In our intro class at Condition, we cover the 5 basic kettlebell exercises: swings, get-ups, cleans, presses, and squats. When we teach the clean I often tell the new students that it will be the most awkward exercise we cover… which sounds ridiculous after having just learned the Turkish Get-up. It is true, however, that the kettlebell clean can have a steep learning curve for many reasons, and it also is one of the exercises with diminishing returns: the more you think about it the more difficult it becomes. Most beginners have the issue of banging their wrists, forearms, or biceps in the kettlebell clean. Here are 4 tips to help keep those injuries from happening.
1. Tame the Arc
The kettlebell clean and the kettlebell swing from the waist down are the same. You hike the bell back and propel with the hips for both. The difference is the trajectory. Cleans travel much closer to your body than out in front of you. We call that taming the arc. The tamer the arc from the back swing to the rack the more the bell will be in control and roll around the hand instead of flop over wildly. A way to train this is to cheat curl the bell into the rack position (resting comfortably in the triangle in the middle of your bicep, forearm and shoulder) and then put a magazine in your armpit. Perform a clean without dropping the magian. Keep in mind that your arm should be whip loose at the bottom of the clean and not muscling the bell up.
2. Think “Clean to the Hip.”
If you think about cleaning to your shoulder, oftentimes it will end up much higher than your shoulder. If you think about cleaning to the hip, your forearm will be in the way and you’ll get it right to the shoulder instead of way up where it falls to the rack and bangs your bicep.
3. Have a Loose Grip
In the kettlebell clean (as in the other ballistic exercises such as the swing and snatch,) you want a loose grip on the bell and can even open your hand at the top. Having a death grip during even the best of cleans will restrict the bell from rolling around the hand and make it bang the wrist.
4. A Kettlebell Clean is Not a Barbell Clean
I really don’t even know why they have the same name because they are very different exercises. If someone is coming from an Olympic lifting background the may try to translate the barbell clean into a kettlebell clean and they are simply not the same exercise. In a barbell clean (which I think is a fantastic exercise, by the way) the bar travels over the hand and ends with a bent back wrist. In a kettlebell clean, instead of traveling over the hand it should roll around the hand. In a kettlebell clean, you should mimic zipping up a hoodie and then sneaking your hand under the bell instead of flipping it over out in front of you.
There are plenty more tips and tricks to perfecting the kettlebell clean. These are the 4 that have worked most often in my experience. Also, I’ve found that the best cleans happen when you aren’t thinking about it!