Hang around a CrossFit or Oly weightlifting gym for a day or two and you’re certain to come across that magical word that is rarely (if ever) uttered in globo gyms or Planet Fitness franchises.
Although not the most recognizable lift, it’s pretty easy to understand what this exercise is all about.
Hang (ha!) around a bit longer, and you’ll likely start to hear some choice words preceding that magic word…somewhat muddling your understanding of the lift.
…oh crap…cleans, again!
There isn’t much I can do to help with that last clean…variety, but we’re going to cover the basics of the first two in detail today. We’ll top things off with a showdown reminiscent of the old pay-per-view days, pitting the hang clean vs power cleans in a battle to the death!
(Not actually to the death, but you should keep reading, regardless!)
Table of Contents
What is a Power Clean?
The power clean is a very commonly performed variation of the clean exercise where, in the simplest terms, the barbell is raised from the floor to the shoulders in a single, continuous manner. In order to perform the power clean with any significant amount of weight, the athlete must develop a combination of strength, technique, and mental focus as the movement is equal parts physically and mentally strenuous.
Outside of Olympic weightlifting gyms/competitions, when it is required in a CrossFit workout, or during max clean and jerk attempts, you’re much more likely to come across the power clean being performed than you are the (full) clean. In the words of renowned weightlifting coach, Leo Isaac, the power clean “should mimic all the same elements of technique of the clean except that the athlete does not descend into a full-depth receiving position.”
The power clean requires the barbell to be “caught” in a much higher position than the full clean does. As such, more explosive power is required to pull the bar higher on the body. This allows for an impressive refinement of (and ultimately display of) explosive strength, but, in general, for less weight to be lifted.
It should be noted that power cleans can be executed from the hanging position. In most cases, a “hang clean” does imply a “hang power clean”, unless a “hang full clean” is specified. This fact betrays one of the many “crossovers” that exist in the hang clean vs power clean “rivalry”.
What is a Hang Clean?
The hang clean is a less common variation of the (full) clean exercise where, instead of initiating the movement from the floor, the bar starts from a “hanging” position. Depending on the specifications (or lack thereof) of the specific variations of the hang clean, the bar may be held as low shins or as high as waist.
Hanging movements (ex. Hang clean, hang snatch) in general are oftentimes easier for beginners to learn since they remove the oftentimes difficult to master first pull from the lift. In the hang clean, the athlete can assume a near-perfect position to commence the second pull, while also allowing himself to focus on this portion of the exercise, specifically.
Like the power clean, the hang clean can be performed as a “power” variety where the bar is caught high (where the hips crease does not reach parallel). Unlike the power clean, the hang clean can be performed as a “full” clean, where the barbell is caught low (where the hips crease is at or below parallel). By applying upward force on the bar, the lifter is able to increase their downward movement speed, generally allowing for more weight to be lifted.
The hang clean is only ever performed as a training exercise or within the confines of a CrossFit workout/met-con. It is not one of the competition lifts in Olympic lifting (both the the snatch and clean and jerk movements begin from the floor)
The Hang Clean vs Power Cleans – The Main Event
We’ve looked at the key characteristics of today’s two contenders. Now, it’s time for the late, great Mills Lane to get things started!
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – Starting Positions
The starting positions of the power clean and of the hang clean are major areas where the two lifts will probably differ. The power clean (unless clearly designated as a “hang power clean”) always begins from the floor while the hang clean always begins with the bar hanging somewhere off of the floor.
The power clean requires that the lifter initiates and completes the first pull while the hang clean bypasses this portion of the lift, starting at or slightly before the second pull.
For those looking to perfect all of their pulls, the power clean is undoubtedly the “superior” lift. However, for those who solely want to focus on perfecting their second pulls and catch positions, the hang clean “wins”.
We’ll call this one a draw.
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – “Ending” Positions
The ending position of the power clean and of the hang clean are the second major areas where the two lifts might differ. The power clean will always end with the body in a higher (above parallel) position.
In contrast, a hang clean, when performed as a “power” variation will end up in a higher, above-parallel position while the “hang squat clean” or “hang full clean” will end up with the lifter in a deep, below-parallel position during the catch.
Ultimately, if the lift is successful, the lifter will stand it up so technically the ending positions of both lifts involve the lifter standing tall with the barbell resting on the shoulders, supported in the “front rack” position.
Once again, we’ll call this one a “draw”.
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – Muscles Worked
One doesn’t often consider the muscles worked by the Olympic weightlifting movements (more of an emphasis is directed to the development of overall power from these lifts). Additionally, in the age-old battle of the hang clean vs power clean, the cheering sections of each lift (if such things actually exist) will likely be frustrated to learn that both lifts essentially work the same muscles.
Don’t shoot the messenger!
That being said, the list of muscles worked is extensive and although you would likely train any of them more directly with other exercises, these two lifts target the following:
- Upper back
- Lower Back
Once again, we’re calling this one a draw.
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – Functionality
Finally, we can get some separation here!
As previously mentioned, the hang clean is not a lift performed in competitive Olympic weightlifting. In a CrossFit workout like DT, you might be asked to perform (a lot of!) hang cleans, but you’ll never see a hang clean on the platform. An excellent training exercise, but…pretty much only a training exercise.
Meanwhile, due to its from-the-ground starting position, the power clean is permitted in Olympic weightlifting competitions. It is not nearly as commonly performed as the “full” clean, but has certainly been known to make an appearance, especially with less-experienced competitors.
Power cleans are also much more likely to be prescribed in CrossFit workouts (or at least permitted when any type of (non-hang) “clean” is prescribed) than their hanging brethren.
With this one, power cleans take the lead!
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – Force Development
This one is a bit tricky and it is important to differentiate between “potential” for force development and “practicality”.
Because the hang clean bypasses any movement from the floor, all of the force necessary to successfully perform the lift must take place during the second pull. As such, the total amount of force that theoretically can be applied is lower than that of the power clean.
With that being said, for any of the “full” versions of the Olympic lifts, the first pull is essentially merely setting the lifter up/getting the lifter into the proper position, for the violent, explosive second pull.
If you watch some high-level lifters very closely, you can see the barbell moving at a decently slow rate until it reaches the knee caps. From here, the real force development begins.
Speeding up the first pull can be disastrous if it messes up your body positioning going into the second pull. As such, we’re going to call this one a draw as well (it won’t affect the final tally, as you’ll shortly find out!)
Hang Clean vs Power Clean – The Final Tally
\With 4 draws and only 1 “clear-cut” winner, this battle was a bit of a grind. Ultimately, we can crown King Power Clean as the winner of the power clean vs hang clean showdown!
Frequently Asked Questions
I know there you might still have some burning questions so we’re gonna cover a few right now!
Why the confusion with the names? Can’t a hang clean be a power clean and can’t a power clean be a hang clean?
The reason for this confusion is largely due to the colloquialisms associated with this terminology. The answers to both of the latter questions is “Yes! Definitely!” however, in the vast majority of cases, when someone says “power clean”, they’re talking about moving the weight from the floor.
Although cleans initiated from the floor are more commonly programmed in CrossFit workouts, athletes should practice both lifts. The hang clean will often be a better lift for learning the more complex “full” clean versions and can be more effective for learning to apply power during the second pull.
Of course, there are also those “why not both?” situations, such as during CrossFit Open Workout 21.4 where athletes were required to perform a complex involving a power clean and a hang clean at the heaviest weights they could handle!
erring to the barbell versions of these lifts. However, dumbbell varieties of these lifts aren’t uncommon (particularly in CrossFit workouts) and kettlebell cleans as well as “axle-bar” versions of these lifts also provide similar benefits along with a oftentimes very different stimulus.
…and, if you’ve been paying attention to the Strongman circuit, you’re aware of the quasi-power/quasi-hanging exercise known as the log clean.
So…yeah. If you ever get a little…bored with the traditional power clean vs hang clean debate, try nerding out on something like “the kettlebell hang clean vs power clean” or “dumbbell hang clean vs power clean”.
Power Cleans vs….Cleans from Thighs?
One of the most enjoyable parts of reviewing articles on this topic is the different perspectives that those coming from a weightlifting background present as opposed to those (like me!) who are coming from more of a CrossFit background.
In reviewing the first two books in Leo Isaac’s (who happens to be my coach) The Beginner Weightlifting series, the word “hang clean” is incredibly hard to find. The same can be said for his more advanced book (Coaching Weightlifting Illustrated). Instead, I do set after set…after set of “cleans from mid-thighs”.
For the CrossFitters out there…have you ever walked into a class and seen “cleans from knee caps” scribbled on the white board?
(I’m gonna take your silence as a resounding “no!”)
As we’ve seen in this discussion of these lifts, terminology isn’t the only difference between these lifts, however, the one thing they have in common is…performing them will help you to become a better lifter. Instead of looking at hang clean vs power clean as a “battle”, I suggest looking at them as more of a partnership. Because…you just never know when something like 22.4 (and my boy Graciano!) will roll around again…
Now that we have all of that squared away, check out our article (at least the second half of it!) on the clean and snatch!