Learn how to do the dumbbell clean and why it’s a great full-body workout!
You may have seen the dumbbell clean in CrossFit and functional fitness-style workouts. It’s an excellent exercise for building muscle and strength, but you may need help with how to do it. The dumbbell clean is a full-body workout that engages your upper and lower body muscles. This guide will explain how to perform dumbbell cleans in a few steps and why you should consider adding them to your workout routine!
Dumbbell Clean Technique and Muscles Worked
This movement engages your total body and targets all the muscles in your lower body—glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. And it targets your triceps, biceps, deltoids, spinal erectors, traps, and lower back in your upper body.
To do the dumbbell clean:
- Hold dumbbells by your side with a shoulder-width stance while standing upright.
- Squat down while keeping both weights in your hands and using the proper squat technique—back straight, chest upright, shoulders back, and staying back on your heels.
- Rapidly lift while keeping your elbows high and close to your body until they reach shoulder height (like in a front squat) before returning to another squat position under control to “catch” the dumbbells.
- Extend your legs to stand upright and complete the movement.
Tips for the Dumbbell Clean
To get the most out of your dumbbell clean, ensure you’re using a full range of motion and maintaining good form.
- Keep your back straight, chest lifted, head up, and elbows high. This ensures you’re working through the entire motion of an actual “clean.”
- Focus on the dumbbells: don’t let them touch the floor as you lift them from their starting position (when your arms are extended) to approximately chin height. This will ensure you don’t squat down too far (risking injury) and maintain movement control.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Clean
The dumbbell clean is one of the most effective and efficient exercises for adding strength and power to your lifts. It improves your explosive power, which is useful when throwing things or running fast. The dumbbell clean also helps improve your grip strength, which can be handy when performing other exercises such as pull-ups. It has many benefits.
The dumbbell clean (an Olympic lift variation) effectively increases your strength and power (1). The biomechanics of the movement requires explosive hip, thigh, and calve extensions, which are critical for improving your power output.
Total Body Workout
This exercise works many muscle groups, from your head to your toes. It engages your lower body and upper body for a full-body workout.
Since this exercise targets your upper and lower body, you’ll burn more calories, making it easier to shed body fat.
In addition to these benefits, this exercise helps with flexibility. You are stretching out your muscles as you lift the weight overhead during each repetition of the dumbbell clean. This can help prevent injuries from occurring due to tightness in those areas of your body.
Enhances Grip Strength
A significant portion of this lift is your ability to grip and hold dumbbells for your prescribed reps. This intensely targets the muscles in your forearms. Of course, the heavier the weight and the more reps you do, the more your forearm muscles are fired.
The great thing about the clean is that you can turn it into either a strength/power workout or more of an endurance workout. You’ll improve your conditioning using lighter weights and performing more reps.
Have you ever wondered why some sports players could move faster than others? One reason may be that they have more coordination skills than their peers. If you want to get better at playing sports, consider adding some dumbbell cleans into your workout routine. They’ll help improve these skills by increasing coordination between different muscle groups throughout your body.
Dumbbell Clean Alternatives
If you’re a beginner or want to improve your performance on the dumbbell clean, there are a few movements that will help you prepare for this exercise and offer different benefits.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Clean
This exercise isn’t recommended for beginners. However, it’s an alternative to using both arms. Only using one arm will help you focus on one side of your body. In addition, it will activate stabilizers and your abs.
The kettlebell swing is a full-body movement that will prepare you for the glute and hip activation/extension the dumbbell clean requires.
Medicine Ball Slam
In addition to the kettlebell swing, the medicine ball slam is a total body movement that closely mimics the upward exploding of your lower body and hips involved in the dumbbell clean. And it’s an effective exercise for improving your power (2).
Dumbbell Front Squat
Besides the explosive extension, squatting is a significant portion of the clean. More specifically, squatting while holding two dumbbells up with your arms parallel to the ground when you come out of the hip extension of the clean. The dumbbell front squat will target the muscles in your lower body, focus on your quads, and get you used to squat while holding weights above your shoulders.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift will help prepare you for the downward portion of the clean. It will strengthen the muscles in your posterior chain—back, glutes, and hamstrings—and get you used to proper form as you hinge your hips and squat down during the clean.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some common questions and concerns regarding the dumbbell clean.
- What is the dumbbell clean good for?
This movement is an excellent exercise for performing a total body workout to burn more calories and improve your explosive strength.
- Is the dumbbell clean safe?
Dumbbell cleans are generally not recommended for beginners due to the movement technique. However, the exercise is safe if you’re an advanced lifter and use the proper form.
- What muscles do the dumbbell clean work?
This exercise engages multiple muscles throughout your body, including muscles in your upper body—arms, shoulders, and back—and muscles in your lower body—quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
More Exercise Guides
Besides the dumbbell clean, there are other beneficial movements to improve your strength and power. Check out more of our exercise guides to improve your fitness below:
- Ayers, J. L., DeBeliso, M., Sevene, T. G., & Adams, K. J. (2016). Hang cleans and hang snatches produce similar improvements in female collegiate athletes. Biology of sport, 33(3), 251–256. https://doi.org/10.5604/20831862.1201814
- Ignjatovic, A. M., Markovic, Z. M., & Radovanovic, D. S. (2012). Effects of 12-week medicine ball training on muscle strength and power in young female handball players. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 26(8), 2166–2173. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823c477e