Kettlebell Hang Clean — Muscles Worked, How-To, Benefits and Variations

Kettlebell Hang Clean


An all-around beneficial movement, the kettlebell hang clean is great for building functional strength in ways most are not used to, learning proper lifting technique, increasing cardio fitness, developing explosiveness, burning calories, and more. 

It’s an exercise that we recommend for everyone who is capable of learning it and this guide goes over the basics and more including what muscles are involved, how to do it, tips, benefits, variations, and how to effectively include it in your workouts. 

In This Exercise:

  • Target Muscle Group: Thighs, upper back muscles
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, and functional fitness
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Equipment: Kettlebell
  • Difficulty: Beginner, intermediate 

Muscles Worked

Lots of muscles are involved in the kettlebell hang clean. We’ve included descriptions of each one so that you can have a better understanding of the movement mechanics and which body parts receive stimulation. 

Lower Body

The quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves all help to perform the kettlebell hang clean exercise.

This exercise requires the use of all leg muscles, including the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. 

The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial muscle that makes up the majority of the size, shape, and appearance of the butt and hip muscles. It’s also one of the butt muscles that also include the gluteus medius and minimus. 

It’s a very important muscle for function and aesthetics. The butt primarily extends and externally rotates the thighs and it plays an important role in helping us to maintain an upright posture.

The quadriceps or quads for short is the large group of muscles that make up most of your upper leg mass. It has four heads; rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedialis.

These muscles help to flex the hips and extend the knees during movements such as squats. They’re also important for posture, walking, and the function of the spine and pelvis. 

The hamstrings is a three-headed muscle group consisting of semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. 

This muscle group is located on the back of the upper leg opposite the quads and functions to extend the hips and flex the knees. It’s important to note that the short head of the biceps femoris only crosses the knee joint and not the hip like the other two muscles.

The hamstrings play an important role in standing but also explosive activities such as sprinting and jumping. 

Additionally, this three-headed muscle is active during the gait cycle to resist knee extension, plus it stabilizes the knee joints and has other functions too. 

Kettlebell Hang Clean Muscles Worked

Trapezius Middle Fibers

The middle fibers of the trapezius muscle, between the upper and lower trap fibers, adduct (retract) the scapula.

Trapezius Upper fibers

The upper trap fibers elevate and upwardly rotate the scapula and also function to extend the neck. Rows and shrugs especially activate these muscles. 

Brachialis

The brachialis is located deep to the biceps muscle on the outer portion. It’s a pure elbow flexor that gives width to the upper arm when developed.

While this muscle isn’t visible on most people, when well-developed on a leaner individual, you can see it poking through the outer upper arms between the biceps and triceps. 

The brachialis does add some extra size to the upper arms and can help to fill out those sleeves just a little more. 

Brachioradialis

The brachioradialis is a muscle located in the lateral forearm. It’s an elbow flexor and forearm supinator and pronator. Pulling movements and rows work this muscle. 

Deltoid Posterior

The pull portion of the movement involves the upper back muscles and rear deltoids. The rear delts help to move the arms back behind the body and are connected to the shoulder blade or scapula.

The deltoid posterior also assists in stabilizing the arm so that it can adduct or raise up between 15-100 degrees.

Core

Core muscles like the abs, obliques, and lower back are also involved, and doing movements like the kettlebell hang clean will strengthen these muscles too. 

The core muscles help to stabilize the trunk, bend it forward and backward and twist and rotate the midsection. 

How To Do The Kettlebell Hang Clean 

The kettlebell hang clean is more than just a simple movement, however, it’s not so complex that it should deter anyone from picking up a kettlebell and practicing. 

Here are step-by-step instructions to help you with proper movement execution. 

Step 1 – Starting Position and Stance

Choose the appropriate kettlebell and set it on the floor close to you. Place your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and turn your toes slightly outward. 

Position the kettlebell close and in front of your feet so that you can squat down to pick it up. 

Step 2 – Body Position

Squat down by bending the hips, knees, and ankles, also known as triple extension of the joints. It’s important to keep your back straight and head up and not look down at any point during the movement. 

Step 3 – The Grip

Unlike most exercises, you should have a loose/hook grip when performing the kettlebell hang clean. That’s because the weight needs to swing around the wrist, and not flip over the hand and bang onto the wrist.

To do it, place your four fingers under the handle and secure them enough to keep the weight in place. 

Step 4 – Deadlift 

Now that you’ve learned proper body position and grip, deadlift, or pick the weight up off the ground. As you stand up, keep the kettlebell positioned between both legs. 

Step 5 – Squat and Shrug 

This part is very important for an efficient hang clean. It’s the explosive triple extension of your joints (squat) and shoulder shrug that pull the kettlebell up in the front rack position, not your arms. This portion of the lift should be fast and powerful. 

When you’re ready, squat down with the weight in your hand, head looking forward, and explode upward using the legs while simultaneously and powerfully shrugging the same shoulder. Keep your elbow locked out as long as you can during the lift, and your arm close to your body. 

Step 6 – Clean and Catch

The explosive pull should bring the kettlebell high, and from here you want to adjust your grip to spin it around your wrist onto the top of your bicep and forearm. 

Keep your arm close to your body and end with the forearm completely vertical. 

Step 7 – Repeat

The most important thing to remember here is to not pause during the movement. Both parts, the squat and the lift should be fast and fluid. 

Here’s a great video demonstration and explanation of how to do the kettlebell hang clean. 

Kettlebell Hang Clean Tips

  • Beginners should always use a light kettlebell and perfect their technique before progressing to heavier weights. 
  • It’s important to use a loose grip so that the kettlebell can spin around the wrist into the front rack position. Never flip the weight over your wrist as this can cause injure your forearm. 
  • Always keep your head up and looking forward. This allows you to pull the kettlebell with enough power to bring it into position. 
  • Keep your elbow extended during the pull as long as possible. This prevents using the biceps to pull the weight up which is what you don’t want to happen. 
  • You can use your non-working hand to assist the kettlebell into the position. 
  • Both parts of the movement should be performed in one fast and fluid motion. Do not pause during any parts of the lifts. 
  • Keep the kettlebell directly over the forearm when in the front rack position.
  • The arm should be nice and tight against the torso in the end position.

[Related: Best Upper Back Exercises For Maximum Mass]

Kettlebell Hang Clean Benefits

The kettlebell hang clean is a beast of an exercise that everyone should incorporate in their training if possible. Let’s talk about the benefits of this unconventional movement. 

Build Functional Strength and Ability

The kettlebell hang clean is not your conventional exercise which is why it can be so beneficial to any and everyone. 

You’re training in a way that involves multiple elements of action that challenges total-body strength, movement ability, coordination, mobility, and flexibility. 

Most people don’t include these types of lifts in their training and are, therefore, not as functionally complete. It’s important to do various forms of exercise that involve different modalities of training. 

The Functional Training Split: Overview, Benefits and Sample Workouts

Gain Some Muscle

While it’s not the best option for building strength and maximizing your muscle size, the hang clean can be a challenging exercise for your muscles. Not to mention, once you become more advanced and even progress to a barbell, all of your muscles will receive plenty of stimulation, resulting in the breakdown of muscle tissue which causes hypertrophy (muscle growth)

Develop Explosiveness

If your workouts consist mostly of bench presses and lat pulldowns, well, good for you – these are very effective exercises. But you’re not really going to benefit beyond building some muscle and strength in those muscle groups. 

As human beings, we’re so much more capable and our training should reflect that. Are you an athlete? Maybe you want to be fitter, or you plan to be able to keep up with your young ones for years to come. 

Great Calorie Bburner

Dynamic, total-body exercises are highly recommended and effective for burning lots of calories. While you can focus on lifting heavy, you should also take advantage of higher rep training to get your heart rate up and set yourself up to lose body fat

Improve Cardio Fitness and Conditioning

Triceps pushdowns are not going to get you breathing as hard and heavy compared to doing kettlebell hang cleans. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness and conditioning for athletics, fitness, and weight loss, fit more of these types of movements in your workouts. 

Easier than Barbell Hang Cleans

The barbell hang clean is not an ideal beginner’s exercise as there’s much more involved like cleaning the bar to the front rack position and pulling your body underneath it. Not to mention, having to be able to lift a barbell. 

The kettlebell hang clean, however, can definitely be a good option to start with as long as you understand proper lifting technique. 

Kettlebell Hang Clean Variations

The kettlebell hang clean is amazing in its own way, however, there are other versions of the hang clean that have their own advantages. Here are some variations that we really like. 

Double Kettlebell Hang Clean

If you got the movement down using one kettlebell, we think it’s time for you to try two of them. This will challenge your coordination, awareness, and technique even more than the single kettlebell version and will add more weight to the exercise overall.

You can perform the movement by cleaning both kettlebells at the same time or you could do the alternating variation

Kettlebell Hang Clean and Press

Why not add another element to the hang clean? – An overhead press. This is a great variation for working the shoulder and upper chest muscles. The benefit of doing this exercise is that you’ll also learn to properly perform a press and perfect your lifting technique. 

The only drawback is that lifting two heavy kettlebells overhead at the same time is typically harder than pressing just one weight overhead. If there are any weaknesses on either side of the torso, it will affect the lift.

Here’s a great example video of how it’s done. 

Dumbbell hang clean

Dumbbells are a more common training implement not only in gyms but also for those who train at home. 

This variation will require a different technique compared to using a kettlebell, however, it will still have all the same benefits, except that you won’t be as proficient with kettlebells unless you switch between the two training tools (dumbbells and kettlebells) regularly. 

[Related: Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells – Which One Should You Use?]

Barbell Hang Clean

If you have decent training experience and think you’re ready for the big version of the hang clean, then the barbell variation is going to be the next option for you. 

Using The Kettlebell Hang Clean In Your Training

The kettlebell hang clean can be beneficial in many ways. Therefore, you can incorporate it for different goals or to just mix things up. Here are ideas for including the movement in the workouts. 

CrossFit Style Training

The kettlebell hang clean is a CrossFit-style exercise and therefore a great option for this type of training. CrossFit is a form of functional fitness that involves various types of physical activity such as weight lifting, powerlifting, calisthenics, gymnastics, kettlebell training, and more. 

In other words, the more you know how to do, and effectively, the better off you’ll be, especially if you compete. 

Circuit Training 

Circuit training is a great way to work several muscle groups but also improve your overall fitness, burn calories and get the heart rate up. 

This type of training involves choosing several exercises and performing them back to back with little to no rest in between. 

Straight Sets 

Of course, you don’t have to do anything special… adding in a few sets of the kettlebell hang clean to your workout is perfectly effective too. The most important thing is that you’re changing up your routine and including exercises that have functional benefits. 

Wrapping Up

The kettlebell hang clean is a fantastically functional exercise that everyone should learn to do. It challenges various aspects of fitness performance and transfers to a lot of daily tasks and athletic activities. Plus there are ways to progress into this movement and variations that are even more challenging.

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