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 clean kettlebells; kettlebell hang clean or dead clean, kettlebell power clean, swing clean, single leg clean, bottoms up clean, double kettlebell clean and other multi exercise combinations too.
I’ll get into the different kettlebell cleans variations later on in this article.
Kettlebell clean benefits
The kb 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 kb cleans should not be ignored and must be mastered.
Kettlebell clean muscles worked
The KB Clean hits most of muscles of the body making it a huge fat burning and strength building exercise.
Just some of the muscles used when you clean kettlebells:
- Quadriceps muscles
- Hamstring muscles
- Glutes (buttocks) muscles
- Core muscles
- Trapezius muscles
- Rhomboid muscles
- Deltoids muscles and more…
The clean is based off the deadlift movement pattern so just like the Swing and Snatch it works heavily into the back of the body, posterior chain, making it a great counterbalance to all the sitting many of us do each day.
How to keep the kettlebell from hitting your wrist
If like many people you suffer from bruised wrists or problems with the kettlebell hitting your forearm or wrists when you clean the kettlebell, then you are not alone.
This is a very common problem and easily fixed either with a slight adjustment to your technique or by purchasing a more suitable kettlebell.
The kb 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 technique:
Further 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 bruising your wrist then you need to buy a better kettlebell
8 Kettlebell clean variations
1. Kettlebell Hang Clean
The kettlebell hang clean is the first single arm kettlebell clean variation that you should learn.
The kb hang clean takes the kettlebell from the dead or stopped position 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 kb hang clean exercise.
Stopping the kettlebell in the hang 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 performing this one arm kettlebell clean by facing a wall to restrict the swinging or looping movement that often happens with beginners.
Watch a video of the single arm kettlebell hang 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 kb clean exercises is the single arm 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.
The muscles worked by the kb clean and press are the same as for the hang clean exercise except now you add in all the shoulder, lats and additional core muscle recruitment.
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 kettle bell clean and the kettlebell overhead press.
You can also use the kettlebell overhead push press or the slightly more complicated kettlebell clean and jerk from the racked position too.
Watch a video of the kb 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 kettlebell clean technique.
The movement starts with the standard single arm hang 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 kb 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 kettle bell clean, squat and press is a very demanding single arm kettlebell complex that gets a huge amount of muscle activation as well as cardio benefits in one set of movements.
As with the kb 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.
Watch a video of the kettle bell clean, squat and press below:
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.
Learn more: Top 5 single leg kettlebell exercises
Watch a video of the kettlebell single leg clean below:
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.
Watch a video of the kettlebell side lunge and clean below:
Practice workout: 5 – 10 reps are challenging so keep the reps low and change sides more frequently.
7. Kettlebell Power Clean
The kettlebell power clean can be performed with one kettlebell, just the same as the hang clean, but for additional power benefits it is usually performed as a double kettlebell clean.
Technique for the power clean is similar to the hang clean in that the hips extend aggressively in the same way and glutes and core contract.
The major difference with the double kettlebell power clean is that the feet need to be slightly wider to allow for two kettlebells.
The wrist position for the power clean can vary depending on whether the kettlebell handles are pointing straight forwards (12 to 6 o’clock) or sideways (3 to 9 o’clock).
The straight forward handles is recommended more for the beginner because it uses less rotation when taking the kettlebell up into the racked position on the chest.
8. Double Kettlebell Clean and Press
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.
Here we take the double kettlebell power clean exercise and add an additional pressing movement.
All of the variations above can be performed with two kettlebells but personally I would stick to these 4 clean variations when using two kettlebells:
- Hang Clean
- Clean and Press
- Clean, Squat and Press
- 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
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).
Want more? Complete guide to buying kettlebells and types to avoid
Workout to practice
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.
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 hang or kettlebell dead clean above before progressing on to the more complex variations of the movement.
Work up to 60 seconds of cleans on each side.
The Kettlebell Clean hits most of muscles of the body making it a huge fat burning and strength building exercise. Especially the quads, hamstrings, glutes and back.
Most of the kettlebell exercises activate a lot of muscles simultaneously making it a huge fat burning way of working out.
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.
Hey! Love the details and smooth movement patterns. Thoughts on coming from the hang position?
robert Clark says
Hi Greg-Love your work! I’m a 68 yr old guy who does resistance training to augment my competitive cycling, have been doing deadlifts for years(100kgs X6reps). Have recently learnt I have a couple of bulging discs in my neck, symptoms are mild and GP not concerned, normal for my age apparently! Question is……are there kettle exercises that I should avoid? (I appreciate the need for proper technique)Cheers,Rob. Melbourne
Greg Brookes says
Depending on which areas Robert, I imagine the L5 S1 area? In which case I would be very careful with kettlebell swings.
I was shocked just how easy the clean can be when you snap your hips. It almost feels like cheating! The bell just pops right into position before I even have a chance to think about it. Thanks!
HI Greg, I love you KB workout, I got to say my diet isn’t the greatest thing. I am sure if I followed your eating plan along with the workout I would be doing much better but otherwise I love your workouts. I am on week 6 with the fat loss program. Do you have a blog or reviews where people post progress?
Greg Brookes says
Well done Sabrina, keep up with the training. Yes your nutrition is very important if your goals are fat loss.
I’m thinking of starting the Kettlebell Clean and I think that your instructions very clear and useful. Thank you.
Lisa Speer says
Hello, I am new to Kettlebell and am not very strong. Would like to get my arms toned up as well as my stomach area
Bill Duncan says
Just got the email with this instruction on cleans today as I’m about to start into cleans in your Beginner 12 Week KB Workout. Your instructions and routines are great and I’ve really noticed some good results, particularly in my core. Thanks for all you put into your website!
Greg Brookes says
My pleasure Bill, I’m pleased the info was helpful.
All technic looks really clear , but what about breathing , I think it’s also very important thing
Greg Brookes says
Very true Ted, I have an article on how to breathe during exercise here
This is awesome! I just taught a clean to beginner today and this post gave me a great summary of everything to go over in the next session. Thank you, Greg, you’ve done it again 🙂
Greg Brookes says
My pleasure Kat, hope the session goes well.