Kettlebell Hang Clean: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 18, 2022

A highly explosive and dynamic exercise, the kettlebell hang clean is considered one of the hallmark exercises in kettlebell athletic training, with certain sports or subsections of fitness such as CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting utilizing the kettlebell hang clean as a primary compound movement in their workouts.

The kettlebell hang clean is a relatively common compound exercise involving the use of free weight kettlebells, making it a suitable full body athletic training and physical rehabilitation exercise for a variety of different individuals.

Due to the explosive nature of the kettlebell hang clean and the subsequent risk in performing explosive exercises with high amounts of weight, the kettlebell hang clean is best reserved for individuals who possess a minute amount of experience in the performance of resistance exercises.

What is the Kettlebell Hang Clean?

In its clearest definition, the kettlebell hang clean is a free weight exercise performed with only one side of the body at a time, further classifying it as a bilateral exercise.

The kettlebell hang clean is also considered a closed kinetic chain exercise due to the fact that the distal portion of the body remains planted on the ground during the entirety of the repetition, reducing the total space needed to perform the exercise as well as making it somewhat suitable for individuals with coordination or balance issues, in certain situations.

the kettlebell hang clean

When considering the fact that the kettlebell hang clean involves more than a single muscle group during its performance, it is by no stretch of imagination that the kettlebell hang clean may also be classified as a compound exercise. 

This may be surmised by noticing the particular mechanics of the kettlebell hang clean, of which primarily involve the majority of the muscle groups in the legs as well as a few specific upper body muscles.

How is the Kettlebell Hang Clean Performed?

The steps needed in order to perform the kettlebell hang clean with proper form are relatively simple, though some risk of injury is present due to the fact that the kettlebell hang clean can place significant force on connective tissues – apart from the fact that a significant amount of weight is being moved at high speeds near the exerciser’s head.

To begin, the exerciser must stand erect with their feet planted firmly on the floor at approximately shoulder width or whatever distance the exerciser finds comfortable with enough space between their legs to swing the kettlebell through.

Ideally, the kettlebell should be placed just out of arm's reach on the floor or a similar surface in front of the exerciser. This is done because the exerciser will lower themselves later during the exercise, closing the distance between the kettlebell and their hand.

The exerciser must then maintain a straight back as they bend forward and protrude their buttocks, creating a flat plane with their back that acts as a cue for their spinal cord being in a safe and protected position.

The exerciser will then follow this forward bend by bending at the knees and hips, all the while maintaining a flat back as they reach out and take hold of the kettlebell from the floor.

Now gripped firmly in a single hand, the kettlebell will move in a small yet smooth path between the exerciser’s legs, shortly before they “clean” the kettlebell by swinging it upwards while simultaneously straightening their legs and hips, allowing their shoulder and wrist joints to move as natural biomechanics dictate.

As the kettlebell is brought over the shoulder, it is important for the exerciser to ensure that it does not overextend behind their back, of which may tear the rotator cuff located in the shoulder or induce similar connective tissue injuries.

Once the kettlebell is approximately parallel to the shoulder, the exerciser may then allow it to fall once more to the floor or back between their legs, depending on whether additional repetitions are meant to be performed.

This completes a single repetition of the kettlebell hang clean.

What are the Benefits of the Kettlebell Hang Clean?

The kettlebell hang clean presents a variety of positive effects to any individual that chooses to regularly perform it, especially when combined with such things like a stretching routine, proper diet, and adequate hydration.

The majority of these effects will likely be present in many other resistance exercises owing to the nature of these types of training. 

However, a certain few benefits are induced solely by the kettlebell hang clean and similar exercises with alike biomechanics, forms of resistance or function.

Bone and Muscle Benefits

As is the nature for many resistance exercises, individuals choosing to perform the kettlebell hang clean at regular intervals throughout the week will find that a certain level of muscular hypertrophy and increased bone mineral density takes place within their body.

This is further compounded by a marked increase in the relative cohesive strength of the individual’s connective tissues, though the strengthening of these particular types of tissues will take a somewhat longer time than that of muscle and bone.

The exact reasoning behind this marked improvement in bodily composition from performing kettlebell hang cleans is due to the increased activity of bone-forming cells when placed under reasonable levels of mechanical stress, as well as the increased production of certain hormones relating to bone density within the human body.

Athletic Performance Benefits

Considering the fact that the kettlebell hang clean is a dynamic exercise primarily utilizing the explosive sort of movement wherein the resistance object is put into a controlled motion, it is no surprise that a variety of athletes from many sports have chosen to utilize this particular exercise.

This is due to the fact that the muscle fibers and neurological structures found in the athlete can adapt to the particular explosive movement involved in the kettlebell hang clean, allowing them to perform similar actions with parallel levels of explosiveness and dynamics, such as sprinting or jumping.

Additionally, at higher repetitions, the kettlebell hang clean can induce some level of cardiological benefits, improving the endurance of the athlete as well as the maximum amount of energy they may accrue from a single breath of air.

General Health Benefits

Not solely under the purview of the kettlebell hang clean, the majority of resistance exercises may provide certain general health benefits if performed regularly and with the correct factors in play.

Individuals prescribed or choosing to perform the kettlebell hang clean may find themselves presenting with a myriad of health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, reduced levels of stress and various hormonal changes that can slow down aging and improve internal bodily function.

As such, the kettlebell hang clean and practically any other resistance exercise should be incorporated into most individuals choosing to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

What Muscles are Used While Performing the Kettlebell Hang Clean?

Being a compound exercise utilizing a variety of different muscles, the kettlebell hang clean is an excellent choice for activating the majority of the muscle groups located on the upper and lower legs, as well as parts of the upper body during the concentric portion of the exercise.

These muscles are normally categorized by the force output that is required of them during the performance of the exercise, with muscles receiving the most significant mechanical stress being dubbed as the primary movers, others being dubbed secondary movers, and muscle groups only acting in a stabilizing capacity fittingly being called stabilizing muscles.

Primary Movers

Outputting the most energy among all the muscles involved during the kettlebell hang clean, the various smaller muscle groups located in the hamstrings along the back of the upper leg as well as the quadriceps located on the opposite end of the upper leg.

These two muscles are responsible for the upward thrusting of the torso and the straightening of the legs, of which is where the majority of the force involved in the kettlebell hang clean comes from.

Additionally, another primary mover in the kettlebell hang clean are the deltoid heads and the trapezius, both of which are located on the shoulders and adjacent to them respectively.

These particular muscles are involved in the swinging of the kettlebell in both downward and upward motions, as well as during the arresting of its momentum at the peak of the concentric portion.

Secondary Movers

Sharing a portion of the mechanical stress, the secondary mover muscles involved during a repetition of a kettlebell hang clean are the lower back muscles, the various muscles grouped under the glutes as well as the calves located on the lower leg.

These muscles are primarily utilized during the first portion of the movement wherein the glutes and the calves contract in order to straighten the lower body, producing elastic force that allows the exerciser to apply more energy to the kettlebell as it is thrust upwards.

Stabilizing Muscles

Primarily activated in order to prevent the overextension and subsequent injury of the various muscles and connective tissues involved during the kettlebell hang clean, the stabilizing muscle groups of the abdominals, erector spinae and forearms all come into play during the entirety of said kettlebell hang clean.

This, by some extension, means that said muscles will grow in a stabilizing capacity, allowing them to stabilize heavier loads and for longer periods, though the exact level of muscular hypertrophy and neurological strength adaptation induced may be limited and vary between cases.

Are Kettlebell Hang Cleans Effective?

Kettlebell hang cleans are extremely effective for their usual purposes – namely that of explosive athletic training and general full body muscular conditioning- making the kettlebell hang clean an excellent addition to many full body workout routines or physical rehabilitation plans.

However, usually being performed as a bilateral exercise may limit the exact level of mechanical stress the exerciser can place on said muscles due to the risk of injury and the accrued training fatigue on the exerciser’s joints and bones.

As such, for truly heavy compound movements, it may be advisable to instead use other exercises capable of using increased weight with a lower risk of subsequent injury.

Can You Do Kettlebell Hang Cleans Every Day?

Being a compound exercise, the kettlebell hang clean may be somewhat taxing on the central nervous system and the connective tissues of the athlete if performed at high intensities on a daily basis, even with an appropriate diet and resting schedule.

This is due to the fact that the body requires some time to recover between bouts of exercise, especially one involving as many muscle groups as the kettlebell hang cleans.

If the athlete absolutely needs to perform the kettlebell hang clean on a daily basis, it is best to lower the intensity of the exercise either by reducing the volume of repetitions used or by utilizing lower amounts of weight.

References

1. Meigh NJ, Keogh JWL, Schram B, Hing WA. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping review. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019;11:19. Published 2019 Sep 3. doi:10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z

2. Jay, K., Frisch, D., Hansen, K., Zebis, M. K., Andersen, C. H., Mortensen, O. S., & Andersen, L. L. (2011). Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: a randomized controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(3), 196–203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41151543

3. Ayers JL, DeBeliso M, Sevene TG, Adams KJ. Hang cleans and hang snatches produce similar improvements in female collegiate athletes. Biol Sport. 2016;33(3):251-256. doi:10.5604/20831862.1201814

4. Ebel, Kevin MEd, CSCS; Rizor, Ryan Teaching the Hang Clean and Overcoming Common Obstacles, Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2002 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 32-36

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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