Power Clean With Dumbbells: Technique, Benefits and Variations
This guide is all about how to maximise performance using the power clean with dumbbells, we're going to cover:
What Is the Power Clean with Dumbbells?
The power clean with dumbbells is a weightlifting variation that builds lower body power and explosiveness.
The term 'power' in this context refers to any clean caught above a parallel squat position.
How to Perform Dumbbell Power Cleans
This is an optional step, but you can start with setting up your dumbbells by raising them a few inches off the ground on a box or block, so as to better replicate the start position of a barbell. You can also do the movement from the ground, but I've found many lifters struggle to be mobile enough to comfortably hit that position
1) Dumbbell Power Clean Start Position
Your start position should have your weight over midfoot, shoulder over the dumbbell, and back flat, with a strong, braced core.
2) First Pull
Initiate the movement by driving with your legs and pushing the ground away, keeping your shoulders over the dumbbells for as long as possible.
3) Second Pull / Triple Extension
When you reach the 'power position' (knees slightly bent, torso mostly upright) drive aggressively through the floor almost as if you're trying to perform a vertical jump. This will accelerate the dumbbells upwards.
4) Third Pull / Receive
Pull yourself underneath the dumbbells, whilst using your arms to guide the dumbbells into a comfortable receiving position.
Points Of Performance for the Power Clean with Dumbbells
As a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting, I like to break down performance into 3 key elements.
Weight Distribution (Are you balanced throughout the movement)
Posture (Are you in the right position?)
Bar Trajectory (Is the bar/dumbbell heading in the right position?)
With the dumbbell power clean, we're generally looking for your weight distribution to be over midfoot, for your posture to be braced with a flat back, and for your dumbbells to be close to your body throughout the lift.
Exercise Variations for the Power Clean With Dumbbells
Hang Power Clean with Dumbbells
The hang power clean with dumbbells is performed exactly the same as the power clean with dumbbells, except that you start with the dumbbells higher up your body ('Hang'ing)
How do you hang a power clean with dumbbells?
To achieve this start position, you slightly bend your knees, and then mainly just hinge at the hips (push your butt back) to reach the desired position
Typical hang positions include:
High hang: In which you start with the dumbbells at upper thigh level
Above Knee: In which you start with the dumbbells just above your knee
Below Knee: In which you start with the dumbbells just below your knee
Single Dumbbell Power Clean (Vs Double Dumbell Power Clean)
So far we've mainly looked at performing the power clean with double dumbbells. Another great variation is to perform the movement with a single dumbbell.
All the same technical cues and technique steps apply, only you'll have to work a little bit harder to stabilise yourself with an uneven load.
Dumbbell Power Clean and Jerk
Another solid variation, or rather an addition, to the movement, is to add a jerk, push press or press at the end.
A press: uses just your shoulder to push the dumbbells upwards
A push press: uses a small dip and drive with your leg as well as a push with your shoulders to drive the dumbbells upwards
A push jerk: uses the same dip and drive and shoulder press to elevate the dumbbells, but also adds in a small second dip under the dumbbells as they're on their way up.
These variations allow you to add some extra upper work, targeting your shoulders and upper back.
What Muscles do Dumbbell Power Cleans Work?
The prime muscles involved in dumbbell power cleans are your:
Assisted by your traps to elevate the dumbbells and calves to achieve triple extension.
With that said, if your goal is to build the size of these muscles, dumbbell power cleans are a poor choice of exercise (more on why later)
Dumbbell Power Clean Benefits
1) Build some power and explosiveness in your lower body
2) Develop motor skills and coordination
3) An easier and more accessible alternative to the barbell power clean
Dumbbell Power Clean Alternative
If you don't have access to dumbells, you could perform:
Kettlebell power clean's
Barbell power cleans
Or, if you want an exercise to develop lower body power, but don't want to do power cleans, you might want to consider:
Weighted Squat Jumps
Dumbbell Power Clean Sets & Reps
When athletes ask me "how many reps should I do for power cleans?" my response is always to ask "why are you doing them?"
And since you're using dumbbell power cleans to develop lower body power and explosiveness, I would keep the total reps per set low, something in the 2-6 range would be good.
I would then perform 3 to 6 sets, with at least 90s rest in between.
The goal here is to bring as much quality and intensity to each set as possible.
Dumbbell Power Clean vs Barbell
The dumbbell power clean and barbell power clean both share a similar movement pattern, and both develop lower body power. There are 2 main differences.
1) Dumbbell power cleans tend to be a little easier to learn for beginners, and are less demanding of mobility, especially around the shoulders and thoracic spine (upper back region)
2) Barbell cleans can be loaded FAR heavier than dumbbells. Many of my athletes can power clean 100kg+ on a barbell, but trying to use two 50kg dumbbells is just incredibly awkward and cumbersome.
"For most athletes, you'll get to a point at which dumbbell power cleans are just too light to be a good choice anymore."
Power Clean with Dumbbells: Frequently Asked Questions
Do power cleans increase your deadlift?
Dumbbell power cleans tend to be too light to have a real carryover to your deadlift. Barbell Power cleans can be loaded heavier, so can have some carryover, but it is still pretty minimal. If you want to increase your deadlift, programme more deadlifts and close variations (pause, tempo, RDL etc) Here's a programme you might find useful.
Can you do front squats with dumbbells?
Yes, you can use a double front rack to perform front squats with 2 dumbbells, as seen in the video below. Just like with power cleaning with dumbbells though, eventually, you'll need to swap to a barbell front squat to add more weight.
Do power cleans build muscle?
Not really. Both dumbbell and barbell power cleans are poor choices of exercises for muscle building (hypertrophy) This is because they are performed very quickly, with low reps, and no controlled eccentric. Essentially the opposite of what we want for building muscle.
If you want to build leg and back size, go with squats, Romanian deadlifts, pull-ups and those sorts of exercises.
Alright, that's enough reading for today, time for action...
1) Get in the gym and start training the power clean with dumbbells. Get stronger, more powerful and more explosive.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you're looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.
'Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.