Not near as exciting as The Three Musketeers and not near as entertaining as The Three Amigos, but there are three kettlebell cleans.
But, first, allow me to digress.
“Form ever follows function.”—Louis Sullivan
Or, said another way, the design of something comes before the use of it.
“Form follows function—that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one….”—Frank Lloyd Wright
Or, the design and use of something should be intertwined.
Yes, really. The idea that a form (in our case the kettlebell clean) determines or is intertwined with the why or use of something is important in understanding the three cleans.
The three cleans are:
- The kettlebell clean as a standalone exercise
- The kettlebell clean as part of a kettlebell clean and press
- The kettlebell clean as part of a kettlebell front squat
Why are architecture, form, and function important?
The type of kettlebell clean (form) sets the structure for the goal exercise (function).
1. The Kettlebell Clean as a Standalone Exercise
The kettlebell clean is a powerful exercise for either power or conditioning. In the original Russian Kettlebell Challenge book, Pavel wrote about a study where a set of 10 kettlebell cleans with double 32kg bells left experienced lifters’ heart rates elevated for quite some time.
The kettlebell clean teaches you how to tame the arc of the kettlebell and direct your energy in an efficient manner to a strong rack position. This strong rack position is achieved while directing the energy of the movement into the ground so there is no impact to you while performing the clean.
It can be performed as a “dead clean,” where the kettlebell is brought to the rack straight from the ground without a pre-swing. It can be performed as a “hang clean,” where the kettlebell is brought to the rack from a hanging position. It can also be performed for continuous repetitions or as part of a complex.
2. The Kettlebell Clean and Press
As part of the kettlebell clean and press, the clean is used to set up the press. In this case, the finish/rack position should facilitate the loading of tension in the body and the lats for the press, and the form/structure of the rack position should facilitate the press by establishing the vertical column of the body for the press. That includes the vertical forearm in the rack position.
The form follows the function. The rack position of the clean facilitates the press.
3. The Kettlebell Front Squat
As part of the kettlebell front squat, the clean is used to set up the front squat. In this case, the rack position allows for the centering of the center of mass of the kettlebells and the body. It is a tighter rack position where the upper arms may even fold toward the midline, to the point of sometime interlacing the fingers. (Women should use caution in this case to avoid too much pressure or impact on the chest.)
The form follows the function. The rack position facilitates the squat.
Watch this video to see all the cleans in action:
Conclusion on the 3 Cleans
So, while the hip action and mechanics of the kettlebell clean are the same, it is the rack position that directs us to the function or use of the clean. During the kettlebell clean and press, the rack position sets up a strong press. During the front squat, the rack position sets up the squat (though keep in mind you may need to adjust your stance between your clean and your squat). During repetition kettlebell cleans, the taming of the arc and direction of energy are the focus.
Three cleans where the form follows the function.
P.S. Okay, yes, there are four cleans, but that didn’t fit my Three Amigos reference.