Welcome back to the Pentathlon Series! If you haven’t read Part One please do so now. It will provide you with the foundational knowledge necessary to make the most out of part two. Today we focus on the second exercise in the kettlebell pentathlon, the clean and press.
The skills learned in this section will build on those learned in the clean. If you don’t have your cleans dialled in then you are likely to have trouble combining them with a press for several repetitions. It is important to note that the clean and press refers to re-cleaning the bell before each press. This is sometimes called long cycle press, ‘long cycle’ meaning the longest form of the exercise ie. cleaning and pressing each repetition. If we were to do straight presses without re-cleaning this would be referred to as simply ‘press’.
Pressing teaches some very important skills for full body strength. You will need to learn how to brace your ‘core’, channel energy from the ground into the object you are attempting to manipulate whilst wedging yourself between the ground and the bell, and one of the most useful, the skill and determination to grind out a rep without losing position. The press has one of the biggest carry overs to sporting and everyday life of any exercise.
Firstly, as in the clean, we must identify the ideal starting and finishing positions for each rep, our targets if you will. For the clean portion the targets are as described in part one. For the press:
Start position: The kettlebell is held in the rack position with the handle at 45 degrees across the hand. The elbow contacts the hip and the weight of the bell is transferred down your leg into the floor.
Finish position: The kettlebell is locked out overhead, the bicep close to your ear, not held in front of the body. The handle is still at 45 degrees across the hand and additionally the handle is also at 45 degrees to your body. This puts the shoulder into external rotation, the counter point to the internally rotated position found at the bottom position of the clean.
Secondly, if we look at the press in isolation, we need to know how to get the bell from start to finish. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so it should be with the press. The aim is to move the bell from the rack to overhead in a straight line with minimal rotation. The forearm should remain vertical. If you have the correct start and finish position then it is just a matter of joining the two points.
If the bell is heavy then you will need to adjust your body position slightly to accommodate the extra weight. The combined centre of mass needs to stay balanced over your feet and the way to achieve this is by kicking your working side hip out to the side to get under the kettlebell. This will centre the combined mass of your body + kettlebell over your base of support.
There is a point as the bell passes your head where a heavy press will begin to get stuck. This is the dreaded sticking point. This also where you derive many of the benefits described above. Keep your legs locked, brace your midsection tightly, grip the kettlebell handle and imagine pressing yourself into the floor. Do not buckle. The bell will move slowly but you will be able to squeeze the weight upwards. Lock the arm at the top and stabilise the kettlebell overhead. That’s half of the press.
Thirdly you must lower the bell back to the rack position. There are three basic ways to do this. If you are a beginner you should lower the bell under control. It is imperative that the bell returns to the rack in the same position as it started and if you lower the bell too fast it is easy to let it rotate away from you and this becomes very hard on your elbow and shoulder. So initially, lower the bell under control and aim to hit the correct rack position every time. When you are comfortable with this you can experiment with speeding up the drop.
As you are beginning to drop the bell from overhead with less resistance you will find the need to distribute the force somehow. The intermediate way to do this is to bend the knees as the bell lands on you. The quads will absorb the force and your shoulder and arm will be spared the extra work. This is good as you will need them as fresh as possible for the next rep. The downside here is that your quads will fatigue faster then necessary.
Ideally you will absorb the drop with your calves. The calf muscles are extremely strong and hard working and will have no issues distributing the force of a falling kettlebell. The trick is in the timing. As the bell starts to fall you rise up on your toes to meet it. When the bell passes your head you then lower from your toes back to a flat foot. This should all be completed at high speed. Remember the bell is falling and your are coming up to meet it, catching it on the way down and absorbing that force through your calves. It is difficult to master but once you get it right you will have the ability to drop the kettlebell from lockout with virtually no energy waste.
From here you know the drill! Drop the bell from the rack into the swing, re-clean the kettlebell and you are ready to press again.
This is the basics of the clean and press. As always you will derive the greatest benefit from one on one instruction such as our Saturday morning training group. 8:30am every Sat at Evolve Gym, 4 Fuji Court, Stoke, Nelson.