Jan 29, 2015
A Guide to the Dumbbell Clean

By Peter Melanson, MS, CSCS,*D

The dumbbell clean is a variation of the traditional clean and can be performed unilaterally, allowing the athlete to develop greater balance and control, kinesthetic awareness, and increased recruitment of stabilizing muscles, which enhances joint stability. The dumbbell clean is a safe alternative, especially for an injured athlete who cannot perform the exercise with a barbell. Here is how it’s done.

Performing weightlifting movements can be a very effective tool for developing power for the tactical athlete. These lifts are often used by athletes to increase rate of force development (explosive power), core stability, kinesthetic awareness, sport specificity, total body multi-joint activity, athleticism, and also to prevent injury.

Starting Position

1. The feet should be in a hip-wide position (natural jumping position). The toes should be pointing either straight ahead or in a slightly externally rotated position. 2. To lower the dumbbells to the starting position, sit the hips back into a 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 squat position. This movement is basically the same as doing a Romanian deadlift. Do not bend the knees (they will naturally bend by emphasizing the sitting of the hips). 3. The shins should be perpendicular to the floor or at a slight angle. 4. The back should be straight and flat (a natural dip in the low back is fine). The back should be tight with the head up looking forward. 5. The shoulders should be positioned slightly in front of the kneecaps (at a minimum over the kneecaps). 6. The hands (dumbbells) should be on the side of the knees (for a hang clean position, or mid-shin for a full clean). Your weight should be predominantly on the heels. 7. This should put you in a good jumping position.

Execution Phase

1. Start the lift by pressing the feet against the floor through the heels. You should concentrate on getting a good triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle (as you get to the end of the triple extension, your weight should transfer to the toes). 2. You are explosively jumping with the weight in your hands at this point. As you get to the end of the triple extension, make sure to shrug your shoulders as well. 3. The dumbbells should stay close to the body and slide along the rib cage while the face of the dumbbells stays parallel to the mirror or wall in front of you. 4. The elbows should stay high above the wrists. 5. This should allow the dumbbell to reach maximum height without using your arms to do the majority of the work. The dumbbell should get to the height of your armpit or as close as possible.

Catch Phase

1. As you start the downward motion into the catch position you should begin to rotate the elbows under the dumbbells. 2. Catch the dumbbells on top of the shoulder with the elbows as high as possible (You should be able to see the point of the elbows, not the forearm, directly in the mirror). 3. During the descent you should be sitting the hips backwards in a squatting motion to assist in catching the dumbbells under control. (Do not try to catch the dumbbells by allowing the knees to bend forward during the catch. Also, if the elbows drop, it will cause you to fall forward onto the toes into a dangerous catch position.) 4. Most of your weight should be on the heels and your feet should also be in a hip-width position with toes slightly externally rotated in a normal squatting position. 5. At the bottom position, your elbows should still be high. Your body should be in a position of good balance and stability. 6. Extend the hip and knees into a fully erect and standing position.

Peter Melanson is the Education Manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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