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Mastering the Kettlebell Clean

If you’re looking for a standout kettlebell exercise, look no further. The kettlebell clean is the ideal exercise to master if you want to target a wide range of muscles and all you have is a kettlebell. Because of the versatility you can achieve with kettlebell exercises, this ought to be part of your basic routine. 

This page will explain the details behind a kettlebell clean: what it is, how to do it, safety precautions, tips, and more. 

The Basics of the Kettlebell Clean

Let’s get right into the basics of how to do a kettlebell clean.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with the kettlebell on the floor.
  2. Bend at the knees slightly, hinging at the hips.
  3. Reach down to grab the kettlebell with one hand.
  4. Engage your core and back straight. Keep your arm straight as the kettlebell hangs straight down.
  5. Keep your weight in your heels and extend your hips and knees.  
  6. Swinging the kettlebell slightly between your legs, pull the kettlebell up towards your shoulder - flex your elbow, and keep your hand close to your body.
  7. As you raise the kettlebell, guide it with control towards the outside of your forearm at around shoulder height. This is called the rack position.
  8. Stand up tall and straight, locking out your hips and knees 
  9. Slightly bend the knees again and using your arm, lowering the kettlebell back down to the starting position
  10. Repeat for the number of desired reps.

Technique Breakdown

The kettlebell clean is essentially a swing that finishes in the rack position - the important part that makes this a clean is that your energy is sudden and in a vertical direction. 

Digging deeper into the rack position - it is considered an important part of using kettlebells due to the movement of the weight between your lower and upper body. Mastering this transfer takes control and stability, helping you to strengthen your muscles. 

Tips for technique:

  • Bend at the elbow
  • Keep the kettlebell close to your body
  • Keep your wrist straight (and not bent backward)
  • Engage your core

Benefits of Incorporating the Kettlebell Clean

Aside from the multiple muscle groups being worked, the benefits from this compound exercise shows how functional it is. 

Not only will you get the obvious lower body strength but because of the hip and knee extension involved, you will likely see improvement in speed and jumping - which many sports require. 

As you prevent excessive torso movement while transferring weight, this exercise is great for core strength as well.

If you’re able to do this exercise correctly and for enough reps, it can also be considered a cardiovascular exercise. 

Last but not least, using kettlebells (and most weights in general) is also known to improve grip strength

A study published in Sports Medicine-Open revealed, “12-16 weeks of posterior chain resistance training had a statistically significantly greater effect than general exercise on pain, level of disability and muscular strength, with no significant difference in the number of adverse events and sedentary patients with chronic lower back pain.” [1] 

With this compound exercise, and as you’ll see in the muscles worked below, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Muscles used during a kettlebell clean:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms

Kettlebell Clean and Press  

To reap more upper body strength from this workout, you could add an overhead press. You can try to progress to this variation after you’ve mastered the kettlebell clean alone. This variation is easy to incorporate and can be seen in the following video. 

After getting used to these exercises, there are other variations such as:

  • Kettlebell bottoms up clean 
  • Kettlebell clean, squat and press
  • Kettlebell single leg clean
  • Kettlebell side lunge and clean
  • Kettlebell power clean
  • Double kettlebell clean and press 

Kettlebell Clean: Tips and Precautions

For some, this exercise may take some practice. Start off by being fully aware of your posture throughout the various movements, making sure that you do them with control. 

Here are other tips for this exercise.

  • Don’t bang the kettlebell on your wrist
  • Keep the kettlebell as close to your body as possible
  • Remember to start your strength in the heels 
  • Drive your movement with your hips. 


Kettlebell Clean FAQ

What does the kettlebell clean do?

The kettlebell clean is a compound exercise that targets muscles of the posterior chain. The muscles that are activated include the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back. You also use your core, shoulder, and arms as well.

Unless you are doing a clean and press, you are doing more lower-body strengthening because the explosive movement is driven by hip and leg strength.

What weight should I start kettlebell clean?

This all depends on your current fitness level, but it’s easier to be more cautious and start light if you’re simply not sure. Because the success of this exercise heavily relies on your form and technique, starting with a lighter weight will allow you to focus on mastering that first. 

Signs that you’ve started with a weight that’s too heavy:

  • Twisting your torso too much
  • Losing balance during any movement
  • Losing your form during the exercise 

What is the difference between kettlebell clean and press and press?

In comparison to the kettlebell clean and press, the press does not work out the lower body in the same way. It is also more of an isolated exercise rather than a compound exercise like the clean and press. 

You can also use other equipment for a press, while a kettlebell clean and press strictly can be done with a kettlebell. 

Does kettlebell clean and jerk build muscle?

If done correctly and with proper form, the kettlebell clean and jerk can definitely help you build muscle. Some of these muscles worked include your core, hamstrings, quads, glutes, shoulders, triceps and traps. 


Kettlebell Clean: Conclusion

Hopefully, this page has motivated you to pick up that dusty kettlebell sitting in your garage. As we’ve explored here, there are so many options you can try out after you master the kettlebell clean. After getting the technique and form down, you’ll start to see the benefits in your lower body and core.

Incorporating this specific workout can help with everyday function and athletic performance. A strong posterior chain means less risk for injury and better mobility as you age. So if you haven’t done so already, get into some kettlebell cleans and build those muscles!


[1] Tataryn, N., Simas, V., Catterall, T., Furness, J., Keogh, W. Posterior-chain resistance training compared to general exercise and walking programs for the treatment of chronic low back pain in the general population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine-Open, 2021.

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