Fix Your Kettlebell Clean

CleanScreenLike the kettlebell swing, the kettlebell clean is a complicated exercise, but it can often be tidied up with just three simple cues.

1) Pretend you’re holding a cute lil clutch purse under your arm during the movement. Or a newspaper, if you’re not the purse-clutching type. The idea is to keep your elbow close to your body — the tendency in a sloppy clean is to let the elbow chicken-wing out away from the torso.

2) Zip your coat. So now you’ve got to clamp your purse and zip your coat at the same time. An awkward visual, no doubt, but this takes care of another common tendency in a messy swing, and that’s to let the kettlebell stray too far out in front of you, causing crappy timing for moving the kettlebell into position against the back of your wrist.

3) Imagine a wall right in front of you. Or, actually go face a wall like a dunce. This drives home the same point as cue No. 2, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Keep that kettlebell close to you!

Bonus! One last point: Unlike the kettlebell snatch, the weight does not have to move over the top of your hand to land against the back of your wrist. Rather, you can just “sneak” it around the pinky-side of your wrist. (Your wrist, by the way, must remain ramrod straight throughout the movement.) This swiveling motion helps nix the clang of the the kettlebell crashing down on the back of the wrist. The idea is to maneuver the weight gently into place, so eliminate as much separation between yourself and the kettlebell at all points during the movement.

Here’s a quick two-minute video that walks you through all of these points. In it, I demonstrate a rectilinear clean (where the kettlebell moves straight up and down), but the same principles apply to a curvilinear clean, in which the bell moves backward between the legs between reps (mimicking the kettlebell swing recovery path). I recommend starting with a rectilinear clean until form is tight, then transitioning to a curvilinear clean.

Did that help tidy up your clean? What other exercises would you like me to troubleshoot?

Note: These are cues I’ve picked up over the years from a number of other kettlebell trainers — I wish I could remember where they all came from so I could attribute them properly.


Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.
Comments: 37

37 Responses to “Fix Your Kettlebell Clean”

  1. Hi Jen,

    Great advice thankyou. can I just ask though when your “dropping” the kettlebell should your core remain tight?

  2. Peter Swallow

    Hi Jen,
    I use the first two cue’s with my clients, but I backed away from face the wall cleans, but I could certainly cue them that way.
    Just a quick note, rectilinear, and curvilinear are surely not real words, in your comments you call them a swing clean and dead stop clean. Those I understand. 😉

    • Tell that to Jason C. Brown, who taught ’em to me that way.:D That said, call ’em whatever you like, as long as we are all on the same page.:)

  3. Man, I could have used this for this morning’s workout. Thanks. This is going to save my wrists for future workouts.

  4. Cheryl Moore

    Thanks Jen, Did the clean yesterday for the first time with a KB and these tips today really helped me make it smooth and painless:)

  5. Nice cues. Another good one that I’ve heard is that the movement is similar to starting a lawn mower. This helps to understand where and how to apply force.

  6. Great info.! Thanks so much for these tips and the genius (layman’s language) cues. Can’t wait to scope out more of your site!

  7. Jeffrey

    Thanks Jen!
    I’m a newbie KB aficionado but I’ve already leaned how to snake my wrist around the bell pretty smoothly. My problem is with the way back down, particularly if you are doing multiple reps or going into a swing.
    a.. No matter how i try to smooth it out he bell tends to land with a clunk at the bottom and I’m getting a tendinitis in my brachioradialis at the elbow and
    b. the way down seems to be when all the hand trauma occurs (callouses, blisters etc)

    Any tips for that? Thanks in advance.

  8. “Imagine a wall right in front of you. Or, actually go face a wall like a dunce”
    – Thanks for the tip, this works really well. Just be careful not to break the wall!

  9. Thanks for the reminder to keep my elbow close to my body – I’ve been smacking my forearm lately. Great stuff!

  10. Tiara

    Thanks so much for this!! Very helpful!

  11. corey debord

    Sinkler- you rock!

  12. I teach my cleans very similarly for newbies.Good post Jen.

    • Thank ya much.:) (I’d love to get out to see you guys next time I’m in AZ, btw!)

  13. Emmet

    Exactly how I was taught to do the clean. Great demo Jen.

  14. Nikki Wilmoth

    Thank you for posting this article, but more so the breakdown into simple easy to “reference” steps that will help our clients. We tend to be so technical when teaching this technique to our KB class, although it is a standard exercise in both our circuits and interval classes, that we sometimes get the “glazed” ok response when refining the new clients form on the spot. LOL. This is fabulous for helping refine. Thank you!

    • Glad you dug it, Nikki! And I completely agree — it’s so important to coach in a way that connects with people in a language that makes sense to them. Technical terminology doesn’t do the trick as often as we’d like.:)

  15. “Ever done a power clean?” That’s funny. I was doing power cleans long before you were born Jen. One of your mistakes is trying to make a kettlebell into a barbell. It does not work that way. Maybe there is someone who can drop a kettlebell and catch it with control the way you were trying to, Andrew Read’s assistant doesn’t do so bad. But Why? The kettlebell does not lend itself to that type of movement. It is inherently clumsy.

    Honestly I don’t find Jason C Brown’s instruction useful at all. I see no reason to quote him or reference him. Why not quote his teachers? He seems to have added nothing to what they teach, and lost a noticeable amount. He presents in a way that is mostly acceptable, but many others instruct better. Same may be true of me, and you.

    You have to ask yourself: what is the point of that clumsy, power leaking movement? What is the outcome of practicing it? There is no good outcome that is not served better by a correct kettlebell clean. If you want to do a hang clean or a power clean use a barbell. Let barbell wisdom inform your kettlebell lifting, don’t try to force barbell dogma onto it, and vice versa.

    My students have no problem learning the kettlebell clean the SFG/RKC way. They are doing smooth and powerful cleans in minutes, maybe seconds. I suspect this is true for all diligent SFG and RKC instructors. You still can’t do a decent clean your way Jen, after how long? Making up fancy, technical sounding names for bad ideas does not mask lack of understanding.

    You know I was going to edit down my bio, and I will, but someone will surely think or say, “Have you ever done a push-up? I see in your bio all this SFG stuff but you’ve never done push-ups, so how can give advice…” A neighbor showed me power cleans in 1976. In 2012 Dan John gave me a refresher at Easy Strength. Plenty of power cleans in the years between.

    • Eric,
      Everything that needs to be said to you is being said on this Facebook post: Even your SFG peers are pointing out the errors of your dogmatic approach now. My point about the power clean is regarding the BODY position involved, not the implement used. My point is that position is a strong, powerful one.

      We disagree, and I probably would have just deleted your comment at the outset had I realized you’re the prototypical “negative YouTube commenter” guy, who is critical of everything not spoon-fed to him by his guru figure. I’m guessing had you realized Pavel himself is a proponent of the dead-stop clean some circumstances, you wouldn’t have piped up to begin with, and certainly not so rudely.

      So, you do your way (your ONE way to skin a cat), and I’ll do mine.

      • Eric Driver CSCS

        Thanks Jen,

  16. “Rectilinear clean?” Why do that ever, at all? It is weak, clumsy, inefficient and wrong. Why not show a correct, safe, powerful and efficient clean?

    • Eric,
      Completely disagree. Have you ever done a power clean? With a barbell? Perhaps not, but if you think about a rectilinear clean in that way there’s NOTHING inherently weak about that bar (or kettlebell path). Sure, there are people who will try to reverse-curl the weight (again, whether it’s a barbell or kettlebell), but recruiting power from the hips is NOT what a lot of people struggle with in the kettlebell clean — at least my clients don’t. During my Kettlebell Athletics training, Jason C. Brown taught both the curvilinear and rectilinear clean, and I’m not dogmatic enough to think that only one of them is valuable.

      The curvilinear clean alone was taught during my RKC cert, of course, and while I do also coach that, I find that the problem many of my clients have has more to do with making the movement a “mini snatch” — as the person demoing in the video you attached in your second comment — and letting the kettlebell get too far away from the body. I’ve used these exact cues to fix many, many cleans, and once they’re ship-shape, it’s possible to do whichever version of the clean the client likes best.

      In short, if you don’t want to use these cues with your clients, fine, but it’s folly to call this movement pattern weak, and it shows the gaps in your experience. In your bio (at your website:, I see a lot of kettlebell training, an FMS cert, a little bit of powerlifting (just referred to as “trained in”), but no Olympic lifting, so maybe it’s possible you haven’t done a power clean before and you don’t understand the strength of this position. So, you do it your way — — and I’ll do it mine. But please don’t bring your nasty, disrespectful attitude back to my house again.

  17. liz kerl

    can you go over your coaching tips for the snatch? thanks!

    • Absolutely! Thanks for the suggestion, I was thinking that one should be next in line.:)

  18. I would love to hear you discuss alternate kettlebell swings! I really appreciate your videos and the one you did on swings really helped me. In fact I hear your voice in my head and you correct me when I go wrong. Thank you!

  19. Great advice. I can’t wait to try a cleaner clean!

  20. Very helpful and clear. Thank you!

  21. sarah k.

    Love this. thanks for these concise tips.

  22. thanks 🙂 I can snatch easily but cleaning is hard 🙁

    • Super common, Heidi — the problem is usually that you’re not sneaking the kettlebell around the wrist, and instead trying to move it over the hand (as in a snatch). Hope these cues help!

Leave a Reply