The kettlebell clean (or the “KB clean”) is a dynamic and powerful movement that involves lifting the kettlebell from the ground to the racked position, where it rests against the forearm. It can be used as a movement on its own or part of a complex (where one movement leads to another).
The clean requires a powerful hip hinge and a swift pull, followed by a seamless transition to “catch” the kettlebell at the top. This is an extremely versatile movement that can be beneficial in more than one way.
Once you learn how to clean a kettlebell, you can most likely clean any other piece of equipment in (or out of) the gym including barbells, sandbags, medballs, and even resistance bands with handles.
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How to Do a Kettlebell Clean (the Right Way)
Start: Begin with the kettlebell on the ground in front of your feet.
Hike Swing: Hinge at the hips, grasp the kettlebell with one or both hands, and swing it back between your legs (similar to a kettlebell swing).
Clean: As the kettlebell swings forward, explosively stand up, using the momentum to bring the kettlebell up to shoulder height. The elbow should be tucked in, which makes the kettlebell rotate around your wrist, landing on your forearm which then “cleans” the kettlebell to the shoulder.
The Targeted Muscle Groups
The kettlebell clean is a versatile movement that trains a diversity of muscle groups in the body, and utilizes both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres. The muscle groups that are targeted by the clean are:
- Posterior chain
Other Benefits of Kettlebell Cleans
There are myriad other benefits of kettlebell cleans beyond improving your strength. I like to recommend kettlebell cleans to my clients because they are hone:
- Your cardiovascular system
- Your overall, whole-body power and speed
- Your coordination, specifically unilaterally if using a single kettlebell
Common Issues with the Kettlebell Clean
The most common issue I see when teaching the kettlebell clean is the misconception that the kettlebell “flips” to the forearm rather than rotates around to its position.
To avoid that issue, make sure you start with your thumb pointed inward. Rotating the kettlebell around your arm is your main focus and keeping your elbow close to your side gives the kettlebell the best possible route to follow.
Historical Fact About Kettlebell Cleans
Kettlebell cleans have a historical tie to strongman performances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Strongmen showcased their strength and agility by performing feats like kettlebell cleans on vaudeville stages, captivating audiences with the impressive display of physical prowess.
How to Improve Your Kettlebell Clean
The clean takes practice, and often hurts more than it needs to when done improperly. As with most skilled movements, beginning with a weight that allows you to perform 8-10 cleans with good form and no flips or bruises is a good indicator that you’re ready for more weight.
Focus on a smooth transition from the swing to the rack position. Here are some drills to help you practice your technique:
- Squat jumps: this explosive movement should get your heart rate up and your hips to a full extension just like a clean. Aim for high jumps. Here’s a quick tutorial to help you nail your jump squats.
- High pull: think of the high pull as a squat jump with weight. Start with the kettlebell positioned between your feet and your back flat as you hang on to it. Push through your feet as you jump and let your elbow float the momentum with the kettlebell until it’s parallel to the floor. Keep the kettlebell as close to your body as you can, like you’re zipping up a big coat. Land back on your feet and bring your kettlebell down softly.
- Planks: holding your plank with your elbows or in the push up position really helps you stabilize your core which is exactly what you need at the top of a clean. Making sure you exhale and extend your time as you get stronger.
Practice The Kettlebell Clean Today with a One-on-One Consult
The kettlebell clean is a great transition movement (like a swing, clean, or press) and can be super helpful if you want to learn how to run faster, pull a heavier barbell, or clean a medball smoother.
It’s one of the only functional movements that truly sets you up for success in your day to day life. Kettlebell cleans are a worthwhile movement for many reasons but, in a nutshell, they help you become more explosive, coordinated, strong, and agile.
Ready to integrate the kettlebell clean in your at-home fitness routine? If so, consider booking a consultation with one of our qualified trainers to learn how to perform this movement in a way that works for your unique body and movement style. Why wait? Give it a go today!
Helya is a NASM certified personal trainer with expertise in RKC, 200 Hr Yoga, Animal Flow, Precision Nutrition, Tabata, Pilates, and is currently completing her CrossFit L1 certification. She is an experienced coach with many certifications, but most of her experience comes from the hundreds of people she has helped over the last decade while owning a small functional training gym in Ventura, California. Helya is a people person passionate about helping people move well and hurt less.