The hands down, biggest problem and complaint I see and hear is the slamming of the bell into the forearm during a kettlebell clean. There are 3 common causes for this and 3 very simple technique changes to ensure this does not continue to happen.
1: Using / extending the low back, not utilizing the hips.
2: Too tight of a grip.
3: Curling the bell.
First, the ‘clean is a swing the ends in the rack.’ I cannot stress this enough. By the time you arrive to the point of performing the kettlebell clean, you should be more than profficient with the 2 hand and single hand kettlebell swing. A quick review reveals the horizontal hip drive is what propels the bell forward. This is not different for the clean. The path of the bell is just slightly altered following a path closet to the body so that it finishes in the rack and not out in front of you as an extension of the arms ala the swing.
This issue can also be seen in the back swing or ‘drop’ of the bell from the rack. Enter the back swing of the clean the same as you would the kettlebell swing; use your hips to push back and activate the posterior chain to either re-swing or safely place the bell on the floor. Do not squat into the back swing of either move; utilize the hips and hinge.
A quick corrective would be to perform a 1 hand swing for 2 reps then clean on the 3rd. This should drastically eliminate the overuse of the low back and utilize the horizontal hip drive. Repeat this drill until technically proficient. Then repeat some more.
Second, you need to maintain a slightly loosened grip on the bell when cleaning. This may seem very unnatural since it is common to unnecessarily over grip the bell when performing the clean. In the kettlebell swing you do not grip the bell for dear life- why do it in the clean? If you are over gripping in the swing, do not move on to the clean until that issue is resolved. During the clean the bell will move along the palm of the hand crossing a variety of friction points. Over gripping exaggerates this friction and does not allow for a smooth path for the bell to travel. It is also worth mentioning this is a leading cause of torn hands. Loosen the grip, save the hands from tearing. Allow the bells to travel smoothly through the hands instead of awkwardly.
As per grip, I do not have a preference for single bell cleans as far as barbell grip or inverted grip. We can discuss the pistol grip at a later time, but it does not belong in single bell work.
Third, curling the bell is an issue of it’s own as well as a combination of the 2 listed above. You need to be where you have to be when cleaning the bell. Let me explain. People have this fascination with either ducking under where they think the bell will travel as if it is an olympic barbell clean and or hyperextending the back and bicep curling the bell, increasing the distance the bell has to travel in order to arrive safely in the rack. Both of these are completely unnecessary and a serious safety concern. I make the analogy to people to meet the bell, to pull themselves and the bell together into the rack. You do not need to get under the bell or drop it like it’s hot and enter a front squat. Stand tall. It is impossible to pull the bell and yourself together if you are hyperextending.
Before you exclaim that pulling yourself and the bells together in the clean will bruise your shoulders and you are not trading bruised wrists for bruised shoulders, try this; When cleaning pretend you are zipping a zipper up your chest, meet the bells at the rack- pull yourself and the bells together. If you perform this correctly there will be zero slamming of the wrists or shoulders.
Another issue that drives me bananas is the casting, or tossing of the bells from the rack out in front of you into the down swing. This will wreck havoc with your shoulders. Stop it!
When you drop the bells to enter the downswing your arms must be relaxed. The arms must then straighten out between the legs. It is here that the hips absorb the shock from dropping the bells into the back swing. When you begin the drop wait until your forearms make contact with your adductors and use that force to push the hips back. Another great analogy I have picked up that I share during the teaching of the downswing is to ‘play chicken with your zipper.’ Everyone typically gets a good chuckle then completely understands the concept. Timing is everything.
You want the bell or bells to travel in the most efficient manner possible. That is the shortest route from floor to rack. And from rack to floor.
There is an artistry to performing the kettlebell clean. With a few changes you can easily reduce bruising and the jarring of receiving the bell in the rack position. Technique trumps everything else as it pertains to the more complex kettlebell lifts. The more technically sound your skills- the stronger your lifts will be.