Often the Kettlebell Clean can be just as difficult or more difficult to master than the kettlebell Snatch. The kettlebell clean technique is different than the technique for a barbell power clean used in Olympic weightlifting. A few key differences are:
- With a kettlebell clean you do not shrug your shoulders. The movement is led by the power generated from your hips and your shoulders should have minimal or no movement.
- You keep your elbows close to your body through the movement to the finish of the movement when your elbows finish tight to the bottom of your ribcage.
- Your upper body stays tight and compact through the movement, (just as it does during a kettlebell swing), to the finish of the movement when your abdominals are compressed and your body finishes in a hardstyle plank rather than growing tall and sticking out your chest at the finish.
Before you learn the kettlebell clean you want to make sure that you master the kettlebell swing, both two handed and one handed, first. I will teach the following kettlebell lifts, in the following order before teaching the kettlebell clean:
- Kettlebell Two Handed Swing
- Kettlebell One Handed Swing
- Kettlebell Hand to Hand Swings
- Kettlebell Clean
So what does Ed Grimley have to do with it?
The biggest thing that I see people do wrong with the kettlebell clean is that they add a lot of excessive and unnecessary movement with their shoulders and upper body, and they finish their hips one side at a time like they are dancing, rather than finishing their hips simultaneously and straight on like the finish of a kettlebell swing.
I call this, “the Ed Grimley”.
Ed Grimley is cute and funny, but you don’t want to look like him doing a triangle solo when you are cleaning a kettlebell.
The Ed Grimley Kettlebell Clean (or as Eric calls it, the “Chubby Checker Super Twist”). After the back swing, the person will lead the movement with the shoulder on the “kettlebell free” side of the body, (e.g. if you are cleaning the kettlebell on the right side, this would be the left side), and then finish the movement “kettlebell free” shoulder first (e.g. left shoulder first), then kettlebell loaded shoulder second (e.g. right shoulder), then kettlebell free hip (e.g. left hip) third, then kettlebell loaded side hip last (e.g. right hip), thereby creating a sort of figure 8 to complete the movement of the kettlebell clean.
Not only is this incorrect technique but it causes a lot of torque, loaded with a kettlebell, on the person’s lumbar spine which is a recipe for low back and elbow pain if repeated consistently.
Eliminate The Figure 8: Minimal To No Upper Body Movement. After the back swing, your hips should finish simultaneously, like a kettlebell swing, and the kettlebell should float up light and easy into the rack position. There should not be any excessive and unnecessary movement with your shoulders or upper body. Your shoulders should stay steady and on the same plane with each other and your torso should remain rigid with hardstyle tension.
The only difference between the kettlebell swing and the kettlebell clean is that with a kettlebell clean, the kettlebell finishes in the rack position instead of out in front of you.
Watch the second half of this video (~15 sec in) as I clean 26kg (57lbs), my hips finish at the same time, and my upper body remains rigid, there is no shoulder movement, and the heavy weight floats up nice and easy into the rack position and I finish with the tension of a hardstyle plank:
Also here with this single 24kg (53lbs) kettlebell clean to a press:
The Biceps Curl. The person will lead the movement with the arm and muscle the kettlebell into the rack position for the finish of the clean through a biceps curl. Repetition of this movement will only cause the person elbow pain.
Lead With Hip Power. After the back swing lead the movement with your hips and the power generated from your hips. Simply guide the kettlebell clean to the finish in the rack position with your arms. Do not muscle the kettlebell through a biceps curl to get it there.
See in the video below for a correct way to lead the kettlebell clean with hip power. There is no biceps curl involved:
Finishing The Clean Before The Hips. Consistent with the “Biceps Curl” previously mentioned, sometimes you will see the person lift and curl the kettlebell into the rack position before their hips finish.
Hips Finish First. After the backswing your hips should finish first and then the kettlebell should float up gently into the rack position. Do you see the repetitive theme here?
Can you imagine if I tried to lift and curl 106lbs (almost my entire bodyweight!) into the rack position rather than letting my hips do all the work??
Holding The Breath. Similar to the kettlebell snatch, often you will see people hold their breath through the movement and then exhale after their hips finish when the kettlebell lands in the rack position. This is not correct.
Exhale Upon Hip Finish. Similar to the kettlebell snatch, exhale when your hips finish not when the kettlebell lands in the finish position. If you wait until when the kettlebell lands in the finish position to exhale, then you have been holding your breath through the whole movement and you are not letting that breath help you to groove through the movement. You will find that the kettlebell will float into the rack position much more naturally when you exhale as your hips finish. Your hips will finish and you will exhale, then the kettlebell will float up as you finish your exhale and then it will land softly in the finish position; or at least it should.
The Forearm Smash. Often the person will not tame the arc of the swing as it passes the knees after initiating the kettlebell clean. The person will swing the kettlebell too far out in front of them, as if they are going to finish a one arm swing, and then realize once it is too late that they need to finish the movement in the rack position. At this point it is too late and as they bring the kettlebell into the rack position the kettlebell smashes on their forearm. Repetition of this results in both pain and forearm bruising. Neither are correct or part of a properly executed kettlebell clean. The kettlebell clean should not hurt.
The Float. After the back swing, as soon as the kettlebell passes your knees, simultaneously you want break the path of the arc by “picking the kettlebell straight up”, stand straight up, and finish your hips so that the kettlebell floats up into the finish of the clean in the rack position. Your arm, from the shoulder to the elbow, remains tight and connected to your torso from the start of the back swing, through to the finish of the clean. It’s a lot to coordinate all at the same time, but once you get the feeling of the float down it will start to happen intuitively.
Slightly Inverted Grip. In this video you will also notice that I lead the backswing of the kettebell clean with a slightly inverted grip. I do not internally rotate my arms 90 degrees, but I slightly invert them about 35-45 degrees, thereby leading the backswing with my thumb.
Hook Grip. Also, like the kettlebell snatch, you will see in this video that I use a loose hook grip. As I wrote in in my post, “Do You Have A Sexy Snatch?”, you should use a loose, hook grip, not a vulcan death grip, with the kettlebell clean, as with the kettlebell snatch, and sometimes the one-arm swing. When it comes to kettlebell training, a good rule of thumb is to use a loose hook grip with kettlebell ballistics, and a death grip (“make the bell bleed” I say) with kettlebell grinds such as the kettlebell press. With the hook grip, the kettlebell will sit in the hook of your second knuckles on the back swing then it can slide easily down your hand to land and sit snugly in the heel of your hand on the finish of the snatch. On the descent of the snatch, the kettlebell should transition back into the hook grip on the drop. You will know that you are using a hook grip regularly if you have calluses across the inside of your fingers on your second knuckles.
The Chest Bump. After the movement finishes in the rack position, often you will see people go into their next clean repetition by bumping the kettlebell off their chest and casting it out in front of them before they go into the backswing rather than just dropping the kettlebell straight down their midline, through their legs and into the backswing. You do not want to ricochet the kettlebell off your chest and then cast it out in front of you in a big arc. Just as you tame the arc of the kettlebell snatch, for the kettlebell clean you want to tame the arc of the kettlebell from the rack position going into the backswing for your next repetition.
The Drop. After you finish the clean in the rack position, simply release the kettlebell straight down your midline, straight down to the floor, into the back swing through your legs. The kettlebell should stay close to your body for the drop on the kettlebell clean.
A good drill that is often used to teach the drop for both the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell clean, is to go outside, and as you drop the kettlebell from the rack position into the backswing, to literally let it drop straight out of your hands. If you drop it correctly it should drop straight down, pass straight through your legs, and drop out behind you. See the pictures below for examples of this drill…
See Kelly Coffey of Strong Coffey Personal Training in the right hand corner of the picture just finish with a “drop”…
See Liz Marcantonio next to the blue sign on the left hand side of the picture just finish with a “drop”…
One more thing to note is that the finish of a kettlebell clean before you go into a press is slightly different than the finish of a kettlebell clean that will go into consecutive cleans.
With the finish of a kettlebell clean to a press, you maintain more tension upon the finish of your clean than if you were going to go into a second clean.
Notice the difference in body language in the pictures below…
The finish of a clean before a press… see the tension in my body, in my free arm and hand, and how I compress my abdominals before the press?
The finish of a clean before another clean… see how the finish is a bit more relaxed, my fingers are loose around the kettlebell handle, and there is not any tension in my free arm.
Hopefully these tips will help you to clean up your kettlebell clean ;). If you are looking for more guidance and instruction, then I hope you’ll join Eric and I in Iron Body Studios’ Online Premium Training group through WeightTraining.com. I provided you with some excerpts of the instructional videos that we have on our group training site and I can assure you, that we always provide humor along with our instruction ensuring that there is never a dull moment.
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