Over my 20 plus years of training there is one exercises I have neglected more than most. I have done countless squats, deadlifts, presses, curls, chins, dips, pushups, situps etc but I have done very little work to improve my power clean. It's a great exercise and can benefit everyone who performs it. Combining this movement with a push press creates a near perfect combination of upper and lower body exercise.
This may well be the most complete exercise for all round, full body, power and strength output in the book. Although squats and deadlifts require you to lift maximal weights with lots of muscle they don't do a few things the PC and PP does.
Why Power Clean?
1. It's a full movement. From the floor to full lockout overhead.
2. Unlike the the full clean and jerk you use more muscle power and less technique.
3. It requires very little coaching and is quite easy to learn.
4. Only the biceps and possibly the chest are not directly involved.
5. It has a great carry over to all sports from strongman to rugby to basketball.
6. Anyone can do it
7. It requires a bar and weights.
8. The power clean has a greater power output than most exercises (save perhaps the box squat?). It requires true accelerated force. Basically you have to start slow and move faster before the final explosion of force. Speed is king.
Why Push Press?
1. It requires minimal coaching. Bend the knees and return the energy to the bar with a forceful push of the legs and arms.
2. It is very natural. Often I have seen people doing push presses and calling them military presses. It's very natural to want to use some leg drive.
3. Unlike jerks the push press still requires a considerable amount of strength, especially when locking out heavy weights.
4. You're clean is usually the limiting factor. It should even up your strength. When doing a power clean and a military press, most people will be able to clean more than they can strict press. The push press equalizes this out and allows greater weights to be taken from the floor to overhead.
5. It's an athletic movement that will relate well to many sports from basketball to shot putt.
6. It is a great strength builder.
Combining the PC and PP creates a a unique exercise that requires very little equipment, minimal coaching whilst providing feedback on strength improvements, speed development and and coordinated body movement. Although the squat can do this with the lower body the power clean does it with the upper and lower body in synergy.
In terms of muscle used?
From the floor the hands grip the bar and the forearms tighten. The legs squeeze and initiate the lift. The back locks in tight along with the glutes and hamstrings. Half way the traps begin the shrug upwards. The abs stay tight throughout. At the top the hips push through, the calves extend the lower legs as the traps and upper back begin there final pull where the neck gets a brief workout at the rear. As the bar pulls through the arms bend but only to receive the bar in its final resting position at the clavicles. The legs re-bend slightly to absorb the weight of the barbell as the hands and wrists prepare to take the brunt of the force with elbows as high as possible forcing the bar onto the front delts.
From here the legs bend around 4-6 inches, the body stays upright to allow as much upwards force generated by the legs to come into play. As the legs straighten up the calves continue the explosive push from the legs by raising up onto the toes. The arms (triceps) continue the push from here. The abs and lower back stay super tight and the feet plant firmly as the weight is locked out overhead. There is no re-bend.
Low reps or high reps?
Again the beauty of this dynamic combination is that you can do both high or low reps and reap rewards from both protocols. High reps are REALLY hard. Even sets of 5 are tough if you power clean every rep. 3 sets of 5 reps with a challenging weight (75-80% of your maximum) will get you puffing and panting, possibly a little bit wobbly and certainly seeing a few stars if you work hard enough. A hard set of 10-12 reps is great for a mental and physical challenge from time to time as well (get the sick bucket close by).
Low reps are also perfectly fine. Singles, doubles and triples will enforce good form, and allow you to really concentrate on mastering the skill of the whole exercise.
Here are some examples of a workout or three.
1. PC and PP - 1xwarm-up set of 5, 1xslightly heavier warm up set of 5. Then 3 sets of 5 reps with 75% of your one repetition maximum.
2. 1xwarm-up set of 5, 1xheavier warm-up set of 4, 1xheavier again warm-up set of 3. Then 5 sets of 2 reps in pyramid fashion. eg. 90x2, 95x2, 100x2, 95x2, 90x2.
3. Warm-up set of 5 reps. 8 progressively heavier singles or doubles working to a maximum weight. The drop the bar to 70-75% and go to failure for around 10-12 reps.
It was difficult to find any decent footage of correct PC and PP form. So instead here's a video of the amazing Serge Redding doing a clean and Olympic style press with a ridiculous 502lbs! I am sure Serge would have been able to virtually power clean that weight and he certainly could have push pressed it. You don't need to worry about the technicalities of the 'old' Olympic style press, however, you can still train like the great Serge Redding by lifting big weights from the floor to overhead with the Power Clean and Push Press.
NOTE: If you find any really good examples of the Power Clean and Push Press please send them into me here. Thanks!