The Kettlebell Clean and Press for Total Body Strength and Power

The kettlebell clean and press is one of the best exercises for overall strength and power. Whether you prefer a MAX style clean (created by yours truly) or a Girevoy style, you will still be working in all three planes of movement; Sagittal, Frontal, and Transverse. What this means is that because of the intense swinging and turning that the clean requires, you are using almost every major muscle group. Coupled with the classic one-arm shoulder press, there is hardly a muscle fiber anywhere on the body that is not activated.

Let’s take a closer look at how this great movement is performed for those that are less familiar with it and the rest of us that could use a refresher. Regardless of style or body type, everyone will need to set up the same way. With your feet spaced approximately hip width, straddle the kettlebell, lining your toes up with the handle. Take a firm grip with whichever hand you choose. If you find it difficult to get a good grip because the handle is too slick or you are in a humid environment, don’t be afraid to use a little chalk. Your back should be flat, with your spinal erectors contracted, and head in a neutral position or looking up slightly. Your hips, knees, and ankles should be flexed, putting the lifter into a crouched position. This position would be similar to a linebacker (American football) getting ready to make a hit.

Regarding breathing, some lifters will take a breadth and hold it while others will inhale as they begin cleaning the kettlebell. Personally, I prefer to inhale as I am beginning the movement unless I am attempting a near maximal or maximal weight. Regardless of breathing preference, however, it is critical that you tighten your core musculature prior to lifting the kettlebell from the floor. This abdominal “bracing” protects your low back and allows you to transfer significantly more force through your body, into the kettlebell, than you would be able to otherwise.

Once contact is broken between the floor and the kettlebell, swing the kettlebell between your shins to gain momentum. At this point, the MAX and Girevoy techniques differ somewhat. With the MAX style clean, your palm will always face the floor. As you bring the kettlebell forward you will pull your active elbow into your side and rotate the kettlebell toward your shoulder. As the kettlebell is turning lean to the opposite side like you are sandwiched between two boards and are trying to get out of the way of the moving weight. This is essentially what you are doing. Be careful not to over-roate your active shoulder when you are cleaning and racking the kettlebell. Also, you should always be looking straight ahead to help with posture. The advantage of the MAX style is that it is more of a power movement and is more directly transferable to sports such as wrestling, judo, and American football. The downside, depending upon how you look at it, is that the kettlebell has to travel a greater distance with this technique.

The Girevoy style of clean involves more rotation around the torso and more movement in the transverse plane. With this version of the clean the back is kept a bit straighter. In addition, instead of leaning away from the kettlebell to rack it, as with the MAX style, you will rotate the kettlebell around your forearm. In this case, your body will be more upright in the racked position than in the MAX style. The advantage of this style is that there is a shorter learning curve and, because of the shorter range of motion, a great deal of weight can be cleaned in this manner. The downside of this style is that it is less transferable to athletics than the MAX style and that it is more difficult to hold large kettlebells in the racked position.

Pressing or jerking is essentially the same for both styles. For big weights, you will want to take a small step to widen your base of support and push your hips to the active side. This will give you a bit more stability and will let you concentrate on pressing the kettlebell instead of your balance. Take another deep breadth then punch the kettlebell over head, to the midline of your body to maximize support.

This exercise is effective for almost any goal. It works almost all the major muscles of the body and because it is so comprehensive, makes your heart-rate skyrocket. When performed with a lighter weight, the kettlebell clean and press can be a great cardio wiorkout and will help you develop a lean, fit physique. When used with bigger kettlebells, this exercise will build amazing strength and power. Whichever style or weight you choose for the kettlebell clean and press, consistent practice will produce great results and you won’t be able to keep from falling in love with this exercise.

About Dave Bellomo

Dave Bellomo has worked in a variety of positions in the fitness management field including: corporate wellness, personal training, and program design for amateur and professional athletes. Bellomo has written numerous articles on fitness and strength training and has produced several videos as well as the book, Kettlebell Training for Athletes (McGraw-Hill, 2010). He continues to consult with high-level athletes such as mixed martial artists, strongman competitors, and elite military and law enforcement professionals such as members of Homeland Security and US Special Operations. Bellomo is available for seminars and can be contacted through his website,
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