The Kettlebell Clean

Learn how to perform the Kettlebell Clean

1 arm Clean
Kettlebell 1 arm Clean. Getty images

The 1 arm Kettlebell Clean is really a combination of movements put together into a dynamic movement stream. It’s a natural progression from the swing and is a bridge movement between the swing and many of the overhead lifts.  It introduces the skill of hand insertion and the Rack position and teaches how the kettlebell should be positioned in the hand to avoid injury and grip fatigue. It also teaches you how to use your legs to transmit vertical power from the lower to upper body.

In analyzing the kettlebell clean there is a pendulum-swing backwards and forwards, followed by an upward pull and release, and in the moment of “float” a hand insertion into the static Rack Position. Read each of the linked articles to familiarize yourself with these prerequisite movements. 

In this Rack position the kettlebell is resting on the forearm, and the forearm is resting against your body. Everything is distributed evenly so that no part of your body is holding too much of the weight, and you are able to relax in the Rack Position. There is a learning curve and it takes practice before the kettlebell will move smoothly in your hand and into position. You may have bad reps where the kettlebell crashes into your forearm. To make this learning process a little less painful, you can wear some wrist wraps or wrist bands, which provide a cushion for the forearm while you are perfecting the execution of the hand insertion into the Rack.


From the Rack position, you reverse the movement by letting the kettlebell fall, not by pushing the kettlebell forward with your hand, rather, by moving your upper body back, so that the kettlebell falls straight down, as if you were standing inside of a chimney. While the kettlebell is falling toward the floor, at the moment before your elbow is fully extended the hand pulls back from the hand insertion position, to the hook grip with the fingers.

This rapid pull of the hand out of the insertion position back to the hook position is perhaps the most technical kettlebell skill to master.

It is not advised to begin training the kettlebell Snatch until the hand insertion and hand withdrawal grip changes are mastered with Clean. The Snatch uses the same insertion and withdrawal hand techniques as the Clean, although the acceleration and range of motion in Snatch is faster and larger. Any mistakes made in Clean will be magnified in Snatch.

As the grip change occurs, the trunk flexes to guide the kettlebell into the backswing and thus the pendulum effect repeats into the next repetition of Clean into Rack Position. This up/down, forward/backward pendulum motion is performed at a cadence, measured in repetitions per minute. Between each repetition additional breaths are taken in the Rack Position as needed in order to recover and maintain a smooth breathing pattern. 

Workouts are constructed by finding different combinations of load (weight of the kettlebell), time (in minutes and seconds), and speed (repetitions per minute).

Manipulating the 3 factors of load, time and speed and harmonizing that with the breathing is the essential mastery of the repetition kettlebell exercises of Swing, Clean, Jerk, Snatch, Press and Push Press. The ultimate goal is to increase in all 3 facets, strength (load), endurance (time) and power (speed). Such a pursuit takes time and consistency of practice. Take a longer term approach, don’t look for overnight changes. Rather, follow a progressive overload of the basic lifts and keep building basics upon basics. 

A kettlebell moving upwards should be accelerated, with an aggressive pull to move it faster and guided into the hand insertion. When it is falling the goal is to decelerate, to have it move as slowly as possible, so as not to put too much pulling stress upon your grip or lower back muscles. 

With practice, your clean will become a smooth, rhythmical movement that can be sustained for extended periods of time. It may take hundreds of repetitions of practice before it flows and becomes polished.

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