Can Power Cleans Hurt Your Back?

October 4, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “can power cleans hurt your back?”. It is a fact that many exercises can hurt your back for various reasons. Mainly from excessive weight and inefficient mechanics.

The power clean is no exception. There are many people who have hurt their backs from performing this exercise. This is why this topic is very pertinent and I will explore it in more detail with my article.

Can Power Cleans Hurt Your Back?

The simple answer is yes, but the good news is that there are many things you can do to significantly reduce the risks of any back pain or injury resulting from the power clean.

One of the biggest causes of back pain on the power clean is over-extension at the top of the rep. Another is catching the weight on the way down improperly instead of letting it drop correctly.

In addition, tight muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings are a big culprit. Tight glutes and hamstrings are a common cause of lower back pain. On the power clean especially this weakness is even more pronounced and problematic.

Also the propensity that some people have to perform very high reps can lead to fatigue and drilling down incorrect technique. This is likely to lead to back complaints. It is important to dial in the correct technique from the outset and reinforce it with lower rep sets on the power clean.

Proper Technique

From the outset it is important to talk about proper technique on the power clean. This will help to reduce the risks of suffering any back pain when performing the movement.

Mark Rippetoe is a famous strength coach and is a big proponent of the power clean. He views the power clean as a way of keeping power display on course with increasing strength that comes from the squat and deadlift.

The power clean is an explosive movement and a way of translating your static strength into a display of power. 

The video above demonstrates the correct way to perform power cleans as instructed by Mark Rippetoe. You want to view your arms as simply hooks, much like the deadlift. Keep them straight and don’t pull with your arms.

As the bar approaches your mid thighs you want to begin the jumping phase and ensure that you are jumping straight up. You then catch the bar in the rack position with elbows up. 

Hyperextending Back At The Top

As I mentioned previously, one of the big culprits for back pain on the power clean is hyperextending the back at the top of the rep. 

It is important to learn how to keep your lower back in extension as you are deadlifting the bar off the floor in the initial phase. But once you start the jumping motion and rack the bar you shouldn’t overextend your lumbar spine. 

It helps to think about jumping straight up, if you hit the right spot on your thighs on every rep this will help you to perfect your power clean and nail the movement better. 

Tight Posterior Chain Muscles

Tight posterior chain muscles, namely the glutes and hamstrings, can contribute also to back pain on many movements. This also holds true with the power clean.

It is crucial to strengthen these muscle groups. You can do exercises such as RDLs, 45 degree back extensions, deadlifts, reverse hypers, leg curls, etc. By strengthening your posterior chain you will reduce the risk of any lower back issues when doing power cleans. 

Foam rolling and stretching is also a fantastic way to unglue tight muscles. The couch stretch for example is a very well known stretch for opening up the hips. It is a great way to unglue tight hips. 

Below is a picture of the couch stretch. 
couch stretch

Catching The Weight On The Way Down

Trying to catch the weight on the way down instead of letting it drop is something else that can jack up your lower back. 

It is important to view your arms as simply hooks when doing the power clean. When you get to the top of the movement you should just let the weight drop and not catch it on the way down awkwardly. 

This will reduce your chances of injuries. Overall it will make the power clean a safer movement.

Listen To Your Body

Overall, the best piece of advice when you are doing power cleans or any other exercise, is to listen to your body.

If you feel your form starting to breakdown on the power clean it is best to end the set there and not go for another sloppy rep. Mark Rippetoe also echoes this sentiment in that he doesn’t believe in very high rep sets of power cleans.

When you are performing power cleans, it requires immense concentration and coordination. You have to ensure that you focus on every rep and that your form is exactly on point. 

When doing high rep sets Mark believes that people unconsciously teach themselves bad habits. They are learning to do things wrong. It is far better to do single rep sets of power cleans and ensuring that perfect technique is utilised every time.

This will engrain the right habits and also reduce your chances of suffering from a lower back injury. If you are using very heavy weights then it is imperative on the power clean to keep the reps down to just one or two.

Trying to go for five reps on power cleans with super heavy weight is increasing the likelihood of an injury exponentially. If I could go back in time I would also do just single rep sets of deadlifts. This would be far safer as you can ensure that the best possible technique is utilised.

It is inevitable for some fatigue to set in when you are doing multiple reps. There is a case to be made for doing lower rep sets on very heavy compound exercises for increased safety. Very light weights can be done for higher rep sets as the overall fatigue and stress on the CNS is less.

Final Thoughts

Can power cleans hurt your back? The answer is yes, just like any other movement. If you follow Mark Rippetoe’s advice on the power clean and perform the exercise with great technique you are a lot less likely to encounter any back issues. 

Keeping the reps lower will also help to reduce fatigue. Be sure not to overextend at the top of the movement and also ensure that you are not catching the bar awkwardly on the way down.

The power clean is a great exercise for building up explosive power and transferring your static strength on the squat and deadlift to a more explosive movement. 

If you have any comments on this topic, please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!


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