The power clean and muscle are both fantastic exercise variations to develop and improve your weightlifting, as well as build power and explosiveness. But what’s the difference between them? And which one should you use? This power clean vs muscle clean article answers exactly those questions. We’ll be looking at:

Let’s jump straight into it…

Power Clean Demonstration:

Here’s a quick 60s video demonstration of me performing the power clean, we’ll go through some key technical points in a moment.

Why Use The Power Clean For Weightlifting?

As a coach, I use the power clean is used in weightlifting for a few reasons:

  • First, the power clean can be used to teach an aggressive second pull (extension). You’ll find that if you don’t have to think about getting under the bar, you attack the pull far more explosively and fully extend better.
  • Second, you can use the power clean as a lighter exercise variation for your easier or lighter training days. For example, if you have heavy sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then tuesday or thursday could be used as a lighter ‘power clean’ day.

Muscle Clean Demonstration:

Here’s a quick 60s video demonstration of me performing the muscle clean, we’ll go through some key technical points below:

Why Use The Muscle Clean For Weightlifting?

Coaching-wise, I think the muscle clean has two main benefits:

  • First, the muscle clean teaches you to receive the barbell more smoothly and accurately onto your shoulders. If you’re someone who the bar crashes onto, and you get bruised collarbones, then a big benefit of the muscle clean is that it will help you sort this out.
  • Second, a benefit of the muscle clean is that its great for teaching you to keep the bar close, and for strengthening the turnover of your cleans. If you’re someone who tends to let cleans drift forwards, this might be a good drill for you.

Muscle Clean Vs Power Clean Technique: 3 Differences

Strength coach demonstrating power clean and muscle clean technique

1) Leg Rebend Vs No Rebend After Extension

In the power clean, the first video, you’ll notice that after extension of your knees and hips, you can still rebend your knees and dip to catch the bar. In fact, a power clean is any clean caught above a parallel squat. In the muscle clean, however, once your knees have extended in the second pull, the do not rebend. Your legs stay locked out and you do not dip at all to get under the bar.

2) Feet Move Vs Feet Stay Planted

A second difference between the power clean and muscle clean is that in the power clean your feet move outwards to catch, whereas in the muscle clean your feet stay planted in the same position.

3) Pulling Down Vs Pulling Up

Linked to points one and two, the last big difference between the muscle clean and power clean is that in the power clean, the first video, you will be pulling down under the bar, whereas in the muscle clean your focus will be on pulling the bar up.

Since in the muscle clean your feet stay planted and your legs don’t rebend, it becomes essentially impossible to ‘pull under’ the bar, whereas in the power clean you can move your feet off the ground, which means that when you pull up on the bar, it actually moves your body downwards under the barbell.

Power Clean Muscle Worked Vs Muscle Clean Muscles Worked

The power clean and muscle clean both work similar muscles, specifically your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, traps and upper back.

Your quads, hams, glutes and calves provide the aggressive triple extension (second pull) whilst your traps provide the ‘shrug’ and your upper back helps to pull the barbell into place and support it in the rack position.

The only difference between the power clean and muscle clean muscles worked is that the power clean will work your legs slightly more, as you rebend your legs and dip down to catch the bar. On the other hand, the muscle clean will use your upper body slightly more, as you’ll have to pull the bar higher in order to catch it.

Common Power Clean and Muscle Clean Variations

Hang Power Clean

The hang power clean is just a power clean performed from any hang position, with the bar in front of your body instead of starting on the floor. This variation can help you focus on maximal aggression and explosiveness in the second pull, since you won’t have to think about lifting from the floor.

Hang Muscle Clean

The Hang Muscle Clean is simply a muscle clean performed from any hang position, with the bar in front of your body instead of starting on the floor. This variation can help you focus on the upper body movements in the clean.

Should You Use The Muscle Clean Or Power Clean?

Whether you should use the muscle clean or power clean depends on your needs as a lifter, as well as your ability level and technical understanding.

Power cleans: tend to be developing an explosive and aggressive second pull, so if this is something you need to work on in your weightlifting, then use more power cleans.

Muscle cleans: are better for developing smoothness and control in your turnover, helping the bar meet your shoulders properly, so if you need to work on this in your weightlifting, then use muscle cleans.

Who Shouldn’t Use Muscle Cleans or Power Cleans: A Word of Caution

As a coach, I tend not to have my beginner lifters use either the muscle clean or power clean very much.

“Beginners tend to struggle to pull under the bar and catch low enough, so it often isn’t a good idea to use any exercise that removes a pull-under or deliberately cuts it short.”

Sometimes I use muscle cleans as a technique primer or as part of a teaching sequence, but usually only sparingly, and only when I can either see the lifter in person or get video feedback fairly quickly. This is because newer lifters have a tendency to do the muscle clean incorrectly by pulling way too early with their arms.

I’m not saying you can’t use them, just that if you’re a beginner, they may not be your best exercise choices.

Power Clean Vs Muscle Clean Frequently Asked Questions

Is muscle clean harder than power clean?

The muscle clean is not necessarily harder than the power clean, but since you won’t be moving your feet or pulling under the bar, you’ll find that you can lift much less weight.

Are muscle cleans good?

Muscle cleans are a good exercise when performed properly. That means with a good extension and knees and hips, followed by a well-timed used of your arms, whilst avoiding a rebend of your knees or a dip to catch. When performed well, they can be a good tool improving your barbell turnover and delivery of the barbell into your rack position.

How often to power clean?

You can power clean anything from one to four times per week and see solid progress and benefits from them. The same goes for muscle cleans, one to four times per week is good.

Do power cleans build muscle?

Power cleans are a poor choice for building muscle, the reps you will use are too low, there’s no specific muscle targeted, and there is no eccentric.

Next Steps

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‘Til Next Time

Alex

Strength coach

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 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.