Hanging Power Cleans – A Great Exercise for Strength and Definition

January 7, 2009

I am going to begin featuring specific exercises on a more consistent basis. Today I’m going to talk about a really versatile exercise called Hanging Power Cleans. Some people call them hanging clean, cleans from dead hang, etc. You can use this lift to burn fat at the end of a workout, increase athletic ability, or gain incredible definition in your, back shoulders, and arms.

sweaty athletic woman

[Here is a good example of a fit woman without excessive muscle. It is good to strike a balance between muscle and aesthetics. A routine based around HIIT, Circuits, and Low Volume Resistance Training…creates this type of look. Obviously diet plays a crucial role as well.]

Hanging Power Cleans Will Help You Burn Bodyfat 

Before I get into the movement, I wanted to let people know that this isn’t just a performance lift for athletes. Also, it isn’t a lift for men only. Women will get a lot out of this lift to. I wanted to mention the ability for the exercise to help “burn body fat”, because I know that is a common goal. Basically…I didn’t want people to click away from the post thinking that it didn’t apply to them.

The Proper Form Demonstrated on Video

This is one of those lifts that is much easier shown than explained with words. Thank god for online video. This video does great job at demonstrating the proper form of a Hanging Power Clean. Roll the video…

[Watch this video a few times. This guy does a wonderful job explaining the form of this technical lift.]

Hanging Power Cleans a Quick Lift that is Beneficial

Most of the lifting I recommend on this site is slow and controlled. I have found that when you lift slow, you are “mastering a weight” by generating stronger muscle contractions. This is a safe and predictable way to gain strength and definition in a muscle. That being said, certain “quick lifts” like the hanging power clean have some benefits as well.

Quick Lifts – Moving at The Speed of Your Sport

The reason quick lifts like the hanging power clean are effective for athletes is because most sports move at a quick pace. When I was a high jumper back in high school, we use hanging power cleans as a way to improve our vertical leap. The lift mimicked jumping, but with a bit of resistance. The nice thing was that my coach understood that lifting volume needed to be kept low and only wanted us to do this lift for 5 sets of 5 just one time per week. You don’t want to add excess mass if you are trying to improve vertical leap.

Hanging Power Cleans – How Many Reps?

Reminder…the bodybuilding (muscle building) range is typically in the 6-12 rep range. This is what most mainstream fitness and bodybuilding magazines recommend. They mistakenly assume that everyone reading those magazines wants to build muscle. Obviously there are more variables involved to build muscle than just lifting for 6-12 reps, but to be safe (especially for most women) I would shy away from lifting in this range. Stick to 3-5 reps for tone and density…15-20 reps with a short rest in between for fat loss (basically an HIIT-type workout with weights).

Hanging Power Cleans for Density and Power

I don’t recommend doing heavy hanging power cleans more than once per week. A good way to incorporate it into your routine is to do it “every other” back and chest day. It sounds weird, but I like to do these on my back and chest day after doing interval cardio. My joints and muscles seem to be at their best. I also seem to be a bit stronger after HIIT for a small window of time. Here is a post on that phenomenon: How to Get Stronger Than Ever While Burning Body Fat

Hanging Power Cleans for Fat Burning

If you do hanging power cleans in a high-rep range, with little rest in between…you are basically mimicking an intense HIIT session. You will jack up your metabolism like crazy and as a result, burn body fat long after the workout is over. Pick a pretty light weight that you can do 30 reps with and try to do 5-8 sets of 15 reps. The key is to just rest 30-60 seconds in between sets. Start with 60 seconds for your first few times. By your last 2 sets you should be breathing pretty darn hard and those 60 seconds of rest will seem like 10 seconds.

When to Do the Fat Burning Cleans

You can be pretty darn flexible if you chose to do hanging power cleans for fat burning. I like to substitute these for HIIT at the end of my workout…or do them after a tough HIIT treadmill workout. You certainly could do them in place of the HIIT in the Low Body Fat Percentage Cardio Workout I outline on this site. Basically figure out what feels best to you.

Some Added Benefits of Hanging Power Cleans

A big side benefit of hanging power cleans is how they greatly improve grip strength. You will also find that it firms up your entire body. It is a lift that virtually requires the coordination of every muscle in the body. Over time it will add density to your entire body, but focuses this on the shoulders arms and back.

Note: Again, be careful with this exercise. Start with light weights and work your way up. If you have access to a knowledgeable Strength and Conditioning coach, then have them critique your form.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana January 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

Thank you so much for your reply! I am 24, 5’4, and though my weight fluctuates a bit, I currently (with my lack of all muscle) weigh 112, my bf is unknown right now but I estimate around 17-19% based on previous body fat tests. I am very small boned, and come from a family of small petite women. My ring size is a 4, which is very tiny for a woman! Also, 3 years ago I gained a huge amount of weight and went from 108 to 135, due to a knee injury leading to quitting track, losing my scholarship, and depression. (Even at 135, with a body fat of 26% I wore a size 4, so I think that kinda shows my small bone structure.)
I typically eat about 1300-1400 calories a day, although I aim for 1100 at the start of each day! After noticing that I gain weight from fruit, most carbs, and even moderate bread, I try to eat more protein and veggies and lower carb. Although to be honest, I tend to have those dreaded hunger and carb cravings at night, and occasionally give in to an English muffin or some crackers (but still have my caloric intake less than 1400). A typical day would be:
Breakfast: 8 am ………….2 organic scrambled eggs (150 calories)OR organic turkey sausage (130 cals)
Lunch 12 pm……………. 1 meal shake (Atkins, low carb, 160 cals) OR salad with lean meat (300 cals)
Snack 4 pm……………….. 1-2 Tablespoon Peanut butter, OR string cheese, OR nuts (100-200 calories)
Dinner 6 pm…………….. 5 oz meat, 1 cup steamed veggies, 1 cup salad with low cal dressing (500 calories)
Then it gets bad…….
Snack 9:30-10 pm……………. 1 Ezekiel English muffin with low cal jam (180 calories), OR sugar free fudge pops (200 calories), OR Atkins meal bar (160 cals, low carbs) OR crackers (150 cals). ( On a bad night, this can be a combo of all the above tending to balance this snack total out to 400 calories! I know this is likely my whole problem!)
I am currently not working out, the past 2 years (up until October) I was walking for one hour at night, and it seemed to do well, aside from the fact that it did greatly increase my hunger and cravings which led to carb loading at 10 pm(not good!!). Then previously, the year before, (so 2 years ago) I quit working out (from running 6 miles a day to nothing!) while I was planning a long distance wedding in 8 weeks, graduating college, and working, which led to no time to work out! WOW, Shockingly, in 3 months I had the best body ever, I was small, minimally toned, and healthy looking. This was a huge shock to me, as having ran track all my life competitively, I had never had a very toned, trim, petite figure.
My problem is that I want to return to running, although I do not want to return to the bulky legs and sprinter like body that seems to be my norm with any type of exercise. I am all about women having tone, and being healthy, although my husband and friends can attest to the face that I have genetics that make me a candidate for women’s bodybuilding! If I lowered my protein intake while training for 10k’s, would this derail the extreme muscle building? Or would working out on an empty stomach? Or should I just walk and stick to pilates?

Thank you so much for your help, I truly appreciate it!
Diana 🙂

Chris January 13, 2009 at 5:43 pm

(apologies if this is a duplicate – I can’t see the text of my previous post)

Diana –

Wow, that’s a pretty serious caloric deficit. Granted, there is a lot of individual variation, but a standard maintaince intake for a 5’4” 112lbs SEDENTARY female is around 1600kCal a day. If perform even some modest workouts you’re getting into the 1900-2000calories/day range.
Consistently holding a deficit, as you seem to be, could be part of the problems. I can dig up study links if you want, but in English, you’re probably kicking your body into starvation mode most of the time. There’s some evidence that a severe calorie deficit can actually make your body more reluctant to get rid of fat, though judging by your numbers it sounds like you don’t have much excess bodyfat to begin with. There’s also a whole slew of health problems this can lead too – in short, it’s a really bad idea.

Without pictures, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of you gaining too much muscle too easily. Nearly all the female sprinters I’ve encountered were well muscled and lean, but not overly large. Marion Jones with a tad large, but she was also (caught) taking steroids.
Of course I’m not sure what your goals are, if you goal is to look like this:
(Chris…my blog isn’t letting me put links in some of the comments…they disappear)
I’d suggest a long, serious look in the mirror. This girl has nearly no muscle – she’s pretty obviously very “skinny fat” ( i.e. not terribly low body fat, but very thin with nothing to her. The heavy airbrushing is a good way to tell she’s not as lean as they make her appear here).

I don’t mean this to be overly harsh. If anything, the completely unrealistic idea of beauty that is pushed on women gets me pretty angry. Most women are not going to look like this, ever. Personally, I’m not sure why they’d want to. These women don’t really look like this without a ton of editing.

Tony Schwartz - Athletic Muscle Building January 17, 2009 at 2:35 am

Thanks for this great post.

The power clean is definitely a great exercise. I would highly recommend avoiding higher reps though, as the fatigue they create will wreak havoc on your technique and speed, which not only hurts your results but can also set you up for an injury.

Train hard!

You are the man February 6, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Hey Bro,

Excellent job of bringing these types of lifts to the mass audiences.

The other day I was talking with a co-worker and he wanted some advice as to what he should be doing to get a total body workout… I told him… bra, all you have to do is look into olympic type lifts…

Love your site.


Greg February 12, 2009 at 2:20 am

Call me squeamish, but just looking at the video, the potential for injuring my wrists and elbows seems significant. I’m also not too comfortable with swinging that much weight toward my face. Judging from the comments here, most of the readers are okay with it, but I think I’ll stick with something safer.

Brian December 16, 2009 at 3:05 am


That’s a foolish fear to have. I’ve NEVER seen someone hit themselves in the face with the bar when doing any sort of clean. I’ve seen someone fall backwards, but that’s when I was in high school. The kid was doing way too much weight and from the floor. It’s pretty much a given that he was doing them improperly. That would be much harder to do from the hang position. If the weight is too heavy you aren’t even going to get close to a position that could get you in trouble– you’ll simply pull the bar a few inches and it will come right back down. I suppose it’s possible that you’ll drop it, but that’s not nearly as dangerous.

Brian December 16, 2009 at 3:07 am

And likewise, the fear of wrist and elbow injuries is unfounded. Practice doing hang cleans with just the bar for a few weeks until you have the form right and move up slowly.

Leetenant February 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Is it safe to do hanging power cleans with a degenerative disk condition?
I started doing them yesterday and I feel great. My posture seems good today which is most likely due to torn muscle fiber and tighness of worked muscles.
My massage therapist friend says it might not be good for me and a coworker says I might feel good now and not notice potential damage until later on. However neither of them are doctors or experts in the field.
To help support my fitness I am working on changing my lifestyle to mostly eating hard boiled egg whites, whey protein, and grilled chicken to promote muscle and bone health in hopes of reversing the condition. Would anybody likew to share their opinions? Am I whey over my head?

CrossFit Junkie March 11, 2011 at 8:11 pm

God bless you, Chris. And that woman just looks skinny to me. I see no abs, just ribs.

matthew Bowen March 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Definitely vary the reps from 6-12 then 3-5. 3-5 would be more for increasing the weight you can execute with the lift.

matthew Bowen March 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Greg / Brian:

Concern for wrists and elbows is a realistic one with the HPC. I always use snug velcro wraps on the wrist for my HPC work. The elbows (and knees and lower back) should be warm and stretched in advance as well, and I wear a good pull over knee wrap (Mueller Hg80) and sometimes rubber elbow wraps, too. of course, I’m nearly 55 🙂

M.Prakash Rao January 6, 2013 at 7:05 am

In regard to hanging exercises, I would like to share my views with readers. I am now 74 years and was a practicing lawyer in High Court. As a result of asthma, I discontinued my practice and developed exercises by which mucus related respiratory health problems like common colds, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma etc can be brought under control within 30 to 40 minutes. The exercises pertain to cleaning of nose, mouth, pharynx, the primary sites of colonization of pathogens from excess mucus formed as a result of exposure to allergens. At this age, I am doing hanging exercises by which the excess mucus formed in airways gets cleaning from as a result stretching of airways during hanging.
By seeing me and posture, people thing that I am younger by 20 years. My muscle power also increased and I am able to drive car perfectly. The benefits of hanging exercises are immense and beyond imagination.
M.Prakash Rao 74 years old.

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