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Onnit Director of Fitness Education Shane Heins teaches the one-arm kettlebell clean.

The Expert Guide To The One-Arm Kettlebell Clean Exercise

Written by
November 15, 2023
Updated January 29, 2024

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What Is The One-Arm Kettlebell Clean?

The one-arm kettlebell clean delivers many of the same benefits of the Olympic weightlifting clean, but is less technically demanding. It builds full-body explosiveness and power by training simultaneous extension of the hips and knees, which is a movement required in every power sport. As a result, the one-arm kettlebell clean can enhance vertical jumping ability and general speed.

Because you work one side at a time, the one-arm kettlebell clean trains you to resist rotation at the torso, which makes it an excellent core strength exercise. As with all kettlebell movements, it will build grip strength as well.

The one-arm clean can serve as a transition point after you’ve mastered a simpler move like the kettlebell swing and deadlift and before you take on advanced lifts such as the kettlebell rotational clean and kettlebell rotational clean to bent press. The one-arm clean will teach you to take a kettlebell from the floor to the rack position (shoulder level) safely, setting you up for a variety of press, squat, and swing techniques.

How To Do The One-Arm Kettlebell Clean

(See 01:10 in the video above.)

Step 1: Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Stand with your feet straight and set between hip and shoulder-width apart. Now actively screw them into the floor so you feel your hips and glutes fire up—imagine twisting up turf beneath your feet, or using them to spread a bunched-up carpet apart. Your feet shouldn’t move but your lower body should become tense. Bend your hips back and bend your knees a bit to reach the kettlebell. You want a stance that’s somewhere between a high hip hinge and a vertical squat. Aim for an athletic position—”The kind you’d take if you were about to tackle someone in football,” says Shane Heins, Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education. Draw your shoulder blades back together and down—think: “proud chest.”

If the kettlebell is still too low to reach, you can elevate it on a box or a bench.

Step 2. Pull your elbow back as if performing a row, drawing the kettlebell back toward your hip. At the same time, extend your hips and knees to generate momentum and stand up tall. Allow your wrist to rotate as you row the bell. Pat it with the other hand to help you wrap the kettlebell around your wrist. To finish the clean, drive your elbow forward and punch through so your forearm is vertical.

Step 3: Make sure your wrist is straight and aligned with your forearm.

Don’t dismiss the wrap. It may seem like a crutch that only beginners use, but it’s a great way to reinforce the mechanics you need to clean correctly WITHOUT banging the weight against your wrist. Heins says he still uses the wrap technique often in his own training, even though he’s capable of cleaning heavy kettlebells without it.

Step 4:  Reverse the motion by unraveling the kettlebell around the forearm, lowering your elbow to straighten your arm, and hiking the bell between your legs quickly to begin the next rep. Complete all your reps on one side and then repeat on the other.

If you have trouble performing the clean smoothly, simply break it down into its component parts and do them one at a time (see 6:04 in the video). Start in a high hinge (bend your hips back and keep your knees closer to straight), row the bell and cup it with your free hand, and extend your hips to stand up tall. With the bottom of the bell facing forward at your side, it may look like you’re holding a toy rifle of some kind (Heins jokes that it’s the “Master Blaster 3000”). From there, use your hand to wrap the bell and punch your arm through so it’s vertical. When you’ve got that movement down, doing it fluidly to perform a real clean will feel more natural.

Muscles Worked in the One-Arm Kettlebell Clean

– Quads

Hamstrings

– Glutes

– Calves

– Shoulders

– Upper back

– Forearms

– Core

One-Arm Kettlebell Clean Benefits

– Improved total-body power

– Increased explosiveness

– Grip strength

– Enhanced vertical jump

– Core, shoulder, and posterior chain strength

How to Use the One-Arm Kettlebell Clean

Due to the total-body nature of the one-arm kettlebell clean, it can suffice as a workout by itself. Go heavy for strength (say, five sets of five reps on each side), or test your conditioning by setting a timer for a few minutes and seeing how many reps you can do in that time.

You can also use it to key up your central nervous system before a heavy workout. Two or three sets of 3–5 reps can help you better recruit musculature for a strength and power workout. Of course, the clean works as a jumping-off point for dozens of other kettlebell exercises. Bringing the weight from the floor to the rack position sets you up for overhead presses, squats, lunges, and so on. You may use the clean to begin a kettlebell flow, or as part of a total-body circuit.

One-Arm Kettlebell Clean Regression

If you have difficulty completing the clean without hurting your forearm, practice the half-kneeling, one-arm clean. The mechanics are the same; you just start in a half-kneeling position on the floor. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can progress to the half-kneeling dead start, and then move on to the standing dead start, followed by the assisted clean, and finally the full one-arm kettlebell clean. You can find this entire sequence HERE.

One-Arm Kettlebell Clean Progression

When you’ve got the one-arm kettlebell clean down, try advancing to a one-arm kettlebell clean with rotation. This will prepare you to perform the more twisty and multi-planar movements that the clean is intended to set you up for. (See 09:05 in the video.)

Step 1. Reach down to grasp the kettlebell and reach your free arm behind you. Twist your wrist so that the palm of the working hand is facing away from your body.

Step 2. Clean the bell, rotating your wrist and and rotating your torso backward to the same side you’ve cleaned to, but keep that hip braced straight and facing forward (don’t let it twist back when your torso does).

Step 3. Rotate in the opposite direction, twisting your torso 45 degrees to face the other hip (while keeping that hip braced and forward).

Step 4. From there, rotate back in the direction of the working side—the first rotation you performed—and then unravel your wrist and let the kettlebell down.

If you need a refresher course on kettlebell basics, see our Full-Body Kettlebell Workout for Beginners article.

Onnit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible. The online database includes articles, videos, tutorials, and workouts featuring alternative implements like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, battle ropes, and more.
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