Power cleans can offer benefits when done right but they are challenging. Discover a few alternatives to power cleans with similar effects.
Power cleans work a variety of muscles including your erector spinae, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, forearm muscles, trapezius, calves, deltoids, biceps, and core.
On top of helping you build muscle, power cleans can help you improve balance, improve coordination, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy power cleans, you want more beginner-friendly options, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these power clean substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Keep in mind that if you don’t have a loaded barbell available, you could also do power cleans with equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells, workout sandbags, etc.
The first power clean alternative is basically one of the main parts of the movement in a separate exercise. For deadlifts you typically use a weighted barbell but other weights can work too up to a certain weight.
Take the following steps to do a deadlift with a barbell:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted barbell.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by first tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and then folding your knees.
Similar to power cleans you want to work on your technique before lifting the heaviest weights if you are new to deadlifts.
Once you have the technique down, you can do deadlifts in an explosive manner to simulate power cleans more closely and possibly work up to them.
The muscles you work with deadlifts are mostly similar to power cleans. These muscles include your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, erector spinae, forearms, calves, and trapezius.
Deadlifts do engage your deltoids and biceps less than power cleans. You can do some of the other exercises on this list to train these muscles.
2. Front squats
For the next exercise, you again need a barbell with plates. This time you also need a squat rack. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a front squat:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand in front of the barbell, put the barbell on the front of your shoulders, and hold it there with your hands. Hold the barbell in position by letting it rest on the inside of your fingers. For this, you have to point your elbows forward and hand palms upward.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
After the deadlift and upright row of power cleans, you catch the barbell on the front of your shoulders in a quarter squat. You can also do weighted squats like this in a separate exercise. These are called front squats.
It may sound weird to do the power clean part you only do in a small range of motion in a separate exercise.
However, this power clean alternative also works muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, lower back, and erector spinae which play a big role in the initial deadlift movement.
Additionally, front squats help you get used to the weight distribution you will experience at the top of the power clean movement. This can help you avoid accidents.
To do shrugs most people need some form of resistance. Generally something heavier like a loaded barbell.
Individuals less experienced with resistance training may find dumbbells, kettlebells, or similar objects challenging enough.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a shrug:
- Set up the barbell on a rack at a height right below where your hands would be when letting your arms hang down. Load it with the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the barbell with your hands at about shoulder width with your hand palms facing backward/downward. Unrack the barbell, take a step or two back, and stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width. For now, the barbell rests against your body. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Raise your shoulders as far as you comfortably can in a controlled manner.
- Slowly lower your shoulders again.
The shoulder shrug does not look like the most impressive motion but this power clean alternative can be great to help you work your trapezius and grip muscles in the gym or at home.
As you can tell, this exercise has a relatively narrow focus. To train the other muscles involved in power cleans you will have to implement other movements.
4. Upright rows
As the name implies the upright row is similar to a bent-over resistance training row but done while standing up straight. Take the following steps to do an upright row with a barbell :
- Load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates. Stand right in front of it with feet about shoulder width apart.
- Grab the barbell with an overhanded grip, your hand palms pointing back/down, with your hands at about shoulder width or slightly wider.
- Lift the barbell and stand up straight. Keep your spine straight during this initial lift. Let your arms with the barbell hang down for now.
- Raise the barbell straight upward in a controlled manner until your hands are at about shoulder height.
- Slowly lower the barbell back into the position of step 3.
Because of this change in position compared to the bent-over row, the upright row focuses on slightly different muscles which makes it more of a power clean alternative.
More specifically, upright rows work your trapezius, deltoid, bicep, and forearm muscles. By training these, the part of power cleans where you bring the barbell from hip height to shoulder height will become somewhat easier.
Something to keep in mind is that in power cleans a lot of the upward movement comes from your leg, lower back, and erector spinae muscles. This means you will have to choose lower weights for upright rows.
5. Box jumps
For the next power clean alternative, you need an elevated platform that is strong and stable enough to jump on. An example of a suited object is a good plyo box.
Take the following steps to do a box jump:
- Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at shoulder width.
- Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
- Swing your arms to the front again and at the same time jump forward on top of the box. When landing you want to have your knees more or less at the quarter squat again. If you are squatted lower, this may be a sign the box is too high for your current jump level.
Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries. For box jumps it is also smart to start with a low height and build up from there.
Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing when doing this exercise.
Power cleans work leg muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves in a relatively explosive way. Box jumps can help you train these muscles similarly but to a lesser extent because it is a bodyweight exercise.
A benefit of box jumps is that they are a bit more at-home-friendly than power cleans.
6. Tire flips
Some gyms have big tires that can be used for exercises like sledgehammer swings and tire flips. Once you have a tire like this, take the following steps to do tire flips:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a big tire.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to put your hands under the edge of the tire.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line and you have flipped over the tire on its other side. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 in the new location of the tire.
Tire flips can be a fun way to work similar muscles as power cleans in an explosive manner. Additionally, you have to worry less about equipment damage since these tires are generally able to deal with uses like this.
Do keep in mind that this power clean alternative can still be challenging for your body.
A potential downside of tire flips is that these tires are not always that heavy and/or not easily adjustable in weight.
Depending on the weight and your strength, tire flips might be more of a muscle endurance exercise instead of a muscle strength/power exercise like power cleans.
7. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebells are versatile pieces of fitness equipment. You can even use them for exercises like the kettlebell swing that can serve as a power clean alternative without a barbell at home or in the gym.
Take the followings steps to do a kettlebell swing:
- Stand up straight with your arms stretched and one kettlebell in your two hands.
- Bend through your knees and move the kettlebell backward a small amount to initiate the full swings. Keep your back and shoulders straight throughout the exercise.
- Swing the kettlebell forward until your arms are about horizontally at shoulder height. Stretch your legs throughout this swing.
- Swing the kettlebell downward and backward between your legs as far as you safely can.
- Alternate between the positions in steps 3 and 4.
Before increasing the weight of your kettlebell make sure you can do a swing with the right technique with lighter kettlebells. After that, you can increase the weight to work on muscle power similar to power cleans.
The kettlebell swing engages muscles like your glutes, lower back, hamstrings, forearm muscles, erector spinae, trapezius, quadriceps, calves, deltoids, and core.
Basically, the same muscles as power cleans but with less of a focus on the quadricep, calf, and trapezius muscles.
8. Back extensions
It is generally recommended to use a sturdy back extension machine or a roman chair at your gym for this next exercise.
Take the following steps to do a back extension with the dedicated machine:
- Take place in the back extension machine. Keep a straight back for now. Make sure you are locked in place safely.
- Slowly bend down as far as you can while keeping your back straight. The bending movement comes from your hips, not your lower back.
- Move up your upper body in a controlled motion until your body is in a straight line.
At first sight, back extensions may seem relatively different from power cleans. However, this alternative is a good way to train your lower back, erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings.
Back extensions do lack the quadricep and calf engagement from power cleans but in some situations it can be helpful to work on specific muscles.
You can hold extra resistance like a weight plate, dumbbell, barbell, resistance bands, etc. to make back extensions weighted and in turn more challenging for your muscles.
9. Broad jumps
For the next power clean alternative, all you need is enough room to do the exercise. A softer surface like a grass field is welcome but not required.
Take the following steps to do a broad jump:
- Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Start leaning forward, depending on your calf flexibility you may have to lift your heels off the ground. You can move your arms back if you want to use them in the broad jump.
- Push your body up and forward fast, mainly with the help of your front upper leg muscles. You have to generate enough upward power so that you jump. You can swing your arms forward to jump farther.
- How you want to land depends on what body parts you want to absorb the shock. You generally want to at least fold your legs slightly so your knees don’t absorb all the weight.
Similar to box jumps, broad jumps can help you train your leg muscles in an explosive way. Jumping forward has the benefit that it will be easier on your body than jumping upward.
You could wear something like a heavy weighted vest to make the muscle strength/power gains more similar to power cleans but this is likely too hard on your body.
10. Rack pulls
As the name implies, for the following exercise you need a rack with adjustable safety bars. Besides that, you will also need a loaded barbell.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a rack pull:
- Set up a barbell rack with the safety bars at a height just below your knees. Put the barbell on it and load it with the desired weight.
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width right in front of the barbell. Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Slowly lift the barbell by tilting your upper body back until you stand up straight. Keep your back straight during the movement.
- Lower the barbell back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Rack pulls are another great example of a hip dominant exercise. Similar to power cleans this exercise will work your trapezius, forearm, lower back, erector spinae, glute, hamstring, and quadricep muscles a lot.
One downside of this alternative is that your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings go through a smaller range of motion compared to power cleans.
This is generally less effective for muscle growth and strength progress.