Cleaning up the clean

After the swing : Cleaning up the clean

In the last 3 weeks we have discussed how to build the kettlebell swing.

  • Breathing and bracing properly; creating tension through the diaphragm to protect the spine and develop tension through the torso.
  • Building the deadlift; an explosive hip hinge that loads the glutes, hamstrings and posterior chain through a downwards pushing motion through the ground. This is the foundational movement needed to practice the swing.
  • Dialing in the swing, thinking of it as newton's cradle, not a metronome. Here, we explosively drive the bell into a float/pendulum with a powerful glute cramp and abdominal brace. If you don’t know how to use and practice these fundamental progressions, please read through and practice before moving on to today's subject of the kettlebell clean.

The clean teaches us, amongst other things, how to safely and comfortably rack the bell. From here we can perform presses, squats and a variety of other skills that will help us develop greater strength, power, coordination and fat loss. However, the clean is a tricky movement to master and can be frustrating to practice. Alas, the solution of how to remove this frustration and focus on the task at hand is below.

The clean and swing are 50% the same movement. The bell still passes between the thighs in the backswing, the hips and hamstrings still drive the movement, the bell still swings to #4 on the volume dial….and then things change a little. As shown in the video that follows, the key here is “elbow to rib connection”. In the back swing, the elbow connects to the ribs and if we are performing a swing, then when we get to “number #4 “ on the volume dial, the elbow will “disconnect”, float up to “number #6” on the volume dial, before falling back into the pendulum and between the thighs for the back swing again.

In the clean however, the same backswing and hip drive to “number #4” then results in the elbow staying connected to the ribs before bringing the bell up into the rack position. This is typically where people begin to see problems with letting the bell crash into the wrist and losing control of the movement at the top. When coaching the clean, I ask athletes to avoid “casting and reeling”. Avoid throwing of the bell off the top of the rack position back into the swing, as this casting motion creates more momentum than is needed, resulting in a poor backswing. The same is true for the up motion, keeping the elbow connected to the rib is key, but don’t be tempted to turn the clean into a glorified bicep curl. Instead, think of “thumbs up, thumbs down”. Thumbs up with ribs connected will see the hand and bell stay close to the body followed by the bell rolling over the wrist and sitting safely and comfortably in the hammock created by your bicep and forearm. Thumbs down will allow the bell to fall back into the downswing before hinging powerfully at the hips, missing out on all that unnecessary momentum we see from "casting" the bell out.

Take a look at the following videos and see these cues put in action.

Understanding the elbow to rib connection is key to bettering the kettlebell clean.

Notice in the slo-mo of the cleans, the bell never impacts the wrist, arm or chest. Instead it rolls over the wrist into the rack as Jess decelerates the bell with a little opposing force.

Mastering the clean will help build the rack position from which we can develop squat and overhead strength as well as beginning to chain exercises together to create more challenging complexes.  Check in next week for our next blog about the proper racked position.