The dumbbell clean and press is a power and strength-building exercise that works pretty much every major muscle group and involves the majority of the joints in your body. It’s not quite as difficult as the original barbell version but it still has all of the benefits, and then some!
You can do the DB clean and press with both arms simultaneously, or you can do a single arm clean and press. Whichever you prefer, we’ve got you covered with our exercise tutorial videos.
If you’re a fan of compound exercises, you’ll love the dumbbell clean and press. Check out our exercise guides to both of these exercises below and then keep reading to learn about the benefits!
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How to Do the Dumbbell Clean and Press
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip.
- Hold the weights so that your palms are facing the front of your body.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the knees and push your hips back into a partial squat.
- Keep your weight on your heels.
- Extend your knees and drive your hips forward to push yourself up.
- As you push yourself upright, twist the dumbbells outwards whilst lifting them up to your shoulders. At the end of the ‘clean’ movement, they should be on top of the shoulders.
- When you’re moving the dumbbells, keep them close to your body as you would for barbell clean and press.
- Press the dumbbells up by straightening your arms.
- At the top of the press, pause for a second.
- Move the weights back to your shoulders and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Sets & Reps
When it comes to how many sets and reps you should be doing, that all depends on your exercise goals.
If you’re training for strength, a 5 x 5 training system (5 reps, 5 sets) is best.
If your goal is to increase muscle size, you need to train in the hypertrophy zone. We recommend 10-12 reps for 4 sets.
On the other hand, to improve muscular endurance we recommend 18-20 reps for 2-3 sets.
The same goes for the single arm dumbbell clean and press, find out how to do that variation shortly! But first, check out this dumbbell clean and press video tutorial from one of our OriGym trainers.
How to Do the Single Arm Clean and Press
If you struggle with the necessary coordination or core stability to execute the dumbbell clean and press, you can try a single arm clean and press instead.
The one arm dumbbell clean and press is a helpful exercise for anyone with muscular imbalance or fitness newbies who need to concentrate on getting their form right before they progress to barbell exercises.
- Hold a dumbbell with your arm extended and your palm facing the front of your body.
- Hold the weight at the centre of your body.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower into a squat.
- Push yourself up by extending at your knees and pushing your hips forwards until you are stood upright.
- As you rise up, lift the dumbbell up in a straight line in front of your body and rotate it so that it ends up on top of your shoulder.
- Press the dumbbell directly up, keeping your arm close to your ear.
- As you extend your arm, twist the dumbbell again so that your palm is facing away from your body.
- Return the dumbbell to your shoulder and then reverse the clean movement to return to the starting position.
Sets & Reps
Complete the first set with your less-dominant arm and then swap for the second set.
Here’s the dumbbell clean and press video (single arm) from our OriGym trainer.
The dumbbell clean and press is a brilliant compound movement that works the majority of the major muscle groups. The only real exception is the chest, but there are some indirect benefits of this exercise for building chest muscle – all will be revealed when we discuss the dumbbell clean and press benefits shortly!
The list of dumbbell clean and press muscles worked is pretty impressive, here it is broken down into the different stages of the exercise.
- Spinal Erectors
- Deltoids (shoulders)
Using a pair of dumbbells also means that this exercise is a really effective way to challenge the core stabiliser muscles.
Whilst the barbell version of this exercise also involves the core muscles to some degree, the dumbbell clean and press is the better option if you want to build a stronger core. Learn more about the differences between these two exercises below!
Barbell VS Dumbbell Clean and Press
The barbell is the ultimate tool for strength training. If you could only have one piece of equipment in your home gym, we’d definitely recommend a barbell. You’d be able to get a full-body workout and you would see some serious results all with just a few moves and a single piece of kit.
But, that’s just an anecdote we’ve made up to tell you how great barbell training is. The likelihood is, you’ll never be in that situation and thankfully so. The barbell is the best for strength training in general, but exercises like the dumbbell clean and press (and all of its benefits) show that dumbbells are worthy of your attention too!
Unilateral Exercise and Core Stability
Unlike the barbell version, the DB clean and press is a unilateral exercise – there are a ton of benefits based on this difference alone. Unilateral exercises are a brilliant way to build core stability and balance. Both of these factors have benefits for performance in other sports or strength training exercises as well as daily activities.
By strengthening core stability, the dumbbell clean and press benefits athletic ability. Strong core muscles reduce fatigue and improve endurance, meaning that the DB clean and press is better if the purpose of your strength-training programme is to improve aerobic fitness and activities like running.
Unilateral Exercise and Muscle Imbalance
Another advantage of the dumbbell clean and press, as opposed to the bilateral barbell alternative, is that muscle imbalances can be corrected or avoided. Muscle imbalances are pretty common, they occur when the dominant side of your body (usually the right-hand side) takes on more of the resistance of an exercise than your non-dominant side.
You probably won’t be able to manage as much weight for a unilateral exercises because you need to opt for a weight that your weaker side can manage (which may be a fair bit less than your dominat side). But, don’t be put off by this! Although you will not be able to use as much weight overall, strength and conditioning research by Jones et al (2012) produced some reassuring findings:
The results of this study suggest Strength and conditioning professionals may select lighter loads when prescribing resistance training on a single leg (unilateral exercise). Although the absolute load may be lighter, the relative intensity may be greater than or equal to that of double leg training, thereby enhancing force development off of one leg and possibly eliciting more sport-specific strength gains.
Muscle imbalances can be hard to notice because the dominant side of the body works harder without you even realising. Often these differences aren’t significant enough to see but they’re worth correcting because they have the potential to cause an injury. Unilateral exercises like the single arm clean and press are an effective way to train during recovery and to avoid injury in the first place. According to Jones et al (2012):
Changing the training stimulus with the inclusion of unilateral exercises may enhance exercise recovery and reduce overuse injury risk while still providing the same training results as bilateral resistance training exercises.
Whilst the stronger side of your body can compensate for any weakness with a barbell, both sides of your body are forced to work as hard as each other during the dumbbell clean and press and the one arm dumbbell clean and press. When both sides are your body are working as hard as each other, they get the same benefits for strength and muscle size, meaning – muscle balance!
Range of Motion
Exercising with dumbbells allows you to move in a greater range of motion (ROM) because your arms can move more freely. Exercising in a greater ROM reduces your risk of injury and makes it easier to build muscle mass and strength.
During the barbell version of this exercise, your ROM is restricted by your grip position on the bar. On the other hand, you have a greater range of motion with a pair of dumbbells and you have the potential to see better results thanks to the effort required to stabilise the movement.
Because it allows your arms to move more freely, the DB clean and press is also a replacement for the barbell version if you are wanting to train around an arm, wrist, or shoulder injury.
The dumbbell clean and press is a brilliant exercise (you’ll agree once you’ve had a look at the benefits below). But, if you’re pretty advanced with strength training then the barbell might be your best bet.
Exercise with either of these types of free-weights will build muscle and increase strength, but if we’re talking about serious gains, then the barbell is the champ. Why, we hear you ask? Simply because the barbell allows you to load more weight. The more weight you can load, the more muscle you can build and the more strength you can gain.
If you’re concerned about looking good in the gym, then the barbell is the one for you. Want to impress with how much you can lift? You’ll be interested to know that you can manage around 20% more weight with a barbell than you could with a pair of dumbbells. You won’t get as much of a workout for your stabiliser muscles, but you’ll look a little stronger than the guy next to you doing the dumbbell exercise!
Barbell training can be a bit daunting so if you haven’t tried this exercise before, dumbbells are a good place to start. If you’re a complete rookie in the gym, the single arm dumbbell clean and press is a good place to start before you progress onto more complex movements.
The DB clean and press is a better option for beginners because it’s less likely that you’ll injure yourself. The dumbbell exercise, especially the single arm clean and press, is a brilliant progression exercise that will allow you to train the movement with a much lighter weight. That way, you can focus on getting your form perfect before you add more weight.
So, which is best?
As with most of the questions that we get from clients, the answer to ‘which is best’ really depends on your exercise goals. For most people, we’d say the dumbbell clean and press! It works a ton of different muscles, builds better core stability, and improves range of motion.
But for anyone who is serious about building strength and size, the barbell is the better option. Saying that, the dumbbell version would still act as a great progression exercise if you’re new to strength training but once you’re lifting a lot, it’s time to ditch the dumbbells.
To learn how to do the barbell version, check out our barbell clean & press exercise guide which includes exercise videos and variations!
Dumbbell Clean and Press Benefits
Regardless of where it weighs up into comparison to the barbell alternative, this exercise has benefits of its own. Check out more reasons you should be doing the dumbbell clean and press below!
#1 Muscle Strength & Size
You can’t lift as much with a dumbbell clean and press as you could with a barbell, but you can (and should) still go heavy on this exercise. Using a lot of weight will do wonders for building muscle mass as well as strength.
This exercise will benefit anyone with the goal of looking more muscular overall because it will build mass in the many muscle groups worked. If you want to use this exercise to improve your body aesthetically, train in the ‘hypertrophy zone’. That means, 4 sets of 10-12 reps using enough weight so that the last two reps are a struggle.
Using a heavy pair of dumbbells will also mean that this exercise will build strength. If gaining strength is your goal, then we recommend that you use a heavier weight and execute a 5x5 training system.
#2 Improve Grip Strength
Another benefit of the dumbbell clean and press is that the clean part of the movement is a brilliant exercise to improve grip strength. The exercise requires you to move the weight with power, pretty fast, and therefore it works your forearms and improves grip strength.
If you’re used to strength training exercises, then you’ll know just how important grip strength is. If your muscles have the strength for a heavy deadlift, the last thing you want is to be let down by your grip.
Strengthening your grip will allow you to lift heavier in this exercise and in other big lifts like the deadlift or rows. It will also improve your endurance as you’ll be able to perform more reps without poor grip strength holding you back.
If grip strength is something that you struggle with, check out our article on the best forearm exercises for grip strength.
#3 Compound Exercise
The DB clean and press uses a ton of different muscles on both the anterior and posterior chain, making it a compound exercise. Compound exercises are a brilliant way to get the most out of your time at the gym because you get a full-body workout in a fraction of the time it would take you with isolation exercises.
Another benefit of compound exercises is that they train natural movement patterns which translates into real-world strength and better muscular coordination. Training multiple muscle groups together will allow your muscles to work together better and it will increase your ability to execute other movements that require muscular coordination.
#4 Fat Loss
This exercise is a compound movement, it involves moving weight from knee-height to overhead which requires full-body strength, power, and coordination. By involving so many muscles, the DB clean and press requires a lot of energy expenditure. Such energy expenditure means that this exercise causes a significant boost in metabolic rate.
The result of this boost in metabolism? Weight loss! In the simplest terms, the key to losing fat is a calorie deficit.
In their 2017 study on Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes, Hector & Phillips talk about the effectiveness of a calorie deficit for weight loss:
Weight loss in elite athletes, if desired, is commonly achieved by the introduction of a caloric deficit that consists of restriction of dietary energy combined with their training.
Metabolic conditioning workouts, which the DB clean and press exercise would fit right into, are a brilliant way to burn a lot of calories. Therefore, alongside a calorie-restricted diet, this exercise will have you on your way to losing fat.
If you're interested in the science behind training and calorie deficits, and how calorie deficits work for fat loss whilst maintaining lean muscle, have a read of the full study.
#5 Improve Your Bench Press
One of the best things about this exercise is that it’s a compound movement so it targets loads of different muscles – the only real exception being the chest muscles. Working the chest is pretty important for most clients, afterall they’re the biggest of the mirror muscles and are always a good way of showing off that you work in the gym.
Fortunately, there are some indirect benefits of this exercise for the chest. The DB clean and press is one of few exercises that is effective at training the triceps. That’s because the triceps are a difficult muscle to work, they’re only really involved with overhead exercises – like the press part of the movement.
By training the triceps, you can strengthen these muscles, train the elbow extension, and improve shoulder stability – all of which will improve your bench press and allow you to press more, meaning more gains!
#6 Just as Effective as Traditional Exercises
If you want to get strong, you can’t go wrong with a routine that involves squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. These exercises are known as ‘the big 3’ and they’re at the core of traditional strength training.
So why fix what isn’t broken? Why should you switch up your workout with less effective strongman exercises, like a sled push, the farmers walk, and – of course – the dumbbell clean and press?
Well, according to the findings of a study by Harris et al (2016), such strongman training techniques are actually just as effective as traditional strength training exercises. The study compared the performance of 10 men for strongman training compared to traditional strength training. The results showed:
“an equivalent physiological stimulus on key parameters indicative of potential training-induced adaptive responses. Such adaptations could conceivably include cardiovascular conditioning.”
Meaning you won’t fall short if you opt for an exclusively strongman style training plan that focuses on exercises performed in a horizontal plane, and exercises that involve a moving component where weight is carried, pushed, or pulled.
If you want to know more about this, you can find the full study here.
#7 Build Endurance
This exercise also has benefits for building endurance, both cardiovascular and muscular. The benefits for cardiovascular endurance are the result of this exercise being a compound movement. During the movement, the weight is moved a much greater distance compared to other exercises, for example rows. That factor, accompanied by the great number of muscles worked, means that this exercise gets your heart rate up and improves your stamina and cardio fitness!
In terms of muscular endurance, there are benefits of the db clean and press for that too. If increasing muscular endurance is your goal, complete this exercises in the endurance zone as recommended above the dumbbell clean and press video (18-20 reps for 2-3 sets). Exercising in this way will increase the amount of time your muscles can cope under strain, in addition to helping you define your physique and the more general benefits of aerobic fitness.
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Other Exercises to Try...
Now that you've mastered the dumbbell clean and press, why not try these:
Harris, N. et al. (2016). Acute physiological responses to strongman training compared to traditional strength training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 30 (5), pp. 1397–1408.
Hector, A. and Phillips, S. (2017). Protein recommendations for weight loss in elite athletes: A focus on body composition and performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2 (28), pp. 170-177.
Jones, M. et al. (2012). Effects of unilateral and bilateral lower-body heavy resistance exercise on muscle activity and testosterone responses. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26 (4), pp. 1094–1100.