If you’ve not got the time or inclination to get good at power cleans, you may be better off avoiding them entirely.
Weightlifting movements take up a significant amount of time, as well as being demanding on strength and mobility. If any of these are missing, it may be a smarter move to give them a miss.
However, you can still get powerful without this kind of movement. Today we’re going to discuss alternatives to power cleans and how you can get the benefits of a power clean with other exercises that are less difficult, time-consuming, and heavy on the joints.
What Does a Power Clean Do?
The power clean has a few key characteristics that make it a great training tool. We’ve discussed these in-depth in our article on the power clean, but we’ll provide a quick recap. Picking alternatives to a power clean means you need to know what you’re trying to achieve with it.
These are the exact same adaptations that make an exercise a good alternative to the power clean:
- Developing power/speed-strength (especially in the lower body)
- Practicing/strengthening the triple extension pattern
- Strengthening the muscles of the quad, hip, and back
- Absorbing force
If an exercise provides a way of effectively training one or more of these movements, we can call it a good power clean alternative. The more of these it covers, the more appropriate it will be as a replacement for the conventional power clean.
There are dozens of exercises for each of these adaptations, so we have to limit ourselves to a few great examples. These aren’t the only alternatives, but they are some of the best!
Alternatives to the Power Clean
Jumps for Speed and Power
Jumps are the core of any good power training. They are lower on the strength-speed continuum, with less load and more speed, but they build the neural adaptations you’ll need for better performance.
The great thing about jumping exercise is how easy it is to progress them and adjust the loading of the knees and hips. This is important if you’re avoiding power cleans due to the heavy loading of lower body joints and the spine.
For example, box jumps are a mostly-concentric exercise and don’t produce huge knee-impact or muscle damage. This is great for building power with very little recovery demand, making jumps a great choice for getting started.
This is the quintessential jump training for power because it’s a great way of doing jumps without the impact and muscle/tendon damage that comes with heavy landings.
You should start with box jumps at whatever height you’re comfortable, making them a great starting point. We’ve reviewed some of the best jump boxes here. You should focus on getting full extension in the hips/knees and getting the hips high, not just the feet!
You can also use variations like the seated box jump as you progress, or if you need to get strong at specific positions. This can be adjusted for your sport. As you progress, you can also move the seat away from the box you’re jumping on to increase difficulty.
Multiple Jumps in a Series
Combining jumps in a sequence is more demanding than the box jump but it provides a more effective power-building stimulus. This is important for sports players, specifically.
The repeated lengthening and shortening of muscles through these jumps series is key for field-performance. You’ll see this kind of training in any athlete that needs to sprint at high speeds, since jumps carry over to sprints really well.
These are much closer to the power clean on the strength-speed continuum, as you begin to add more weight.
Box jumps with dumbbells or a weighted vest are a reasonable way of adding load to the movement and building power at a specific load. They do provide more joint-stress, but less than a heavy barbell movement.
These need to be loaded slowly to keep your knees and hips healthy. Start low and light!
Drop-Jumps and Rebounds
Adding drops to jumps is an important part of absorbing and rapidly producing force. However, they should be introduced later into training since the landing is a risk for untrained individuals.
However, combining drops with jumps is a great way to develop power at high-speed. It’s lower loading but trains the stretch-shortening cycle that is key for better athletic/sports performance.
Throws: Ballistic Loading for Power
For most intents and purposes, the power clean is a throw, just a weird one. It’s throwing a barbell onto your own shoulders, because every other aspect of the movement is similar to throwing, which makes a throw a great alternative.
This is why we see throwing athletes (e.g. shotput and hammer) training the power clean extensively.
When we discuss throws, we’re not talking about softball, but rather whole-body bilateral throws. These are the symmetrical kinds of throws that produce full-body involvement and mimic the triple extension positions we’ve discussed before.
One great example of this is the med-ball or wallball overhead toss. This just requires you to throw a weighted ball behind yourself as high/far as possible. While this exaggerates the extension of a power clean, it trains the same movements and can develop power at moderate weights.
Another great example for training extension in the hips is the medball broad toss. This combines a kneeling jump with a powerful chest-throw. This has great carryover to movements that require you to throw from the hips but extend throughout the upper body (e.g. shotput or boxing). You can find some great weighted ball for these exercises here.
As with jumps, throws are mostly limited by your imagination and the amount of weight you can safely throw. There’s not huge potential for loading most of the time, but they can be combined with heavier movements to produce better speed-strength.
Clean Pulls/High Pulls
As one of the main ways of strengthening the body for power cleans, clean pulls are a great exercise to replace power cleans.
They can be performed in a way that mimics all the important movements of a power clean without the difficulty of the catch. This takes out a significant amount of the loading to the spine and joints, as well as the mobility demands associated with the front rack position.
This will reduce the training of these positions/muscle groups, but also provides a sustainable and healthy stimulus for better performance. You can use the same weight as in a power clean and focus on getting as much height on the bar as possible.
However, you can also overload the movement with hang and block clean pulls. These offer a way of loading the lower body and upper back to produce strength, power, and muscular size benefits. The clean pull is tremendously versatile if you just change the load and the starting point!
Behind-The-Neck Push Press
This is a totally different exercise to the power clean, but it does provide a number of the same benefits. The movement is all about triple extension in the lower body, significant core involvement and upper back/shoulder strength.
In many ways, this is a great alternative to the power clean, as well as being a clean and press alternative.
This movement is near the power clean on the strength-speed continuum, can be performed safely at higher repetitions (sets of 3-8), and can be performed even without bumper plates. It’s also great for transferring lower-body power to the upper body (helping in full-body power movements).
You can combine this movement with other high-velocity movements like jumps and throws to develop speed and power. This might make sense with broad throws and other hip-heavy movements since the push press is mostly leg extension.
Squatting and Hinging with Jumps
One of the most important ways of reproducing the stimulus of a power clean – in the lower body at least – is to combine squatting or hinging movements with jumps. We’ve discussed why jumps are important already, but this is uniquely beneficial.
You can use squatting movements like the front squat to reproduce the exact postural stimulus, while the jumps provide the high-velocity movement during fatigue. This is an unconventional superset but is used with weightlifters to produce leg power in specific positions.
A hinging movement like the RDL or clean pull can transfer to extension in the lower body in the same movements as a clean. Using a block clean pull followed immediately by a jump allows you to work across the whole range of strength and speed.
This is a good alternative to the hang clean or hang power clean. The lengthening and shortening of the hamstrings in these movements is similar to those of a well-performed hang clean, and if you’re looking to improve the movement of the hip and knee together, hinging and jumping movements are a great choice.
The step up is often used as a muscle building exercise for the lower body, especially in athletes. However, the explosive step up is one of the most interesting single-legged power movements that can be used as an alternative to the power clean.
As a power movement, the ability to perform at any level of the strength-speed continuum is awesome. You can perform an explosive step up with no weight and focus on getting as high as possible during the jump or load up huge weight in a squat rack/jerk blocks and wrestle with big weight.
The ability to use this movement for single-legged strength and power in the triple extension makes it perfect for transfer to sprinting performance. This is great for track/field athletes, building well-rounded athleticism, and obviously big strong legs!
The variability of the explosive step up is a great benefit and allows you to control your own training and make it specific to your goals/recovery needs.
The power clean is a great exercise if you’ve got the time and technique and structural factors that allow you to do it right. However, if you’ve not got the time to practice the technique, you’re better suited to these power clean alternatives.
These exercises all offer some of the key adaptations of the power clean without the difficulty or loading to the knee/hip/spine in the same way. It’s a way of removing the risks while capitalizing on strength, power, and movement gains.
Try these exercises, whatever your goals, since they carry over well to the weightlifting movements, too!