power clean alternative
Fitness

12 Power Clean Alternatives That Are Just As Effective

Weightlifting includes plenty of complex exercises, and one of the more challenging examples of this is the power clean, sometimes referred to as the clean pull. The move is an extremely beneficial one; it improves power and strength, it torches calories and it can even help your posture. However, it takes a lot of building up to; it’s certainly not for beginners.

For that reason, you might be looking for alternatives to the power clean that will allow you to experience the same benefits without the risk of injuring yourself. So, here are 12 of the best exercises to perform instead.

1. Deadlifts

How To:

  • Stand in front of a loaded barbell (ideally with bumper plates) on the floor. Your feet should be aligned with your hips.
  • Hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees to grasp the bar with your hands slightly wider than your hips and your arms and back straight.
  • Keep your head in a neutral position with your gaze forward as you thrust your hips forward to stand back up, lifting the bar with you.
  • Lower back down and repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The deadlift is one of the first lifting moves you should try and master as it sets you up for so many other movements, including the power clean/clean pull. It helps you build a solid foundation and some serious power in your posterior chain.

Pro Tip: 

Your shoulders should be slightly over the bar as you bend down, then as you rise and lift the bar, pin your shoulders back and together.

2. Box Jumps

How To:

  • Stand in front of a box with a slight bend in your knees and your feet apart.
  • Bend at the knees and swing your arms back.
  • Explode off of the ground by pushing off with your feet and swinging your arms forward so that you land with both feet on top of the box.
  • Step back down and repeat.
  • Reps: 15-20.

Equipment Used:

  • Plyometric box

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Jumps like these are a great way to improve your explosivity without needing to navigate a complicated movement like the power clean/clean pull. They’re also a great cardio workout.

Pro Tip: 

Bend your knees slightly as you land on the box and always make sure you have enough space around you to safely perform the exercise.

3. Kettlebell Swings

How to:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and hold a kettlebell with both hands between your legs, ensuring your knees are slightly bent.
  • Lean forward and bring the weight between your legs.
  • Thrust your hips forward, using your legs to propel your arms upward until the kettlebell comes in line with your chest.
  • Allow the weight to drop back through your legs, under control, and repeat the movement.
  • 15-20 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Your lower body is getting a very similar workout to that from the power clean with these swings, plus you’re also using your back muscles to stabilize the movement, just as you would with cleans.

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Pro Tip: 

Don’t swing the bell with your arms, they are only there to hold the weight and support it, not move it. Your lower body should be doing the work.

4. Med Ball Slams

How To:

  • Bend at the knees and pick up the medicine ball with both hands on either side of it. 
  • Stand back up at speed, bringing the ball with you and raising it over your head, arms extended. Stand onto your tiptoes at the top of the movement.
  • Bring the ball down at speed and throw it at the floor with as much force as you can, bending at the knees as you do so ready to collect it immediately and repeat the movement.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Medicine ball

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

By generating so much force when slamming the ball down, you’re replicating the explosive movements of the power clean/clean pull and working your entire body in the process.

Pro Tip: 

Breathe in as you raise the ball up and then exhale when you slam it down.

5. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

How To:

  • Stand in front of a barbell with a wide stance and grab hold of it with your hands close together. Your setup should be similar to a deadlift, with your hips hinged and your bottom sat back.
  • Drive through the entirety of your feet and push your hips forward to stand back up, pulling the bar with you up under your chin. 
  • Lower the bar back down to your hips. under control, and then hinge at the hips to return it to the floor.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This move helps improve your power and focuses on the main muscle groups that are worked in the power clean/clean pull.

Pro Tip:

Your elbows should point upward above your shoulders at the top of the movement.

6. Kettlebell Snatch

How To:

  • Stand with your feet at shoulder-width, holding a kettlebell between your legs with one hand.
  • Hinge forward so that the weight sinks back between your legs as if preparing for a swing, and keep your arm pressed against your thigh.
  • Push your hips forward to bring the weight back through your legs and shrug your shoulders as your arm pulls the weight up and over your head, catching the weight on your wrist.
  • Bring the weight back down between your legs and repeat all reps on one side before switching to the other.
  • Reps: 8-10 on each side.

Equipment Used:

  • Kettlebell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

You’ll be stabilizing your core, improving your coordination, and enhancing your power all in this one move. It’s arguably the best single exercise you can do with a kettlebell.

Pro Tip: 

Make sure you maintain the lumbar curve in your spine (the lower back) throughout the movement.

7. Jump Squats

How To:

  • Get into position with your feet in line with your shoulders and a small bend in your knees. Keep your toes pointed forward.
  • Squat down, moving your hips back and bending your legs so that your thighs are roughly parallel with the floor. You can swing your arms back to help with momentum, or keep your hands clasped together in front of your chest.
  • Drive-up from your feet and quads to straighten your legs and jump into the air.
  • Control your landing by bending your legs and moving straight into another squat to repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.
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Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Squats are one of the best compound exercises you can perform as they work a wide variety of muscle groups, but the addition of a jump means you’re also improving your power.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your chest open, particularly when bending down into the squat. Hold a dumbbell in front of you or one in each hand by your sides if you want to add more weight.

8. Hang Clean

How To:

  • Stand with your feet aligned with your hips, holding a barbell with an overhand grip at your waist.
  • Rapidly extend your hips and legs, shrug your shoulders and pull the bar upward with your arms.
  • Receive the bar on your shoulders in the front squat setup position; your elbows pointed forward and fingertips holding the bar.
  • Bend deeply at the knees to squat down with the bar still on the fronts of your shoulders.
  • Push back up from your feet and quads to return to standing and lower the bar back down to your hips. Repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

It takes a lot of strength to perform this move, meaning you’re building a lot of power by completing it. It’s also a great way of burning calories quickly.

Pro Tip: 

Avoid using a heavy weight at first. You need to safely pull the bar up at speed, so you don’t want to throw your back out!

9. Barbell Back Squat

How To:

  • Rest a loaded barbell on your traps and shoulders. If you’re lifting a lot of weight, make sure the barbell is loaded on a squat rack first. Hold the bar evenly on either side of your shoulders and make sure your feet are in line with your hips and your toes are pointed forward.
  • Bend at your knees, keeping your gaze forward and chest open, to sit back and get your quads parallel to the ground.
  • Drive through your feet to stand up but avoid locking your knees and ensure your quads are engaged.
  • Lower back down and repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The squat is the daddy of lower body exercises as it works for virtually all the muscle groups there, but the quads do a lot of the heavy lifting. You’ll also be building up the base of your power.

Pro Tip:

Keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet. Ideally, you should be able to wiggle your toes slightly.

10. Pull-Ups

How To:

  • Grab the bar with both hands roughly in line with your shoulders, or slightly wider, your palms facing away from you.
  • Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended. If your feet are touching the floor, bend your knees and pull your feet toward your bottom.
  • Pull yourself up until your chin is just above the bar.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat.
  • Reps: 8-10.
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Equipment Used:

  • Pull up bar

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Undoubtedly the hardest bodyweight exercise out there, this move will get your entire upper body working and help build some serious strength.

Pro Tip: 

If you’re struggling to perform pull-ups, consider using an assisted pull-up machine to build up your strength. Or, begin by hanging from a bar without pulling yourself up.

11. Push Press

How to:

  • Clean a barbell onto the front of your shoulders so that your hands are underneath the bar, palms facing up.
  • With a slight bend in your knees, push the bar upward until your arms are extended, though avoid locking your elbows.
  • Briefly hold at the top, then lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
  • 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This move torches your shoulders and back muscles but also forces you to engage your core in order to keep things controlled.

Pro Tip: 

Poke your head forward through the ‘window’ your arms create at the top of the movement, then move it back slightly as you bring the bar back down.

12. Dumbbell Step Ups

How To:

  • With a dumbbell in either hand, stand in front of a bench or box.
  • Step your right foot onto the platform so your leg is now bent at a 90-degree angle. Drive upward with your right foot to extend the leg and bring your left foot onto the platform.
  • Step back down onto the floor and repeat, completing all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
  • Reps: 8-10 on each leg.

Equipment Used:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench/box

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is a simple move to complete but can really help to build power in your lower body. It also improves your stability and coordination.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your chest open and spine neutral throughout. Don’t lean forward as you step up.

Conclusion

You don’t have to perform power cleans to build power and explosivity; these alternatives are a great solution to the complex exercise that isn’t an option for you. These moves can help you see some serious strength gains but will also get your heart rate up and work your entire body, just like traditional Olympic lifts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cleans make you faster?

The explosive nature of the movement means you’re working your fast-twitch fibers, which help you make quick movements more rapidly. Cleans won’t make you run faster on their own, per se, but they will help develop the muscles that help you improve your speed and sports performance.

Do power cleans build muscle?

Provided you are using a suitable weight and then implementing progressive overload (increasing this weight over time as you get stronger), then power cleans will build muscle and increase your strength levels. 

How can I improve my clean strength?

All of the exercises listed above will help with this, though deadlifts will be the most effective as you can lift more weight with these.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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