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March 10, 2022
Level-up your kettlebell training by learning the kettlebell clean! It's one of the foundational kettlebell movements.
The kettlebell clean trains explosiveness and power, develops the posterior chain, and hits multiple muscle groups at once. The best part is once you build a strong foundation of this exercise, there are a variety of kettlebell clean movements to play around with.
Below, you will learn how to perform the kettlebell clean, why it is worth supplementing in your fitness routine, and the many variations you can do.
A kettlebell clean is an explosive, full-body exercise that takes the kettlebell from the ground into a front rack position. The clean requires a strong foundation of each part of the movement. Once a solid foundation is built, a variety of clean stances and sequences are possible. Depending on your kettlebell experience and training goals, training with one or two kettlebells can impact your workouts in different ways. Expect your first few attempts of the kettlebell clean to be challenging, it will take time and practice to build a proper kettlebell clean. Now, let’s learn how to clean!
This how-to is based on a dead-clean position (starting from the ground) with one kettlebell:
This how-to is based on a dead-clean position with two kettlebells:
A big benefit of incorporating kettlebell cleans in your workout is the amount of muscles that are used in the movement. The kettlebell clean is truly a full body exercise:
The kettlebell clean is a complex movement that may take some time to learn. Developing a strong foundation prior to executing the kettlebell clean can expedite the learning phase. Below are foundational movements for each part of the kettlebell clean and which exercises to incorporate if you are struggling with a certain part of the clean.
Below are several of the most common kettlebell clean variations...
The dead clean is the most optimal starting point to learn the clean itself. The main differentiating feature of the dead clean vs. a variation like the swing clean, is the lack of momentum in the starting position of the movement. The initial position from the ground requires a large sum of power from the hips and leg muscles to propel the kettlebell into the front rack. Start with one kettlebell and advance your strength with two kettlebells once your body is ready.
The hang clean is a natural progression to the dead clean. Instead of starting from the ground, the kettlebell’s starting position is from knee height. This requires the body to control the kettlebell's descent without allowing it to reach the ground. A common red flag in the hang clean is the overexertion of the low back. Building a strong prerequisite of the hip hinge and dead clean before attacking hang cleans will ensure the recruitment of the lower body. It is a smart idea to start working with one kettlebell so you can identify the timing of the hang clean. Once you’re ready to level-up, grab two kettlebells and challenge your lower body.
An advanced progression of the clean, the swing clean, incorporates a powerful hip hinge into the movement. In the first portion of the swing clean, the kettlebell is positioned two steps in front of your starting braced stance. From the initial pull, the kettlebell is moved from the ground into the deep hinge of the hips. As the hips are extending forward and the body stacks vertically, the arm beds by driving the elbow back and aligning the kettlebell towards the midline of the body. The more complex portion of the swing is unraveling the front rack position into the next repetition of the swing. The key is to keep the kettlebell close to the body. The prerequisites of a strong kettlebell swing as well as a hang clean will come into handy when patterning both the swing and the clean together. You may start to feel your glutes light up more during the swing clean since it requires a strong hip drive.
The squat clean is exactly how it sounds, it incorporates both a clean position and a squat. With one kettlebell, it is positioned in the dead clean stance. Both hands start on the handle of the kettlebell. As the first pull of the clean is initiated, the lower body helps drive the kettlebell to the center of the chest as both hands slide to the horns of the kettlebells and the elbows pull down to the sides of the body. As soon as the kettlebell is caught in the front rack, the lower body drops into a controlled squat. With single kettlebell squat cleans, the weight can be increased for a challenge. The quadriceps are especially targeted in this variation.
As for a squat clean with two kettlebells, the variables that change are the coordination of working with two kettlebells and the front rack position of the bells cradled in the forearms (when working with one kettlebell, the front rack position hovers at the chest with both hands on the horns of the kettlebell). This variation can help identify any weaknesses in stabilizing the front rack position especially throughout the squat.
If you’re looking for an explosive kettlebell variation, the power clean is an optimal choice. A progression from the dead clean, the power clean is typically executed with heavy weight and requires an explosive drive from the lower body as well as a quick pull and transition from the upper body. A single kettlebell variation will challenge the offset of the front rack position while the double kettlebell variation will target total body strength.
A full body integration, the clean and press adds an additional component to the sequence. The overhead press targets shoulder strength and stability. For single arm variations, after the clean is in the front rack form, the upper body drives into an overhead press, slowly lowers back down to the front rack and resets to the starting position. Start with one kettlebell and progress with two kettlebells to challenge overhead strength and stability.
One differentiation between a jerk position and an overhead press is the leg drive that is required in the jerk. Once the kettlebell is in the front rack position of the clean, the knees drive forward then extend to help propel the kettlebell in an overhead position. As the overhead position is reached, the legs brace to catch in a stable stance. On the descent of the kettlebell, the knees rebend. Kettlebell clean and jerks are beneficial for developing a lower body drive and coordination sequencing. It is common to see this variation with heavy sets of kettlebells. Start with one kettlebell and advance to a double kettlebell variation to increase the intensity of the load.
Other Kettlebell Clean Variations:
Note: Keep in mind that working with one kettlebell to start is the most optimal option for beginners. Build your foundation and strength with one kettlebell and then graduate to using two kettlebells to increase the intensity of the weight, movement sequencing and power. You may start to find that using two kettlebells unravels any weak points in your technique. Your options are to start with two lighter kettlebells or incorporate both single arm techniques and double arm techniques simultaneously in your program. As always, listen to your body when it comes to training with kettlebells. It is demanding for the entire body.
Related: Single vs Double Kettlebell Training
The kettlebell clean is an important baseline movement that can transition into many sequences and exercises. There are endless options when it comes to incorporating the clean in movements, for instance: clean to reverse lunge, deadlift to clean, single leg clean, clean to lateral lunge, etc. The beauty of working with kettlebells is once you build your foundation, there is room for creativity and exploration with exercise variety and selection based on your goals.
The kettlebell clean offers many benefits to the body; training explosiveness, developing the posterior chain and working multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Once you build a strong foundation of this exercise, a variety of kettlebell movements are possible for increasing volume, intensity and strength. You’ll find that once you start incorporating the kettlebell clean into your routine, you’ll be drawn to trying more kettlebell variations.
For more resources on kettlebell training, check the below...
More Kettlebell Exercise Articles:
Kettlebell Exercises by Muscle Groups:
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