I was somewhat surprised to see the commonly asked question, “Are Power Cleans Better Than Deadlifts?”
Don’t get me wrong, they are both fantastic exercises in their own right.
However, by asking whether one is better than the other would typically mean that there are many similarities between the exercises.
I’ll admit there are some similarities.
But are there enough to consider replacing deadlifts with power cleans?
Let’s find out.
Are Power Cleans Better Than Deadlifts?
Power cleans can’t really be considered a “better” exercise than deadlifts because they are two completely different exercises. There are similarities in terms of some of the muscles worked and movement patterns, but not enough for a like-for-like comparison. The deadlift is a better exercise for raw strength and raw power, whereas power cleans are better for overall strength and explosive power.
1. They Are Not a Like-For-Like Exercise
I would hazard a guess the main reason for this question is that you are looking to replace deadlifts with power cleans.
In fact, through further research, it appears that some people have either hit a plateau or experience lower back pain with deadlifts.
I’ve previously spoken about using rack pulls as one way to smash through a plateau with the deadlift.
However, when it comes to lower back pain it may be time to back off the deadlifts for a while.
That being said, deadlifts should never really cause you problems with your lower back, so this is more of a technique issue.
But still, I know some of you may want to find an alternative to the deadlift.
Be that as it may be, power cleans are definitely not a like-for-like exercise.
Okay, both exercises are hip-hinge movements.
The bottom part of the lift starts exactly the same.
And this is pretty much where the similarities end.
So, let’s look a little closer at some of the main differences between power cleans and deadlifts.
2. Deadlifts Are Better For Raw Strength and Raw Power
Firstly, you can load the deadlift a lot heavier than you can power cleans.
Just the mere fact that the power clean movement ends at shoulder level tells you there’s no way you’re going to pull the same weight.
There is a considerable muscular overlap in the glutes and legs for both exercises.
However, deadlifts will definitely build far better strength and pure raw power in these areas of the body.
I would also say that you can expect far more substantial strength and size gains in the lats and spinal erectors with deadlifts.
Plus, the core will definitely get a better workout.
Russian coach and writer, Anatoli Chernyak, produced some statistical research in 1978.
He looked at optimal correlations between the big 2 lifts (squats and deadlifts) and 2 of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean).
Basically, the results showed that your optimal clean weight should be approximately 54-56% of your deadlift weight.
So, you should be able to clean just over half the weight that you can deadlift.
I think these results tell us everything we need to know about the raw strength and raw power gains provided by the deadlift.
The Ultimate Deadlift Tutorial (with Martins Licis)
3. Power Cleans Are Better For Overall Strength and Explosive Power
It is estimated that you hit nearly 200 muscles in the body with power cleans.
This is approximately one-third of all the muscles in the body.
Now that’s what I call a compound movement.
Just the fact that you are hitting all these muscles with just one exercise proves what a fantastic overall strength builder power cleans are.
Plus, you will create an insane anabolic surge, which is crucial when it comes to building muscle.
Basically, if you want to get jacked perform power cleans.
The power clean is also a far more explosiveness movement than the deadlift.
You aggressively extend the hips into full hip extension, which is ideal for improving athletic performance.
In fact, there is extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in an extremely explosive, yet coordinated, manner.
This “explosion” transfers extremely well into disciplines such as jumping and sprinting.
If you’re training to be an athlete, or you want a ripped, athletic physique, power and explosive lifting will help you get there.
And this is where power cleans win hands-down over deadlifts.
The Power Clean
4. Power Cleans Are Better For Your Traps
Shrugs are typically viewed as “the best” trap exercise.
However, in truth, shrugs hit the upper traps, which is the show muscle of the traps.
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The upper traps are the part of muscle that literally pops out of your shirt collar and looks hugely impressive
But, the trapezius muscle actually extends all the way down the centre of your back.
Power cleans will hit the entire trapezius muscle.
So, in effect power cleans are a far better exercise for traps than shrugs.
Funnily enough the better developed the entire trapezius muscle is, the more weight you can typically lift on a variety of pull-based exercises.
These include rows, pull ups, chin ups, and of course, the deadlift.
Therefore, you could actually say that regular power cleans will actually help you to lift more weight in the deadlift.
5. Deadlifts Are Less Technical
I guess one of the major advantages that deadlifts have over power cleans is that they require far less technical ability.
The deadlift involves loading a barbell with weight, picking it up off the floor, and putting it back down again.
Okay, admittedly there are more technical factors to the deadlift than this, but hopefully you get my meaning.
Power cleans require total body coordination and a number of movements to be synchronized perfectly.
In fact, the vast majority of lifters who perform power cleans probably still haven’t quite mastered the movement yet.
Not wishing to lay the blame at one specific door, but power cleans have become extremely popular in the Crossfit world.
Now, I’m saying every Crossfitter performs the exercise badly, but I’ve witnessed enough evidence to prove otherwise.
Basically, there’s a huge learning curve with the power clean and various technical aspects to the movement.
Alan Thrall provides a fantastic instructional video covering the three phases of the power clean below.
How To Power Clean
So, as to whether power cleans are better than deadlifts, the jury’s still out.
Both movements are totally awesome.
And I honestly think they should BOTH form part of your weekly workouts.
That being said, I know many people want to avoid deadlifts due to their injury history, or simply because they are worried about potential injuries.
However, as I’ve mentioned above, the deadlift shouldn’t actually ever cause you any pain when performed correctly.
If you ever need to know more about the deadlift the first person you would turn to is Dave Dellanave.
Dave is considered to be the authority on deadlifting in the Exercise and Fitness community.
Basically, what Dave doesn’t know about the deadlift just isn’t worth knowing.
Dave has actually created a program that provides four different 8-12 week workouts.
The workouts are based around 30 different deadlift variations and accessory exercises.
Dave actually claims that you could increase your deadlift by 100+ pounds by following these workout programs.
Check out what I had to say above Dave and his workouts in my Off The Floor Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.