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Kettlebell Clean: Benefits, Muscles Worked, And Proper Technique

 Written by 

Jordyn Snyder

 Last updated on 

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Doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie or a long-time kettlebell user, kettlebell cleans should be at the top of the list for full-body exercises you need to do. Lucky for you, in this article, we’re going to talk about the kettlebell clean benefits, muscles worked, how to perform them properly, clean variations to try, and commonly asked questions that might be stopping you from achieving the most out of your workout.

Kettlebell clean benefits

Builds Muscle

The muscles worked in a kettlebell clean include the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes (buttocks), Core, Trapezius, Rhomboid, Deltoids, and so much more. All of which can be hit with a single kettlebell. Not to mention the benefit of better grip strength and overall body strength and muscle mass. 

A man doing the kettlebell clean exercise
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Easy To Learn

This common compound exercise isn’t just a fantastic full-body exercise to aid in building athletic performance, it’s easy to learn and can be done in limited space. If your at-home gym is on the smaller side or you’re simply needing a new exercise to add to the regimen, the kettlebell clean is a great option for productive strength training.

A woman doing kettlebell cleans at home
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General Health Benefits

Not only does the kettlebell clean aid in fat loss, but it helps build cardiovascular endurance, assists with perfecting the explosive movement as needed for other exercises like the kettlebell swing, and is overall just a fun clean workout! We highly recommend giving it a try.

How to Do A Kettlebell Clean:

Step 1

Start with your feet hip-width apart and the kettlebell on the ground between your ankles with your body weight in your heels. Use your hips to push upwards, letting the kettlebell swing back just enough to keep your back neutral and your hips pressed out as if you were about to sit down on a bench.

Step 2

Keeping the kettlebell close to your body, aggressively raise and shrug the weight up into a rack position. Make sure to keep your wrist straight and firm and not let the kettlebell fall too hard on your wrist, maintaining a proper rack position the entire time. At the top of the clean movement, engage your glutes.

Step 3

On the way down, roll the kettlebell off your wrist and let it back down to hang in front of you. Return to the starting position and then repeat the entire movement until your set is finished. Just remember to keep your core engaged and that this is a hip exercise, not an arm exercise. You’re going to want explosive power to raise the kettlebell chest level with a powerful hip extension.

A woman doing kettlebell cleans at the gym
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The Top 3 Kettlebell Clean Variations:

 Kettlebell Clean And Press

It is important to remember these are two different dynamic exercises, though put together they are a great full-body workout. It’s also important to note that you should not press overhead until you can clean with proper form.

For the kettlebell cleans and press, you’re going to do as you normally would, except now you’re going to add the press by pushing the kettlebell above your head. Pause at the overhead position before lowering back to your rack position and then return to your starting position. 

The muscles worked by the clean and press are the same as for the clean exercise except now you add in all the shoulder, lats, and additional core muscles.

Make sure when lifting the kettlebell overhead that it’s not a heavier weight that you can’t manage. If you find yourself losing grip strength or your extension pattern is wobbly, then find a lighter weight and try again.

Kettlebell Bottom Ups

A great way to master good body alignment and achieve a more accurate kettlebell clean technique is to practice kettlebell bottom-ups.

For this kettlebell movement, you’re going to start just as you would for a standard kettlebell clean, except instead of the weight resting on your forearm you’re going to flip the kettlebell upside down in the top position by getting your arm in proper alignment under the kettlebell in order to stop the kettlebell from flopping over.

This exercise doesn’t require as much grip strength as you might think. It comes down to technique and lots of practice, meaning this is more a complex movement, but once done properly is a great addition to any workout routine.

Kettlebell Clean, Squat, And Press

The next kettlebell clean variation is a more complex exercise and is a combination of three exercises. As you might assume from the name they are; the clean, squat, and press all put together.

The kettlebell clean, squat, and press is a very demanding single-arm kettlebell exercise and it’s very important that you don’t rush and have all sections of this exercise mastered separately before trying this variation. 

If you feel like you’re ready, you are going to start with a kettlebell clean. Once it’s racked, squat with proper form, remembering to keep your abdominals braced, and then once you’re standing, press the kettlebell above your shoulder with your arm extended in an upward movement. After your press, you are going to lower the kettlebell to a racked position and then finish at your starting position for the kettlebell clean.

The Best Kettlebell Weight To Use

The weight and size of your kettlebell will depend on your age, experience level, and size. It’s recommended for most cleans that (typically) most people can start with a 25 lb kettlebell. However, if the heavier load is making you fall off balance or preventing you from achieving proper technique then you need to go down in weight.

As for the type of kettlebell you use, well that’s completely up to you. There are adjustable kettlebells you can get for your at-home gym if space is limited. There are competition kettlebells that are great for one-handed exercises, but terrible for two-handed kettlebell strength exercises like kettlebell swings. Then there are the standard cast-iron kettlebells that are most often used in commercial gyms and can cause some bruising during cleans, but are a great universal tool for all kettlebell exercises.

Some kettlebells that can be used to do the kettlebell clean exercise
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How To Keep The Kettlebell From Hitting Your Wrist:

There are a few things you can do to avoid wrist and arm injury during kettlebell cleans. The first one is to keep your grip on the horn of the kettlebell close and position the handle across the palm at a 45-degree angle when getting to and being in a racked position.

Similar to a kettlebell swing you have to drive with your hips with a nearly identical hip-hinge movement and perform a pendulum-type swing to get the kettlebell up without causing more strain on the arm lifting. Now, that caveat to this, is you have to make sure you don’t swing out too far otherwise you’ll have less control and then when you go to the rack position it’ll land on your arm much harder and potentially cause injury.

It’s also important to remember to keep your wrist straight and your arm tucked in as if you were holding a magazine between your arm and chest. This will help ensure that the kettlebell is in the proper position and is less likely to make you uncomfortable.

If you are still having issues with bruising or pain while performing a clean, maybe try using a competition kettlebell, which will be softer with impact and is made for those types of exercises.

Are Kettlebell Cleans Effective?

The answer is yes! We really could go on all day about the benefits, which we talked about more in detail above, but really no matter your goals kettlebell training with cleans is a great full-body explosive exercise to help build strength and cut body fat. The only “risk” that comes along with kettlebell training as stated by Harvard Medical School is the kettlebell could accidentally be dropped on your foot or if you have a bone-thinning disease they state lifting a heavy kettlebell may increase your risk of fractures and even caution people who are at a risk for falling that using a kettlebell can be dangerous.

However, if you are overall healthy or trust that your body can handle these heavy and moderately-weighted exercises (with clearance from your doctor) then kettlebell cleans can be an advantage of training.

Can You Do Kettlebell Cleans Every Day?

Kettlebell cleans can technically be done every day if you so desire, though that sounds like a brutal training session that not many people will stick with over time. Depending on your overall experience and level of fitness the number will change, but most people see good and steady progress at 3-4 days a week of kettlebell cleans.

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