Noticed people doing the kettlebell clean and press in the gym, and wondered how on earth they do it without banging their wrists? We know the feeling. It looks easy, but it's so difficult to get right if you haven't been lucky enough to master it the first time.
Not to worry! This is why we've put together an in-depth guide on how to do the kettlebell clean and press, so you can practice this fantastic compound exercise without injuring yourself.
Want to turn your passion for fitness into an exciting new career? Go check out our Level 3 Personal Trainer course here before you carry on reading!
What is a Kettlebell Clean and Press?
For those who don’t know, the kettlebell clean and press is a strength-based exercise that counts as one of the main lifts when exercising with kettlebells. It works a huge range of muscles once the clean and the press (two separate exercises) are performed together.
The exercise itself involves ‘cleaning’ the kettlebell, which means lifting it from the floor into the ‘rack position’ in a smooth, swift motion.
After this, the kettlebell is then ‘pressed’ overhead, before being returned to the rack position.
If you’re familiar with the barbell overhead press, then you’ll have an idea of what we mean by this. The kettlebell clean and press is actually a little easier to grasp, especially if you’re doing the one-handed version of the exercise.
For an idea of what the end position looks like, see our OriGym trainer demonstrate below:
Not only is the kettlebell clean and press great for building muscle and conditioning your strength, but it is also a pretty effective cardiovascular exercise.
Our stabilising muscles are challenged when we workout with kettlebells, unlike when we use the weight machines at the gym (which usually require us to be seated). This means that our body works harder during the exercise, and therefore becomes stronger after completing it!
Now that you know the answer to ‘what is a kettlebell clean and press?’, it’s time to move onto how to perform the exercise!
How to Do the Kettlebell Clean and Press
The first thing you should know before learning how to do the kettlebell clean and press is that it’s essential to master both sections of the exercise separately before trying to piece them together.
Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer Kick-start an exciting new career in fitness!
Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer
Kick-start an exciting new career in fitness!
It will take a little practise before you get your form right, and that’s fine! It’s not something that you should rush to master if you’re new to kettlebells, otherwise, you could end up injuring yourself.
The Kettlebell Clean
It’s important that you take your time to master the clean before rushing into anything else when learning how to do a kettlebell clean and press. It’s actually a move that a lot of beginners have trouble with, the most common mistake being that they bang their wrists with the kettlebell each time they bring it into the rack position.
To prevent banging your wrists, practise the move patiently or in reverse, and really focus on the steps below before trying to rush it!
- Have your feet just over shoulder-width apart
- Bend down slowly into a half-squat, keeping your back neutral
- Hold one arm out for balance/support
- Grasp the top of the kettlebell’s handle, keeping your grip nice and relaxed
Remember what we just said: don’t try to rush this, practise it slowly or in reverse (slowly, though) to get your technique right. Once you’re happy with where your hand/the kettlebell is at each moment and you know you’re not going to be banging your wrists, try it at full-speed!
- Ensure your grip on the kettlebell isn’t too tight (make it as loose as you can whilst still keeping a safe grip)
- Drive the kettlebell towards you, keeping your arm tucked in close to your body and your weight on your heels
- Before the kettlebell can fulfil the rest of the motion, rotate your arm swiftly through the window of the bell (rather than flipping the kettlebell over your hand)
- Squeeze your glutes
If you do this carefully, it should rest on the back of your forearm with no trouble at all.
However, if you’re having trouble getting the movement right, there are a few things that you can try to avoid bashing your wrists!
The first thing is to imagine that you’re zipping up your coat. This will remind you how close your hand/arm should be to your body as you execute the kettlebell clean, and ensure that you don’t start off with your arm outstretched.
As well as this, you can imagine that your arm is a spear as it travels through the window of the bell (just before it reaches the rack position). If you do this the bell will be a lot less likely to collide with your arm, as you’ll keep much better control of it.
The Kettlebell Press
Once you’ve nailed the clean and you’re feeling pretty restless to begin the second section of the exercise, it’s time to move on to the press… Don’t worry! You’ve already mastered the hard part here.
By now, you’ll have at least a basic idea of how to handle the kettlebell and its off-set centre of mass, which will aid you in getting the kettlebell press right.
However, there is one common mistake that we’ll cover quickly before explaining how to execute the kettlebell clean and press together, and that is pushing the kettlebell too far out to the side during the lift.
- Have your feet just over shoulder-width apart
- Clean the kettlebell into the rack position, keeping it close (covering the rib cage)
- Brace your core and squeeze your glutes
Now that you’ve got your starting position done and you’re ready to take the plunge, it’s time to execute the press.
As we just said, the main mistake here is pushing the kettlebell too far away from your body, thus making the lift unstable and possibly a little unsafe, as well as taking away the benefits that the exercise should have on your body!
To avoid this, you should focus on keeping your arm as close to your body as possible when moving it out to the side, and avoiding moving it too far backwards in relation to your shoulder (as this leaves the arm vulnerable to the weight of the kettlebell).
Also, you should try a lighter weight at first to ensure that you master the movement properly before loading yourself up. Your the form is the key to this exercise, especially when it comes to safety!
- Keep a light grip on the kettlebell in the rack position (not too tight)
- Place all of your weight on your heels
- Take a sharp breath through your nose, bracing your core and glutes
- Drive the kettlebell upwards, keeping your arm forward in relation to your shoulder and controlled throughout the movement
- Be sure to keep your elbow and wrist straight, your elbow directly under your wrist
- Lock-out your arm overhead
To safely bring the bell down, focus on the controlled movement that you used to press it upwards in the first place. Don’t skimp on this part of the exercise, as doing so could injure you.
How to do the Kettlebell Clean and Press: Putting it all together!
It may sound a little silly, but it’s true that combining the exercises to make the kettlebell clean and press can be no easy task if you’ve only just started out. We’d definitely stick with the single-arm clean and press with the kettlebell before moving onto two arms!
It’s so important to master your form and technique for each of the exercises before attempting to put them together, especially if you want the exercise to be effective and unlikely to cause you any injury (which we’re guessing you agree with).
Once you’ve done so, it’s time to put the two techniques together. This doesn’t require adding anything new to the exercise, but we’ve got some tips for you below to help you along in finding your feet in the kettlebell clean and press world!
As you can see in our exercise demo, the OriGym trainer smoothly transitions from the clean to the press. It works together as one fluid movement with a 1-second pause to allow proper breathing.
Don’t worry if it takes you some time to get it as smooth as this, as it may not happen straight away. Have patience, take your time, remember what you’ve learned so far, and you should have no issues.
- Inhale sharply as you clean the bell
- Exhale as it reaches the rack position
- Inhale sharply prior to the lift
- Keep everything tight and braced
- Exhale as you press the kettlebell overhead (for the entire movement)
- Inhale as you bring the bell down in a controlled movement
- Have it finish in the rack position, covering the rib cage
- Get ready for the next rep!
Practise the movement slowly at first, and really get to grips with the breathing technique as this will ensure that you’re getting the most out of the one-arm clean and press with the kettlebell.
Once you’re feeling more confident, you can pick up the speed, but this will happen naturally as you practise!
Kettlebell Swing Clean and Press
Mastered the kettlebell clean and press, and want to take things to the next level? You’ll be glad to know that there is a slight variation on this exercise, that actually requires a little more driving force and gives you a slightly harder workout.
This exercise is exactly the same as the kettlebell clean and press, apart from the fact that it starts out with a swing rather than a ‘dead clean’ (a clean from the floor).
- Keep a loose grip on the kettlebell (having it too tight will cause wrist-banging!)
- Be sure to pop your hips forward during the swing to help you to drive the kettlebell into the rack position
- Remember your technique: keep everything just as tight as it is during the regular clean and press!
If you want to take things further again when learning how to do a kettlebell clean and press, you can try out a kettlebell jerk movement to press it overhead. This is more explosive and will help you to build power throughout the body with regular practice!
As you’ll notice in the exercise demo, there is a significant difference between the kettlebell press and the kettlebell jerk. The press is more of a gentle movement, where the jerk requires more force and power to execute it effectively.
It utilises more power from the lower body and the hips, so it’s a more well-rounded exercise!
- Clean the kettlebell safely into the rack position
- Focus on keeping your body tight and braced (you’ll really need this!)
- Using a slight squat/dipped position, drive the bell upwards whilst hinging your hip simultaneously (to add more power/driving force)
Be sure that you use the same movement as the press, although this one is done at a quicker pace. Keep your wrist straight (despite to loose grip on the kettlebell), and keep it in line with your elbow, and you can’t go wrong.
When to Use the Kettlebell Clean and Press
If you’re looking to maximise the effects of the clean and press, as well as using your exercise time in the best way possible in terms of calorie-burning and building muscle, you should use the exercise as part of a compound exercise routine.
Compound exercises are those that challenge multiple joints and muscle groups and therefore maximise the overall energy expenditure of your body. This means that they’re more useful for shedding excess fat and building more muscle mass than isolation exercises!
Still not sure what a compound exercise routine is? If so, it usually consists of exercises such as the following:
- Barbell Deadlift
- Dumbell Lunges
- Barbell Front Squat
- Barbell Back Squat
- Barbell Bench Press
You can do these either at the gym or at home, and you don’t necessarily need a barbell or set of dumbbells to do them either, as kettlebells themselves would do the trick (at least at first!).
If you want to build a well-rounded compound routine, you can use all three types of weights no matter where you are. If you want to gain an idea of what you’d be spending to have this equipment at home then you can always check out our guide to building a home gym.
Kettlebell Clean and Press Muscles Worked
Whether you’re looking to add this exercise to an existing workout routine or you’re only just starting out, it’s understandable that you want to know the kettlebell clean and press muscles worked.
After all, if it didn’t work the muscles that you’re looking to develop then what would be the point?
The good news is that the exercise is more or less a full-body workout, or about as close as you can get! It’s great for conditioning, building muscle mass, and also benefits cardiovascular health (especially when used as part of a circuit). It works a large range of muscles, and they include:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Upper Chest (Clavicular Head)
- Hip Flexors
We know it’s a lot to take in, but hopefully, you can now see that the kettlebell clean and press muscles worked are pretty abundant in comparison to other singular strength training exercises.
Thinking of swapping out the weight machines at the gym for something a little more intense, and that will have a better impact on your overall body composition? The kettlebell clean and press is the way to go!
Now that you no longer have to ask ‘what muscles does the kettlebell clean and press work?’, it’s time to move onto our next section...
Kettlebell Clean and Press Benefits
#1 - Fun Way of Getting Cardio
Ever slaved away on the treadmill for an hour, only to feel discouraged and bored both during and after the exercise?
Long-duration cardio isn’t always for everyone, and we frequently hear clients tell us that it was the reason why they gave up on exercise in the first place (before wanting to give it another shot).
The rise in strength training and bodybuilding is no surprise to us here at OriGym, especially since many of us have indeed soldiered on with the treadmill before falling in love with weights and circuit training (and subsequently beginning our careers as personal trainers).
The kettlebell clean and press benefits include the fact that it is a great way of cardiovascular exercise. Not only is it engaging in terms of being fun and energetic, but it shocks the cardiovascular system into life as well as working multiple muscle groups.
In this case, the exercise being fun and engaging is definitely not too good to be true, and we’d definitely recommend giving it a try if you’re looking for something to save your exercise routine!
#2 - Full-Body Workout
Here’s the thing about the kettlebell clean and press; it’s a fantastic way to give yourself that full-body exercise that you’ve been looking for.
While the treadmill, for example, is predominantly cardio-based, this kettlebell exercise attacks most of the major muscle groups in your body while giving your cardiovascular system the exercise that it needs.
This means that you can use it to holistically gain muscle mass and strength in all areas, and improve your cardiovascular fitness simultaneously.
The movements that the exercise covers are extremely dynamic, complex, and cover a large range of motion, which sets them apart from many other generic exercises we see people completing in the gym.
The kettlebell clean and press benefits the entire body through squats, pulls and presses, which are mostly completed as singular exercises. This will save you the effort of completing separate exercises for each movement, and the fact that it is high-impact means that you’ll shock your body into building more muscle (alongside a nutritious diet and well-rounded exercise routine).
#3 - Great for Shedding Fat
We know that we keep bringing long-duration cardio into the equation, but it’s a well-known fact that weight training is better than low impact exercise for burning calories and excess fat.
The reason behind this is that when you perform lifts, presses and squats with weights, your muscle fibres become damaged.
They require time to repair from this damage, and this is what makes them stronger. It is also this process that burns extra calories through the energy that it takes to complete it, and the reparation time can last for around 48 hours.
When it comes to long-duration cardio, however, the muscles don’t necessarily sustain much damage (especially not in comparison to weight training). This means that the reparation process is much less intense and that significantly fewer calories are burned post-exercise.
The kettlebell clean and press benefits the fat burning process as it indeed causes the muscles a good deal of healthy damage, especially through combining three different weight-training movements (squats, pulls and presses).
The fact that it works many different muscles is also good to mention here, as it causes damage to them during one singular exercise, and consequently strengthens them in the process.
The fact that so many of them are damaged/strengthened means that there will be a good amount of calories burned during the reparation process, so you’ll burn more practising this exercise regularly and as part of a circuit training routine than you would by running on the treadmill!
#4 - Ideal for Sports Conditioning
Are you currently into sports, or looking to start playing sports in the future? If so, you’ll be glad to know that kettlebell training in general, especially high-intensity circuit training with kettlebells, is brilliant for sports conditioning.
The main reason for this is that you can improve your explosiveness and power production with regular practise, which benefits your performance on the whole.
How does this help your performance, you ask?
If you think about it logically, athletes rely on being able to summon their maximal effort at any given time. Their sport often requires them to use this in short bursts, so they should definitely be focusing on building their explosiveness as well as their endurance.
The kettlebell clean and press benefits explosive power through the squat and hip hinge that is used to clean the bell, the pulling action, the hinge that is used to press the bell, the pressing action, and particularly through the kettlebell swing clean and press (as this is even more explosive once you nail it!).
As part of a well-rounded training routine, the clean and press will help you to build the power that you need to perform at your best during sports matches, particularly through the power that you’ll use to drive the kettlebell upwards.
#5 - Can Be Done at Home
Last but not least on our list of kettlebell clean and press benefits is the fact that it can easily be performed at home.
Haven’t got a kettlebell, and not keen on forking out cash for a gym membership? Not to worry! You can pick up a kettlebell pretty cheap online, and easily perform the same exercises that you would with a kettlebell in the gym.
The great benefit of performing the kettlebell clean and press at home beside the financial side of things is that depending on your lifestyle, you could be more likely to stick to this exercise routine when using it away from the gym.
We know how hard it is to get into a sustainable workout routine, especially if you’ve never actually managed to get into one before. While it’s great to get into going to the gym, there’s no use in going for a membership if you suspect that you will drop out of it after the first couple of weeks/months.
To combat this fear and to get a real feel for whether kettlebell/strength training or a regular is a sustainable option for you, you should definitely trail it at home. This is an inexpensive and easy way to find out whether you should make the leap to gym membership, or whether a home workout routine would be a good option for you!
Kelly McGonigal, a Health Psychologist and Stanford University lecturer states (of creating long-term goals):
There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower put those competing selves against each other.
From this expert quote, we can see that you’ll need willpower and a willingness to push past this initial conflict before you can say that you’ve established a sustainable and effective workout routine.
One of the main kettlebell clean and press benefits is that the exercise can certainly help you to reach this point in your fitness journey. It’s enjoyable, not too difficult and can be done at home without committing to a very specific end-goal.
In our opinion, using McGonigcal’s take on psychology and our own experience as exercise experts, the best option for getting into a real routine is to ease yourself into it, and to find something that you enjoy.
We’re not saying that this exercise is best for you, but many of our clients have thoroughly enjoyed trying it out as an introduction to kettlebell training and something different to what they’ve been used to. Weight training from the comfort of your living room might sound appealing to you, and we definitely recommend checking it out if it does!
Before you go!
We hope you’ve got a good idea of how to do the kettlebell clean and press after reading our in-depth guide, as well as how it can be beneficial to your workout routine.
Want to turn your passion for fitness into a profitable career? If so, go ahead and download our latest prospectus for more info on what you could be learning! OR, check out our OriGym's Personal Training Diploma.
Why not try your hand at these exercises…
Feeling inspired by the kettlebell clean and press and want to give some other exercises a try? Check out our exercise guides on the following:
Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer Kick-start an exciting new career in fitness!
Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer
Kick-start an exciting new career in fitness!