The Kettlebell Clean takes the kettlebell from the floor and into the racked position, on the chest, in one fluid motion.
It should be smooth and not bang the wrist, forearm or chest.
From this racked position you can then: Press, Lunge, Squat, Clean again, Dance a jig or just Rest.
There are a number of ways to perform the Kettlebell Clean; Swing Clean, Dead Clean, Single Leg Clean, Bottoms Up Clean and other multi exercise combinations too.
I’ll get into the different kettlebell clean variations later on in this article.
Kettlebell Clean Benefits
The kettlebell clean is great full body exercise that:
- Activates most muscles in the body
- Can be very cardiovascular if repeated correctly
- Is great for fat loss due to all the muscles conditioned
- Develops strong and explosive hips for sports
- Has a great hormonal response if performed with a heavier kettlebell
- Can be used as a segue into so many other kettlebell exercises
If you are serious about kettlebell training then the kettlebell clean should not be ignored and must be mastered.
What Muscles does the Kettlebell Clean Work?
The Kettlebell Clean hits most of muscles of the body making it a huge fat burning and strength building exercise.
Just some of the muscles used during the kettlebell clean:
- Quadriceps muscles
- Hamstring muscles
- Glutes (buttocks) muscles
- Core muscles
- Trapezius muscles
- Rhomboid muscles
- Deltoids muscles and more…
Why You’re Banging Your Wrists When You Kettlebell Clean
The kettlebell clean, just like all the other deadlift movements, comes from the hips.
It is that explosive little HIP SNAP that sends the kettlebell up and on its way to the chest.
It is not an arm exercise.
You could have arms like pencils and still Clean a heavy kettlebell
3 Important steps:
- Keep the kettlebell close to the body and send it up in a straight line.
- Always take the arm around the kettlebell, NOT the kettlebell around the arm.
- Imagine clenching a large book under your armpit and then zipping up your jacket
Watch this video to help improve your kettlebell clean technique:
Further Kettlebell Clean Teaching Points
- Ensure the thumb is pointing backwards
- Load the rear of the body by driving from the heels
- Keep the bell close as if facing a wall
- Snap the hips and don’t use the arm
- Keep the abs tight and don’t lean backwards
- Rotate the arm around the bell and not the other way around
- The bell moves up and down in a vertical path
- Engage the Lat muscle by squeezing the armpit at the top of the move
- Keep it smooth and do not bang the arm
- If the kettlebell pinches your wrist then you need to buy a better kettlebell
8 Kettlebell Clean Variations
1. Kettlebell Dead Clean
The kettlebell dead clean is the first kettlebell clean variation that you should learn.
The dead clean takes the kettlebell from the dead or stopped position on the floor straight up and into the racked position on the chest.
When in flow the kettlebell does not need to be cleaned from the floor but it should be stopped dead before repeating the dead clean exercise.
Stopping the kettlebell in the dead position takes away the muscles elasticity energy and makes the exercise more challenging.
Keep the kettlebell close to the body at all times.
You can practice facing a wall to restrict the swinging or looping movement that often happens with beginners.
Watch a video of the kettlebell dead clean below:
Practice workout: progress to 60 seconds on each side before changing hands. Goal 25 reps each side.
2. Kettlebell Clean and Press
The natural progression on from the kettlebell clean exercises is the kettlebell clean and press.
It is important to note that these are two separate exercises.
You must not start to press overhead until you can clean smoothly.
You should also be able to perform beautiful kettlebell turkish get ups before progressing to the overhead press because it will strengthen your shoulder stabilisers.
Make sure there is a natural pause between the kettlebell clean and the kettlebell overhead press.
You can also use the kettlebell overhead push press or kettlebell jerk from the racked position too.
Watch a video of the kettlebell clean and press below:
Practice workout: start with only a few reps on each side and progress to 10 reps before changing sides.
3. Kettlebell Bottoms Up Clean
The kettlebell bottoms ups clean forces you to master good body alignment and accurate clean technique.
The movement starts with the standard dead clean but then the kettlebell is flipped upside down in the top position.
You will need to get your arm in proper alignment under the kettlebell in order to stop the kettlebell from flopping over.
At first you think that good grip strength is required but with practice you will realise that excellent technique negates the need for a strong grip.
Watch a video of the kettlebell bottoms up clean below:
Practice workout: keep it simple practicing 3 – 5 reps on each side. Try and hold the kettlebell upside down for as long as possible during each repetition.
4. Kettlebell Clean, Squat and Press
This next kettlebell clean variation is more of a complex kettlebell movement.
Kettlebell complexes involve putting together various exercise that flow nicely from one exercise to the next.
The kettlebell clean, squat and press is a very demanding kettlebell complex that gets a huge amount of muscle activation as well as cardio benefits in one set of movements.
As with the kettlebell clean and press it is important to distinguish between the different exercises and not rush from one to the next making technical mistakes.
The sequence would work like this: clean the kettlebell, then squat and finally press, before returning the kettlebell back to the bottom starting position.
Practice workout: progress to 60 seconds on each side before changing hands. Real Pros can try one kettlebell in each hand, tough!
5. Kettlebell Single Leg Clean
I really like the kettlebell single leg clean because it forces great technique naturally.
You can also use this kettlebell exercise as an assessment tool to see how well you perform the exercise on each side and what deficiencies you may have.
The kettlebell single leg clean nicely connects the body’s natural sling system from hip to opposite shoulder, excellent for sports and more functional training.
If you have a weakness with the kettlebell in your left hand then you may want to practice that same side for the single leg deadlift and also turkish get up.
Practice workout: keep it nice and simple with 5 – 8 repetitions on each side.
6. Kettlebell Side Lunge and Clean
The kettlebell side lunge and clean is a tough variation that requires good side lunge skills as well as cleaning skills too.
If you are not skilled at both kettlebell exercises then I recommend you practice those first.
The movement feels quite natural once you have practiced a while.
As the leg goes out for the side lunge you lower the kettlebell to the bottom position and as you return to the top of the lunge your clean the kettlebell back up.
It is important to keep the chest up as you lunge to avoid overusing the stabilisers in the lower back.
Practice workout: 5 – 10 reps are challenging so keep the reps low and change sides more frequently.
7. Kettlebell Swing Clean
I don’t tend to use the kettlebell swing clean exclusively very often but I do know that many people use it.
The kettlebell swing clean involves a slight arc in the kettlebell as it is swung between the leg before taking it up and into the racked position.
I don’t tend to teach it that often because beginners have a hard time controlling the kettlebell landing onto their forearm and wrist.
More advanced kettlebell cleaners don’t usually have this problem and it is a good exercise to use during kettlebell complexes and transitions between exercises.
8. Double Kettlebell Cleans (using 2 kettlebells)
Once you become skilled at all the single handed cleans then you can add even more load and complexity by holding a kettlebell in each hand.
All of the variations above can be performed with two kettlebells but personally I would stick to these 4 clean variations:
- Kettlebell Dead Clean
- Kettlebell Clean and Press
- Kettlebell Clean, Squat and Press
- Kettlebell Bottoms Up Clean
Finally you can have a real cardio blast by alternating cleans with two kettlebells.
In other words, alternating between one kettlebell in the racked position and one in the bottom position.
What Kettlebell Weight to Use with the Kettlebell Clean
Women should start with an 8kg or 12kg (25lbs), although I have female clients that clean 16kg and 20kg (44lbs) kettlebells, as I mentioned the strength comes from the hips not the arms.
Men can start with a 12kg and will quickly progress to 16kg, 24kg and even 32kg (70lbs).
Excellent Kettlebell Clean Workout to Try
I remember my first 60 second Clean workout with a 32kg one sunny day on a rooftop in London, I felt sick afterwards and was sore for a few days.
- Clean Left – 60 seconds
- Rest 60 seconds
- Clean Right – 60 seconds
- Rest 60 seconds and repeat (1 – 3 times)
Clean as many times as possible in the 60 seconds, your target is 30 reps per side.
Conclusions of the Kettlebell Clean
The Clean is an important full body kettlebell exercise that can be used by itself or as part of a more complex sequence.
You should master the deadlift and swing before attempting the clean as they all come from the all important hip hinge.
Start with the basic dead clean above before progressing on to the more complex variations of the movement.
Work up to 60 seconds of cleans on each side.
Have fun practicing the kettlebell clean!
Are you still having trouble with the kettlebell clean? Let me know below: