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The Kettlebell version of the heaviest Olympic lift, the clean and jerk allows you to build strength, explosiveness and endurance all at once. Learn what it is and how to do it, then you can reap the benefits!

The clean and jerk is a staple movement of Olympic weightlifting.  In the Olympic clean and jerk, the athlete makes three attempts to lift a maximal load overhead in a two-part movement.  Kettlebell clean and jerk is a very different animal, but the real basis of the movement is the same.  It’s about the movement pattern that allows the most efficient transition of the load from the floor to overhead.

The barbell clean and jerk is a highly complex – not complicated, complex – movement, possibly the most technical and explosive athletic movement after the full barbell snatch.  I’m just offering a quick overview here so I can differentiate it from the kettlebell equivalent.  Barbell clean and jerk begins when the athlete performs a full clean, moving the bar from the floor to the bottom position of the front squat by catching the bar in the ‘racked’ position.  Next, the athlete stands, and then ‘splits’ under the bar, pushing the bar up and dropping under it simultaneously to end with the bar overhead and one leg in front, the other behind, a position familiar from the overhead lunge many PTs use as a less technical substitute.  Finally the athlete stands up fully, feet together, knees and elbows locked. 

As you can see this is a lift you’d want some coaching in, especially in view of the kinds of weight that get moved this way!

However, it’s important to note that this isn’t a random selection of movements. 

Rather, the clean and jerk is what it is because it’s the most efficient way of moving a load from the floor overhead, assuming that load is barbell-shaped.  Therefore, a heavier load can be used, resulting in more adaptation to stress, resulting in more explosive strength.

So the theory goes. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating: Oly lifters are some of the world’s strongest and most explosive athletes.  Many coaches program O-lifts for their non-lifting athletes for that reason, though others point to the technical difficulty of the O-lifts and find alternatives that give the athlete more time for his or her sport.

So what’s the difference between the Oly clean and jerk and the kettlebell one?

Kettlebells are supposed to be submaximal.  You’re not supposed to be going all-out in terms of load with each lift; you’re supposed to be going for power, strength and endurance all at once.  It’s that combination of athletic traits trained simultaneously that makes kettlebells so appealing to a wide variety of athletes.  Additionally, kettlebell lifts are almost always less technical than O-lifts. 

The kettlebell clean and jerk is a foundational lift in the sport of competitive kettlebells but it should also be a foundational lift of your kettlebell training at home or in the gym. 

What it has in common with the Oly clean and jerk is the basic pattern of movement, and the idea that this will be your strongest overhead lift.  Expect to clean and jerk a heavier bell than you snatch with, or to manage more volume with the same bell.

Let’s begin with an overview of the kettlebell clean and jerk

Start with the bell on the floor, and swing it.  Remember, the secret is, the snatch is a swing; the clean is a swing; the basis of kettlebell movement is the swing.  Shorten the arc of the swing to clean the bell to the chest and set; make sure you’re strong and firm.  Now, drop a little, then drive upward with your legs.  This is similar to a push press, but with more push.  Finally, catch the bell overhead, as you resume a fully upright posture.  There’s no real ‘press’ here, and if you find yourself pressing you’re cheating!

For most of us who have some familiarity with kettlebells, the jerk phase is the one where we’re going to need some extra instruction here, while for beginners, I’d stick with cleans and presses separately. 
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