Few lifts measure (and create) power as well as the clean. Simply put: a clean is when the lifter picks weight up off the floor and drives it up into a front rack position. Like most exercises, there are a seemingly endless amount of variations, and in the case of the clean, the power clean and hang clean are two very popular choices.
There’s no clear cut answer as to which of the two exercises somebody should be doing. As is this case with most choices in fitness — be it which diet to follow or workout split to choose — the answer is almost always, “it depends.”
To help you decide which clean to get behind, we’re going to breakdown the differences and benefits of each. Then, it’s all up to you.
Power Clean Vs. Hang Clean — Form Differences
The hang clean and power clean are two prevalent clean variations found primarily in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit. Both movements are beneficial to athletes and lifters, each offering similar yet distinct benefits that coaches and athletes should be aware of. First, here are the main differences between the two movements:
The Hang Clean
The hang clean has the lifter first pick the weight up off the floor (or from a power rack with the J hooks set to hip height) and hold the weight at their thighs. From there, the lifter will drive their hips forward, dip under the bar, descend into a full squat, and then explode up. The main difference between this movement and the power clean is that the weight starts from the hip, which requires a more explosive hip drive. Lifting the weight from the hips makes the hang clean a great movement to build powerful glutes and, for weightlifters specifically, improve the second half of their clean.
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The Power Clean
This clean variation has the lifter deadlift the weight from the floor each rep and then only slightly sink under the bar instead of doing a full squat. As the name implies, the focus of the power clean is pure power development. You’ll be able to use slightly less weight compared to the hang clean, but you’re also working through a more complete range of motion. The fist pull — which is essentially a deadlift — will recruit more of your posterior chain. Then you’ll forcefully explode into the clean to get the weight to the front rack position. For weightlifters, this is a great variation to build strength in the first half of the clean & jerk and work on their timing for the complete clean & jerk.
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Power Clean Vs. Hang Clean — Performance Differences
Though the power and hang clean are quite similar, they do affect certain aspects of performance differently. Below, we’ll touch on five key performance differences so that you can decide which exercise you’d like to use.
Rate of Force Development
Hang Clean: When it comes to generating force, the hang clean works by eliminating momentum during the first phase of the clean. Because the weight starts at the hips, the lifter needs to produce an extreme hip drive to get the weight up. Even when you go back to more traditional cleans, that new and improved hip drive power will carry over, making you a stronger lifter in the second half of the clean.
Power Clean: The power clean builds force production throughout the entire clean phase of the movement. The lifter needs to drive weight off of the floor and then explosively drive it up into a front rack position. You’ll get stronger and more powerful both off the floor and from the hips to the front rack.
Winner: Tie (it depends on your specific focus and weak points)
Hang Clean: The hang clean specifically bolsters the second pull, from the hips to the front rack position. However, it has virtually no effect on the first pull) since that portion of the lift is omitted from the exercise.
Power Clean: The power clean works the entirety of the pulling phases and prompting timing and aggression to maximize bar height in the pull. These two factors often lead to better transitions between the first and second pulls compared to the hang clean.
Winner: Power Clean
Transitioning into Full Cleans
Hang Clean: Some lifters have issues transitioning into a full clean — be it due to a lack of timing, finishing of the pull, confidence, or finding a secure front rack position. The hang clean is a great choice to work on clean timing. Because you’re working with a more limited ROM, the lifter doesn’t have to focus on anything but the clean itself. After some practice, they should feel more proficient at driving the bar into the front rack position.
Power Clean: The power clean is vital to learning the full clean & jerk, but it’s not as effective for bettering the clean portion of the move. There are simply too many (literal) moving parts. It’s hard to focus on nailing the clean when one is also deadlifting and driving up from that position. For to develop proficiency in the clean, the hang clean is the clear winner.
Winner: Hang Clean
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Hang Clean: Typically, a more proficient puller can handle around 90% of their one-rep max for the clean. Both moves will strengthen your clean, so it comes down to where you’re specifically weak. If you find that you struggle to complete the second pull, then you want to focus primarily on hang clean.s
Power Clean: Lifters can usually handle slightly less weight on the power clean (about 85 to 90% of their one-rep max). If your overall clean is far heavier than your power clean, you may have overall weak pulling strength. For this, the power clean can help.
Timing in the Clean
Hang Clean: The clean is a multi-faceted movement, and the hang clean really only focuses on one or two main aspects of the clean — the second pull and the squat. While you’ll improve your ability in those two areas, the hang clean isn’t as effective for overall timing and clean ability.
Power Clean: For this, the power clean is more effective. Simply because you’re working more parts of the overall clean. To nail the power clean, you need to nail the deadlift the clean and catch one fluid movement. Note: while it’s not traditional, you can add a squat to the power clean (though, you’ll want to lower the weight on the barbell if you do).
Winner: Power Clean
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