I'm currently working my way through starting strength (thanks to Dave Liepmann for the suggestion last time I posted on here) and I'm doing all of the initial exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, cleans) with dumbbells. The form for most of these is fairly straight forward to translate from barbell to dumbbell, except for the clean.

So far, I've been starting out with a deadlift form, quickly moving above my knee and then lifting the dumbbells and trying to quickly "catch" them, or get under them. The issue is that some times I do this wrong, curve my back backwards, or I sort of miss. When I do feel that I did it "right", I end up in a squat position after a small jump, although it's hard for me to know for sure if it's correct since there seems to be no videos online that really show and explain this well.

Is there a book or some online resource that explains dumbbells cleans well (a la "Starting Strength") that I could use?

3 Answers 3


I do something like this version of the dumbbell hang clean. Essentially:

  1. Stand up with the dumbbells at your sides or in front of you.
  2. Bend forward, maintaining the natural curve of the spine. This is also called a "flat back" or a natural back arch. Don't let the shoulders shrug forward and don't curl your back forward.
  3. When the dumbbells are just above the knee, reverse directions: jump explosively straight up and shrug your shoulders, keeping your elbows loose.
  4. Catch the dumbbells at your shoulders, landing from your jump with knees slightly bent.
  5. Stand up straight.

A precaution: dumbbell power cleans are substantially different from barbell power cleans. Most barbell and dumbbell versions of the same lift are substantially different exercises and have different pros and cons.

  • Hi Dave, thank's for the reply! At this point I've actually managed to get this exercise right through practice. I do something similar to the gif you linked to, except that end up lower before going back up. The motion is comfortable and fluid, without using my arms for the "rotation" phase. I'll mark your answer as correct, since it is the closest to what I settled on.
    – Ron
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:46
  • @Ron Cool! Low enough to be a full clean, or just a lower bend at the knees? Feb 27, 2015 at 17:51
  • I start with what is basically a dumbbell deadlift, once I'm getting near my knees with the dumbbells I start moving faster and end up in a sort of shrug position, at which point I'm getting my feet under me and jumping. After the jump, I end up near a parallel squat position, since the dumbbells haven't moved relative to their initial position, they are near my shoulders. At this point, the dumbbells are "racked" at my shoulders, and I squat the weight, then back into a deadlift position and iterate.
    – Ron
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:56

I understand you probably have no resources right now, so you work with a dumbbell instead of barbells, but SS is a Barbell training program. The moment you change barbell with a dumbbell, the program is not SS.

I would recommend to leave risky, jerky movements with dumbbells, and until you can get a hold of a decent barbell, stick with basic dumbbell exercises with bodyweight exercises.

  • Making a distinction between what I'm doing versus using a barbell seems as pointless as distinguishing between treadmill running and running on a flat surface outdoors. Yes, they are different, but the idea is the same, and I'm not sure how that's relevant to the question I'm asking. As for avoiding risky and jerky movements with dumbbells: I don't and won't have access for a barbell, so suggesting I wait isn't an option either.
    – Ron
    Jan 28, 2015 at 15:23

Here is one exercise from Bodybuilding.com:

  1. Begin standing with a dumbbell in each hand with your feet shoulder width apart.

  2. Lower the weights to the floor by flexing at the hips and knees, pushing your hips back until the dumbbells reach the floor. This will be your starting position.

  3. To initiate the movement, violently jump upward by extending the hips, knees, and ankles to acclerate the weights upward. Maintaining a neutral grip on the dumbbells, keep the arms straight until full extension is reached.

  4. After full extension, rebend the hips and knees to receive the weight in a squat position. Allow the arms to bend, guiding the dumbbells to your shoulders.

  5. Upon receiving the weight in the squat position, extend the hips and knees to finish in a standing position with the weights on your shoulders.

  • 1
    This is a description from the Bodybuilding.com exercise database, I've looked at it before and it was difficult for me to gauge is it was reliable.
    – Ron
    Jan 28, 2015 at 15:15
  • Please cite your sources in the future quote the relevant parts but also link back to the original material.
    – user241
    Mar 3, 2015 at 2:01

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