Kettlebell Swings Vs Cleans (Which one is better?)


Struggling to choose between kettlebell swings and cleans? I enjoy doing them both becasue I like how strong my body feels after just a few sets. If I were to choose between them, that would be a tough call.

  • Kettlebell swing and kettlebell clean are two completely different exercises but they share one thing in common; they both can be used as a part of your strength and conditioning program.
  • The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise, it’s more popular, and requires a greater range of motion, compared to the kettlebell clean.
  • Kettlebell clean is an explosive exercise, which means it engages mostly type II muscle fibers.

Here you have my general answer but to learn more about the pros and cons of both, keep reading.

Overview

Kettlebell clean is the exercise where you bring the weight into the racked position, before starting another exercise (like a front squat or overhead press).

The kettlebell swing is a hip hinge movement (similar to rowing or deadlifting) that is more dynamic.

In general, kettlebell clean it’s rarely practiced as a separate exercise on its own, whereas it’s very common to see people doing swings.

Studies

  • Right now (September 2022), there is a low number of studies that describe the benefits of performing kettlebell clean as a single exercise.
  • On the other hand, there are a lot of studies that describe the benefits of doing kettlebell swings.

So based on available data, it’s hard to be black and white and conclude with certainty which one is really better. 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 is because of its complexity. Clean, together with a snatch, is one of the most complex Olympic movements.

It’s a hard skill (you can’t just go to the person, demonstrate the clean, and expect him to do it correctly).

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 the kettlebell swing is usually done with both hands. The clean is a single-hand gig.

Kettlebell swing

  • Grab a kettlebell with both hands, bend your hips keeping your back straight, and start to swing the weight from your hips like a pendulum.
  • You keep your hands straight, but not locked in the elbows.
  • Each time when you bring the kettlebell to the shoulder line, keep your core tight and squeeze your butt.

Kettlebell clean

  • 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 the “racked position”, “rack” or “front rack”.

From this short description, you can see that doing kettlebell clean is more difficult are requires skills, which is hard for beginners.

The Movement

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

Kettlebell swing

  • For the kettlebell 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.

Kettlebell clean

  • For the kettlebell 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 shrugs 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.

Cleans are more difficult to do

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

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 clean 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 (none for the cleans).
  • So the information I will give to you is based on my own experience and common sense.

In a nutshell.

  • The kettlebell clean is a ballistic movement, very similar to the Olympic-style movement.
  • It has some similarities to the ones of Olympic clean and Olympic power clean.

At this point, the 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 is better. They both seem to have a great effect, however kettlebell clean is much more complex to perform.

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 studied kettlebell exercises.

I have already written 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.

Cardio

One of the not-so-obvious benefits of doing kettlebell swings is a CV (cardiovascular) improvement.

In the article “kettlebell swings vs rowing“, I’ve included research that compared swings with indoor rower.

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 exercises – the deadlift. So feel free and look to find out if the “kettlebell swing is better than the deadlift“.

High-intensity

Another great benefit is that swings can be used to improve your performance via high-intensity interval training.

  • It can be incorporated as a single exercise.
  • It can be a part of the full-body workout.
  • It can be done as a “finisher” at the very end of your workout.

In the article “burpees vs kettlebell swings“, 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.

More related articles:

Conclusion

  • The kettlebell swing is one of the most studied exercise among all kettlebell workouts.
  • Kettlebell cleans didn’t get much attention from the researchers. However, this exercise is still an effective movement that works on strength and conditioning.

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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