How to Do A Kettlebell Clean

Kettlebell Clean

The kettlebell clean is one of the most underrated and underutilized lifts in the kettlebell world.

Most people just see it as a way to get the kettlebell from the ground into the rack position for presses and jerks, and although that is one use for it, it's also a great lift to train on it's own.

The kettlebell clean is a ballistic movement that develops strength and power in the glutes and hamstrings while also working the muscles in the upper back and shoulders.

And because it works so much of your body, it makes for a killer conditioning exercise that'll leave you gasping for air. 

Those things aside, a strong clean also sets the foundation for a strong press - you won't be pressing a heavy kettlebell if your clean isn't solid.

And you need to become proficient with the kettlebell clean in order to expand your training options with circuits, complexes and chains.

Now, there are a lot nuances to the kettlebell clean, but it's essentially a Swing that ends up in the rack position.

So if you haven't mastered the kettlebell swing yet, start there, and the clean will be much easier to learn.

Here are the steps and coaching points on how to do the kettlebell clean.

How to Do A Single Kettlebell Clean

The Single Kettlebell Clean is funny because it's the only kettlebell lift that is harder (at first) with one kettlebell than it is with two.

Because of the offset load, some people struggle with the timing and sequence of the Single Kettlebell Clean.

If you just keep in mind that it's a 1 Arm Swing that you guide into the rack, you'll have a good foundation to build from.

And remember, just like the 1 Arm Swing, don't let the kettlebell twist or rotate your body, stay square.

  • 1
    Set up about 12 inches behind the kettlebell, feet shoulder width apart.
  • 2
    Keeping your chest tall and your back flat, push your hips back until you can grab the handle with one hand.
  • 3
    Keeping your head up and eyes on the horizon, take a sniff of air in through your nose and hike the kettlebell back between your legs, high in your groin.
  • 4
    Drive your heels into the floor and stand straight up.
  • 5
    Sharply exhale with a TSSS! as you snap your hips.
  • 6
    Keep your upper arm against your body and pull the kettlebell into you so that it comes straight up your body into the rack position.
  • 7
    In the rack position, stand up tall, lock your legs out, squeeze your glutes, brace your abs and pull your shoulder blades back and down. Your wrist should be straight, not cocked.
  • 8
    Keep your arm loose as you drop the kettlebell into the backswing and repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • 9
    Park the kettlebell safely on the ground following a backswing.

How to Do A Cheat Clean

The Single Kettlebell Clean is a tough move to learn and takes lots of repetitions to perfect.

The Cheat Clean is a nice drill that you can do to get an idea of how the Clean should feel.

You'll set up just like a 1 Arm Swing, gripping the kettlebell with the hand you want to clean with.

Put the other hand over top so you're now gripping the handle with a pistol grip.

With both hands, hike the kettlebell back and stand up.

As you stand up you're going to "curl" the kettlebell into the rack - this is basically a slow clean with two hands. 

You'll notice your arm stays tight to your body and your elbow goes back then forward underneath the handle as you get it into the rack.

Repeat for a few reps then attempt the Single Kettlebell Clean - remember the feeling from the Cheat Clean and try to replicate it with the Single Kettlebell Clean.

How to Do A Double Kettlebell Clean

The Double Clean is the only way to get two kettlebells into the rack position, making it the foundational lift for all your double kettlebell work.

Almost every double kettlebell lift will pass through the rack position.

Squats, presses, jerks and even snatches all involve being in the rack at some point, so it makes sense to nail down the Double Clean and rack position before moving on to the other double kettlebell lifts.

But more importantly, the double clean is one of the best lifts for building size and strength in the glutes, back and shoulders and has been known to torch body fat quickly.

  • 1
    Set up about 12 inches behind a pair of kettlebells, your feet will need to be wider than shoulder width apart to make room for two kettlebells.
  • 2
    Keeping your chest tall and your back flat, push your hips back until you can grab the handles with each hand.
  • 3
    The handles should either form a straight line, be turned slightly up toward your thumbs or parallel to each other.
  • 4
    Keeping your head up and eyes on the horizon, take a sniff of air in through your nose and hike the kettlebells back between your legs, high in your groin.
  • 5
    Drive your heels into the floor and stand straight up.
  • 6
    Sharply exhale with a TSSS! as you snap your hips.
  • 7
    Keep your upper arms against your body and pull the kettlebells into you so that they come straight up your body into the rack position.
  • 8
    In the rack position, stand up tall, lock your legs out, squeeze your glutes, brace your abs and pull your shoulder blades back and down. Your wrists should be straight, not cocked.
  • 9
    Keep your arms loose as you drop the kettlebells into the backswing and repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • 10
    Park the kettlebells safely on the ground following a backswing.

Coaching Points

The kettlebell clean is a tough movement to get the hang of at first, it takes a lot of coordination and body awareness to do successfully.

Let's go over a few coaching points so you can get the most out of your practice and start perfecting the Clean.

A Swing That Ends Up in the Rack

Again, it's so important to master the Swing before you start training the Clean.

The Clean is essentially a Swing that ends up in the rack position.

What does that mean?

It means that, like the Swing, it's a lower body power movement where the kettlebell floats up into the rack from the power generated from your leg drive.

Your hips drive and your arm guides - so don't try to muscle the kettlebell into the rack by pulling with your arm.

Use a powerful leg drive to get the kettlebell to float, then guide it into the rack with your arm.

Tame the Arc

When you first start practicing the Clean, you're going to bang your forearms... a lot, which is normal in the beginning because you haven't learned how to tame the arc.

In the Swing, you let the kettlebell swing out away from you with a straight arm.

In the Clean, you don't want the kettlebell to get out away from your body, if it does, it'll beat you up. 

So, to keep it from banging into your forearm on every rep, you have to tame the arc.

Taming the arc means keeping it close to your body as you go from the backswing to the rack - imagine pulling the kettlebell (or bells) straight up your body.

As you drive up out of the backswing and the kettlebell starts to float up, keep your upper arm in contact with your body and pull your elbow slightly back then punch back under the kettlebell.

This will cause the kettlebell to roll around your hand and land gently on your forearm.

It'll take a lot of practice and you'll beat up your forearms in the meantime, but stick with it.

Strong Rack Position

Every Clean must be caught in a strong rack position.

A strong rack is where you're standing tall, driving your heels into the floor, legs are locked out, glutes are squeezed, abs are braced and your shoulder blades are pulled back and down.

Your upper arm will be against your rib cage with a neutral wrist and your forearm will be almost vertical.

Every muscle below your neck is engaged - you should be like a statue.

A strong rack position is important because it makes all of the other lifts easier, so make sure every rep ends up in a strong rack.

Keep Your Arm Loose on the Backswing

A lot of people have a tendency to keep their arm engaged by flexing their biceps and bending their elbow in the backswing.

You'll have to fight that tendency and keep your arm loose as you drop the kettlebell out of the rack.

By flexing your arm you put a lot of pressure on your biceps tendon, which isn't a good idea if you want to avoid an injury.

You also lose a lot of the power generated from your legs when you keep your elbow bent.

Your hips drive and your arms guide, so stop trying to muscle the kettlebell up with your arm, keep it straight and loose!

Power Breathing

Power breathing will make your clean stronger and more powerful.

Similar to the breathing in the Swing, you'll take a sniff of air in through your nose as you drop the kettlebell into the backswing.

Then, as you drive up and lock your hips out, you'll sharply exhale with a TSSSS!

Again, breathing in this manner, compressing the air with the exhale, will create tension in your abs and protect your back while adding more power to your hip snap.

Wrapping Up

The kettlebell clean is often neglected but it's one of the best exercises for developing strength and building muscle in all the right places.

It takes some time to learn and perfect though, so be patient.

Master the swing, get comfortable in a strong rack position then connect the dots.

In Strength and Health,

Dave

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