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Kettlebell Clean..Hero or Villain?

While most people have looked at the kettlebell swing as “the king” of kettlebell power movements, I always had a special place in my heart for the kettlebell clean. Trust me, I wasn’t trying to be controversial with this thought process, I was simply thinking about which exercise could be used in the most ways with clients and which exercise had the most impact upon other drills. As my good friend, Troy Anderson likes to say, “the kettlebell clean is the linchpin exercise.”

What does he mean? Troy is referencing author, Seth Godin’s definition of “a person or something vital to an enterprise or organization.” If we look at what the kettlebell clean means to kettlebell training, it makes sense. The kettlebell clean gives us power development, instability, reactive strength, balance of relaxation/tension, a multitude of progressions, and is essential for taking advantage of a unique aspect of the kettlebell which is the rack position. If someone asked me the BIGGEST difference of the kettlebell versus a dumbbell it is this rack position and how it not only allows for more exercises to be performed, but allows us to load our core in a very unique way.

kettlebell clean

Of course what people do NOT like about the kettlebell clean is the “WHACK” they often get from performing the exercise incorrectly. I tend to think of our Ultimate Sandbags in this same manner. Each tool has its own technique and cuing that should be emphasized. A kettlebell, an Ultimate Sandbag does not function like a barbell. If they did, there wouldn’t be much purpose in using them, just stick with the barbell. So, how do we avoid the rack and what types of functional training opportunities does the kettlebell clean offer?

The other day I used the above video in a different post. The point of these kettlebell clean progressions that are from our Progressive Kettlebell Movement program (PKM), is that we are trying to use drills to teach the “zipper” that we want to think about the movement of the arm. Since the position of the pull of the kettlebell clean is lower than the barbell and the Ultimate Sandbag, we don’t want to see this dramatic elbow pull that we associate with other types of cleans. Instead, we think of creating just ENOUGH force to wrap our hand around the kettlebell as we “zip it up” like we would a jacket. That means the elbow comes up ever so slightly and there should be that “float”.

A second reason that so many people get the “whack” with this wrist is they death grip the kettlebell. Just like the full body has to do, there is a balance of tension and relaxation on the grip of the kettlebell. You begin with tension then must quickly “relax” the grip as it floats and you wrap your hand around the kettlebell. There is a great deal of movement accuracy that we also speak about in a different regards with the Ultimate Sandbag clean. I like to think both the Ultimate Sandbag and kettlebell clean show where people cheat really easily or how they possess such accuracy.

What you see DVRT master, Cory Cripe show is the progressional order that we recommend in teaching both the Ultimate Sandbag and kettlebell clean. A lot of people tend to overlook the difference between movements that look similar. For example, why use an Ultimate Sandbag front load clean versus just doing a double kettlebell clean? Both offer instability in different ways. For the Ultimate Sandbag the center of mass is much further from the hands. Since there is more dimension/mass, we have to perform a longer pull and have to develop force that really extends the whole body as you see below from Cory.

kettlebell clean

You see the triple extension that Cory produces (that is extension of the ankles, knees, and hips), that triple extension has HUGE carry over to running, jumping, and being more explosive. On no version of the kettlebell clean do we get this type of movement because the weight doesn’t travel as high. Even though kettlebells have their weight away from the handle, they have far more weight in the handle (where the Ultimate Sandbag has none) and the dimension doesn’t play a big role in the performance of the movement. A double kettlebell clean has two independent moving weights going and that difference in instability causes a whole new dynamic to the exercise. So, it isn’t one is good and one is bad, it is how you progress, or why you use one or the other. That is why we have tried to take the guess work out with programs like DVRT, L.I.F.T., and now PKM. Giving you the system helps you make better decisions in your programming. However, there are tons of small other areas that we need to think about building layers with our kettlebell clean.

People often want to move really fast to other kettlebell clean progressions, but in their rush to move to something different they lose focus on the quality of movement. A drill like alternating cleans is a great example as a break down above.

Another great example is half kneeling kettlebell clean drills. Once you think about the purpose of the kettlebell clean, you quickly realize how this drill doesn’t do what many think and actually puts you at a HUGE risk for injury!

We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of novelty for the sake of doing something different. Progression should be built upon finding incremental ways to teach more sophisticated strength concepts. Of course we would love people to progress to more multi-planar drills like rotation and kettlebells can be a great tool for that! However, what you see way too often is a misunderstanding of rotation like I show above, that only puts people at risk. We are showing you plenty of ways to have variety with your kettlebell clean, but more important is to maintain purpose!

I hope that we have started to show you how much value an exercise like the kettlebell clean can offer! We didn’t even get into dead stop vs. pre-swing (maybe later;). When I added kettlebells and then created or Ultimate Sandbags I noticed such a transformation in how I thought about training, power, and building real world strength. It isn’t as though these tools have “magic” attached to them. What they do allow us to do is have the ability to look at more options that we ever had before in accomplishing true functional fitness!

Don’t miss 25% on our PKM certification as well as ALL our DVRT Online Education and Ultimate Sandbags with code “save25”. You will FOREVER change how you think about kettlebells, we guarantee it! Go HERE for PKM and HERE for our other great DVRT resources. You can get the same great resources that are used around the world by organizations like the U.S. Marines!

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