23 May 2014

The Lost Art Of The Dumbbell Clean And Press

One of the worst buggaboos for anyone fully committed to lifting and superhuman physical strength has got to be staleness, and it is without question a going to rear its hideous bulk into your view the second you become obsessed with hitting certain numbers on a small subset of lifting exercises.  Whether you're a powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter, or even a strongman, you're bound to become fixated upon a small number of exercises with which you punish yourself daily, and for which you feel compelled to avoid any number of other lifts in the pursuit of bigger primary lift numbers.  What makes this worse is that no matter how deeply ingrained the knowledge that doing so will invariably fuck you harder than a runaway fucking machine tipped with a spiked ball bat in the basement of a hideous Midwestern couple with a penchant for sexual torture and mobile home purchase, you're bound to get caught up in this nonsense anyway.  Thus, before you end up like the girl in the box, blindly groping at your surroundings in an effort to find any respite for the hell in which you've found yourself, remind yourself that if you make yourself stronger... you're fucking stronger.  Nevermind the lift, because there's always carryover to be had.

Don't end up like this.  Well, unless you're into that.  In which case, email me immediately.

After contracting walking pneumonia and losing a bunch of weight, then valiantly fighting my way back so that I was stronger than ever only to suffer a hideous and catastrophic bicep tear, I fell face first into the shit covered punji-stick filled pit of despair that is staleness.  I continually pounded the big three lifts in a continual effort to regain my place at the top of the heap in my weight class, and after grinding my way through countless workouts basically found myself forcing myself through workouts I hated so much I wanted to burn down the gym in an effort to make waves at a competition about which no one cares in a strength sport backwater filled with assholes who lift very little and shit-talk a great deal.  That, people, is a recipe for disaster.  Thus, I started mining my small stack of Milo magazines, graciously lent to me by a fan of the blog, in an effort to find myself a few exercises on which I could focus for a while and give my mind a break from the endless drudgery of powerlifting.

Obviously, I still enjoy training shoulders, but that's about it.

My criteria for choosing these exercises was simple- they must be entertaining, give me a solid weight goal to achieve, and they should utilize more than one major muscle group.  Thereafter, I'd choose a panoply of assistance exercises I don't normally do to round out my core set of exercises and give my mind and body the break from endless sets of bench press, shrugs, and squats it so desperately needed.  Carryover to main lifts, as I said, was not a prerequisite, because direct carryover from one lift to another is something for which only simpletons search, because it's about as unlikely a possibility that a big, multi-joint movement will completely lack carryover with another that it is that Sarah Jessica Parker might not look better without a face.   As such, it is unnecessary to find direct corollaries, as if you hit big movements hard enough, your whole body will be bigger and stronger no matter what.

Lest you think I invented this method, I would hardly lay claim to this panacea for staleness.  Arthur Saxon himself, the man who could put more weight overhead with his right hand than anyone in history, also recognized this.  According to Saxon, 

"to go when stale is to invite an entire breakdown.  I have known even nervous exhaustion to attend the misdirected efforts of the athlete who persists in hard training when he feels himself going to pieces through overwork.  To try to work like a machine, knowing that ever at one's side stands the bugbear of training, ready to weaken one's resources through overwork, and bring about a breakdown, is the height of folly" (Saxon).  
Club-footed overhead presser extraordinaire Doug Hepburn was also famous for shifting his focus when he hit a wall in training, and according to Charles A. Smith,
"The very moment Doug ceases to make progress with a given schedule, or reaches a point where he feels he has obtained all he can from specialization on a particular lift, he chooses another. If he has been training on the press, he will drop that for the snatch or hang clean. Likewise the squat, which will be dropped for the deadlift. Also with the curl, which will be replaced by the bench press. Thus any tendency toward frustration through failing to make progress and consequently WORRYING about it is nullified. Although Doug is not entirely of a placid, easygoing nature, he deliberately and at all times cultivates a cheerful attitude and, where his strength and exercising routines are concerned, is always full of confidence and enthusiasm regardless of outside influence or events" (Smith).

To state, then, that my idea of shifting my focus to lifts completely outside of the purview of my general routine hasn't got a solid pedigree is akin to stating that Anderson Silva had a hard time walking off his recent lower leg injury post fight.  Nor, then, is the mainstay of the exercises I've chosen to replace shrugs for the time being, as it is one of the pet exercises of the aforementioned Hepburn and Saxon, in addition to a man who is arguably one of the strongest men to walk the Earth, Chuck Ahrens; world champion wrestler and one of the greatest deadlifters of all time, Georg Hackenschmidt; farmer-turned-brutal deadlifter Bob Peoples; randomly vegetarian Mr. America and former unofficial world holder in the clean and jerk, Roy Hilligenn, Olympic and world record holding weightlifter, Joseph Manger; and all around fucking brutal badass, Bill Kazmeier.  I'm sure there have been plenty of other notable lifters who regularly employed the lift, as it's pretty much the balls and builds massive arms, shoulders, and upper backs.

Roy Hilligenn, a guy about whom few of us have heard, though we probably should have.

So, let the quibbling on how this lift is done begin.  We can start by arguing whether it should be a clean or a continental, and quite frankly, I don't give a fuck.  It's a stupid fucking argument weak people can have while I'm moving weights and getting my swole on.  There are a couple of ways to perform the lift, and no one break sit down better than one of the best dumbbell clean and pressers of all time, Arthur Saxon.  According to Saxon, you can do this as a continental, clean, or a swing, and described each in detail.  Being a German, Saxon obviously preferred the continental, as it was a better test of brute strength, and he could use more weight in that fashion.  In his mind, however, it doesn't matter how you do it, so long as you get the fucking weight to move.  


"For position place both bells parallel to each other between the feet. Now stoop down and raise same up so that the discs or globes rest on the thighs, the bells being held together as shown in illustration. By leaning backwards you will be able to pull the bells on to the body, from whence by a jerk you get them partly on the chest, and so to the shoulders, after which you stand in a firm position ready to sink below the weights and to move your feet to enable you to dip beneath your dumb-bells as they go aloft. This is done by a vicious jerk, after which you sink and so get the bells overhead, the eyes to be on them as they go aloft for fear you lose the balance" (Saxon 31). 
"If you would lift them in the clean English style, then they may be taken from between the feet or from the sides of the feet, you to lean backwards as you pull them to the shoulders and split the feet in two opposite directions, on to the back, and one to the front" (Saxon 31).
"Still another way is to stand with them at the sides, and while in this position give them a
swing to the front and then to the back and so up to the shoulders. Take advantage of this swing, and by a movement similar to the one last described regarding the feet you will find the bells at the shoulder. The latter position is more suitable to tall men than to short men" (Saxon 31).

Like Saxon, I don't think it matters how the fuck you shoulder the dumbbells, so long as they get where they need to go.  Bill Kazmaier agreed, stating in one interview "I just yanked them off the rack and swung them up to my shoulders" (Svub 71).  As that's really the hard part, try a couple of methods and see which one has you shouldering the most weight- it's a guarantee you can put more weight overhead than you can actually get to your shoulders.  Stricter guys might prefer the old school military press, which I've detailed in the past, but it's essentially a press with a straight back, heels together, like you're standing at attention in the military.  This was apparently not the preferred method of the old timers, though, and most of the lifts I'm about to recount were either done with a slight push or a jerk.  To give you an idea of what people have done with this lift:
  • German Strongman Karl Witzelsberger (220lbs bodyweight) clean and jerked a pair of dumbbells totaling 327 lbs in 1905 (Bonini)
  • Semi-mysterious bodybuilder Joe Lauriano clean and pressed 75lb dumbbells for 16 reps in 1950 (Svub 72)
  • Oly lifting powerhouse John Davis (~220lbs bodyweight) clean and pressed two 142lb dumbbells for a single in 1954 (Svub 72)
  • Badass bodybuilder and ultra-jacked Oly lifter Steve Stanko (~220lbs bodyweight) smashed 8 reps with a pair of 120 lb dumbbells (Svub 72)
  • Powerlifter, strongman, and complete psychopath Bill Kazmaier blew away a single with a pair of 160 lb dumbbells (Svub 71)
  • Powerlifting farmer Bob Peoples (181lbs bodyweight) smashed a set of five in the dumbbell clean and press with a slightly mismatched set of dumbbells weighing between 106 and 108 lbs (Svub 71)
  • Vegetarian, Olympic weightlifting bodybuilder Roy Hilligenn rocked a pair of 145 lb dumbbells for a set of five at a bodyweight of 173, which is so far past retarded that this sentence makes less sense than the decision to film Grown Ups 2 (Svub 71)
  • Turn of the century strongman Horace Barre (~275lbs bodyweight) clean and pressed a pair of dumbbells weighing 140 lbs with his left hand and 145lbs with his right simultaneously (Svub 72)
  • Oly legend Tommy Kono (bw 175 lbs) clean and pressed a pair of 110 lb dumbbells for ten reps in 1955 (Svub 72)
  • Semi-legendary Olympic weightlifter Steve Gob (~185 lbs) cleaned a 103lb dumbbell with his right hand and a 101 lb dumbbell with his left and then pressed them for twenty reps (Svub 72)
Lest you find on your first outing that you fail to measure up to the deeds of these great men, there's no need to start sucking on the barrel of your Glock until it cums bullets- badass early 1900s gym owner Sig Klein "doubted many men across the country could handle a pair of 75 pound dumbbells for 12 good reps" (Colucci).  I personally only managed a double with the 90s this week on my first attempt at the exercise, and then followed that with an hour of sets of five with the 75s.  I quit only when the dumbbell flew out of my left hand as I attempted to swing it into my shoulder, soared through the fetid, swampy, protein-fart filled gym air, and smashed into the dumbbell rack.  That's how fucking fun this exercise is- I actually enjoyed doing reps with it.  In case you're curious what's a worthwhile weight to move, Joe Weider had something to say on the subject, back when he actually looked like he lifted and not like he had worms pouring out of his eye sockets.

Benchmarks For the Clean and Press According to 1950s Joe Weider (Svub)
Under 150lbs
Badass: 80lb dumbbells
Not Horrible: 70lbs dumbbells
Meh: 60lbs dumbbells

150lbs - 190lbs
Badass: 90lbs dumbbells
Not Horrible: 85lbs dumbbells
Meh: 80lbs dumbbells

Over 190 lbs
Badass: 100lbs dumbbells
Not Horrible: 95lbs dumbbells
Meh: 90lbs dumbbells

So there you have it- a new exercise to jam into your routine, a reason to start jamming new exercises into your routine in the first place, and numbers for which you can shoot in your very first outing in the gym doing dumbbell clean and presses.  Could you ask for more?

Fuck staleness, and fuck weakness.  

Danni Kalifornia, everyone!

Go forth and conquer... and remember- if motherfuckers have time to talk shit on your training methods on Facebook/Reddit/other armpits of the internet, they likely aren't training themselves.  


Bonini, Gherardo.  Austrian Men of Might: Karl Witzelberger and Berthold Tandler.  Milo.  Dec 2013; 21(3): 44-45.

Colucci, Chris.  The Biggest Exercise in Bodybuilding.  T-Nation.  18 Oct 2012.  Web.

 May 2014.  http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_biggest_exercise_in_bodybuilding

Saxon, Arthur.  The Development of Physical Power.  New York: Healthex Publishing Co, 1905.

Smith, Charles A.  How Hepburn Avoids Staleness.  The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban.  6 Aug 2008.  Web.  21 May 2014.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/08/how-hepburn-avoids-staleness-charles.html

Svub, Josef.  Feats in Dumbbell Pressing.  Milo.  Jun 2001;9(1):70-75.


  1. What's on the shirt your wearing there?

  2. Hitting the 75's for 12 yet a la Colucci's article?

    1. Ive only tried the exercise once. Was going for a max.

  3. In order to perform the clean and press for the numbers you mentioned, do you need to clean the dumbbells each rep?

    1. Yes. That would be why it's called a clean AND press. Not a clean and press, press, press, ...

  4. Fuck ya! I'm trying this today but I guarantee you that I'll be able to clean more than I can get overhead. I only say that cuz I live on a beef farm and work as a labourer for a brick and stone mason. So my pushing muscles have nothing on my pulling haha. This not an excuse though and I'm busting my ass everyday after work in the gym.

    1. That's pretty cool, and pretty uncommon. Stone masons are the most unnecessarily ripped people on Earth- their diets consist of nothing but alcohol, so the fact that they carry so much muscle is a fucking mystery.

    2. Hahaha oh I know what you mean we drink beer all fucking afternoon. Some days I don't even think I should be driving home. My boss is an animal. He broke his back in a snowmobile accident when he was younger,(I live in Canada ha) and it's all plates and bolts holding his spine together. Meanwhile he lifts all the same shit I do all fucking day: stones, bricks, pails of mortar, planks. He doesn't complain one bit even though it's hurting like a motherfucker all day. He is one tough bastard and laughs at pussies who say their back hurts lol. Crazy fucker has beat anyone he's ever met in an arm-wrestling match with one arm against 2 of theirs. He's basically my idol haha.

      To be honest there is no point in the day where I'm not lifting something. I think that's where the muscle comes from. I've been doing physical labour my whole life but after 6 months of masonry I have muscles in my upper back now that are nasty.

  5. I did the C&P today and sadly I was right about being able to clean more than I could press lol. I got up to 70's for 2 reps with a bit of a jerk. The 80's flew up to my shoulders but I could only press them half way. My extra long arms didn't help but I'm going to keep working on it and keep getting stronger. Keep up the awesome articles brotha

    1. "I got up to 70's for 2 reps with a bit of a jerk"

      No, there was nobody else there. It was just you in a mirror.

  6. how is this very different from the dumbbell curl up and press? Is it just the from ground to hips portion?

    I love these posts. The more old school movements brought to life the better. But I would like to see an accompanying vid with your max. when you search for Dumbell clean and press, you get a bunch of videos of hundred pound girls doing the movement. Time to retake it.

    1. Ill give it a shot soon. I want to be able to do something halfway decent. The curl and press is a much stricter movement.

  7. I'm glad someone else read the whole paper that went into agonizing detail about this lift.

  8. Always knew this exercise as the "Park Press", supposedly Reg Park used to do these a lot back then. Either a favorite of his or he got credit as the inventor of the thing. Funny. DC Training guys seem to love this exercise which is fucking unusual because bodybuilders almost never do anything involving cleans.

    I like how Colucci actually used his own failure to use more than 75lbs on this lift to dictate what's considered "tough" or not, then went on to write an entire article about it to masturbate his ego.

    1. "I like how Colucci actually used his own failure to use more than 75lbs on this lift to dictate what's considered "tough" or not, then went on to write an entire article about it to masturbate his ego."- Is that a fact? Seems like he was just quoting Sig Klein.

    2. It all started with a thread on Tnation about delt training for bodybuilding; Colucci came and started the basic "every bodybuilder trains wrong/is weak as fuck blablabla" shit then spammed the fuck out of every page with videos of him struggling to do the 75's on that lift. He got made proper fun off.

      Few weeks later he made an article about it.

      Don't think you can find the thread, probably deleted; but article is still around.

  9. Reg Park presses are pretty different. RPP's are a standing DB press done with a neutral grip with elbows facing forward and not cleaned with every rep.....

  10. Fuck yeah, good post. This is the blog at its best, when you get pissed off and do crazy esoteric lifts from half a century ago.

  11. Can't say I have any great secret but when the going gets tough a variant on the main lifts is often mentally stimulating. So squats with bands or a manta ray or deadlifts on a platform or with a band or incline or close grip benches....change tempo, like if you are a fast tempo one set per minute type, try long rest periods and vice versa. Try doing many sets of only a few sets, high reps or low reps, ...point is there are many ways to mix things up without discarding the potent basic lifts like sq, dl, be, ohp, bent over row...though clean and press is a superb move.

    One thing Lyle McDonald talks about is specialisation for the more advanced. Essentially put most of your moves onto a very low volume maintaninance regime and focus on two body parts for a month or so, then move onto two different parts. Sounds like a recipe for avoiding staleness.

    Personally I have been training weights for decades (started at 19, am 48) and have often put them on the backburner to focus on sports like karate and boxing, even 5k running, Now and again I put more emphasis on kettlebill training than barbell, but powerlifts are my main interest.

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