The kettlebell snatch is a total body exercise that places special emphasis on all of the posterior muscles. This movement simultaneously develops strength, explosiveness, structural integrity, work capacity, grip endurance and virtually every attribute on the athletic continuum.
In kettlebell sport, the snatch is both an independent event and is coupled with the jerk for the “biathlon.” The goal of the competition is to complete as many reps as possible in 10 minute with only one hand switch. Elite females use a 24kg bell for this event while elite males use a 32kg. How many reps do you think you could knock out? Well, if you can top 200 reps (100 per arm) with a particular weight, you are off to a great start and have real potential in this sport.
As with most kettlebell exercises, many athletes over-simplify the technique of the snatch. My goal is to highlight the high-level technical components, while also giving you a sense of the artistry required to master this movement. With these tips you will be able to improve your technique, results and what we call “work capacity” – the ability to sustain strength over time
Here’s what you need to know.
World class efficiency with the kettlebell.
The kettlebell snatch has 5 primary movement components:
- Hip/torso rotation
- Hand insertion
- Drop from lockout/fixation
Upswing – The focus here is on connecting the snatching arm to the hip/inner thigh. Maintaining connection ensures optimal power transfer from the primary movers (legs, hips, back) to the secondary mover (arm). The longer the connection, the better the acceleration upward. Many competitors will push the hip (same side as the snatching arm) forward to prolong this connection.
*In terms of hip and knee mechanics used to produce force in the upswing, there are two general options. First, there is the squat. This is easy to learn/do but is very leg dominant vs. momentum based so it tends to elevate the heart rate which is problematic for longer/higher volume sets. Second, is what’s called the pendulum spring. This is more momentum based, more efficient in terms of energy expenditure and thus better for longer sets. In a future article, we will cover this topic in more detail.
Hip/torso rotation – This is possibly the most under-utilized mechanic in the k-bell snatching community. When the bell reaches approx hip level, the lifter rotates their hips/torso in a short explosive manner to ensure that rotational energy is coupled with vertical energy to ensure efficient acceleration. This creates the “sensation of flotation” we will talk about next.
Float – If the lifter has done the upswing and hip/torso rotation correctly, the bell is now floating as a result of acceleration and momentum. During this phase of the lift, the lifter has a brief opportunity to relax as the bell travels up the centerline of the body.
Hand insertion – this involves a subtle pull/push with the elbow at approx chin level which makes the bell weightless so the lifter can manipulate the k-bell, insert the hand into the handle and then transition into the next phase of the life which is fixation. The angle of the hand during insertion is approx. 45 degrees.
Fixation – the goal of fixation is NO movement in the bell, in the body, in the arm, etc. My son Mitch describes this moment as looking “frozen”. In terms of positioning, the tricep is facing forward at an angle, the thumb facing back at an angle, the arm is in close proximity to the ear if not slightly behind and the elbow is locked. For the rest of the body, there are two common options: 1. body is straight 2. body takes on a curved appearance via an anterior pelvic tilt which pushes the butt to the rear/ribcage forward. The primary advantage of this posturing is relaxation of the quads and a slightly shortened range of motion.
Drop from fixation – to drop the bell from overhead, deflect the torso back via the pelvis going forward. This is coupled with a subtle supination of the hand/wrist, light bend in the elbow and a slight weight transfer to the opposite leg. Deflecting back is necessary to compensate for the weight of the bell in front and to maintain proper balance and alignment. Very important point – maintain this deflected posture until the tricep hits the ribcage. From there, the lifter will transition into the next phase of the lift (backswing)
Backswing – the purpose of the backswing is to manage the energy/acceleration produced from the drop from overhead. If done correctly, grip is preserved and a stretch reflex is engaged in the glutes and hamstring which creates for an effortless sling shot like upswing. Some lifters will also add a torso twist at the completion of the backswing as a way to general torque and more rotational energy for the upswing.
Breathing: There are two primary options when it comes to breathing: Paradoxical or anatomical breathing.
Paradoxical breathing involves an inhale as the k-bell is lowered into the back swing and then an exhale on fixation. This method of breathing creates a lot of pressure in the thoracic cavity which is good for beginners (protecting the spine) and maximal loads (heavy k-bell snatching).
Anatomical breathing is best for sub-maximal loading and higher volume via lowering the heart rate and increasing the range of motion. The two most common protocols are 2 and 3 cycle breathing (A cycle is an inhale and exhale).
For 2 cycle:
- Start from the overhead position.
- Inhale as you deflect back and drop the kettlebell into the downswing.
- Exhale at the back of the downswing.
- Inhale as you upswing.
- Exhale on lockout.
For 3 cycle:
- Start from the overhead position
- Inhale as you deflect back and drop the kettlebell into the downswing.
- Exhale at the back of the downswing
- Inhale on the beginning of the upswing
- Exhale as you utilize the hip/torso rotational mechanics mentioned above
- Inhale as the bell “floats” up the centerline
- Exhale on lockout/fixation.
*For both variations, recovery breaths can be taken in the overhead position.
- Stance too wide. Feet should be approx hip width or slightly wider.
- No connection between the arm and hips/torso on the upswing. As a solution and way to “feel” the connection, perform swings using a resistance band around the working arm.
- Trauma to forearm and wrist area. Work on a smoother/active insertion via the correct mechanics (hand at 45 degree angle, insert at chin level, make sure to use both a push and pull when inserting etc)
- Lack of deflection on upswing and/or drop from overhead. To correct, perform snatches in front of an object (wall) at arm’s length.
- Trouble finding proper alignment in fixation. Lockout holds and/or walks for time will help the lifter acclimate to the unique positioning.
- Hand trauma
- Correction – avoid crush gripping
- Correction – too little or too much chalk
- Correction – proper transition from overhead position into downswing
- Correction – catching the k-bell during above transition on fingers vs. palm
- Correction – use lotions, file calluses etc A product “Working Hands” by O’Keeffe’s is excellent in this regard.
I’ll be back soon with more technique and programming tips. Until then, check out the IKFF site for more information on kettlebell training, our educational courses and more.
If you have any questions for me, please post in the comments below.
Get to snatching!