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Clean Up Your Workout with Kettlebell Cleans

This time, let’s talk about cleans! Cleans are one of the fastest ways to take a weight from the floor to your shoulder, which is incredibly functional. Such a useful motion, of course, is a bit complicated.


It still relies on a pronounced hip hinge to elevate the torso, but the arm becomes more engaged with the clean, bending the elbow and externally rotating so the bell rests in the seam of the shoulder. This is called the “rack” position, where the kettlebell is “racked” to rest on your shoulder and in the grip of your hand. The clean is misleading in that it is not an arm exercise; the power continues to drive from the hip to snap the weight upwards, and the arm must harness that momentum to help lift the weight smoothly to the shoulder.


Like the swing, this requires good core control and bracing to transmit the load from the arm, to the hips, and the power of the hips back up. It also requires engagement of the core, particularly the obliques to prevent rotation at the trunk, and engagement of the lats to help lift that arm. Does it sound like a full body workout? Because it is.


The most common mistakes with cleans?

  • Dumping the wrist: to transmit force, the wrist must stay in line with the forearm, or you’ll get compression on the backside and undue work on your forearm flexors.

  • Not allowing rotation: The clean, to be effective requires the palm to rotate down towards the floor at the bottom, and then up as you come into the rack position. A lot of people miss this spiral nature, which makes the clean clunky. The rotation of the bell should happen throughout the whole movement, and not be rushed to fit at the end

  • Keeping the kettlebell too far from the body: This one can happen often with a lack of hip hinge, and an arm dominant pattern. The closer the bell is to your body, the easier it will be. Keep those kettlebell snuggles in mind. Imagine that as you bring the bell up, you’re zipping up your jacket.


Why cleans? Well, aside from the good core and glute workout, they're a good practice for speed. Cleans train those rapid, fast twitching fibers, which decrease in density as we get older. We need those fast twitch fibers to sprint, to respond to changes in balance, and stay functional doing what we want to do. I also like cleans because they reveal asymmetries in our bodies; many of us have a "fun side" and an "easy side," so cleans are a great way to target any differences. Addressing these asymmetries keep us stronger and even more bulletproof against injury.

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