Kettlebell Clean and Press
Kettlebell clean and press the combination of two fundamental, full-body movements, building lower and upper body strength, crucial for both the overall, everyday fitness and powerful, athletic development.
It is extremely time-efficient and functional because this single movement will employ the bulk of the muscles and joints in your body.
It is about as all-inclusive as it can get. (No this is not over hyping it, the Clean and Press really is that good!)
Benefits of the Kettlebell Clean and Press
Kettlebell cleans and presses are a staple movement in any kettlebell workout. They will improve your cross-body stabilization, work your hip extension and leg drive, build up your strength and power from the bottom up: from your legs – through your core – to your shoulders, forearms and grip.
The cleaning part will improve your unilateral coordination, strength and mobility, your conditioning, and power up your hips and abs.
The pressing part will make your shoulders and rotator cuff work hard to balance and stabilize the weight of the bell throughout the movement; it will also provide an extra incentive for the development of wrist strength. Besides, it will improve your body alignment, because if you do not press the bell through a perfect path, it will throw you off balance, and boost the eccentric strength, which will translate to many other kettlebell and non-kettlebell movements, as well as to everyday life.
Muscles Worked in the Clean and Press
From the bottom up, the kettlebell clean and press will work your legs: glutes, hams, quads and hip flexors; your core; your upper chest (pecs); your back: delts, lats and traps; your upper arms: triceps and biceps; your forearms: wrist flexors and extensors. Besides, it will strengthen your grip, which is essential for most strength training (kettlebell or non-kettlebell) and for healthy life in general.
Kettlebell Clean and Press Form
Let's start with a single-arm kettlebell clean and press:
Cleaning the bell up:
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. Rotate the bell so that its handle is perpendicular to the wall in front of you.
Important: throughout the movement, your weight should remain on your heels – not move onto your toes.
2. Reach down for the bell by hinging at the hips and maintaining hamstring tension and squeeze its handle. Activate your shoulder blades by pulling your shoulders down and back.
As you grip the kettlebell handle by its closer corner, your thumb should be pointing back in relation to your body.
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 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. Think about driving the elbow down – towards your hip – so that you are not lifting your shoulder towards your ear.
Your forearm is vertical and your wrist is flat (knuckles pointing towards the ceiling). Remember: no "barbell grip" on a kettlebell.
Your hips and knees should be locked out, and your core should remain tight.
Pressing the bell:
6. From here, press the kettlebell in a vertical path – up to the overhead lockout position. Draw your shoulder blades back and down – do not lift the shoulder and never let it leave its safe place in the socket.
As the weight goes up, rotate your wrist slightly outward: at the lockout position, your palm should be facing forward, towards the wall in front of you – not inward.
7. When the kettlebell is in this – overhead – position, lock your legs as hard as you can, squeeze your buttocks and engage your core: your legs and trunk must remain strong and solid throughout the movement (you may think of it as of a "standing plank").
Lowering the bell
8. Return the bell to the rack position. Do not just drop it; rather, actively pull it down by squeezing your lats.
Make sure to not end up with a "barbell grip": your knuckles should be facing the ceiling.
Do not rest the bell on the shoulder – keep it in front of the body.
The thumb is pointing towards your collarbone.
9. From here, push the bell out, rotate the arm – so that the thumb points back, swing it between your legs, and clean it up – back into the rack position. Press the bell up.
10. Repeat the movement for a desired number of reps, then lower the weight and switch the arms.
Breathing tips: Quickly inhale as you clean the bell up and exhale once it has reached the rack position. Again, quickly inhale before pressing the bell up – to brace your core, and exhale as you press it overhead. Inhale when you are lowering the bell into the rack position – to control the movement and keep your core tight.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
In the cleaning part, the most frequent mistakes are these:
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.
In the pressing part, be sure to avoid doing this:
5. Moving the bell off-center. When pushing the bell from the rack position into the overhead position, it is important to avoid moving it outside the plane of the body – to protect the shoulder from unnecessary stress and injuries. The closer the bell is to your center of mass, the better.
6. Not engaging your core. Kettlebell press is not just an upper-body movement. It is a full-body movement. While pressing, squeeze the bell with a strong grip, keep your feet firmly on the ground, tighten your abs, squeeze your tush. Do not slouch, bend backwards or flail to the sides; do not fall forward onto your toes.
Kettlebell Clean and Press Variations
Double-Arm Kettlebell Clean and Press
Once you have mastered the single-arm kettlebell clean and press, want to add more weight to your movement and build a Herculean physique, you can transition to the double-arm kettlebell clean and press, where you will hold one bell per hand.
Alternating Kettlebell Clean and Press
To perform the alternating kettlebell clean and press, you need to switch between the arms holding the bell.
In the classic version, you will switch the arms in the air. To do it, lower the bell from the rack position, swing it between your legs, and – when the bell goes up and has reached about your chest level, switch the arms. Then, perform another backswing and clean the bell up into the rack position. From here, press the bell up with another arm. Repeat to switch the arms again.
Alternatively, if you are not yet comfortable with switching between arms while the bell is free-floating in the air, you can lower it all the way down to the ground between the reps, and grab it with another hand from here.