Dumbbell Power Cleans: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: November 3, 2021

A variation of the Olympic weightlifting standard power clean, the dumbbell power clean allows the exerciser to achieve a perfectly balanced level of neuromuscular activation, preventing or remedying muscular imbalances and connective tissue damage.

As always, it is best to consult with a coach or physician prior to performing any sort of strenuous exercise, especially the sort involving explosive movements involving weights of any sort.

The dumbbell power clean is a compound exercise incorporating the vast majority of the exerciser’s muscle groups, making it an excellent candidate for most types of muscular hypertrophy inducing training. The dumbbell power clean, as it is named, only requires a pair of dumbbells possessing the same weight as well as a relatively open space for the exerciser to perform the exercise in.

What is a Dumbbell Power Clean?

The dumbbell power clean, at its clearest definition, is a bilateral closed kinetic chain compound exercise primarily performed as a replacement for the barbell power clean, either due to connective tissue issues, a lack of equipment, specific training goals or simple personal preference.

dumbbell power clean

Dumbbell power cleans primarily incorporate the quadriceps, the deltoid muscle group or shoulders, and the trapezius along the base of the neck. Accessory muscle-wise, the power clean utilizes the entire posterior chain for balance, the abdominal stabilizers as well as the various smaller muscle groups located along both arms.

The dumbbell power clean is primarily performed by athletes or physical therapy patients wishing to work on their full body explosive strength, as well as Olympic weightlifting athletes who desire to improve their competition barbell power clean form through the use of separate arm exercises.

How is the Dumbbell Power Clean Performed?

The dumbbell power clean, much like other weighted exercises, consists of both a concentric and eccentric movement phase, with a very short interval of static muscular activation between the two.

To begin, the exerciser will plant their feet slightly less than shoulder width apart, with their back as straight as possible and their legs bending somewhat at the knees, so as to prevent any injury or blood-pressure related fainting from locking said knees out.

With a dumbbell of equal weight gripped firmly in each hand, the exerciser will subsequently arrange their wrists in a semi-supinated position so as to achieve a nearly neutral hand positioning.

dumbbell power clean steps

Maintaining a straight back, the exerciser will lower themselves to the ground by bending at the knees and hips, keeping their head facing forward and their feet placed evenly. Using the quadriceps muscle group and other nearby leg muscle groups, the exerciser will then drive their feet into the ground, thrusting them upwards into a standing pose.

Controlling the momentum acquired from this movement, the exerciser will simultaneously pull the dumbbells upwards, essentially “racking” it on the shelf of their collarbones or shoulders, depending on their size.

Keeping their knees bent, the exerciser will remain in a state of static muscle activation by allowing the dumbbells to rest on the shelf of their collarbones or shoulders for a moment. It is important that the exerciser engages their core and remains standing straight as they do so, as a lack of upper torso balance may cause some level of injury if not performed with the proper form.

Carefully, the exerciser will then allow the dumbbells to lower to the floor as they return to their original squatting position, completing the eccentric portion of the movement and subsequently finishing a single repetition of dumbbell power cleans.

What are the Benefits to Dumbbell Power Cleans?

Much like any weighted resistance exercise, the dumbbell power clean provides a myriad of benefits both to individuals wishing to improve their general health as well as to improve their athletic performance via training stimuli, both of their musculature and their neural pathways.

This is most noticeable in individuals performing the exercise for purposes of neuromuscular recruitment and muscular hypertrophy, wherein the various muscle groups involved will grow in size, strength and flexibility as the exercise is performed repeatedly over the course of multiple training sessions, nutrition and other specifics notwithstanding.

Athletic Training Benefits

In terms of specific muscle group hypertrophy and muscle fiber recruitment, the primary movers in the dumbbell power clean are found to be the quadriceps femoris muscle group, the abdominal stabilizers, the oblique muscle pair, the gluteus maximus, the various smaller muscles in the calves as well as the majority of muscle groups found in the arms during the second portion of the concentric movement.

Apart from muscle group specific hypertrophy, performing the dumbbell power clean is an excellent way for athletes and Olympic weightlifters to ingrain the power clean movement into their muscle memory, allowing them to maintain perfect form entirely as a reflex, so long as careful attention is paid to the proper cues while practicing.

Additionally, the explosive type of movement involved in dumbbell power cleans is considered an excellent way for athletes or even simply fit individuals to develop functional bodily strength, of which are utilized in nearly every form of movement in daily life.

Health Benefits

Like the majority of explosive resistance exercises using some sort of weight or other form of muscular stressor, the health benefits of dumbbell power cleans are numerous, though highly dependent on a variety of factors relating to the performance of said dumbbell power clean.

Apart from the obvious muscular hypertrophy benefits, dumbbell power cleans have a strengthening and reinforcing effect on connective tissue, as the body responds to the relatively microscopic cellular damage occurring during the exercise by initiating repair and regrowth mechanisms, oftentimes rebuilding the joints or other connective tissue stronger than it previously was.

Additionally, this very same rebuilding effect also applies to the physical integrity and function of the exerciser’s bones, strengthening them and allowing them to become more flexible so long as the proper level of stress is placed on the weight lifter while they utilize proper form.

And, of course, like all forms of exercise, the cardiovascular system receives some level of training stimuli as the dumbbell power clean repetitions are performed, improving peripheral blood circulation, improving both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, increasing heart contractility and even causing the inception of angiogenesis, or what may be also known as the development of new vascular bodies.

What Muscles Does the Dumbbell Power Clean Work?

Considering the fact that the dumbbell power clean is not only a compound movement but also a total body exercise, there is a significant amount of muscle groups recruited while all phases of the exercise are being performed, from primary mover muscles during the concentric portion to stabilizers being statically activated during the middle portion of the repetition.

Concentric Portion

The concentric portion of the dumbbell power clean movement is perhaps the most explosive and longest section of the exercise, wherein the exerciser will raise the dumbbells to the shelf of their shoulders or clavicles from a squatting position on the floor.

Primarily, the muscles behind the majority of the explosive power involved in this portion of the dumbbell power clean movement is the quadriceps femoris, as well as the gluteal muscle groups, owing to the fact that the main portion of the concentric phase involves the exerciser thrusting themselves upwards by activating these same muscle groups.

In the stabilizer subsection of muscle activation, the various small muscles in the calves and forearms ensure that both the exerciser themselves and the muscles remain in a steady position in order to facilitate the concentric movement.

Additionally, the various muscles in or around the erector spinae muscle group as well as the abdominal stabilizers help keep the torso in a fixed state, preventing any deviations in angle or positioning that may result in injury or improper weight bearing.

Static Portion

During the static portion of the dumbbell power clean movement, the exerciser rests or racks the dumbbells against their clavicles or shoulders, acting as the midpoint of the exercise prior to transitioning to the eccentric portion.

The static phase of the dumbbell power clean movement primarily incorporates the deltoid muscle groups, though the relative activation of these muscles is debatable owing to the fact that the primary form of tension involved in this portion is entirely static, meaning there is very little movement involved whatsoever.

However, this is not to say that the static phase does not activate muscle groups, and despite the fact that there is little movement involved, muscular activation is still occurring in the form of stabilizer muscles preventing the exerciser from becoming unbalanced or otherwise hurting themselves.

These stabilizer muscles are the various muscles in the abdominal cavity, every muscle group in the lower body excluding the hamstrings, the biceps brachii, and in some small role, the pectoralis minor and major.

Eccentric Portion

The latter portion of the dumbbell power clean movement, this phase of the exercise involves the exerciser lowering the dumbbells back to the ground as they squat back down, essentially resetting their position to its previous shape.

While this is generally a movement with little control involved, certain muscles are still involved, especially as the dumbbells act as a “negative” stressor as they pull the arms and subsequent musculature away from the torso.

Primarily, the forearms, abdominal stabilizers, gluteus maximus and hamstrings are activated as the exerciser returns to the squatting position, each of which act as both a stabilizer and a contracting muscle during the movement.

What are the Limitations of Dumbbell Power Cleans?

While the general consensus on dumbbell power cleans is that they are an exercise with quite a few benefits and few drawbacks- so long as they are performed with proper form and at an appropriate weight-, there are certain limitations to the exercise due to the nature of the movement and the individuals that may be performing it.

The first of which is the fact that, at significant levels of resistance, the dumbbell power clean places significant shear force on the patella and its connected tendons, possibly damaging these connective tissues if significant momentum is involved both in the concentric and eccentric portion of the exercise.

This same thought applies to the lumbar spine, wherein high amounts of weight being applied to an unprepared or as of yet untrained spinal column may cause a noticeable risk of injury, especially in cases wherein the general stabilizer muscles involved during dumbbell power cleans are not completely activated.

Additionally, depending on the explosiveness involved as the athlete performs the exercise, only a certain form of muscular activation may be possible, affecting the athletic performance being developed during training. Slower and less explosive repetitions will not necessarily train the explosive power of the athlete as much as faster repetitions with more power behind their momentum normally would.

References

1. Fleck, Steven J. & William J., Kraemer, 'Ballistic Training' in Designing Resistance Training Programmes, Leeds: Human Kinetics, 2013

2. James, Lachlan P.1; Comfort, Paul; Suchomel, Timothy J; Kelly, Vincent G.; Beckman, Emma M; Haff, G. Gregory Influence of Power Clean Ability and Training Age on Adaptations to Weightlifting-Style Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 11

3. Graham, John F. BS, CSCS, D* Power Clean, Strength and Conditioning Journal: December Issue 2000 - Volume 22 - Issue 6

4. Hedrick, Allen MA Dumbbell Power Clean, Front Squat, and Power Jerk, Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2015 - Volume 37 - Issue 3

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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