The Alpha and Omega for So Many Exercises
"Step one: Rack the kettlebell." You will hear it, read it or think about it every time you decide to perform kettlebell presses, squats, lunges – and the list goes on.
The kettlebell clean is a way to bring the KB from the floor up to your chest, where it will rest comfortably on your forearm with minimal strain on your muscles (rack position) – a fundamental skill for anyone using kettlebells.
The kettlebell clean is crucial starting move for so many exercises and it is a true full body exercise in it's own right. Find out what to do and how to do the kettlebell clean here.
Check out this video of Rebecca showing us how it's done.
The kettlebell clean is a dynamic movement and the fastest and most efficient way to bring the kettlebell from the swing into the rack position, and the safest way to rack two kettlebells at once.
Kettlebell Clean Form
Unlike the kettlebell swing, think of the direction of the KB as vertical rather than in an ark. ending at the chest level – in the rack position
1. Set up as if you were to perform a single-arm swing: with your feet about hip-width apart and the kettlebell placed about a foot away from the tip of your big toe. Throughout the movement, your weight should remain on your heels – not move onto your toes.
2. Reach down for the kettlebell by hinging at the hips and maintaining hamstring tension and squeeze its handle. Activate your shoulder blades by pulling your shoulders down and back.
3. Swing the bell back between your legs, maintaining a neutral spine (not rounding your lower back).
4. Now forcefully push your hips forward and extend your knees – to propel the bell up. To do that, squeeze your glutes and abs – to get a solid platform throughout your core. Slightly retract your shoulder – so that the bell gets into a more vertical trajectory, moving close to the body rather than away from it. Keep your upper arm close to your torso as if the elbow was glued to your side.
5. As the kettlebell reaches your chest level, it should softly roll around your wrist and softly (softly!) land on your forearms. In the racked position, the body of the kettlebell is resting on your forearm, and your elbow stays connected to your torso. Your hips and knees should be locked out, and your core should remain tight.
6. Now, send the kettlebell down between your legs. As you do it, make sure that your arm goes completely straight: if you try to keep it bent on the backswing, you may put unnecessary strain on your muscles. Throughout the movement, keep the upper arm connected to the torso: in the backswing, the kettlebell should also move close to your body.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. Untamed arch, aka throwing the bell too far. If the bell travels too far from your body, instead of a more vertical arc, you will punish your forearm and wrist: at the top of the movement, the bell might slam them violently instead of a smooth and controlled landing. Keep your elbow connected to your body all the way through. Helpful tip: as you clean the bell up, imagine that there is a wall right in front of you, and you have to avoid hitting it with the bell.
2. Curling the bell into the rack position. You do not rack the bell with your arm: it is not a bicep curl. Instead, use a powerful hip hinge to propel that heavy, metal baby up into the air.
3. Shrugging your shoulders. A continuation to the previous point: when you propel the bell up, do not shrug your shoulders – it may cause unnecessary and avoidable back pain. Shoulders should remain tucked in their safe pockets throughout the movement. Use the explosive power of your hips to move the bell up.
4. Bending wrists. Do not use the barbell grip on a kettlebell. In the racked position, your wrists should remain straight, with your knuckles pointing up. Bent wrists will hurt, put pressure on elbows and shoulders, increasing the risk of trauma.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Clean
Does it provide other benefits, apart from prepping you for other kettlebell movements? You bet!
Among others, the merits of a kettlebell clean include:
1. Unilateral coordination, strength and mobility. When you perform a single-handed kettlebell clean, you get a unilateral movement, which improves your stability and unilateral strength (as opposed to a barbell). It will work your body mechanics and do wonders to your balance. Remember: when it comes to strength and balance, one-sidedness is good!
2. Conditioning. Kettlebell clean, as well as onward movements (Clean and Press, Clean and Jerk, Clean and Squat), is a dynamic full-body body exercise, with a large range of motion, which can be used for conditioning purposes – to optimize your performance and minimize the risk of injury.
3. Power for your hips and abs. A proper, explosive kettlebell clean requires powerful hip extension to drive the bell up, working your glutes, hams and core.
Precursor to the Snatch (and More)
Kettlebell clean (and press or jerk) is a precursor to another fundamental and pretty complex kettlebell movement: Kettlebell Snatch. Before you move to the snatch, master the cleaning and pressing (jerking) technique: to better understand the movement and avoid learning injuries.
Kettlebell clean is also used to get the bell into the racked position for many other movements: presses, squats, lunges, etc.
Muscles Worked in a Kettlebell Clean
Since you hold the bell in your hand, it may trick you into thinking that you actually move it with your arm. However, you get the bell moving by a powerful hip hinge, which will make your major muscle groups – hamstrings and glutes, quadriceps and anterior chain (hip flexors and core) – sweat their guts out. Not enough for your eager, ambitious self? Well, here's more: it will also work your upper back and upper chest, shoulders and triceps.
Double Kettlebell Clean
Before you move on to double kettlebell cleans, master the classic, single bell variation.
If you have trouble using a barbell (e.g. have injured wrists or elbows, which make the barbell rack painful), a double kettlebell clean is a good move to replace it. In a kettlebell clean and rack position (and subsequent kettlebell press), wrists and elbows are moving in an anatomically more neutral trajectory.
Additional benefit: since you have to balance a bell in each arm (rather than a single bar), it will work your stabilizer muscles even harder.
Kettlebell Clean and Press
Kettlebell clean and press is a great movement in and of itself. It will strengthen your delts, upper pecs and those top-notch triceps. It is also a prerequisite for learning proper kettlebell snatching technique.
To perform it, clean the kettlebell into the rack position. If it made you sway a bit, regain your balance and adjust your stance before pressing the kettlebell above your head. Throughout the movement, keep your quads, glutes and core tight. As you press the bell overhead, your shoulder should remain retracted and safely placed in its socket, and your thumb should aim at about a 45-degree angle in relation to the wall behind you. Return the bell to the rack position, then to the floor. Repeat.
Kettlebell Clean and Jerk
Kettlebell jerk is a ballistic movement, which will build your explosive power.
To perform it, clean the bell into the rack position. From here, you will perform a push press (as opposed to a strict press), using the power of your legs: dip with the legs (first "mini squat") and press the bell up. As the bell is still moving, drop into a slight squat (second "mini squat") – to catch and fix the bell in the overhead position. At the top of the movement, your legs are locked and your core is tight. Return the bell to the rack position, then to the floor.
Kettlebell Hang Clean
In the kettlebell hang clean, you do not return the bell to the floor every time between the reps. Instead, you stop it in the hang position (between your legs) and drive it up into the racked position from there. Stopping the bell in the dead (hang) position makes you lose the momentum (which you exploit in the classic kettlebell clean), which makes the exercise even more challenging.
A humble and classy kettlebell clean is your gateway to multiple kettlebell moves.
Pick it, rack it, control it – do it!