Here we are at the end of my series – the final movement of the six basic kettlebell exercises. The snatch.
The snatch is one of those exercises that seem shrouded in myth. Perhaps the most common misperception is that it is difficult to learn. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. In fact, I believe the snatch to be possibly the easiest exercise to get right and I usually can get most of my clients performing smooth, pain-free snatches in about five minutes flat.
There is a secret to this, though – you need to spend adequate time on the swing, get up, clean, and press. Let me explain:
The swing grooves the hip movement. Until that movement is second nature your focus will be split on performing the hip hinge, which is powering the entire thing, and controlling the bell as it travels upwards. Until you can perform many one-hand swings without losing form you’re not ready to snatch.
The get up teaches you where your lockout position is and how to maintain a straight wrist at the top. If you can’t reach a vertical arm position at the top of your get up then you aren’t ready to snatch.
Like the swing, the clean has that vital hip hinge in it. The major difference is that we are guiding the bell to a different position, steering it into place, as opposed to the swing, where we keep it at arm’s length. The clean teaches us to be comfortable with the bell moving around at a safe height while maintaining our hip hinge movement as the power action, not a yank on the arm to get it into place. If you can’t do this you’re not ready to snatch.
The press, like the get up, teaches us where lockout is and how to reach it from a bent-arm position. During the snatch the arm isn’t held straight and learning how to get to lockout instantly at the top of the movement is vital. If you can’t achieve a good vertical lockout with a straight wrist during the press you’re not ready to snatch.
The biggest problem most people have is that the snatch is so beguiling and sexy they want to get to it as fast as possible. Looking at what I’ve written above, the take away lesson is simple – the longer you wait until you try to snatch the better off you’ll be, the easier you’ll learn it, and the better your snatch will be as a result. In fact, in Enter the Kettlebell Pavel Tsatsouline recommends not snatching at all for the first year of your kettlebell training.
Like the clean the best way to learn the snatch is from the top down. Begin by clean and pressing a kettlebell overhead. From here we’re going to practice the drop. To do this you need to be on a matted surface or outside. Have the palm of your hand facing forward, gripping the kettlebell lightly with your knuckles pointing towards the sky. Pull the kettlebell down slightly allowing the bell to flip over the top of your hand. Let the bell drop once you’ve initiated the movement. As the bell passes the bottom of your ribcage you’ll be able to pull it backwards, to actively hike pass it behind you. At the point where your arm goes completely straight you will be in the bottom of your swing position. Release the bell and allow it to drop behind you, holding your position. If you get pulled off balance here you are not rooted to the ground well enough. Practice this movement several times on each side, making sure to hold your bottom position and get used to the speed the bell travels down at.
You’re probably not going to believe it, but once you’ve got this engrained the next step is to snatch. Yes, it’s that easy. Simply reverse what you did on the drop to get the bell back up overhead. Don’t overthink it. The snatch is fluid and smooth, so just try a couple and see how you do.
Check out this video for an example. That’s now Master RKC Max Shank on the right.
Here are some tips to clear up the bit between the drop and reaching lockout again:
The snatch is not a big swing. If you try to get the bell overhead with a straight arm you’re going to hurt yourself. At the top of its arc the bell will be traveling at its highest speed and it is at that point that it will whip around your hand and smash into your forearm. Next thing you know you’ll have bruised yourself and be thinking that snatches hurt you. The key is that you need to realize the bell has three different arcs – one for the swing, one for the snatch, and another for the clean. Each one gets closer and closer to the body.
The arm position for much of the snatch is a broken arm, with the elbow leading on the way up. At the point where the bell needs to go around the hand you actually have a choice whether to allow the bell to go around your hand, or push your hand around the bell. The way to do this is to punch your hand through the handle of the bell. If your arm is straight you simply can’t extend your arm to punch through. Having that slight bend in your arm allows that to happen and the result is you will place your forearm against the back of the bell rather than allow the bell to slam into the back of your arm.
Also keep in mind that the hand stays in the same position the whole time relative to the arm. At the top of the snatch the palm of the hand would be facing forward and you are pronated. On the way down this stays the same with zero rotation at all (please note this is for RKC/Hardstyle snatches not Girevoy Sport techniques designed to increase efficiency and spare the grip). At its midpoint, roughly level with the bottom of your ribcage, the hand is still in this same position facing down. At the bottom position it may be slightly internally rotated, but still pronated and facing behind you.
Kettlebells are good for some things and not so good for others. High repetition ballistics is one of the things they’re really good for. Even a moderate weight adds up to a significant workload very quickly. Twenty snatches on the minute with a 24kg bell adds up to 2400kg of load overhead in five minutes. There are not many activities you can do that will allow you to work so hard. This makes the kettlebell snatch a great choice for adding conditioning while simultaneously strengthening the body.
Just don’t rush into it. Take your time on the other moves – the longer you wait the easier it will be to learn the snatch and the better you will do it, meaning more productive training.
Learn the six basics RKC exercises: