall less stressful on your body.

Power cleans are also less technically demanding, as you don’t have to change direction quite so much, or catch the bar quite so deep.

Power Clean Vs Clean: Why Drop / Pull Under?

If pulling under the barbell to complete a clean is more technically demanding, then why bother?

Well, as we mentioned above, you tend to be able to lift more weight in the clean.

Dropping, or rather pulling, under the bar allows you to successfully make lifts whilst elevating the bar less far off the floor.

Speaking from coaching experience, and from observation of high-level lifters, maximal efforts cleans are so heavy that they cannot be lifted beyond about mid-torso height, so the only way to successfully get the bar onto your shoulders is to physically pull yourself down underneath very quickly. For example, check out the slow-motion clip below…

Power Clean Vs Clean Ratio

It’s common in the weightlifting world for people to create ratios of what one lift should be in comparison to another. This can be useful for identifying weaknesses in your own lifting.

However, the problem with this method is that it sort of ignores differences in body types and lifting styles. So the ratios should be used cautiously and viewed more as loose guidelines.

Generally speaking, your power clean should be around 80-90% of your clean.

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Power Clean Vs Clean Muscles Worked

Both movements utilise very similar muscle groups. In particular the…

  • Quads (Prime-movers)
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Traps
  • Lats

There are only two real differences, and they are that the clean uses slightly more…

  • Quads – Because of catching lower in a deep squat
  • Upper Back – Because of having to hold the ‘rack’ (bar on shoulders) position for longer

Should I Use the Power Clean or Clean?

Honestly, that depends on what your goals are.

If you’re a sports player, wanting a quicker to learn movement to develop your explosive strength and power, then I would probably focus on the power clean.

If you’re a weightlifter, willing to take a bit longer to learn how to lift the most weight possible, then I would focus on the clean.

Next Steps

If you want to learn the power clean, I’ve actually written a complete guide right here

If you want to learn the clean, I recommend this video guide here.

And if you’ve enjoyed the article, maybe think about joining my mailing list for coaching tips, programmes and workout guides.

‘Til Next Time


strength coach

MSc Strength & Conditioning

British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator