The Kettlebell Clean

CAUTION: The guidance in this article and accompanying video are not meant to replace real-life, in-person training with a certified kettlebell coach.  Improper technique can cause injury in any form of movement, so use caution!

If you have any doubt about your technique, find a certified kettlebell coach! 

Let’s Clean!

Up until I met my first Kettlebell in 2008, the word “clean” only had one definition and I’d do just about anything to avoid it..  Thankfully, the cleaning in this article has nothing to do with laundry and dishes.  The kettlebell clean is a foundation movement for the clean & jerk (aka, “long cycle”) and the jerk in kettlebell sport.  Cleans are also a pretty darn good workout all on their own!

Here’s how to do it:

Starting PositionKettlebell Clean Start Position

Although it’s possible to clean a bell directly from the floor, I am going to start the clean at the top of the pendulum swing arc.  At this point in the swing you should be standing at your full height, the handle should be fairly vertical (avoid over-rotating the bell) and your upper arm is close to your body.  This is the perfect spot for you to put your hand through the window, aka, “handle insertion”.

Handle Insertion

Kettlebell Clean Handle Insertion

Here’s where we overcome the instinct to grip the handle for fear that it will fly across the room and hit the cat.  Since this is a kettlebell, and not a dumbbell, it’s unlikely you’ll launch it very far unless you completely remove your hand from the window.


Time Out: Anatomy Lesson

Kettlebell Anatomy

Regardless of the style or brand you’re using, all kettlebells have basically the same structure.  The main weight of the bell is sometimes called the body or ball.  It’ll usually have the mass in kilograms or weight in pounds printed on the side of it.  To convert kilograms to pounds, multiply the kilos by 2.2.  The parts of the handle closest to the body are called the horns and are useful when holding the bell upside down or “bottoms-up”.  The curved parts of the handle are the corners.  From time to time it’ll be important to distinguish between the thumb and pinky corners of the handle.  The space made by the handle and the body is called the window.


Ok, back to the clean..

Rack Position

Kettlebell Clean RackRack position is the final stop for the clean and where you will rest in the clean & jerk (long-cycle) and jerk events.  When properly organized, the rack position provides excellent energy transfer for the push press and jerk.  The most common rack positions are open and closed.  While there are various reasons for using each of them, the main mechanical difference is the position of the forearm & hand.  The rack position you choose will depend mainly on your personal preference and how much weight you need to lift.  Here, I’m demonstrating a closed rack position, but I tend to prefer an open rack as the weight gets heavier (or as I get tired).

The Drop

Kettlebell Clean Drop

When you’re ready to do another clean or switch hands, use a slight knee dip (bounce?) or bump the bell with your shoulder to pop the it out of rack. Catch the handle in your finger grip as gravity pulls the bell into the backswing.  Gripping the bell handle is a big no-no, unless you enjoy trimming torn skin from your palms and posting photos of your bloody hands on instagram. Practice the technique with very light weight, keeping your hand open in rack, so you’ll have plenty of room for the bell handle to pop into your fingers as gravity takes it down into the backswing.

Swing and Repeat!

Kettlebell Clean Backswing DipKettlebell Clean Backswing

And there you have it- the one-arm kettlebell clean!

If you’ve tried this and have feedback or have your own tips for cleaning the bell, post in the comments!

Happy Cleaning!
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