Power cleans are a simplified version of one of the lifts contested in Olympic weightlifting – the full clean and jerk. Working virtually every muscle in your body, the power clean is an explosive exercise which, as the name implies, will improve full-body power.
Power is your ability to generate force quickly and is a critical part of almost every sport. If you want to run faster, jump higher, punch or kick harder, or throw further, power cleans will undoubtedly help.
As well as being a favorite exercise with athletes, power cleans are popular in CrossFit workouts, where it’s done for both low reps with heavy weights and lighter loads for higher reps. This latter option makes power cleans a demanding conditioning exercise.
Power cleans can be done using a barbell, one or two dumbbells or kettlebells, a sandbag, and even odd objects, like barrels and rocks. However, regardless of the training implement used, power cleans are a skillful exercise that requires good technique to do safely. They’re not easy to learn and could cause serious injury if not done with perfect form.
The good news is that there are plenty of other exercises you can do to develop muscle power and explosive, functional strength, most of which are a whole lot easier to learn.
In this article, we reveal the ten best power clean alternatives.
The Best Power Clean Alternatives
Can’t do power cleans? Or just want something you can do instead? Look no further! Here are ten of the best power clean alternatives!
1. Sumo Deadlift High Pull
Like power cleans, sumo deadlift high pulls are another popular CrossFit exercise. They involve most of the same muscles but are much more straightforward, making them ideal for less experienced lifters. In simple terms, the sumo deadlift high pull is an explosive upright row.
Find out how to do this exercise with our detailed guide.
2. Kettlebell Swing
Most exercisers view kettlebell swings as a conditioning, fat-burning exercise. Done with light weights for high reps, that’s undoubtedly true. But, done with a heavier kettlebell and lower reps, swings are an excellent full-body power exercise. The key to getting the most from this exercise is driving your hips forward just like you are taking off for a long jump.
Learn how to do the perfect kettlebell swing here.
3. Box Jump
A well-performed power clean should resemble a jump. You extend your hips, knees, and ankles to drive the weight up and catch it across your shoulders. Subsequently, box jumps are a great alternative to power jumps because they involve that same explosive triple extension. When choosing your box, make sure you can reach the top without having to pull your knees into your chest. That’s poor form and does nothing for increasing muscle power.
Check out this guide and learn how to do box jumps correctly.
4. Squat Jump
Squat jumps are another way to develop power without resorting to lifting weights. Simply squat and then jump as high as you can. The only real drawback of box jumps is what goes up must come down, and you’re going to land with quite a lot of force. Lower-impact box jumps may be a better choice if you have foot, ankle, knee, hip, or lower back aches and pains.
Learn how to do squat jumps here.
5. Dynamic Effort (DE) Squats
If just thinking about all these jumping exercises makes your knees ache, you’ll be glad to hear that you can modify your regular squat workout to make it more power-specific.
The dynamic effort (DE) method comes from the powerlifting world. It is a viable alternative to all those impactful jumping exercises. You can also apply the DE method to deadlifts.
How to do it:
- Load up the bar with about 50-60% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
- Rest and hold the bar across your upper back and not your neck. Adopt your normal squat stance, feet between shoulder and hip-width apart, toes turned slightly outward. Brace your abs.
- Descend under control and then, on reaching the bottom of your rep, explode upward and stand up as fast as you can.
- Reset your core and repeat.
- This method works best with 2 to 3-rep sets.
6. Plyo push-ups
While power cleans are a full-body exercise, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in your workouts for power exercises that emphasize your upper body. After all, a lot of people follow power cleans with an explosive overhead press, called a push press. Plyo push-ups are ideal for developing pushing power.
Be warned, doing plyo push-ups can be hard on your hands and wrists, so skip this exercise if you have problems with either.
How to do it:
- Adopt the push-up position with your hands about shoulder-width apart, arms straight, and shoulders, hips, and feet aligned. Brace your core.
- Bend your arms and lower your chest down to within an inch of the floor.
- Immediately extend your arms as powerfully as you can, pushing your upper body off the floor.
- Land on slightly bent arms, descend and repeat.
- You can also do this exercise on your knees to make it easier.
7. Overhead Medicine Ball Throw
Overhead medicine ball throws are a lot like power cleans. However, instead of having to catch the weight across your shoulders, you get to release and throw it up and behind you. Needless to say, this is an exercise best done outdoors.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball in front of your hips. Brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Hinge forward from your hips and lower the ball between your knees. Do not round your lower back.
- Without bending your arms, stand up explosively and throw the ball up, overhead, and behind you. Do not throw it straight up; that’s an accident waiting to happen.
- Retrieve the ball and then repeat.
8. Standing Long Jump
This is a useful bodyweight exercise. It doesn’t look much like power cleans, but actually, the movement is remarkably similar. Where things like squat jumps and box jumps emphasize your quadriceps, long jumps involve more posterior chain engagement.
Take care on landing; like all jumping exercises, there is a lot of impact to absorb. This move is best avoided by anyone who is significantly overweight or has lower limb injuries.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Look straight ahead and brace your core.
- Bend your knees and swing your arms behind you.
- Swing your arms and jump forward and upward, aiming to cover as much distance as possible.
- Land on bent knees and “stick” your landing.
- Reset and repeat.
9. Hill Sprint
Sprinting is one of the most common tests of power in sports. You can also use sprinting to develop power and as an alternative to power cleans.
Sprinting on flat ground is a valuable exercise for building power, but hill sprints are arguably better. Sprinting uphill increases the overload on the target muscles and is also easier on your joints. Make the most of this exercise by really driving your legs down and back to emphasize that all-important triple extension – ankles, knees, and hips.
How to do it:
- Find yourself a steep hill that’s between 20-50 yards long. Start a few yards back from the bottom of your hill and jog toward it.
- Accelerate as you hit the bottom of the hill. Lean forward, pump your arms, and drive your legs back.
- Power up the hill as fast as you can. If you find yourself slowing down before you reach the top of your hill, it’s too long, and you should use a shorter one or stop sooner.
- Walk back down the bottom, rest a moment, and repeat.
10. Power Snatch
If you’ve mastered power cleans and are looking for a new explosive strength exercise to try, consider power snatches. The bar has to travel higher, so you’ll really have to explode upward.
How to do it:
- Place the barbell on the floor and stand with your feet about hip-width apart, toes under the bar. Squat down and hold the bar with an overhand, 1.5 x shoulder-width grip. The bar should be level with the crease of your hips when standing. Use a hook grip if required.
- Brace your abs, straighten your arms, lift your chest, and pull your shoulders down and back. Your shoulders should be higher than your hips. Do not round your lower back.
- Stand up explosively and shrug your shoulders. As the bar passes your abdomen, pull hard with your arms to bring the bar up the front of your body.
- Bend your knees slightly to catch the weight overhead with your arms straight.
- Lower the bar to the floor and repeat.
Some More Alternatives:
- Best Box Jump Alternatives
- Best Alternatives to Lunges for Bad Knees
- Crunches and Sit-Up Alternative
- Triceps Pushdown Alternatives
- Seated Cable Row Alternative
- Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
- Cable Crossover Alternatives
- Hip Thrust Alternatives for a Stronger Posterior Chain
- Back Extension Alternatives
- Leg Extension Alternatives
- Leg Curl Alternatives for Stronger Hamstrings
- Bench Press Alternatives For A Big, Powerful Chest
Power Clean Alternatives – Wrapping Up
Power cleans are great exercise, but they’re far from easy. For some exercisers, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Unless you have access to hands-on coaching, power cleans can be hard to learn, and you need to be able to maintain a neutral spine and braced core despite moving quickly. If you can’t deadlift well, the power clean is definitely not the exercise for you!
Don’t despair; there are plenty of explosive strength exercises you can do instead of power cleans. Each one is just as effective and, apart from power snatches, much easier to master.