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Take the Sig Klein Clean and Press Challenge

Mike Mahler

My favorite exercise by far is the Clean and Press. I like many of the variations such as the Barbell Clean and Press, Dumbbell Clean and Press, Sandbag Clean And Press, Resistance Band Clean and Press, and my all-time favorite the Double Clean and Press. What makes the Clean and Press so great? It works the entire body from head to toe. You use the lower body to get the bells to the shoulders and the upper body to get the bells overhead. Moreover, the Clean and Press teaches coordination, transfer of power, and teaches the body how to work as one unit. Executed with heavy weights and low reps, the Clean and Press is an incredible strength developer. Done for high reps (12-15) the Clean and Press is an incredible strength-endurance builder. Done with heavy weights and high volume the Clean and Press is a great size and strength developer.

Regardless of what your goals are the Clean and Press has a place in your program. It is a great exercise for both men and women and if you only have time to do one exercise, you cannot do much better than the Clean and Press. One additional benefit of the Clean and Press is it does not require much equipment. All you need are two dumbbells, two kettlebells, or a barbell. It can be done just about anywhere so there are no excuses for missing out on the benefits of the Clean and Press. (I cover the Clean and press in great detail on my speed and explosive strength DVD, check it out at Kettlebell Training DVD’s

In an issue of Brooks Kubiks’ “Dinosaur Files”, ( Brooks mentioned that old-time strongman Sig Klein considered the Dumbbell Clean and Military Press to be one of the best exercises for measuring all-around strength. Sig stated that twelve reps with two 75lb dumbbells separated the men from the boys. While Sig did not mention women, I do not want the ladies to feel left out. A great dumbbell Clean and Press goal for ladies is twelve reps with two 30lb dumbbells.

For those of you that are not familiar with the Dumbbell Clean and Press here is how it works. Place two dumbbells on the floor just outside of your feet. Rip them off of the floor and get them to your shoulders in one motion. This is the lower body portion of the drill. If you swing the dumbbells back behind your feet to initiate the clean you place the focus on the hamstrings. If you rip them straight up the quads come more into play. Once your legs are locked out press the dumbbells overhead until your arms lockout. No leg drive is permissible. The legs must be locked out during the duration of the press. Lower the bells back to your shoulders and take the dumbbells back to the starting position. You just completed one rep. Huffing and puffing already? You are in big trouble as you have eleven more reps to go. Get your puke bucket ready!

What should your goal be with the Clean and Press? Simple, take the Sig Klein challenge and work on achieving twelve reps with two 75lb dumbbells. If you are a fan of kettlebell training like me, work on pressing two 70lb kettlebells fourteen times. Ladies, work on pressing two 26lb kettlebells fourteen times. While achieving the goal will not get you a ticket to compete in the world’s strongest man contest, I doubt that is one of your goals. What you will accomplish is a nice combination of strength, endurance, and mental toughness. No doubt you will achieve some nice physique composition improvements as well. If you want to lose fat, clean up your diet. Get all carbohydrates from low glycemic fruits and veggies. Cut out all starches and sugars. Have a balance of protein, healthy fat, and low glycemic carbs at each meal and you are ready to go. If your goal is to add some mass, ramp up the calories. Just focus on healthy food as well to ensure you add muscle, not blubber.

Whether you choose to use dumbbells or kettlebells for the Clean and Press challenge, avoid using the pre-swing to get the bells off of the floor. Clean the bells from a dead stop on each rep. Why? To make it harder and to ensure that momentum is not being used to press the bells. When you swing the bells between your feet on each rep you make the clean easier and you may find it hard to avoid bouncing the bells off of your upper body. Moreover, to ensure that the Clean and Press is a comprehensive full-body exercise we want to make the lower body work harder. Cleaning the bells from a dead stop will certainly make the lower body work harder. In addition to cleaning the bells from a dead stop, pause in the rack position for a second before each press. This will ensure you do not push pressing the bells overhead. Being forced to clean the bells from a dead stop on each rep will not only teach you how to develop tremendous explosive power, but it will also develop mental toughness as well. You will know what I am talking about when you give it a shot. Also, pressing the bells after a pause is going to amount to some nice dividends in upper body strength and power. The Clean and Press will soon be on your shortlist of exercises you love to hate. Let’s cover a few performance tips:

Clean and Press Performance Tips

  • Place two kettlebells between your feet just past your toes.
  • Stick your butt back as if you are trying to sit in a chair behind
  • Look forward at all times.
  • Breathe in at the same time that you clean the bells.
  • Hold your breathe and tighten up every muscle in the body
  • Look up slightly and press the bells overhead.
  • Breathe out in the lock-out position and breathe in as you lower the bells back to the rack position.
  • Contract your lats and lower the bells actively rather than letting them flop down

Well, you have the goal, now figure out how to get there on your own and let me know how it works out. Just kidding, I would never leave you hanging like that. Well, maybe just not this time. All right, let’s look at some effective battle plans for ramping up your Clean and Press numbers.

Greasing The Groove (GTG)

Those of you that are regular readers of my articles know that I am a big fan of Pavel Tsatsouline’s GTG program. In fact, I used the GTG protocol when I trained for a Kettlebell Clean and Press contest I hosted earlier this year. It worked like a charm and I knocked out an all-time best of 19 reps with two 70lb kettlebells. Many of my online clients use the GTG system to dramatically improve their numbers on exercise such as pull-ups and pushups.

Here is how it works, take 50% of your one set rep max and do several practice sets throughout the day. For example, if you can Clean and Press two 70s for ten reps, do several sets of five throughout the day. Leave at least thirty minutes in between each set. You want to be as fresh as possible for each set. If any of the sets of five come close to being difficult you are doing way too many sets or you are not leaving enough time in between each set. Each set should feel relatively easy. The point is to get better at the skill of the exercise. The more you practice the better you get. The better you get the more reps you can do. Sounds crazy? Look at how you learn any other skill such as playing the piano. Would you play the piano for three hours every Monday and then take the rest of the week off? Of course not. Daily practice of playing the piano is how you get better. Productive strength training is no different. Get great at the skill of executing the exercise and you will be amazed at what happens. Practice without burning out also makes your central nervous system (CNS) more efficient. The CNS has a great deal to do with productive strength training. Make the CNS more efficient and you will get stronger. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to get stronger without making the muscles bigger.

Here is a sample GTG plan to take a 10 rep max up to 20 reps. Scale the numbers up or down depending on your current strength levels:

  • Week 1: 50% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 2: 60% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 3: 70% of one set max four times per day
  • Week 4: 80% of one set max three times per day
  • Week 5: 60% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 6: 70% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 7: 80% of one set max four times per day
  • Week 8: 70% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 9: 80% of one set max four times per day
  • Week 10: 70% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 11: 80% of one set max four times per day
  • Week 12: 90% of one set max three times per day
  • Week 13: 50% of one set max five times per day
  • Week 14: take a few days off and do a one set max test

A few more key points about GTG. Wait at least two hours after waking up to do your first set. The body is generally stiff and tight in the morning. Wait until you have moved around and gotten some blood moving to get the ball rolling. The last thing you need is for your first set to suck. How you feel on the first set will set you up for the rest of the day so make it a good one. On the other hand, your last GTG set should be no later than four hours before bedtime. The last thing you need is a CNS boost before hitting the sack. Do the GTG program a maximum of six days per week and for most five days per week is better. For example, do the GTG program Monday through Friday and then take the weekends off.

Since the GTG program is based on taking short “exercise breaks” throughout the day it is a perfect fit for busy professionals. You could even bring two kettlebells to your office. Every hour or so take a break from pretending to work and knock off a set of Clean and Presses. By the end of the day it will add up and by the end of several weeks, you will wonder why you did not think of taking exercise breaks sooner. There are no excuses for not training when you are cognizant of the GTG program.

For those of you that cannot knock off sets throughout the day, try doing two to three sets of Clean and presses with five-minute breaks once per day. While this is not as ideal as sets throughout the day, it is certainly better than nothing.

One final point about GTG, it is a great program for increasing one set strength. However, it may not carry over too well to multiple set strength. In other words, while it is a great program for taking your 10 rep max to your 20 rep max, you may find that five sets of 12-14 reps are not happening. What is the bottom line? Training has to be very precise. If you want to increase your one-set strength, GTG is the way to go. If you want to get better at multiple sets strength you need to practice multiple sets (Density Training below will work well for this).

Ethan Reeve’s “Density Training”

I learned about “Density Training” from top Wake forest University Strength Coach Ethan Reeve. Ethan is one of the best around and his “Density Training” program is a real winner. The Density Training program builds incredible work capacity and increases strength dramatically. Here is how it works. Pick your target goal. For example, if you want to press two 70lb kettlebells 20 times, you will need to do 40 total reps per workout. This can be done one rep at a time. For example forty sets of one with 30-second breaks. Or you can start with twenty sets of two or ten sets of four. Where you start is up to you. Regardless of “Density Training” all roads lead to the same end. And the end is more work achieved with fewer sets. Here is a sample program:

  • Week 1: 20×2 (twenty sets of two)
  • Week 2: 13×3 and 1×1
  • Week 3: 10×4
  • Week 4: 8×5
  • Week 5: 6×6 and 1×4
  • Week 6: 5×7 and 1×5
  • Week 7: 5×8
  • Week 8: 4×9 and 1×4
  • Week 9: 4×10
  • Week 10: 3×11 and 1×7
  • Week 11: 3×12 and 1×4
  • Week 12: 3×13 and 1×1

Thus with Density training, the sets go down over time and the reps per set go up dramatically. In addition to developing strength, you will increase work capacity and strength endurance tremendously. Mental toughness is also a strong component of Density Training so get ready to work hard. Leave at least 48 hours in between each session. For example, do your Clean and Press workouts on Monday and Thursday. When in doubt take an extra rest day where ever necessary. Do not do less than two Density workouts per week though. If you cannot handle it, stick with the GTG program, which is, not anywhere near as brutal.


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