January 27, 2020 9 min read

The clean and press is a full-body lifting movement that is made of two moves: the clean and the press. The clean happens when you lift the weight off the floor and catch it in the front rack position (the weight is resting on your shoulder, while your elbows are pointing straight ahead). The move then turns into an overhead press to complete the whole thing. The kettlebell is similar to the standard clean and press (which is usually done with a barbell), but there are some specific techniques and additional benefits to performing the move with a kettlebell. 

Why Do the Clean and Press with a Kettlebell?

The clean and press work many parts of your body at once. In fact, this compound exercise works over 600 muscles in your body. It’s not worth mentioning all 600 in this article, but the most important ones are all the different muscle groups of your upper body. 

  • Biceps and triceps: These are the most “famous” muscles and most people’s fitness goals involve building killer biceps and triceps. They are the primary muscles that function to extend your arms forward and backward and to lift up heavy objects. 
  • Deltoids: These get involved with the shoulder and work to give shoulder movements mobility and flexibility. They help you to rotate your shoulder around and in different positions. 
  • Laterals (lats): the latissumus dorsi is the big, triangular muscle that connects your shoulder to your hip. 
  • Trapezius and rhomboids: the main muscles responsible for supporting your back and posture. The trapezius is a large muscle close to your shoulder, which usually houses pain and soreness of the upper back. If there is no injury involved, that pain is usually a cause of weakness in the trapezius which ends up in bad posture and soreness for beginner weight lifters. The rhomboids connect your scapula and vertebrae. 

Using a kettlebell holds many benefits that even surpass those of using standard barbells and dumbbells. Kettlebells incorporate many muscles instead of just targeted ones, so using a kettlebell provides an all-over workout. While taking care of your upper body, you also get your core, glutes, and hamstrings at the same time. 

Kettlebells enhance stability. Maneuvering a kettlebell takes more balance than grabbing onto a barbell. You have to choose the appropriate weight, and you have to make sure you hold the handle so that it doesn’t wobble and fall. If it tilts in the wrong way, you could end up injuring your hand or elbow or even dropping it. The effort it takes to consciously focus on coordination and balance during a weightlifting exercise helps you to engage your mind and body at the same time. If you perform physical exercises while actively using your brain, you will strengthen the mind’s ability to multitask and focus. 

Kettlebell workouts are notorious for being a serious fat-burning tool. They involve explosive movements, which require a heavy weight done at a fast pace. You engage a burst of strength in a short burst. The combination of cardio and strength building shreds fat more efficiently and swiftly than any other move. 

People with injuries or weak knees or ankles can opt for kettlebells instead of running or hiking. The extreme uphill and downhill of hiking can easily wear out the knees and exaggerate injuries, while the constant overuse of long-distance running or jogging also wreaks havoc on the knees and ankles over time. Kettlebells still give you a healthy dose of cardio that burns fat more efficiently than running alone. The amount of running it takes to burn as many calories as a hearty kettlebell workout could take several hours, while the simple workout can be done in 30 minutes or less. 

The kettlebell clean and press gives your body flexibility and mobility. It also works your hip flexor, which is important to keep limber in order to age well. With a flexible and mobile hip range, you will find yourself well prepared for a good base for any other kind of intensive weight training. 

A man working out with a blue kettlebell.

Steps to Complete the Kettlebell Clean & Press

Step 1: Use the standard starting position, with your legs at shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. The kettlebell will be held just below your groin, in the triangle between the groin and the knees. 

Step 2: Bend down, keeping the motion at your hips, with your spine straight (not hunched over). Grab the handle and then launch it up to rack position in front of your chest. 

Step 3: You will make a change in position here as you switch from clean to press. You need to switch from grasping the handle to holding the bell. To do this, toss the kettlebell in an upward motion lightly. As soon as it raises past your hand, grasp the bell with both hands. 

Step 4: Do an overhead press. Take the bell and press it above your head until it is directly above the head and your arms are fully extended. 

Step 5: Bring the kettlebell back down to rack position, and switch back from bell to handle. Drop the weight and grab the handle before it falls. Move the kettlebell back down to the starting position. 

What makes this move more difficult than the traditional clean and press is the extra effort and challenge it takes to get the kettlebell past the shoulders and into the press. It takes a bit of practice and some extra attention to form. How to get the form just right? Think about using your legs to get that weight up in the air. Go into the beginning of a squatting position if you have to. Engage your core and squeeze it to push the weight up. 

This will be much more effective than using your body weight to propel it. When you propel a weight from your body, you take away the opportunity to build more muscle and you also risk concentrating all that energy on your back. Always avoid feeling pressure in your back when doing this exercise, since it can put unnecessary strain on it and you may end up with an injury!

Alternative Exercises to the Clean and Press

The clean and press can be done on its own for an effective workout, but adding in or switching out variations can be a good way to keep things interesting and to keep your body on its toes with varying exercises. 

Kettlebell Clean and Jerk Press

The motion of this movement looks more like a squat. The clean is done in the same format as the clean and press. Once your kettlebell reaching rack position, you will switch the bell to hold onto the bell rather than the handle, the same as the previous instructions. Once you have made the transition, direct your weight to your keels and move your body underneath the bell into a squatting position. Then, jerk your body upward so that you are in standing position, pushing the kettlebell above your head while you do it. 

This move requires coordination and some extra steps beyond what is required in the clean and press. Which is better? Even though it requires extra steps, some prefer it to the overhead press, because you are giving yourself an extra oomph for that explosive movement to raise the weight. However, others enjoy the press because it is more in line with the traditional move which used to be a part of the weight lifting segment of the Olympics. The form for the clean and press requires precision and exact form in order to be a full lift in the competitions. 

Consider your goals when deciding which is for you. Is your goal to get a fast full-body workout before you start a busy workday in the morning? Then the clean and jerk will work your glutes and hamstrings at the same time as your arms, giving you that fast and efficient morning workout. If you are looking to increase your arm strength or work on your lifting format, the clean and press may be for you. If you have time, just do them both! They each have their own benefits and doing both will give you the best of both worlds. 

One-Arm Kettlebell Swing Clean and Press

The single-arm swing clean and press will give you the strength and definition you need...fast. This move is no joke, and when you conquer it two-three times a week, you will be blown away by the fast results. 

Start by grabbing the kettlebell by the handle with your right hand. Lower it between your legs and clean it up to your right shoulder. Make the switch between the handle and bell, then push the weight above your head. Bring it back down, switch back to grab the handle, and lower it to starting position. There, you will grab the handle with both hands to switch from one to the other. Let go with your right hand and perform the movement on the other side with your left hand. 

Kettlebell Dead Clean and Press

For this variation, your starting position will have the kettlebell all the way down on the ground. You will do the movement just like the regular clean and press, but instead of lowering the kettlebell to just under your groin, you will put it all the way back down on the ground before doing the clean again. 

If it makes you nervous to constantly switch the kettlebell between hands, the dead clean can be a good alternative to the one-armed clean and press. Instead of grabbing the handle with both hands, you can set it down on the ground and then simply pick it back up with your other hand to perform the next move with the other side.  

Two kettlebells.

Warm-Up for Kettlebell Exercises

You have many different options when it comes to a kettlebell workout warm-up, but the most effective will be gradually loosening your body to prepare for a heavier weight. 

First, you can do the exercises you will be doing without any weight. Do them rapidly like a HIIT workout, to get your heart rate pumping and your energy rising with the effort of cardio. Then, start with a light weight and go through the full workout rapidly with the lighter weight. 

If the idea of repeating your workout sounds boring to you, you can add variation by changing up the warm-up. Just think about which muscles will get the most pressure when you’ll be going through the motions. 

  • Rotator cuff: These are the muscles and tendons that keep your shoulder bone attached to your body. When people knock their arm “out of its socket,” there has been some type of rotator cuff injury. 
  • Posterior Chain: These are your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and the lower back muscles. 
  • Anterior Chain: Working opposite to your posterior chain, the anterior chain covers the opposite half of your body. It consists of pecs, abs, quads, and hip flexors. 
  • Shoulders: They get a lot of stress during kettlebell workouts, so it’s crucial that they get a lot of attention in the warm-up. You need them fully mobile and loose. 
  • Arms: They give the primary effort in the clean and press and all it’s variations, which means they have to be firm and ready to hold perfect control over the kettlebell at all times. 

The best warm-ups for these muscles is to start with a shoulder warm-up. This involves basic shoulder circles. Do ten large circles forward, then ten large circles back. Repeat the process with small, tight circles. 

After the shoulder warm-up, stretch out your lower body in the hips and waist. Start by doing a plank, then flip on your backside and do the bridge. The bridge is done by Holding your arms above your head and making a foundation on the floor behind your head. Your fingers will point away from your body. Push your stomach up and form the shape of a bridge, feeling your back and hip stretch. Turn over again, then do the bridge again, facing the ground instead of the floor. 

To warm up your knees and loosen those joints, do some deep squats without any weight or with a very lightweight. When using weights in a warmup, you want enough weight that it offers resistance, but not enough that it makes any real strain on the muscles. Take your squat all the way down so your butt touches your ankles and then go back up again. These can be done quickly since the emphasis is not on a strength challenge, but just mobilizing your joints. 

Once your joints and muscles are activated, you can start using the lighter kettlebells. Perform the moves of the clean and press in their simple versions. What does that look like? Start with a deadlift. Do 5-10 reps. Then do a kettlebell press. Add in a swing. Incorporate squats. Do 5-10 reps each and you will be good to go for your strength training.

Where Can You Do the Kettlebell Clean and Press?

Anywhere! Up until recently, the kettlebell clean and press has not been popular, since barbells and dumbbells are so easily accessible in every gym. But people are realizing they can master a full-body workout with just one weight instead of having to buy a gym membership or set up a home gym in the garage. Instead, you can start with a kettlebell and perform an entire workout with massive gains in an efficient way. 

Are There Any Sacrifices Involved With Kettlebell Training?

You do have to sacrifice a bit of weight when it comes to a kettlebell clean and press versus a barbell clean and press. Because of the complexity of shifting between the handle and the bell of the weight, you will have to choose a slightly lighter weight to accommodate for this. After time goes by and the motion becomes second nature to you, you will be able to increase your weight. This only lasts for a short time. You will soon find yourself quickly becoming adept and stronger, which will unlock gratifying results. Just give it a try and watch your new body unfold.


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