If you’re looking to build max strength across your entire body, the barbell clean & press is a great way to get you there. You’ll be boosting your pulling power, squatting prowess, and pressing strength all at the same time — not to mention your speed and timing skills.
While the barbell is a clear choice for anyone looking to do the clean & press, it isn’t the only option out there to build total-body power and strength. The dumbbell clean & press gives you all those benefits and has a few unique ones of its own. Using dumbbells helps you address muscle imbalances, increase your unilateral strength, and fosters athletic movement. Plus, you’ll be able to do more reps at submaximal loads — this means you can increase your conditioning and endurance, too.
- How to Do the Dumbbell Clean & Press
- Benefits of the Dumbbell Clean & Press
- Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Clean & Press
- Who Should Do the Dumbbell Clean & Press
- Dumbbell Clean & Press Sets and Reps
- Dumbbell Clean & Press Variations
- Dumbbell Clean & Press Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
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How to Do the Dumbbell Clean & Press
The dumbbell clean & press can be performed with one hand at a time or two, depending on your preferences, training needs, and programming goals. This guide assumes that you’ll be using two dumbbells, but you can modify it as needed to perform one side at a time.
Step 1 — Grab the Dumbbells and Set Your Back
Start by grabbing a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. The weights will be just outside your ankles. Make sure to keep your arms long and your back flat. Push your hips back and bend your knees to get into the loaded start position.
Coach’s Tip: Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees, with your chest up.
Step 2 — Push the Floor Away
Initiate the clean by pushing the floor away from you. Making sure to not let your hips shoot upward. You want to stand all the way up and then pull the dumbbells to your shoulders in one explosive movement. Land in a squat position.
Coach’s Tip: Keep the hips down as you stand up. Have them rise at the same speed as your torso.
Step 3 — Press the Weights Overhead
Stand up out of the squat. Get settled at the top of the squat with the dumbbells on your shoulders. When ready, strictly press the weights overhead.
Coach’s Tip: Make sure to push the dumbbells up and slightly back. Align them over the back of your head or over your traps to secure a strong overhead position.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Clean & Press
The dumbbell clean & press comes with a wide variety of benefits, including improving your unilateral strength and allowing you to train without the potential mobility restrictions of barbells.
The dumbbell clean & press involves the sides of your body moving independently of each other, so you’ll be training unilaterally. When you use a barbell, you might be able to compensate for a lack of strength on one side by working harder with your dominant side. With unilateral training, as with dumbbells, both sides have to perform the same amount of work.
You’ll develop more unilateral strength and movement coordination by having a weight in each hand. In doing so, you’ll address asymmetries and promote more muscle development.
Hoisting a single dumbbell overhead will force your body to twist and turn in many different directions. Your core muscles will engage big time to help keep yourself rigid and straight, thus making the dumbbell clean & press a viable core exercise. Even if you’re performing a double dumbbell clean & press (one weight per hand), you’ll still have to control your limbs independent of one another.
Total-Body Strength Development
When building strength, you’ll typically seek out compound movements that integrate multiple muscle groups. This allows you to train with heavier loads. Even while using dumbbells, you can load this move heavily enough to stimulate full-body strength.
Heavy single-arm dumbbell cleans and overhead presses are two key movements that can build strength in strength, power, and functional fitness athletes. Combine them — as you do with the clean & press — and you can turn yourself into a real powerhouse.
The dumbbell clean & press is a total-body movement that requires strength, skill, power, and coordination. These demands mean that you’re expending a whole lot of energy when compared with less ballistic, single-joint movements.
The movement can be done with lighter weights or heavier weights in metabolic conditioning workouts to increase muscular and cardiovascular endurance, strength, and overall fitness. This move isn’t just strength or just cardio — when you program it for endurance, it can become both at once. This will help condition your body for whatever fitness challenges you might put it through next.
Train Around Certain Injuries
The dumbbell clean & press can be an alternative to the barbell clean & press or snatch when you’re on the mend from an injury to your shoulder or other part of your upper body. While you can’t load the dumbbell clean & press as heavily as you can with the standard barbell clean, you can use it to train similar movements and timing while promoting solid grip, total-body strength, and pulling power. Because you’re using dumbbells, your joints have freer angles of motion so they can move in ways that might be more conducive to injury recovery.
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For Strongwoman and Strongman competitors, as well as functional fitness athletes, the dumbbell clean & press can allow you to train complex total-body movements even if you have a limitation with one of your arms, wrists, or shoulders.
Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Clean & Press
The dumbbell clean & press is a total-body movement that involves nearly every large muscle group in the body. The below muscle groups are the most directly involved in the exercise.
The hamstrings are a group of muscles that are responsible for powerful hip extension, and are active in the clean, and squat. These are mostly responsible for the initial pulling strength in the clean.
You use your quadriceps in the first phase of the clean. They help you lift the dumbbells from the floor to your hip, via pushing your legs into the floor. They also help you stand up out of your squat. Strong quads help to extend your knees, which you need at the top part of the clean. Because yes, this move is about hip extension, but you also need a lot of knee extension — hence, your quads.
Back and Traps
Your back and traps are active during all phases of the clean & press. They’re responsible for positional stability and strength in the clean, squat, and press.
You primarily use your shoulders during the pressing phase of the clean & press. You also build impressive shoulder strength when you support the dumbbells in the front rack position.
Who Should Do the Dumbbell Clean & Press
The dumbbell clean & press is a relatively accessible accessory lift for many athletes looking to hone their full body strength and power. However, certain lifters may benefit more than others, especially if they need it for their sport.
Movements like the circus press is one example of a dumbbell clean & press alternative that finds its way into competitive Strongman training. Other strength athletes can benefit from performing single-arm and double-arm clean & presses with dumbbells, as it can help increase general strength and add variety to a workout.
Olympic weightlifters who are looking to train to improve their barbell clean & press will likely want to rely more on the barbell itself. That’s because the speeds, positions, and demands of the barbell clean & jerk are much different than the dumbbell clean & press. However, just like powerlifters can benefit from the unilateral nature of the dumbbell bench press, Olympic lifters may still want to include this move as a volume-adding accessory.
When you want a compound, total-body exercise that trains a ton of muscle at once, the dumbbell clean & press is that movement. It’s demanding and requires skill, but is a lot more forgiving on your joints and precision than the barbell version. So, it’s accessible to many gym-goers, regardless of experience level. It can be woven into strength programs and endurance plans, since it builds both overall strength and conditioning.
Dumbbell Clean & Press Sets and Reps
When you want to integrate the dumbbell clean & press into training, you can do so in a few ways. You can use heavier weights for strength and power, or use lighter loads to increase muscular endurance and improve muscle growth.
To Build Power and Strength
To build strength and power, you need to use heavier loads and move them with aggression. The dumbbell clean & press is not a slow movement, especially during the clean phase. That’s why you want to be explosive with this movement.
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Aim to perform the dumbbell clean & press with heavier loads, in the two to three rep range, sometimes as high as five reps, for three to five sets. Any lighter and you will end up making this movement more about endurance and stamina than top-end strength. That’s especially true with ballistic moves like these because you will also get winded performing them. So, to build max strength, you’ll need to keep the reps very low.
To Build Muscle
If you want to stimulate hypertrophy with this move, you can do so with moderately heavy weights for three or four sets in a moderate rep range of six to 10 reps.
When your primary goal is building muscle, you’ll also want to add movements that involve more time under tension eccentrically. Because the dumbbell clean & press is so explosive, you’re not really spending time in the lengthening, or eccentric, phase of the lift. Eccentric portions of lifts are great for building muscle, so just make sure this isn’t the only type of lift you’re doing to make your muscles grow.
To target certain muscle groups for growth, the dumbbell clean & press can help because you’ll be getting stronger. But you’ll also want to include more strict and controlled movements in addition to ballistic exercises for muscle growth and size.
To Build Endurance
You can build muscle endurance and stamina with the dumbbell clean & press by performing longer-duration sets. The longer the sets, the more stamina and muscle endurance (and cardiovascular endurance) you’ll need.
Aim to train the dumbbell clean & press three to four sets of 10 to 20 reps for endurance. Use short rest periods to make this a more aerobic exercise. As you aim toward more endurance, make sure you’re using lighter weights to maintain form and safety.
Dumbbell Clean & Press Variations
You can vary the dumbbell clean & press based on your goals and needs. Like the kettlebell clean & press, you can perform this movement with one arm at a time. You can also change the method of how you take the dumbbells to the overhead position.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Clean & Press
This is a great option if you only have one dumbbell or if you are trying to train one arm heavy at a time. To do this, use only one dumbbell. Switch sides after you complete the intended reps on the one side.
You may also find it helpful to have the single dumbbells start between your legs, rather than on the outside of your body.
Dumbbell Clean & Push Press
Perform this variation by taking the dumbbells from the shoulders to the overhead position with help from your lower body.
Unlike the dumbbell clean & press, the dumbbell clean and push press allows you to use your lower body to drive the loads overhead. This assistance and momentum means you can train much heavier.
Dumbbell Clean & Jerk
Perform the dumbbell clean & jerk with a standard dumbbell clean. Then, use a split or power jerk to explosively drive the dumbbells overhead from the shoulder front rack position.
This technique allows you to use your lower body to lift heavier weights. By using a jerk instead of a press, you’ll lower the point at which you receive the weights overhead. That makes loads move faster and more efficiently overhead than a strict overhead press.
Dumbbell Clean & Press Alternatives
When you’re looking to switch out the dumbbells, look no further than the barbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball. Each of these implements offer similar yet distinct benefits when you want to diversify your clean & press training.
Barbell Clean & Press
The barbell clean & press is a popular choice in most gyms looking to train the clean, and rightfully so. The clean & jerk is a direct competition lift in Olympic weightlifting and functional fitness sports.
This lift also allows for the heaviest loads and power outputs.
Kettlebell Clean & Press
The kettlebell clean & press is done slightly differently than the dumbbell clean & press due to the odd shape of the kettlebell. However, it offers similar benefits, including training unilaterally and combating strength asymmetries.
Unlike dumbbells, kettlebells are unbalanced, making the stability and control aspects of this movement even more challenging.
Medicine Ball Clean & Press
The medicine ball clean & press is a more introductory alternative to the dumbbell clean & press. You can use it to learn how to use your body to lift a load from the floor to your shoulders, and then overhead.
This movement is very approachable to so many fitness levels. It can be done with both lighter and heavier loads.
The dumbbell clean & press is a movement that finds its way into many fitness programs, and with good reason. It’s a useful way to make your program more dynamic, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. You can also use this move to add serious strength and raw power to your routine. You’ll get more unilateral training into your program, combat asymmetries and imbalances, and work pretty much all your muscle groups at once — a real win-win.
The dumbbell clean & press is a big move. It stands to reason that you might still have some big questions about it.
How heavy should you train the dumbbell clean & press?
This is really relative to you and your goals. There is no right or wrong answer here, and as long as you are using good technique, you can hypothetically lift as heavy as you can while hitting your rep targets. If you are looking to transition into maximum loading, you may want to try something like the barbell clean & press, as this will allow you to lift more loads and build strength on another level.
Do dumbbell clean & presses make you better at barbell clean & presses?
Not necessarily. While they may be similar, the technique used in the barbell clean & press is much different than with dumbbells. Generally speaking, they both are cleans. However, the implements move differently. There may be strength and conditioning carryovers from one move to the other, but in terms of technique, make sure to practice the specific lift you’re trying to improve.
Why do some people choose kettlebells versus dumbbells?
This can be due to equipment availability, or simply because they prefer one over the other. Both offer unique benefits, and both can increase unilateral strength and stability. Folks who prefer kettlebells might appreciate the offset nature that activates more of your stabilizer muscles. Athletes who choose dumbbells might want a more stabilized implement so they can potentially lift even heavier.