Are Kettlebell Swings Better Than Cleans?


Here I will break down two of my favorite kettlebell exercises. Swings and cleans. The reason why I’m so passionate about them is that I love how strong my body feels after just a few sets. And, if I were to choose between them, that would be a tough call. But let me try anyway.

Are kettlebell swings better than cleans? The kettlebell swing is a more practiced and more popular exercise comparing to kettlebell clean. However, with the low number of research about the benefits of performing kettlebell clean as a single exercise, it’s difficult to conclude.

So it’s hard to be black and white here. As always, it will strongly depend on many factors. And without further ado, let’s look at what science says about the benefits of swings vs cleans.

Kettlebell Swings or Kettlebell Cleans?

On the surface, kettlebell clean may just look like a way to bring the weight into the racked position, before starting another exercise. Like a front squat or overhead press. And it’s rarely practiced as a separate exercise on its own. This is a shame because kettlebell clean, as well as the swing, has got plenty to offer.

One of the reasons that people stay away from doing clean as a single exercise could be because of its complexity. Clean, together with a snatch, are one of the most complex Olympic movements. It’s a hard skill.

So you can’t just go to the person, demonstrate the clean, and expect him to do it properly.

You see how I did it? Ok, now you do it.

It doesn’t work like that. It’s a process.

And, if you just do a single clean as an entry-level to bring the kettlebell ready for a press, you may get away with a bad form. But, if you were about to do the full 20-minute clean workout, then you can get in trouble.

Starting position

The starting position is similar to the swing. Weight is in front of you, between your feet. The big difference is that kettlebell swing is usually done with both hands. The clean is a single hand gig.

For the swing, you will grab a kettlebell with both hands, bend your hips keeping your back straight, and start to swing the weight like a pendulum. You keep your hands straight, but not locked in the elbows.

For the clean, you will grab the kettlebell with just one hand, and swing it up keeping it close to your body. You do not straighten your arm, but you bring the weight to the front rack position. Your elbow is bent close to your body, the wrist is in line, and the weight is landing (rolling) comfortably on your forearm.

The position where your arm is almost vertical, and you hold the kettlebell by its handle that sits comfortably on your arm is called “racked position”, “rack” or “front rack”.

The Movement

Movement is where we see the difference. This part is important because people usually treat the clean the same as swing.

For the swing, the movement doesn’t stop. From the moment you pick up the kettlebell, to the moment you put it down, it is moving together with you. This means you do all your reps before you place the kettlebell back on the floor.

For the clean, the complete movement cycle is one rep. You start from the floor, then you bring it up to land on the rack position. The movement is almost vertical. As close to your body as you can. It requires powerful and explosive shrug from your shoulders.

From there, you just go backward (the same way you came in). You flip the kettlebell, but you control the swing back down until you place the weight back on the floor. That’s 1 rep.

Conclusion

As you can see clean is much more complex movement than a swing. Simply because there are few more details to pay attention to.

What are the benefits of Kettlebell Cleans?

I will be one hundred percent transparent with you. There is not much legitimate information (scientific data from journals) about kettlebell cleans as a single exercise. This means not many studies have been done to assess the benefits of doing just the cleans.

The majority of research is done for swings, presses, snatches, and squats. But none for the cleans. So the information I will give to you is based on my own experience and common sense.

From what I can tell, the kettlebell clean is a ballistic movement, very similar to the Olympic style movement. So it will display some similarities to the ones that of Olympic clean and Olympic power clean.

So going to that rabbit hole, I managed to find one research that compared kettlebell training and its effect on Olympic lift performance (source). In other words, is it possible that kettlebell training will get you stronger for the barbell Olimpic lifts?

Kettlebell Clean vs Barbell Clean

The kettlebell training program took 10-weeks, and they assessed how much progress would it have on endurance, strength, and power for Olympic barbell lifts.

Two groups, one kettlebell only, and one barbell only.

Assessment.

The measurements were done before and after 10-week. Exercises for the assessment were 4 exercises. Barbell clean and jerk, bench press, vertical jump, and back extension.

Results

Long story short, kettlebell training led to significant improvements in all 4 of the exercises. However, the gains were better from doing the barbell program versus the kettlebell program.

Conclusion

At this point, the number of data is so scarce, that’s why is hard to pinpoint any conclusions out of the thin air about which one of those two exercises in better. They both seem to have a great effect, however kettlebell clean is much more complex to perform.

What are the benefits of Kettlebell Swings?

Swing is one of the most popular exercises that is done with the kettlebells. It is also one of the most studies kettlebell exercises. So here is the good news. I already wrote a number of articles where I list all the benefits in detail. In each article, I’ve included all the research, so if you are interested to learn more they are right out here.

Kettlebell swings for cardio.

One of the not so obvious benefits of doing kettlebell swings is a CV (cardiovascular) improvement. In this article, I’ve included a research that compared swings with the graded treadmill walking.

I’ve also compared it to the very popular cardio equipment – indoor rower. Because rowing and swings are both hip hinge movements, so I wanted to know what are the similarities and the differences.

So, if you are curious to find out about are the kettlebell swings better than the rowing machine, feel free to check it out.

Kettlebell swings for strength.

The most obvious benefit of doing swings is the strength gains. That’s what I’ve personally noticed after doing kettlebell swings every day. In this article, I wrote about the strength and power benefits of doing kettlebell swings.

I’ve also compared it to one of the most effective strength training exercise – the deadlift. So feel free and look find out if the kettlebell swing is better than the deadlift.

Kettlebell swings for high-intensity.

Another great benefit is that swings can be performed in many different ways. It can be incorporated as a single exercise, it can be a part of the full-body workout, or it can be done as a “finisher” at the very end of your workout.

In this article, I’ve described all the best ways to use kettlebell swings plus I’ve compared it to the most hated (or loved) high-intensity exercise – burpee. So go ahead and check out burpees vs kettlebell swings. And which one is better.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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