Power Clean Vs Deadlift – Everything You Need To Know

In this article, we will explain the difference between the power clean and deadlift, the benefits of both as well as how to apply it to training for all training levels!

For a detailed guide on how to power clean from an expert coach, check out this link.

Power clean vs deadlift

The main difference between the power clean and deadlift is (1) the acceleration of the bar off the floor and (2) how the lifts are performed once the bar has left the floor. In the power clean, the bar is accelerated off the floor fast and caught in a front rack position, whereas in the deadlift, the bar is typically pulled slowly off the floor with the bar moving up to the upper-thigh with the arms and legs straight. 

It could be considered that the power clean is a more complex progression from a deadlift but it must be noted that both have their own benefits to specific training adaptations.

For example, as the power clean is typically performed fast with low to moderate weight, it lends itself to improving rate of force development (i.e. power). In comparison the deadlift is typically performed slow due to being able to lift a large amount of weight, it lends itself to improving maximum force expression (i.e. strength) of the muscles that make up the posterior chain.

Joints worked and ranges of motion

JointPower Clean ROMDeadlift ROM
HipModerate to largeModerate to large
KneeModerate to largeSmall to moderate
AnkleModerate to largeSmall 

Muscles worked during power clean…

  • Glutes: Moderately active throughout such as pulling the bar off the floor or catching the bar in a partial front squat position. in a partial front squat position. 
  • Hamstrings: Very active during pull off the floor as they act as one of the prime movers.
  • Quadriceps Moderately active when catching bar in partial front squat position. 
  • Erector Spinae: Constantly active throughout as required to stabilise the back position when bringing the torso upright.
  • Trapezius and upper back muscles: Moderately active during the deadlift portion and very active when performing shrug leading to catching the bar.
  • Deltoids: Moderately active when performing the shrug pull before catching the bar.

Muscles worked during deadlift…

  • Glutes: Moderately active especially when locking out the bar.
  • Hamstrings: Very active throughout as they are one of the prime movers. 
  • Quadriceps: Depending on body-shape, they will be most active when pulling the bar off the floor. 
  • Erector Spinae: Constantly active throughout as required to stabilise the back position when bringing the torso upright.
  • Trapezius and back muscles: Moderately active throughout as used to stabilise the back muscles

How to do a power clean

The power clean can be taught by separating different moments in the lift as different “pulls”:

  1. Pre-pull (set up)  

Foot placement should be shoulder-width apart, with the weight evenly distributed across the sole and toes slightly turned out. Bend over and grab the bar with hands placed just outside of the knee line using a hookgrip. Lastly, engage the lats by retracting the scapula back (think squeezing an orange under your armpits). 

  1. The first pull  

This is similar to the deadlift. Keep your hips low and don’t rush lifting them as they should travel the same speed off the ground as your shoulders. It’s important to try and push the floor away as you lift upwards with your arms still fully locked out. Continue this form until the bar makes contact with the middle of your thigh. 

  1. The second pull 

This is where the explosive power is required from your hips. As the bar reaches the middle of your thigh, violently drive your hips forward making contact with the bar. Avoid jumping forward during this. As contact is made with the bar, begin to shrug the bar upwards, performing a sort-of shrug and upright row action- focus on driving your elbows as high as you can. 

  1. Catching the bar  

Focus on keeping the bar as close to your body as possible. As your elbows reach the peak height, begin to drop under the bar and rotate your arms underneath. Catch the bar in the front rack position but do not drop below parallel as this would be a full clean and not a power clean. The heavier the weight, the harder it will be to complete the power clean so you’ll need to rely on explosive power in the lower body as you’ll catch the bar much lower. 

How to do a deadlift

The deadlift set up is similar to that of the power clean, but obviously doesn’t require catching the bar. Depending on the variation of deadlift (conventional, sumo or trap bar) the technique and set-up may vary. I have provided the set-up for a conventional deadlift below:

  1. Set up

Begin by standing with feet shoulder width apart and grab the bar with your hands just outside your knee line. Sit back into the lift with the weight evenly distributed across the sole of your foot. Engage your lats by retracting your scapula (think squeezing an orange under your armpits).

  1. First Pull

Before pulling the bar off the floor, make sure your head and spine are in a neutral position and not over arched. Begin the lift by pushing your feet away from the floor and not using your back to lift the weight. Initiate this by driving your hips forward, while keeping a neutral spine position. 

  1. Lock Out

When looking out the bar, just stand up straight and do not over arch your back where you exaggerate pushing your hips through! This can cause lower back stress injuries and limit any potential progression in some lower body exercises. 

The pros & cons of a deadlift 

Pros: 

  1. The deadlift is a great way to gain total body strength as well as a great way to build muscle mass, as it works muscles across the entirety of the body!
  1. The deadlift is certainly an easier lift to learn than the power clean and can be progressively overloaded with ease, allowing for strength and muscle gains to be reached.
  1. Due to the simplicity of learning, it can provide many great benefits to overall health and raw power output.
  1. The deadlift is a great way to improve posterior chain health (glutes, hamstring, back muscles) which can help reduce injuries, improve posture and boost athletic performance. 

Cons: 

  1. As the deadlift is a full-body exercise, it is extremely taxing on the central nervous system. This means that performing sets with a high rep count may cause more central fatigue than necessary (decrease in motor activation = decrease in power output)! This can cause a decrease in power output and increase the chances of getting injured due to the inability to recover sufficiently.
  1. As the weight gets heavier during the deadlift, it can increase the stress demand on the lower back. Strengthening the lower back muscles (erector spinae & QL) can help reduce the chance of injuring these muscles! Therefore, keeping deadlifts to a low rep count and focusing on progressively overloading week-by-week with good technique will help reduce the central fatigue but also build muscle mass and muscular strength.

The pros & cons of a power clean

Pros:

  1. Power cleans are a great way to train explosive power and speed due to the maximal exertion requirement of shrugging the bar and catching it in the front rack position, which can have a useful carry over to athletic performance. When taught correctly and performed with good technique, they can be a useful exercise to have in your locker!
  1. It’s a great introduction to weightlifting and a stepping stone to learning the clean.  

Cons:

  1. The power clean is slightly more complex to learn in comparison to the deadlift as it requires an additional shrug/ pull and catch. These additional movements require both great timing as well as the ability to generate power.
  1. Teaching a power clean takes time and can require the help of someone with experience coaching weightlifting. 

Common Questions

Are power cleans better than deadlifts?

Neither a power clean nor deadlifts are better than one another. It all depends on your training goals and what you want to improve- speed, power or strength!

Deadlifts are a great full-body exercise and can be tailored to improve all aspects of the force-velocity curve depending on the intention. For example, choosing a heavy weight that is close to your 1RM (>90%) will focus more on the strength portion on the curve as it requires a greater motor unit recruitment. However, choosing a weight that is lighter (<60% 1RM) and moving it as quickly as possible will focus more on the speed aspect of the graph. 

Due to the partial maximal effort requirement of the power clean, they can be an excellent way to improve force output, which can help transfer to other lifts such as the squat and deadlift!

Can I replace deadlifts with power cleans?

Once again this all depends on your goals of training. Power clean is a technically complex lift so it may take a while to learn how to perform them with the correct technique. If your goal is to build strength then I believe deadlifts are a great way to do so.

If your goal is to build explosive power and speed or improve athletic performance, power cleans can be a great exercise in order to do so. 

Do power cleans help deadlift?

The power clean can certainly have some crossover benefits to the deadlift. It can help with force output when lifting the weight off the floor, thus making you more powerful during the first pull of a deadlift. The explosive nature of the power clean will certainly help make your deadlift better as force output will be improved throughout the body as maximal effort is required. 

Will power cleans build muscle? 

To build muscle mass, sets must be taken to almost failure. When taking sets to this range, technical breakdown usually occurs. Due to the complexity of the power clean, it’s important that the technique remains as good as possible throughout. However, power cleans are a great way to build explosive power, strength and speed. They can also help build some muscle (upper back, shoulders, traps, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings) as they work muscles throughout the entirety of the body.

How much can you power clean vs deadlift?

The deadlift requires much less range of motion as you are not projecting the bar above hip level unlike the power clean. Raw power and strength is required for the deadlift whereas the power clean requires much more explosive power, therefore you will always be able to deadlift more than you power clean! A great rule of thumb is that you should be able to power clean 60% of your 1RM deadlift.

Should athletes hang clean or deadlift?

Weightlifting is a complex technique that takes time to coach (which can take time away from performing similar exercises to mimic those of the hang clean). As a coach, I utilise the deadlift in many forms (trap bar, paused deadlifts, sumo vs regular deadlifts or trap bar jumps) as well as other variations of the hang clean such as hang pulls (shrug bar without catching it) or jump squats. These exercises have similar adaptations for creating explosive power and attempting to maximise force output. 

Coach’s summary – which exercise should I use?

Overall, both exercises have great benefits to them! 

If you are an athlete starting out I would focus on learning the deadlift basics and then progressing to variations of the clean such as the clean pulls, clean high pulls and front squats.

Slowly building up to learning to clean can be a great exercise tool to have in the locker, but don’t rush the process!

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