The power clean and power snatch are foundational strength movements and are a universal constant in the training regimens of aspiring Olympic lifters. But their popularity stretches beyond that realm, and everyone from swimmers and soccer players to bodybuilders implement them as part of their training.
That said, one of those exercises trumps the other. In fact, no athlete looking for better physical conditioning should be without it, according to Daniel Camargo, a USA Weightlifting senior international coach, owner of Oly Concepts (olyconcepts.com) and author of Olympic Weightlifting: Cues Corrections (Catalyst Athletics, 2014).
At their core these two moves are carbon copies of one another — until the finish. In the clean, the bar ends up at shoulder level across the upper chest and shoulders, and in the snatch, it finishes overhead with the arms fully extended.
“Part of the course I teach for USA Weightlifting involves a frame-by-frame slide breakdown of two people doing the lifts,” Camargo says. “I discuss the starting position with the bar coming from the floor toward the knees, then the jump when the bar reaches the hips and finally the catch. It isn’t until the final slide that the students realize that one was a power clean and the other was a power snatch.”
Though the lifts are similar, Camargo doesn’t hesitate when asked which of the two is best for non-Olympic lifters. “The power clean, no doubt,” he says. “Both moves work the upper body, but during the power clean, the arms do relatively little work in the top position because the barbell rests on the shoulders and clavicles.” This means a reduced risk of injury for this move as compared to a snatch in which the biceps, triceps and forearms take on a more active role in the overhead position, as do the core and lower back. A snatch also requires more mobility in the wrists and shoulders, which can also limit the audience adept at this move.
On the Double
However, if you want to be proficient at both lifts, Camargo recommends mastering the power clean first. “In doing so, you will become competent in the mechanics and the technique that also apply to the snatch.”
He recommends integrating power cleans into your regular routine up to twice a week, in the beginning of any workout of your choosing. “It should always come first in your routine when you’re at your strongest and freshest,” he says. “Weightlifting has the greatest effect on the nervous system, so you want the nerves to be functioning optimally.”
If your main aim is cardiovascular conditioning and stamina, Camargo suggests a rep range of six to eight, wherein the eighth rep is difficult. For power and strength gains, do one or two reps with a challenging weight. In either case, aim for four to six sets in total, not including warm-ups.
Power Clean Pointers
USA Weightlifting coach Daniel Camargo offers these tips for perfect power cleans:
To start, your feet should be directly underneath your hips with your hips slightly higher than your knees, back flat, chest lifted. This stance allows for the most vertical power.
Throughout the rep, the bar should be in close proximity to your body — as close as a centimeter — with just enough clearance to brush past your clothing.
As the bar travels from the floor to the area between the quadriceps and hipbones and your legs and hips extend, your feet should leave the floor. “The timing is key,” Camargo says. “Jump sooner and you’ll affect the bar path and throw off your balance. Jump later, you won’t generate a sufficient amount of force transfer to propel the barbell upward.”
Your feet can travel outward and land wider than your hips for the catch. “This athletic ‘get ready’ position gives you more control over the weight,” says Camargo. “Before starting the next rep, return to the hip-width stance.”
The bar should rest easily on the shoulders and clavicles during the ‘catch,’ with your elbows lifted and your arms doing just enough to ensure the bar stays in place.