Every now and then I focus deeply on a particular exercise. Since late 2014 until now, that exercise has been the kettlebell clean and press. Let me tell you, doing this one correctly hits you all over.

First, I took a program from Pavel Tsatsouline’s Beyond Bodybuilding. The program has you doing clean and presses three days a week, starting off with five ladders of 1 rep, 2 reps, and then 3 reps. That meant 30 reps left and right. I worked up to 8 sets and then my shoulders weren’t handling the increase any more.

Lately, I’ve been doing four ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4 reps. This gives me 40 reps. My Monday workout consists of these clean and presses with squats in between the ladders.

This has changed my body.

The Clean Develops Excellent Hand Strength and Movement Finesse

First, there is the clean. Swinging a weight between the legs and then cleaning it up to shoulder level. 30 reps equals 60 cleans. 40 reps equals 80 cleans. That’s a lot of cleaning. The clean is an exercise in tension control—tense, loose, tight. This means I’m getting a lot of practice turning on tension and turning it off fast. That’s athletic. So, I’ve been feeling springier.

The clean is also pulling against a dead weight so my hands and forearms have gotten stronger. In fact, I feel a whole new level of strength in my box carrying region—which would bode well for grapplers, boxers, or anyone in the general public who doesn’t like struggling with groceries, carrying kids, or even shoveling.

My arm has grown and my back has become more defined. The bicep in particular has gotten bigger and I attribute this to the clean.

The Single Arm Press is a Full Body Movement

Then there’s the press. Since I’m just doing one side at a time, I’m getting a great stomach workout. The press is also a tension exercise so I’m flexing my entire body during the press. I reread Pavel’s description of the press in his Russian Kettlebell Challenge book and apply all the tension techniques—in particular on the last set when I really need them.

The overhead movement is weak in a lot of people, particularly those who started lifting in high school where the bench is overemphasized. The military press creates very strong shoulders and the kettlebell does a better job of activating the entire shoulder than a dumbbell so my shoulders are feeling great right now (now that I’ve dropped the load a little bit).

The clean combined with the press is making my whole arm feel strong and well connected to the body. It’s a great feeling. You know what? Screw the grocery cart—just make sure those bags are strong and I can take them all. I can hold all my groceries in one arm, dig my keys out with the other, and then distribute the groceries in the car.

The Benefits of the Ladder Rep Scheme

The ladder lets you lift heavy weights and minimizes fatigue which thereby allows good form and concentration throughout. So, these are concentrated reps. In between reps, I visualize the reps on my opposite side before I do them. Not only that, I visualize the effect I want those reps to have on my body. Then I do the reps.

The clean and press is a big exercise. When I do my 40 reps each side with squats down in my 63 degree basement, I end up with my shirt off and sweating.

Rather than trying a bunch of different exercises, focusing in like a laser on a big exercise can produce superior results.

Here are some great benefits of other top notch exercises:

Looking for how to fit this into an overall program for killer strength?

Check out the Lean, Healthy, Strong.