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Deadlift vs power clean [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Apr 9, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Deadlift vs power clean

Deadlift vs power clean

The deadlift is the tool of choice for anyone who wants to pack on muscle and get stronger. The power clean is your go-to exercise if you want to stay the same size and strength but unleash it faster.

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What is your why 


Before we go I to the details of the deadlift and power clean let me ask you a couple of questions.


  • Why do you want to deadlift 
  • Why do you want to power clean 
  • Why do you want to get stronger
  • Why do you want to build muscle 


These questions might seem trivial to you but they are key to your long-term success. Knowing a couple of exercises won’t get the desired result. A long-term commitment will. Most people think about their life in this way:


  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do I want it 


With this thought pattern, you focus on your daily needs and impulses. These change often and are not geared towards long-term success. Read Daniel Kahneman's excellent book thinking fast and slow to dig deeper on this. You are setting yourself up to be reactive. If you, however, change your thought pattern to:


  • Why do you want something 
  • How can you get it 
  • What do you need to do 


Your goals and actions will become more meaningful. It will be easier for you to stay committed long term. The people around you will sense a difference about you and will be more likely to help. It all starts in the mind. If you are not convinced yet check out Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle. He makes a very compelling case telling the story of the Wright brothers. 




The deadlift is one of the most iconic barbell lifts in the gym. It is a display of raw strength and primal instinct as almost no other exercise. Most programs which have the goal to build strength will have the deadlift in them. If they don’t I would get suspicious. Most people think of the conventional deadlift when they hear about the deadlift. There are many more variations:



And many more variations depending on your lifting style. The deadlift mainly trains your quads, hamstrings, lower back, and traps. The emphasis is on the back half of your body. To perform a good deadlift follow these steps:


  1. Place your midfeet under the bar 
  2. Grip the bar in a mixed or hook grip 
  3. Lower yourself to the bar 
  4. Breathe out and brace 
  5. Turn your elbows in as if you squeezed lemons in your armpits 
  6. Be patient off the floor. Make the bar bend 
  7. Initiate the pull by pushing the floor away from you 
  8. Pull up and towards you 
  9. Squeeze your glutes 
  10. Pop your hips 
  11. Lockout and finish 


One of the biggest discussions around the deadlift is to keep your back straight during the lift. I find that this queue does not really work in practice as you can not actively straighten your back. Building tension and turning your elbows in does the trick. 


The deadlift has two sticking points. The first is off the floor and the second at lockout. If you are not able to break ground you are probably too weak or not able to build enough tension in your setup. Failing at lockout is usually due to a lack of aggressiveness or technique. The conventional deadlift gives you more leverage for breaking ground at the expense of a longer bar path. The sumo deadlift gives you less leverage off the ground but shortens the range of motion.


The biggest advantages of the deadlift are its capabilities to build raw strength and pure willpower. There are not many things more satisfying than completing a grinder deadlift. 


The biggest disadvantages of the deadlift are that it can injure your lower back and is not ideal for high repetition work. You might look for other options when your main goal is hypertrophy. 


Power clean 


The power clean is a partial move of the Olympic lift known as the clean and jerk. You start with the barbell on the ground and bring it to the rack position. Rack position means that the bar rests at the front of your body just like in a front squat. Variations of the power clean are



The main difference of the power clean to the clean is that you do not squat down to catch the bar. This makes it easier for beginners to execute the movement when they lack mobility. The disadvantage of this is that you normally move less weight on a power clean than on a clean as the weight has to be lifted higher. before you catch it. 


The power clean mainly trains your lower back, quads, hamstrings, and arms. The emphasis is on the back of your body. The power clean is one of the lifts that is less about maximum strength and more about explosiveness. This makes it a popular option among martial artists to supplement for other lifts. The power clean is also the main difference between two of the most beginner lifting programs, Stronglifts 5x5, and Starting Strength.


The biggest advantages f the power clean are its muscle activation over the entire body and emphasis on explosiveness. If you want to gear your training more to track and field and high impact sports the power clean can be a good option.


The biggest disadvantages of the power clean are its complexity and risk of elbow injury. If you have poor body awareness and mobility a power clean bears more injury potential than a deadlift. 


Should you do the deadlift or power cleans


As so often it completely depends on your goals. Beginners will do well to learn the deadlift first. Once the basic movement is mastered you can move on to the power clean depending on your needs. If your main goal is maximum strength and putting on mass the deadlift might be the better option. If you want your current body to move faster and get more velocity the power clean can be a great tool. Always remember to build the basic strength to control a barbell with a plate on each side first. The power clean is not the first go to exercise for gym youngsters.#


Further reading


Topics: Lift stronger, Deadlift, Fitness, Strength