Hoisting a heavy barbell over your head with lightning speed and strength is seriously impressive. Nailing a power clean can be a little intimidating—but you don't have to be a CrossFit devotee or competitive powerlifter to ace the full-body move.

In fact, the power clean is quickly becoming a universal move in strength training. And once you know how to do it properly, it's totally badass.

Power cleans are a dynamic lift, which means they’re good at getting your heart rate up and burning fat as you build muscle. "The power clean is an explosive movement that demonstrates power, but also strength," says KAMPS Fitness trainer Ingrid S. Clay, CPT. "It’s one of those powerlifter moves I use in HIIT classes all the time to work the totality of the body. It’s a go-to strength and conditioning move."

Meet the experts: Ingrid S. Clay, CPT, is a KAMPS Fitness trainer and certified group fitness instructor. Judine St. Gerard, CPT, is a former collegiate athlete, trainer at Tone House in NYC, and certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer.

And it's a move that delivers so much to your cross training. “If you want to jump higher and sprint faster, cleans will deliver,” says Judine St. Gerard, a trainer at Tone House in NYC. Plus, just perfecting the fluid motion required for a clean offers one serious confidence boost. “Once you have the basics down, you can add plates and build strength pretty quickly,” says St. Gerard. “It’s empowering.” Sound like fun? (Thought so.)

Convinced to finally try a power clean or perfect yours? Read on for all the trainer tips for proper form, how to add it to your workouts, and the many benefits you'll get when you do.

How To Do A Basic Power Clean With Proper Form

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  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, barbell against shins.
  2. Hinge forward at waist with a flat back, bending slightly to grab bar with an overhand grip. Hands should be right outside knees. Be sure your chest is up, core is tight, shoulders are back, and head is in a neutral position.
  3. In one fluid motion, lift bar, pushing through feet, engaging glutes and thrusting hips forward; keep bar close to body as you pull it toward chest. Quickly flip wrists back, drop into a quarter-squat, and “catch” bar in front of shoulders, bringing elbows forward.
  4. Stand with triceps parallel to floor; flip wrists down and lower bar, bracing core and hinging at waist to relieve pressure on back.
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The Muscles Worked

When I say it's a full-body exercise, I mean it. "At any given moment in the move, muscles can be lengthening under tension, contracting, or being held isometrically," says Clay.

Here are the deets on all the muscles firing:

  • Hamstrings. "This move utilizes the hamstrings during the puling portion of the lift," says Clay. "They are activated and shortened."
  • Glutes. "The gluteus maximus is responsible for the extension of the hip joint in the move," says Clay. "It's where a lot of the power and explosiveness through the hip comes from in that second pull when you push the bar outward and then up for the catch."
  • Quads. "The quads are used several times throughout the movement," says Clay. "They aid in the extending of the knee. They also play a role in absorbing the force during the catch portion of the lift when you stand up with the weight."
  • Back. "The back is made up of the lats and traps and the rhombus, and it plays a huge role in keeping the spine in alignment throughout the entire movement," say Clay. "But you also use the back when pulling the weight from the ground."
  • Biceps. "Biceps are used in the catch movement," explains Clay. "They are responsible for the elbow flexion they provide the pulling strength needed to get the arms in the correct position for the catch."
  • Shoulders. "The shoulders, deltoids, play another important role in this movement as they are used to create a 'shelf' for supporting the weight during the catch portion of the power clean," says Clay.
  • Abdominals. "Last but certainly not least are the abdominals," says Clay. "They maintain the center of gravity, they help to keep the spine in alignment by providing support to the lower back."

Power Clean Benefits

The move uses tons of muscles to challenge you from head to toe. Power cleans work it all, majorly firing up your abs, hip flexors, glutes, and legs while simultaneously involving your shoulders and upper back, says St. Gerard. Working all those muscles at once comes with major benefits.

  • Next-level coordination. Cleans require several separate muscle groups—like your lower body and upper body, and your posterior and anterior chains—to work together in order to lift, flip, and “catch” the barbell in one continuous movement. (No biggie.) It’s an exercise that demands control and balance, so mastering it helps you improve both.
  • Stronger, healthier bones. This advanced move loads the hips with weight, causing tiny fractures. Seems scary, but it’s actually a good thing. Seriously. When the body repairs those mini breaks after you’re done slinging weights, your bones become denser. On top of that, strength training can encourage new bone cell growth. Boom!
  • Body composition. "Performing HIIT resistance exercises like this can help build muscle while burning fat," says Clay. "In fact, a 2021 review study found that 'performing regular resistance training can reduce body fat percentage and body fat mass in healthy adults.' I always stress to clients when you have a good strength training routine you can burn more fat lifting than with cardio."
  • Agility and athletic skills. Your ability to move quickly, pivot with ease, jump, and swing kettlebells all comes down to the power of your hips, abs, and glutes, which are the main muscles in your core. Cleans target these areas and mimic the explosive motions (like hip hinging and thrusting) that you often perform in weight-lifting or Crossfit workout classes or sporting events.

Common Power Clean Mistakes

You need to be super careful that you maintain proper form while doing a power clean to max out those benefits and avoid injury. Here are four possible mistakes to watch out for, and how to fix them.

1. Your spine is out of alignment. "Most people will hyperextend their back when you are in that first 'pull' motion," says Clay. "It’s important that even when performing this quick movement you still maintain the integrity of your spine."

How to fix it: "Make sure the spine always remains erect," says Clay. Don't allow your spine to curve in either direction.

2. You're pulling the weight from the ground too fast. "This is another place where the back can come out of alignment," says Clay. "The goal of this movement is power! To explode creating a quick-paced move, however, proper position is importantSometimes people tend to bend over, curving the back, and pulling the bar from the ground too fast, this can cause a shift where the body is positioned too forward where the heels lift from the ground or too back where the spine gets out of alignment again. Putting that weight on the lower back can cause long-term injuries. Besides any back injury will take you out of the game for a while."

How to fix it: "Start LIGHT!!!" says Clay. "Prioritize the form and proper technique over the amount of weight at the bar. The better you get at maintaining proper form throughout the lift, over time you can slowly increase the weight."

3. You let the bar travel away from the body. "A lot of times the bar gets too far away from the body during the 'pulling portion'," says Clay. "The key to maintaining your center of gravity is keeping the bar close to the shins and legs. This will maximize the overall efficiency of the movement."

How to fix it: "The weight should shave the shins and thighs up and keep it tight to the body," says Clay.

4. You use your arms to support the weight. "During the catch portion of the power clean, a common error is holding too much of the weight with your arms," says Clay. "Your arms are just there to stabilize the weight while your hands, clavicle, and shoulder muscles create a shelf for the weight to rest on. Often this error is due to a lack of wrist mobility or allowing your knees to get too far forward."

How to fix it: "Practice, practice, practice with lower weights until you get stronger," says Clay.

Power Clean Variations To Try

Once you ace a basic power clean, you'll want to add more advanced versions of the move to your repertoire. Here are three variations to challenge your upper and lower bod.

1. Kettlebell Clean

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  1. Set the bell about one foot in front of you, just as you would when setting up for a kettlebell swing. Your feet should be a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly out.
  2. Hinge at the hips with your shins maintaining a vertical position. Push your hips back, maximizing your hamstrings tension, keeping shoulders higher than your hips, and head in a neutral position. Place your hand firmly on the bell's handle and lean it slightly toward you.
  3. Hike the kettlebell high between your legs to connect the upper arms to your ribs. (This generates momentum via a back swing to prep for the next step.)
  4. With your feet rooted to the floor, focus on keeping your elbow tucked into your body as you squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and extend your hips as you bring the kettlebell up to land softly on your forearms.
  5. Your elbows and torso should be connected at the top of the clean when you find your racked position.
  6. Then, lower the bell down to the floor with control.

Pro tip: When you finish the movement in the racked position, the bell handle should be diagonally crossing both your palm and the crease of your wrist. This position allows you to maintain a more vertical alignment of your forearm while keeping your wrist neutral.

2. Squat Clean

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You can lift heavier loads because you don’t need to get the bar to chest height before you flip it. Instead, lift it to waist level, then drop into a low squat to get under the bar, engaging your glutes. Here's how to do it, according to Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault.

  1. Start with the barbell on the ground and a grip slightly outside shoulder width with feet about hip width and toes pointed slightly outward.
  2. Push your feet and legs against the ground. This will cause you to move into a standing position while lifting the bar off of the ground.
  3. Continue rising up while pulling the bar straight upward as high as possible, keeping it close to your body.
  4. When you are in a fully standing position, extend your hips by contracting your glutes and widen your stance.
  5. Rotate your shoulders by moving your elbows forward as you move yourself under the bar.
  6. Lower into a front squat, as the bar comes to rest on the front of your shoulders.
  7. Once you have fully descended into your squat, press through both feet and legs, to return to standing.
  8. Lower the barbell back to the floor with control.

Pro tip: Align knees over the middle of your feet and gaze forward at the start of the move.

    3. Clean And Jerk

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    Want more of your upper body in on the action? Try this advanced variation.

    1. After you clean the bar to your shoulders, widen your grip and take a deep breathe in.
    2. With one fluid motion, bend both knees and press through legs to push the bar up overhead.
    3. Lock elbows and come to a full upright position with the bar overhead with biceps slightly behind ears.
    4. Reverse the movement to lower the bar back to shoulders and then the floor with control.