The kettlebell clean is a great beginners kettlebell exercise, and a fun exercise to learn after mastering the basic kettlebell swing. The name kettlebell clean comes from the traditional weight lifting exercise called the clean. The clean involves taking a weight, typically a straight bar with weight plates from the ground to a position where it is resting on the chest. This is typically the first motion of the clean and jerk, an exercise which adds a jerk motion in which the weight is taken from the chest to overhead with extended arms.
The clean, as well as the clean and jerk, can also be accomplished with the kettlebell. This exercise can provide variety to basic or intermediate kettlebell workouts and is also a good opportunity to practice timing in a fairly safe motion before attempting more advanced exercises such as the kettlebell snatch which require refined timing and coordination with the kettlebell.
Learning the Kettlebell Clean
Before attempting the kettlebell clean, make sure you have mastered the kettlebell swing. The clean exercise begins similarly to the swing with the kettlebell on the ground between the legs. The kettlebell is swung upward in a similar motion to starting a swing but when the kettlbell reaches the height of he waist, the elbow begins to drop, allowing the bell to swing close to the body. As the kettlebell approaches the chest, the wrist rotates inward and the kettlebell travels around the arm to come to a resting position on the chest, between the forearm and the biceps.
There are two major coordination challenges that must be overcome with the kettlebell clean. The first is the wrist motion that allows the kettlebell to travel around the arm and land softly on the chest. If you don’t rotate your wrist, the kettlebell will land on your forearm and put your wrist in danger of injury. Always begin with a light kettlebell, so the exercise can be accomplished slowly and safely until you have mastered the motion.
The second challenge is learning to accept the kettlebell onto the chest. If you are doing this exercises with a quick, explosive motion, the kettlebell will fly into your body with significant force, potentially knocking you backwards or forcing you to take a step. This impact is similar to taking a soft punch to the chest. Therefore it is important to anticipate the impact and brace your body properly to receive the impact of the kettlebell. This practice of bracing for the punch and learning to accept the force and transition it downward into the ground makes this an idea exercise for fighters and boxers. See your Sports Specific Kettlebell Worksouts for more details.
Safety Tips for the Kettlebell Clean
For the most part the kettlebell clean is very similar to the kettlebell swing.
The main difference is the wrist motion required to accept the kettlebell into the body.
Always practice with a light kettlebell so that you can learn the motion before moving to heavier weights. If you have weak wrists, it would be smart to work on wrist strength and flexibility before learning this exercise.
Kettlebell Clean Variations
Aside from the single arm kettlebell clean the following exercises can also:
Double Kettlebell Clean: The kettlebell clean can be done with two kettlebells at the same time in a synchronized motion. This provides a few additional challenges over the single kettlebell clean. First, the double version requires coordinating the wrist motion of receiving the kettlebell on both sides of the body simultaneously. Second, this requires accepting impacts on both sides of the chest at the same time, which eliminates the ability to shift you wright as you would when accepting a single kettlebell. Finally, as with any double kettlebell exercise, this version increases the likelihood that you will impact you knee with a kettlebell on the way down.
Alternating Double Kettlebell Clean: You can perform the kettlebell clean with two kettlebells, but only swing one at a time. This adds to the overall load on the lower body but eliminates some of the challenges of accepting two kettlebells onto the upper torso at the same time.
Clean and Jerk: A jerk motion can be added to the top of the kettlebell clean with any of the versions described above. It would be most challenging with the alternating double kettlebell clean. The jerk motion involves taking the kettlebell from the chest to extended overhead. The momentum for this movement is typically driven from the legs and is often accompanied by a slight lunging motion to lower the center of gravity to allow the arm to reach full extension more easily.