Avoiding Injuries On The Kettlebell Ballistics – Part 3, The Clean

For the past couple of days we’ve been discussing how to avoid injuries while performing your kettlebell ballistics.

We covered set and posture in videos 1 and 2. (Video 1 – Posture for kettlebell exercises is here. And video 2 – set up for kettlebell exercises is here.)

Today, we’re covering the one cue that will make the biggest difference in protecting your elbows on the kettlebell clean.

Here’s the video:

What most people don’t realize is that technique forms the foundation for every goal you have when using your kettlebells – strength, conditioning, fat loss, whatever. Poor technique reduces the amount of work you can perform and that work ultimately leads to the speed at which you achieve your results. And ultimately, poor technique will injure you.

There seems to be a ton of confusion about some of the more intermediate and advanced kettlebell techniques on the double kettlebell exercises. If you have questions about the correct or best technique for the double kettlebell exercises, then this will set you straight and clear up any questions you may have.

6 comments… add one
  • Jeff Tabb May 30, 2014 @ 8:48


    In my opinion, your commentary on how to keep the elbows tucked into your sides doesn’t match what you are actually doing. As you do each swing, you can see in the video how you give your elbows a quick little jerk behind you as you as your hips move forward. It may not be much, but your verbal description seems to imply that the elbows remain attached to the sides with no movement relative to the body, which is not what you are doing. When you think about it, you would want the bells to travel in as vertical a path as possible. If you kept the elbows tucked into the sides without the backwards jerk, it would be necessary for the bells to travel in an arch with the radius being the length of the forearms and wrists. By pulling the elbows back the way you do, you can flatten out the trajectory and make it more vertical.

    • GEOFFN May 30, 2014 @ 10:03

      Yeah, Jeff, you are right to a certain extent. Years ago I tried teaching people that “quick little jerk” of the elbow and it did nothing but confuse people. So we went to keeping the elbows tucked was a better cue. What actually happens is when you focus on keeping your elbows tucked to your sides, your elbows reflexively pull back against the KB which wants to pull your arm forward. Thus giving you that nearly straight line into the rack, and not the arc which causes the bells to crash into the rack or flop onto the upper arm.

      So ultimately, it’s all about “intent” – just like when you pull a heavy deadlift from the floor: Your intent is to move it as fast as possible, but the bar moves slowly.

      The goal is not to overwhelm people with technical explanations though, rather give them the best cues to help them learn the exercise as quickly and safely as possible. Hope that helps.

  • Jeff Tabb May 30, 2014 @ 10:21

    I am training under a guy that was mentored by you. He teaches that when cleaning to pull the elbows back and then punch up through the bells similar to a snatch. Since I have your Kettlebell Strong material, I can see that this is not what you teach. I haven’t directly pointed out the contradiction to him, but have wondered how he was mentored by you but seems to teach different form or technique. When I see you pull your elbows back slightly, the difference might not be that great after all. I was practicing keeping my elbows tucked last night and was basically beating myself up. I then carefully rematched your video and saw that you were in fact pulling your elbows back a bit. Either way you cue it. The elbow movement will be small. I wonder if a better cue would be to have the bells shoot up almost in contact with the torso. A bit of elbow movement would be automatic.

    • GEOFFN May 30, 2014 @ 11:24

      It’s pretty simple – he figured out a way to communicate that cue to people in such a way that it works for them. I haven’t cued anything off the elbow in about 6 or 7 years that I recall. What you have to remember is that it’s not a contradiction. Different cues work for different people. And what’s really interesting is that different cues work for the same person at different times, as they increase their understanding of the exercise you’re cuing them for.

      There’s also different cues for different positioning. Not everyone agrees with my set-up position. (Although I know I’m right. 😉 ) When you’re head is up, your activating your body’s extensor reflex (assuming your eyes are straight ahead or slightly up). That’s one of the reasons you’re seeing the elbows move back, because all the extensors are contracting where necessary to get the movement done, including the shoulder extensors (lats) which move the elbow back. If you start with the head down or “neutral” and the chest down, you’ll most likely use a different strategy. Same thing goes with the KB starting position. I don’t follow “the Party Line” on set up – I use the inverted V. That also changes the the cuing and what the bells do. So as you can see, many moving parts. I was only concerned about one in this video. Hope that clears some things up for you.

  • Jeff Tabb May 30, 2014 @ 11:30

    I agree that there was not a contradiction. After I studied your video more closely I realized that. That is why I kept my mouth shut to give myself more time to figure it out! I also realize that in almost all things there will be minor differences even among the best in any given field.

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