Gorilla Cleans: The Secret Ingredient to a Hard Kettlebell Workout

If you know how to work with and effectively program kettlebell workouts and exercises, the kettlebell might be the only training tool you need.

There’s a whole new world of exercises, deeply tucked away in the dark dungeons of the kettlebell world, that you probably haven’t tried yet, gorilla cleans is one of them. I’m here to open up the cracks, and expose you to some of the awesomeness that is still awaiting you to deliver a hard kettlebell workout.

I’ve programmed an intermediate WOD (Workout Of the Day) for you all that includes bodyweight exercises and kettlebells. I’m fairly certain that there will be at least two exercises you’ve not seen before or thought about including in your workouts.

I’m talking about gorilla cleans and the kneeling alternating press.

Kettlebell Gorilla Cleans

The gorilla clean raises the heart rate like CrossFit burpees with a weight vest on. It’s not only an awesome exercise, but also looks incredibly cool when performed right.

Gorilla cleans are basically an alternating hang clean, requiring timing and explosiveness.

How to Perform Kettlebell Gorilla Cleans

  1. Start in the double kettlebell racking position, let one bell drop straight into a hang and reduce velocity with the legs.
  2. From the hang, clean it straight up with a pull powered by the legs.
  3. Land into rack, repeat straight away on the other side.

Kettlebell Kneeling Alternating Press

The kneeling presses is a kettlebell exercise you’ll need to pay special attention to when it comes to instructions. Kneeling on a rough surface is not going to work, but any other surface, whether soft or hard will do.

You should not rush this movement. Pressing from this position correctly will not be easy so, if you rush this, you’ll not only get sore knees, but you’ll also fatigue before you complete the full 6 minutes.

As I said, kneeling can be done on any even surface, it’s all about finesse.

How to Perform a Kettlebell Kneeling Alternating Press?

  1. Lunge back and gently touch the knee to the ground
  2. Bring the other knee down to come into full kneeling position, then extend the hips and brace the core
  3. Press until you achieve a good overhead lockout on one side.

Scaled version listed below.

Kettlebell Clean And Jerk

You might, or might not already be familiar with the kettlebell clean and jerk, it’s very similar to the barbell clean and jerk, except that the kettlebells swing through the legs for the clean, and the weights don’t go dead to the ground upon each rep.

The jerk is going to be a bit different at the top, because you’ll be dealing with a unilateral exercise tool—the kettlebell. The rack is also different compared to a barbell rack; you do not want wrist hyperextension in the rack position.

Your objective is to rest the elbows on the hips, whereas with the barbell your weight is resting more on the shoulders. With the barbell, the power travels from the legs, through the torso, into the weight; with the kettlebells, the power travels from the legs, through the elbows and forearms, into the weight.

man performs hard kettlebell workout with gorilla cleansSource: Depositphotos

Hard Kettlebell Workout: SANGRE1.4

Now that you are familiar with some of the kettlebell exercises, let’s dive into the whole workout.

Part 1: 4 min AMRAP

  • CrossFit Burpees

Write down your reps.

Time: 0 to 4 minutes

2 minutes rest.

Part 2: 6 min. AMRAP

  • Alternating kneeling press

Write down your reps. Left equals 1, right equals 2, and so on.

Time: 6 to 12 minutes

2 minutes rest.

Part 3: 16 min AMRAP complex of

  • 4 Gorilla Cleans
  • 4 Front Squats
  • 4 Clean and Jerk

All 12 reps equals one round. One Gorilla clean is usually left and right, but to make counting easier for this workout we’ll do left = 1, right = 2, etc.

This is a kettlebell complex. Break the set of 12 (all three exercises) and you’re required to pay with 10 ‘any’ push-ups. After each completed set you can put the weights down on the ground without penalty.

Time: 14 to 30 minutes

3 minutes rest.

Part 4: 4 min. AMRAP

  • CrossFit Burpees

Time: 33 to 37 minutes.

The kicker here is: the athlete will pay with penalties if he/she does not reach the same or more amount of burpees as in the first task.

The penalty is, of course, more burpees. 

To check how many, calculate the difference between task 1 and task 4 and multiply this by four: so if the athlete did 40 burpees in task 1, and 30 in task 4, the difference is 10, multiplied by 4 equals an additional 40 burpees.

There will obviously be no penalties if the athlete does more or the same as in task one.

Watch a video of the exercises in action:

Workout Score

Calculate your score by adding everything but the penalty reps up, the penalties do not count towards the score.

Hard Kettlebell WOD Sangre 1.4: Rx And Scaling

All kettlebell exercises are performed with two kettlebells:

  • Male 2 x 16kg
  • Female 2 x 12kg

Scaling can be done as following:

  • Kneeling can be scaled to one knee
  • Clean and jerk can be scaled to hang clean and push press or press
  • Clean and jerk double bell can be scaled to one kettlebell and alternating each rep

Read more: Minimal Equipment Training – How to Maximise Training with a Single Kettlebell or Dumbbell

Hard Kettlebell Workout Movement Standards

CrossFit Burpee

  • Hips touching the ground
  • Chest touching the ground
  • Any area starting from the diaphragm up till the shoulders
  • Feet must leave the ground upon jump
  • Hips and knees extended
  • Landing with feet flat
  • Torso within 10° of the vertical plane
  • Clap above head

Alternating Kneeling Press

  • Two kettlebells racked
  • Full hip and knee extension in starting and ending position
  • Both knees on the ground before pressing
  • Full overhead lockout on each press
  • You should be able to see the following joints aligned: knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and wrists
  • Full rack before coming upright

Gorilla Cleans

  • Two kettlebells racked
  • Full hip and knee extension in starting and ending position
  • One kettlebell always remains racked
  • The base of the kettlebell that will be hang cleaned needs to reach below the knee

Front Squats

  • Two kettlebells racked
  • Full hip and knee extension in starting and ending position
  • Hips below the knees upon each rep

Clean and Jerk

  • Two kettlebells racked
  • Full hip and knee extension in starting and ending position
  • Hip hinge swing for the clean
  • Bells behind the knees on the swing
  • Bells need to be racked before being pushed
  • Athlete needs to dip under the kettlebell after the push
  • Arms fully extended before coming upright

To work your way up to gorilla cleans, try:

Gorilla cleans:

Clean and Jerk:

Kneeling Press Bonus Instructions

I did not want to bombard you with too many instructions for one exercise all at once, but the kneeling press does deserve a bit more time devoted to it. Make sure to progress your athletes into this.

You can start in the warm-up with 2 minutes of alternating reverse lunges, then 1 minute overhead (bodyweight only) squats, followed by two minutes of full kneeling, i.e. progressing from the alternating reverse lunge into a full kneeling position.

You need to squeeze your glutes to get a good hip extension in the kneeling position, you’ll want to get one line from the knees, hips to the shoulders, especially when starting to press, otherwise NO REP!

Hang cleans with one kettlebell are a great progression, and warm-up for the gorilla cleans. 5 reps each side, 2 minutes, using a light weight.

The hang clean is a squat, not a hip hinge: hips low, shoulders high, sight ahead, let the weight drop till the base is just under the knee, explode up, drive the legs into the ground, full knee and hip extension, let the weight come up through the power generated by the legs, don’t muscle it up.

If you get the power generation right, then the bell should float right at the moment/height where you want to open up your hands, corkscrew, and perform a hand insert.

Kettlebells are awesome, but they come with a high learning curve, and fundamentals should be learned and/or taught.


Some of the main things to learn when it comes to kettlebell cleans: bell to body proximity on the clean, and drop; opening up for a proper hand insert; appropriate power generation, generate too little and you’ll need to muscle the weight, generate too much, and you’ll be banging the weight.

Check out two ebooks I wrote that will instantly improve your kettlebell training:
[1] Kettlebell grips
[2] Kettlebell racking

Read more: Add Kettlebell Flow to Your Training and Level-Up Your Fitness

Image Sources

Related news