Neither the deadlift nor the power clean have inherent qualities that make one exercise better than the other. You may choose to incorporate one, both or neither exercise into your workout routine. Several factors, including fitness level and experience, determine the exercises you choose to do, but the deciding factor for choosing deadlifts or power cleans is your training goal.
Slow and Steady
The deadlift, a full-body exercise, works muscles in your legs, buttocks and back, as well as the gripping muscles of your forearms. Because of the large muscles involved, you can move heavy loads during this exercise. The deadlift involves squatting down and pulling a loaded barbell off the floor. You finish in a standing position with the barbell resting in front of your thighs and your arms fully extended. You then reverse the movement and slowly lower the barbell back to the floor. During the deadlift, you move the weight slowly with full control at all times.
Fast and Furious
The power clean, also a full-body exercise, works muscles in your legs, buttocks, shoulders and back. This lift starts in a similar manner to the deadlift. In fact, the first phase of the power clean is called a deadlift pull. But the end position of the deadlift is only the middle position of the power clean. The second phase of the power clean is an explosive, accelerated movement. Triple extend your ankles, hips and knees. Thrust your hips forward and jump, pulling your feet off the floor. Once your body is fully extended, bend your elbows and pull the bar up your torso toward your chin. As you come down, bend your knees and hips to get under the bar and catch it in front of your shoulders. You do not reverse the movement; simply drop the loaded bar back to the floor.
Strength and Power
Ironically, the deadlift is a power lift and the power clean is an Olympic-style lift. The power clean improves explosive power and force; you move a heavy weight at an accelerated speed. The deadlift improves strength and raw power; you move a heavy weight at a slow, controlled speed. The deadlift is a more basic movement than the power clean. Learn it first and then advance to the more complex power clean. Because you are moving heavy weight at a high speed, you should seek the instruction of a knowledgeable training professional to reduce your chances of injury.
Sports and Fitness
The deadlift is often included in basic fitness routines as a total-body strengthening exercise. The power clean is more of a specialization exercise. Most average lifters whose goal is to increase tone, strength and general fitness, don't include the power clean in their routines. The National Strength and Conditioning Association states that the power clean and other explosive exercises are effective, and possibly even necessary, for improving peak athletic performance for sports that involve high acceleration movements.