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Incorporating Dumbbell Cleans into Training

By Allen Hedrick
Date Released : 19 Jul 2011

Weightlifting continues to be a valuable training component for both athletes and personal training clients
for a number of reasons. Weightlifting movements generate a high level of power (Janz et al., 2008; Hori
et al., 2008), are biomechanically similar to movements that occur in many day-to-day activities
(Channell and Barfield, 2008; Hedrick and Wada, 2008), and expend a high number of calories as a result
of the large amount of muscle mass required to perform these movements. Additionally, they provide the
elderly with important high-velocity power training options (Sayers, 2007). Research has also has shown
that performing weightlifting movements under quality supervision has an extremely low injury rate
(Hamill, 1994).

While it is most common to see weightlifting movements performed with a barbell, these lifts can also be
performed with dumbbells. In this article, you'll learn the advantages of integrating dumbbell cleans into
your program design, plus how to progressively teach your personal training clients to perform the basic
dumbbell clean, along with its variations.

Advantages to Dumbbells Cleans Vs. Barbell Cleans

Specialized equipment is not required.
To safely perform a barbell clean, you need a high-quality weightlifting bar, bumpers (so that the bar can
be dropped if necessary), and some sort of platform or lifting area where the bar can be dropped without
damaging the floor. In some settings, this specialized equipment may simply not be available. In this
situation, the only way to safely perform cleans is with a dumbbell.

Dumbbell cleans are technically less difficult to perform correctly than barbell

In my experience teaching literally thousands of athletes how to perform dumbbell cleans, I find that most
people are able to learn how to perform dumbbell cleans faster and with less instruction than is required
when learning to perform the same movement correctly with a barbell. In settings where there is no
personal trainer qualified to correctly teach the barbell clean, the dumbbell clean may be the best
alternative if there is personal trainer available to correctly teach that movement.

Unilateral and alternating movements can be performed with dumbbells, unlike

Dumbbell cleans may provide a more functional method of training for the client. Further, performing the
lift in either a unilaterally or alternating pattern places unique, unbalanced stress on the core (Comfort et
al., 2001; Wahl and Behm, 2008).

Integrating dumbbells into training programs increases exercise variation.

This increase in variation is beneficial for two reasons:

It provides different stimulus to the neuromuscular system. This variation can be important
physiologically in terms of continued increases in strength and power. Resistance training causes
multiple neural adaptations, including increases in electromyographic activity (Behm, 1995). By
providing exercise variation the central nervous system develops more complex recruitment
patterns. This exercise variation provides stimulation to recruit previously unrecruited muscle
fibers (Craig, 2000).
Increased variation in training can help the client avoid becoming bored from performing the same
exercises repeatedly.

Performing the movement with dumbbells can act as an unloading day.

A client may lift heavy early in the week, to focus on increasing strength, and then perform dumbbell
cleans later in the week. Because it is not possible to lift the same amount of weight when performing an
exercise with dumbbells as compared to a barbell, the client has to use a comparatively lighter weight
when performing an exercise with dumbbells. As a result, the dumbbell training day can be viewed as an
unloading day for the client, following the pattern of a heavy training day followed by a moderate training
day. Additional variables that can be manipulated to provide an unloading day include changing the total
number of exercises during a training sessions, sets, repetitions, rest times, and exercise selection.

Note: The only potential disadvantage of performing cleans with dumbbells would occur if the primary
goal of training was to maximally improve performance performing barbell cleans. For example,
weightlifters who attempt to clean and snatch as much weight as possible in a single attempt when
competing never perform the movement with dumbbells. Although the movement patterns performing a
dumbbell clean and a barbell clean are similar, the very best way to get better at performing barbell cleans
is to train the movement with a barbell.

Teaching the Dumbbell Clean

As previously mentioned, people tend to learn dumbbell cleans more easily than the barbell clean. Below
is the teaching progression I use to teach the dumbbell hang power clean, on which all of the subsequent
movement variations are based.

Body Position

Foot position. Because the movement pattern used when performing the clean is very similar to the
movement pattern used when performing a vertical jump, it makes sense to initiate the movement in
a normal jump stance with the feet shoulder width apart (see Figure 1). In most cases, if you ask the
client to assume a jump stance, they will move into this position naturally.
Dumbbell position. The dumbbells are orientated front to back rather than side to side (see Figure
2). This orientation allows the lifter to keep the dumbbells as tight to the body as possible, whereas
with a side-to-side orientation the dumbbell has to be kept further from the body because of the
bulk of the dumbbell.
Body position. The feet are shoulder width apart. The hips are back, the knees are over (not in
front) of the feet. The back is arched, the head is up, the shoulders are forward of the knees (see
Figures 3a and 3b).

Figure 1: Foot Figure 2: Dumbbell Figure 3a: Body Figure 3b: Body
position position position position

Movement Progression
Use the following steps to teach your clients to properly perform the dumbbell hang power clean:

1. Jump shrug. The client moves into a triple extension position at the ankle, knee, and hip. At the
top of the jump action the client shrugs the shoulder straight up, with no bending at the elbow (see
Figure 4).
2. Low pull. At the top of the jump shrug movement, the client bends at the elbow to bring the
dumbbells to waist height (see Figure 5).
3. High pull. From the low pull position, the client continues into the high pull position, which
involves pulling the dumbbells directly to the armpit, while keeping the dumbbells oriented in a
front-to-back position (see Figure 6).
4. Catch. From the high pull position, the client simultaneously drops into a semi-squat position while
rotating the elbows around and racking the dumbbells on the shoulders (see Figure 7).

Figure 4: Jump
Figure 5: Low Pull Figure 6: High Pull Figure 7: Catch

Common Mistakes

Although learning to dumbbell clean is relatively easy for most individuals, there are some common
mistakes that do occur during the learning process that the personal trainer should know.

In the start position, either in the hang or when starting at the shins, the shoulders are behind rather
than in front of the knees. If the shoulders are behind or directly above the knees, the correct occurs
at the knee joint. To correct this, have the client reduce the amount of flexion at the knee joint,
which will move the shoulders forward into the desired start position, with the shoulders slightly
forward of the knees.
During the movement the dumbbells are brought forward of the body rather than being pulled up in
a straight line. To correct this, emphasize to the client that they should pull the dumbbells to the arm
pits, along the rib cage, rather than allowing the dumbbells to move forward. Another thing to look
for, and to emphasize to the client, is that the front edge (or the face) of the dumbbell should stay
flat as long as possible rather than tilting backwards too soon. The face of the dumbbell should stay
flat all the way up to the arm pit before initiating the catch phase.
In the catch phase, the client attempts to drop under the dumbbells by flexing at the knee joint rather
than flexing at the hip joint. This is easy to spot and to correct. If, when the client is in the catch
position, the knees are forward of the toes then too much flexion at the knees has occurred. To
correct this, have the client emphasize reaching back at the hips (using a sitting action) rather than
moving the knee joints forward.
Catching the dumbbells while standing on the toes. This creates a serious balance problem and is a
non-functional position. Emphasize to the client that he or she should place the heels firmly on the
ground as they move into the catch position. As the dumbbells are caught on the shoulders, the
heels should be firmly on the ground.

Movement Variations
As discussed previously, many variations of the dumbbell clean can be performed. While some of the
variations discussed here are applicable to both barbells and dumbbells, some can only be performed with
dumbbells. Presented below is a list of potential variations of the dumbbell clean and a short description
of the movement.

Basic Movement Variations

Dumbbell Power Clean. Identical to the dumbbell hang power clean described above, except the
start position is changed from a hang position to a start position that mimics the start position of
performing the movement from the floor with a barbell (see Figure 8). This places the dumbbells at
about mid-shin position, maintaining the front-to-back orientation previously discussed. The
dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a squat position.
Dumbbell Hang Clean. Rather than performing a power clean (caught in a semi-squat position),
the client performs a full clean from the hang position, dropping into a parallel or lower squat
position (see Figure 9). Because the dumbbells are caught in a lower position than in the power
clean, generally more weight can use used in this exercise than when performing the power clean.
Dumbbell Clean. The start position moves from the hang position to the mid-shin position
previously discussed. The client then performs a full clean from that mid-shin start position (see
Figure 10). Because of the longer range of motion to develop momentum on the dumbbells, and the
low catch position, generally the greatest amount of weight can be used when performing this

Figure 8: Figure 9: Figure 10:

Dumbbell Power Dumbbell Hang Dumbbell Clean
Clean Clean

Alternating Movement Variations

Alternating Dumbbell Hang Power Clean. Identical to the dumbbell hang power discussed
above, except the movement at the arms are alternated each repetition. From the hang position the
client alternates performing a dumbbell hang power clean with each arm (see Figure 11). The
dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a full squat position.
Alternating Dumbbell Power Clean. Similar to the alternating dumbbell hang power clean
described above except the movement starts from below the shin rather than starting from the hang
position. The movement is performed alternating arms and is caught in the power position.
Alternating Dumbbell Hang Clean. Same as the movement explained above except the client
alternates performing the dumbbell hang clean with each arm (see Figure 12). From the hang
position the dumbbells are caught in the full clean position rather than the power position.
Alternating Dumbbell Clean. The client performs the dumbbell hang clean discussed above
except now the movement is performed alternating arms (see Figure 13) from the mid-shin start
position. The client alternates performing the full dumbbell clean with each arm, catching in the full
squat position.

Figure 11: Figure 12:

Figure 13:
Alternating Alternating
Dumbbell Hang Dumbbell Hang
Dumbbell Clean
Power Clean Clean

Single Arm Movement Variations

Single Arm Dumbbell Hang Power Clean. Identical to the dumbbell hang power discussed above
except the movement is now performed 1-arm at a time rather than alternating arms. Further, only
one dumbbell is held rather than holding a dumbbell in each hand (see Figure 14).
Single Arm Dumbbell Power Clean. From the full clean start position the client performs a single
arm clean, catching the dumbbell in the power position.
Single Arm Dumbbell Hang Clean. Same as the movement explained above except the client
performs the dumbbell hang clean 1 arm at a time rather than with alternating arms (see Figure 15).
In addition, only 1 dumbbell is held rather than holding a dumbbell in both hands.
Single Arm Dumbbell Clean. The client performs the dumbbell hang clean discussed above except
now the movement is performed 1 arm at a time, only one dumbbell is held (see Figure 16).
Figure 14: Figure 15:
Figure 16:
Single Arm Single Arm
Single Arm
Dumbbell Power Dumbbell
Dumbbell Clean
Clean Hang Clean

Sample Program
Cycle: Strength Cycle 1
Goal: Increase strength
Length: 4 weeks
Intensity: Complete the full number of required repetitions on the first set only
Pace: Olympic lifts (OL) performed explosively; core lifts (CL) performed at a pace of 2 seconds
down and explode up.
Rest: Rest 2:00 between Olympic lifts sets and exercises, rest 1:30 between core sets and exercises
Week 1: OL = 4x4, CL = 4x6
Week 2: OL = 4x2, CL = 4x4
Week 3: OL = 4x4, CL = 4x6
Week 4: OL = 4x2, CL = 4x4

Hang Power Clean CL
Front Squats CL
Straight Leg Dead Lift
Standing Band Twist
Bench Press CL
Seated Row CL
Dumbbell Clean OL
Dumbbell Lunges CL
Dumbbell Side Lunges
Dumbbell Press Crunch
Upper Dumbbell Incline Press
Body CL
Dumbbell Row CL

Weightlifting movements such as the clean are becoming more commonly accepted in strength and
conditioning fitness programs, and there are specific advantages of using dumbbells to perform them. The
teaching sequence provided has been used successfully by this author for a number of years when
teaching the dumbbell clean, and the many variations of the dumbbell clean can be incorporated into
workouts to add variety and functionality to your clients' personal training sessions.

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