Hang Clean vs Power Clean: Differences Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 6, 2022

The clean is a vitally important exercise in the field of olympic weightlifting - so much so, in fact, that quite a number of variations have branched out from it so as to further the sort of training stimulus provided.

Two of the more common variations are that of the hang clean and that of the power clean, each with their own unique strengths and applications that the other does not otherwise share.

Because of the differences between these two seemingly similar exercises, it is necessary for all lifters to be able to identify such distinctions so as to optimize their training program with the most suitable exercise.

What is the Hang Clean?

The hang clean is a variation of the standard clean exercise that involves an altered starting position so as to decrease the range of motion of the exercise while requiring greater explosiveness be derived from the muscles of the legs.

barbell-hang-clean muscles

Furthermore, the end point of the hang clean is considerably lower and requires greater mobility than that of the power clean - making it more suitable for competitive Olympic weightlifting athletes due to its closer similarity of form.

Benefits

The benefits provided by the hang clean are in a greater rate of force production from an absolute standstill, of which translates to greater hip and posterior chain muscular recruitment in comparison to other variations of the standard clean movement.

Additionally, the hang clean’s lower depth at the end of the repetition aids in full-body stability and lower body joint reinforcement as greater stress is placed on these tissues.

Difficulty and Complexity

Due to the shorter range of motion and the fact that the hang clean entirely skips the first pull of a conventional clean, it is considerably less complex than other clean variations and is of a lesser difficulty.

This makes the hang clean a more suitable alternative to other clean variations for novice Olympic weightlifters or those in the lighter block of their periodization training.

Key Form Cues and Mechanics

The key mechanical difference of the hang clean is in the fact that the exercise begins with the bar held at approximately shin level, instead of it being drawn from the floor like in other clean variations.

barbell hang clean

This factor, combined with a shorter range of motion and reduced concentric muscular contraction results in the exercise being mechanically less demanding and highly effective for working on the second pull of the conventional clean, wherein the lifter transitions to the shoulder rack position.

What is the Power Clean?

The power clean is a specialized variation of the conventional clean exercise wherein the exerciser deadlifts the weight from the ground with every repetition before ending the exercise in an above-parallel squat.

power clean

These alterations to the conventional clean exercise produce a number of significant changes to the mechanics and muscular activation of the movement, making it more suitable to advanced olympic weightlifters or athletes of a similar experience level.

Benefits

The power clean’s most significant benefit over other clean variations is in its capacity to improve a lifter’s power and force development to a significant level - surpassing many other exercises in this particular aspect.

This also results in a lower risk of injury as the exerciser retains a more advantageous position alongside a lower amount of weight lifted per repetition, thereby presenting less danger to the lifter.

Furthermore, the increased need for explosiveness in the power clean results in stronger gluteal muscles, as it is with these muscles that much of the initial force of the exercise is produced by.

Difficulty and Complexity

The power clean is somewhat more difficult to perform than the hang clean, though its level of complexity is practically the same so long as the lifter has their deadlift form down to pat, as the first pull of the power clean is essentially considered a deadlift repetition all on its own.

Key Form Cues and Mechanics

The key mechanics of the power clean are in the lifter performing a deadlift to begin each and every repetition. This, alongside a significantly greater force requirement in the hips will result in stronger hip thrust production that can carry over to a number of other athletic activities.

power clean muscles

Muscles Worked by the Hang Clean vs the Power Clean

As a foreword, it should be noted that the muscle groups activated by the hang clean and the power clean are practically identical, with the sole difference being to the extent in which these muscle groups are activated.

In both the hang clean and the power clean, the entirety of all muscle groups in the legs are recruited, though the glutes are activated far more significantly in the power clean than in the hang clean. 

Likewise, the quadriceps are recruited to a more intense extent due to the difference in squat depth between the two clean variations.

In terms of upper body muscle recruitment, the hang clean and the power clean’s sole difference is in a lengthier eccentric contraction of the trapezius and erector spinae due to the starting point of the hang clean.

To tally these differences up, we can see that it is the power clean that is better for posterior chain development, while the hang clean is superior in terms of back and quadriceps activation intensity.

In the end, these differences are otherwise minute and unlikely to actually result in much alteration of the end results, and it is far more advisable to pick the exercise that is easier and more compatible with the lifter instead.

Mechanical and Kinetic Differences of the Hang Clean vs the Power Clean

It is in the mechanical and kinetic aspects of each clean variation that they differ the most, as both exercises are performed quite differently and with distinct techniques that may make one more suitable than the other within certain contexts.

Starting Position

The starting position of the hang clean and the power clean is the greatest point of distinction between each exercise, as the hang clean begins the repetition with the bar “hanging” in front of the exerciser’s body, usually at shin level.

Whereas the power clean involves the lifter beginning the exercise with the barbell resting on the floor, requiring them to raise it up to hip level in a full deadlift execution prior to beginning a second pull so as to clean the barbell upwards.

Primary Pull Force Production

In terms of which portion of the kinetic chain is used to produce the majority of force in each repetition, the power clean primarily recruits musculature and joints around the hips in order to draw the barbell upwards.

This is not the case for the hang clean, which involves a more broad approach to force production by the lifter dippin beneath the barbell as it is pulled upwards prior to executing a front squat so as to enter a state of full knee extension.

As one can ascertain from this, the primary force production is not focused on a single point of the body during the hang clean, though the quadriceps femoris are as close as one can get.

Bar Rack Cue

The main cue wherein the exerciser racks the barbell atop their chest is the same between both exercises, with the only difference being how soon this cue is present in relation to the beginning of the repetition.

As the hang clean has a shorter range of motion and begins the repetition with the bar already lifted at shin level, the rack cue wherein the lifter dips beneath the barbell is performed sooner in the repetition than if one were to perform a power clean instead.

End Squat Depth

The end depth of the repetition wherein the exerciser lowers themselves with the barbell racked on their chest is also different between the two exercises.

In the hang clean, the lifter executes a full front squat and lowers themselves to their lowest squat depth, maximizing gluteal and quadriceps muscle group recruitment and requiring significantly more hip and ankle mobility than the power clean.

Conversely, the power clean is not as demanding, and primarily features the lifter only squatting a short distance - often even being above parallel squat depth.

Applicability to Full Clean of the Hang Clean vs the Power Clean

For the purposes of perfecting the clean portion of the clean and jerk, it is the hang clean that is the clear winner. 

This is entirely due to the fact that the shortened range of motion and starting point of the repetition allows for greater focus to be placed on the actual clean movement itself, foregoing the need to perform a deadlift as is the case with the power clean.

This is not to say that the power clean is a poor tool for developing full clean ability however, as it is one of the best remedies for olympic weightlifters unable to produce enough force during the initial phase of the clean and jerk.

Which Clean Variation Should be Performed?

Just like any other general question in fitness, the answer to which clean variation should be performed is that it depends. 

For competitive olympic weightlifters or those seeking to push their maximal clean weight even further, it is the hang clean that is the more suitable choice - so long as the lifter’s weakness is not the second pull, or that of force production throughout the repetition.

Otherwise, for lifters performing cleans for the purposes of muscular development or non-olympic weightlifting sports carryover, it is the power clean that is superior.

Regardless of whether you choose to perform the hang clean or the power clean, you will doubtless see significant improvements in your clean performance and in the strength and mass of your entire skeletal musculature.

Parting Thoughts

As one can infer from this entire article, both the hang clean and the power clean are perfectly suitable exercises for their respective purposes - and, it is up to the lifter and their circumstances to decide on which clean variation is more suitable for them.

If still unsure, there is no shame in seeking out the advice of a professional athletic coach who may assess your goals and help you come to a decision.

References

1. Ayers JL, DeBeliso M, Sevene TG, Adams KJ. Hang cleans and hang snatches produce similar improvements in female collegiate athletes. Biol Sport. 2016 Sep;33(3):251-6. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1201814. Epub 2016 May 10. PMID: 27601779; PMCID: PMC4993140.

2. Santos, Paulo D. G., João R. Vaz, Paulo F. Correia, Maria J. Valamatos, António P. Veloso, and Pedro Pezarat-Correia. 2020. "Muscle Synergies Reliability in the Power Clean Exercise" Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 5, no. 4: 75. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk5040075

3. Comfort, Paul & Allen, Mark & Graham-Smith, Phillip. (2011). Kinetic Comparisons During Variations of the Power Clean. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 25. 3269-73. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182184dea.

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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