Rob Kearney Shares Dumbbell Clean and Press Tips for Efficiency

How to drop the dumbbell can be the difference maker in competition.

Rob Kearney is no stranger to an overhead press. The man is a multi-time American record holder in the log lift, breaking as recently as a month ago in World’s Ultimate Strongman’s “Feats of Strength” series.

A few days ago, Kearney took to his YouTube channel for another episode of his “Just the Tip” series to share his secrets on a different overhead strongman event: the dumbbell clean and press (sometimes referred to as the heavy dumbbell, the Cyr dumbbell, and/or the circus dumbbell). 

In the video, Kearney discusses techniques for both the clean, the press, and how to put the dumbbell down properly for maximum efficiency in competition. Most heavy dumbbell events in strongman follow one of two formats: single lifts that increase in weight each round or max reps of a single weight within an allotted time. In the latter, improving the efficacy with which a strongman drops the dumbbell in order to pick it back up can be the difference maker.

Check out the full video below:

[Related: Oleskii Novikov sets world record in giant dumbbell for reps]

Kearney demonstrated his techniques for how to position the dumbbell on the shoulder and where to properly press the dumbbell overhead using three different dumbbells of ascending weight:

  • 63.5kg/140lb
  • 81.6kg/180lb
  • 99.8kg/220lb

He focused on the dumbbell’s positioning on the shoulder and where to focus pressing the dumbbell overhead.

Elbow Position

Kearney put a major emphasis on elbow position when it comes to any overhead movement. He discussed similar ideas in his log lift video in the series.

Once the dumbbell is on your shoulder, the most important thing is to make sure your elbow doesn’t dip and fall away from you.

Maintaining elbow alignment prevents the dumbbell from throwing an athlete off balance. This in turn makes the transfer of energy when performing the press much more efficient. In a timed event for max reps, energy efficiency can be just as important as the requisite strength to lift the weight.

We want to make the clean and the rack position as effortless as possible to give you as much energy to go into the press.


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[Related: Hafthor Bjornsson talks improving the circus dumbbell lift]

The Clean

Kearney shares techniques he routinely sees when other strongmen perform the clean. He demonstrates “the swing”, where momentum is built by swinging the dumbbell between the legs and up to the rack position.

“The World’s Strongest Gay” prefers using the tools allowed in strongman to his advantage, including his belt.

I’ll pick it straight up and put the far end on my belt and then lever it up onto my shoulder into position.

Although he doesn’t mention it specifically, when performing the movement, it is clear that when the dumbbell is momentarily resting on his belt, he drives his hips forward to pop the dumbbell up to his shoulder. This hip drive was similar to what is seen in the snatch, except with a massive dumbbell instead of a barbell.

The Press

Kearney repeats multiple times about the importance of the elbow remaining parallel to the ground while the dumbbell rests on the trap behind the head. For the push press:

You’re going to dip down…and then explode up. Think of moving your bicep to your ear.

The 2019 Arnold Australia champ highlights that the push press is just one way that strongman perform the heavy dumbbell. The other is a push jerk, which is more commonly seen when athletes are performing on the heavier end of their heavy dumbbell range.

Typically, [the push jerk] is the easiest way to do it. Shortens the range of motion, shortens the press.


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[Related: 7 fantastic shoulder exercises for strength, mass, and power]

Putting Down the Dumbbell

First, Kearney demonstrated two different techniques to not do when competing in a timed event for max reps. The first was a horizontal forward drop (palm to the ground), and the second was a perpendicular drop (thumb facing away). Both techniques saw the dumbbell roll and topple away from Kearney, respectively.

In the palm to the ground technique, time is spent turning the dumbbell so it is aligned properly for the next rep. In the thumb facing away technique, a strongman would have to wait or assist the dumbbell to stop moving before resetting.

The best way to drop the dumbbell from overhead is by pointing the thumb towards you and towards the ground; internally rotate the shoulder.

The internal rotation technique allows for the dumbbell to fall flat and in proper alignment to be cleaned for the following rep, saving valuable time.

Feature image from Rob Kearney’s Instagram page: @worlds_strongest_gay