The Kettlebell Bottom-up Clean to Reverse Lunge Press
This is a great exercise that will not only improve grip strength, but also balance, coordination, shoulder stability, overhead pressing strength and posture. Not a bad list of benefits for an exercise.
Before we get into the specifics of the exercise itself, there are a few points worth noting:
1. If you cannot do a basic clean and reverse lunge press with good technique, start with that first.
2. Doing this with a competition kettlebell is harder than with a standard kettlebell, as the narrower grip provides less traction and a smaller base of support.
3. This is really challenging on the small muscles that stabilise the head of the humerus inside the shoulder socket. Any imbalances, either functional or muscular, will be revealed with this exercise. If you’re not a strong overhead presser, there are better things you could be doing. The same applies if you suffer from any shoulder issues such as impingements, subluxations or limited range of movement.
4. Weightlifting is the secondary goal; quality of movement is the first. When performing this exercise, your aim is to have as little wobble or instability as possible, both in the catching phase of the clean and the pressing phase of the reverse lunge. This exercise can be performed either for mid-range repetitions (6–10) to help cement movement patterns, or low-range repetitions (1–5) to improve strength. As a rough guide, the following table provides goals for men and women in the low range for repetitions.
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Beginner 1–5 reps
Intermediate 1–5 reps
Advanced 1–5 reps
This exercise has two parts, the bottom-up clean and the reverse lunge press. Integrating the clean between the presses helps provide a little recovery time for the grip.
The bottom-up clean
Perform the first phase of a clean as you would normally; however, as the kettlebell comes forwards past the hips, instead of rotating the hand around it, keep the handle in a neutral or hammer grip. As the kettlebell nears the rack position, increase the tightness of the grip and focus on ‘sucking’ the arm into the shoulder socket. It’s worth noting that this is a very quick movement, so it may be worth performing a small number of partial cleans to get comfortable with the difference in grip and hand position if necessary.
Once the kettlebell has been cleaned and caught, make sure your focus is on the highest point of the kettlebell (the base). This will help with the balance component.
The Reverse Lunge Press
From the bottom-up rack position, two movements need to occur simultaneously. Firstly, the overhead press needs to commence, and secondly, the reverse lunge needs to be initiated. The hallmark of a good lunge press, whether forwards or reverse, is that the rearmost knee and the hand of the pressing arm reach end range at the same time.
The foot stepping back should travel between 18–30 inches/1½ –2½ feet/45–75 cm. Any further than this and the resulting anterior tilt at the hip will make pressing overhead problematic for the lower back. Any less than this and limitations in ankle range of motion will make proper loading of the front foot increasingly difficult.
Equally, when coming up from the lunged position, the goal should be for the kettlebell to return to the shoulder at exactly the same time as the rear foot lands next to the front one. A key point of technique here is to ensure that the movement is initiated by pushing down through the front foot. Whilst many people lean forwards slightly to increase the leverage advantage for the quads, this would actually make controlling the kettlebell overhead harder rather than easier. For this reason, make sure you keep the torso upright and drive down through the foot at the same time as the kettlebell begins to move down towards the shoulder.
From the shoulder, the kettlebell is allowed to fall down and out away from the body before it moves backwards between the legs in exactly the same way as it would for a normal clean. One small technical observation is that some people find pronating the hand during the backward swing of the clean helps them move more smoothly into a retracted and depressed position at the shoulder as they come out of it. Experiment with different hand positions and find the one that works best for you.
Where you are personally determines how best to move forwards from this point. If there’s a particular point in the movement at which you fatigue or struggle to maintain good form, it may be worth spending more time training a particular component of the lift or position. Exercises such as bottom-up waiter’s walks or bottom-up presses are great examples of lifts that may be helpful in such circumstances.
Additionally, try reassessing your standard barbell overhead press or barbell reverse lunge after spending four weeks or so working on this exercise and you should be surprised at how much better, stronger and more comfortable those movements feel.
Above all, remember to keep your eyes on the top of the kettlebell, as any movement here will be more noticeable than anywhere else.