By Coach Emily O’Connor
Doesn’t that hurt your wrist?!
You mean, it’s kind of like a
swing, but you finish with the bell overhead?!
Catch the kettlebell… over your
yes, the infamous kettlebell snatch. It’s an impressive feat and a necessary
one, if you want to compete in the twice-annual Tactical Strength Competition
(TSC) held by gyms across the world whose coaches are affiliated with Strong
First. But how does one go about learning this exercise? First, I HIGHLY
recommend that you don’t take my approach: “Watch one video, grab your
test-sized kettlebell, and give it a go in your living room (no warm up,
the best way to be successful, right? The snatch is a highly technical movement
and reading about it, listening to tips and tricks, and watching videos can all
help. But, I would highly recommend finding an SFG (StrongFirst Girya) who is
certified and can help you trouble shoot your individual snatch.
you’re local to La Crosse, Unity has three SFG1 instructors, Jordan, Mandy, and
myself. But, if you’re not, you can search by location here
or contact us for online training options!
if you are going at it alone, or if your coach wants you to do some more
reading, here’s a step-by-step guide to your first kettlebell snatch. A final
note, this article will reference hardstyle kettlebell training and standards.
If you’re searching for further information, use “StrongFirst” or “hardstyle”
in all searches, so as to not mistakenly find a competition style informational
Evaluate where you’re at, why do you
want to do it.
you need to figure out why you want
to kettlebell snatch.
you want a natural progression to your current kettlebell training?
you want it to compete in an event like the TSC?
you want to try something new and different?
you want it just to feel like a badass and do cool stuff?
of these are AWESOME reasons, and I encourage you to go after it. However,
knowing the answers also provides clarity to other variables. Training experience,
a potential deadline of a looming competition, or, if you’re using it to reach
a goal, ensuring it’s the BEST possible choice of exercise to get you there.
All of these are important factors to consider before you learn the kettlebell
Clear your shoulder mobility.
are a few movement tests that you might want to have checked before you begin
any exercise program. Ensuring that you’re moving within your capabilities,
while working to bring up the weak links, is important to reduction of injury
and longevity of your training program. If you’re working outside of your
current capacity, you’re very likely to be injured at some point. It’s just a
matter of time.
the kettlebell snatch, overhead mobility (and stability) is crucial. You must
be able to bring your arm directly overhead without compromising a properly
braced core. In the picture, this is the image on the left. The image on the
right is an example of what a “disconnected” and improperly braced core may
look like without adequate shoulder mobility.
this is simple. Stand straight up with your heels as close to the wall as
possible and back flat on the wall, from the hips to the shoulder blades. The
back of the head should also be touching. Form a “thumbs up” sign, raise one
hand, keeping the elbow straight, and try to bring your thumb to the wall,
without losing contact of your spine on the wall. Can you touch the wall?
Repeat on the other side? Maybe you can touch the wall with one hand, but not
the other? Can you touch the wall with both hands at the same time?
you cannot touch the wall, while maintaining contact of the spine on the wall,
you likely need to work on shoulder mobility. Consult a physical therapist,
especially if there’s pain, or work with a coach to improve that mobility
before you move forward with ANY overhead movements. However, even if don’t
pass this shoulder mobility test, we can still work on other things to get you
a few steps closer to that kettlebell snatch.
Moving from the Kettlebell Swing to the
Single Arm Swing
you want to snatch, but you’ve never done a kettlebell swing, you’re skipping
quite a few steps. We need to nail that two-arm swing, as well as the
single-arm swing, before you can think about moving toward the snatch. A
powerful swing allows you to generate the maximum amount of power from your
single-arm swing teaches you to control the kettlebell in a single hand and to resist
rotation of the torso as the bell swings between your legs. Maintaining scapular
control is crucial as we transition from the upper body controlling the weight
in front of the body to controlling the weight in a rack or overhead position.
movements are just as complex as the snatch, but in order to control the length
of the article, I’m going to link a few videos for you to watch that break each
of these exercises down. Whether you’re a newbie to kettlebells or have been
swinging for years, no one’s ever too advanced to ignore a technique brush-up.
Here’s a video breaking down the
kettlebell swing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHxcTn1UeAc&t=62s
Here’s a video breaking down the
single-arm kettlebell swing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHn5GQGJLfc
Next up, the Kettlebell Clean
have a powerful single-arm swing; the kettlebell clean is the next step. At
this step, you’ll learn how to keep the bell close, as well as the crucial
“punch” for the catch of the kettlebell in the rack position. A snatch is
caught with a similar hand and wrist position, while overhead, so this is a
clean harnesses the power of the swing, while practicing other elements of
control that you’ll need to perform the kettlebell snatch. The clean allows you
to practice coordinating the movement of the bell with the movement of your
wrist and arm. This helps prevent smacking your wrist and leaving some pretty
nasty bruising. Wrist guards can help, especially in the learning stages, so
you may need to invest in a pair.
tip I like to use here is to think “Row and punch.” To keep the bell close, we
want to swing into a row toward the
body and then punch the hand through to catch. This is similar to the high pull
and punch that will make up our snatch.
Here’s a video breaking down the
kettlebell clean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYh7Kf_lEMY
Start Moving Up; Nailing the Kettlebell
we’ve gotten the power from the hips. We’ve practiced keeping the bell close
and “punching” in the kettlebell clean. Now, it’s time to start moving up,
literally. By this point, you’ll want to have your shoulder mobility test close
to cleared, if not be able to fully pass the test.
can break the snatch down to essentially two parts: a kettlebell high pull and
the punch. While there are many steps within each, mastering both allows you to
master the snatch. I like to think of the high pull as a vertical kettlebell
swing, of sorts. I use the same power from my hips as a swing or clean, while
controlling the bell close to the body and in an upward trajectory. The key
here is to pull “up” and not “back”. Eventually, we want that bell to end
directly overhead, not behind the body, so nailing this trajectory is
to look a little like a kettlebell snatch, don’t you think?
Here’s a video breaking down the kettlebell
high pull: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyXGycl1ZrQ&t=11s
Clean and Press Up, Snatch from the Top
forward is no good unless you have your shoulder mobility cleared, as well as
be able to control and be stable in that overhead position. So, if you don’t I
would recommend following up with that physical therapist or put in more time
working to clear it. Be patient. It might take a lot of time, depending on your
unique situation. It’s not always something that you can improve overnight.
you’ve been good about your homework, and your shoulder mobility and stability
are cleared. Now, we can clean and press the kettlebell into an overhead
position and practice controlling the descent of the kettlebell. Each of these
reps will return to the ground; don’t string them together quite yet.
with a light bell and bring it into an overhead position with a clean and
press. Initiate the down by bending the elbow and keeping the kettlebell close to the body. This is key. Casting
the bell out in front uses energy and places unnecessary stress on the spine
and shoulder, as well as increases injury risk. Think about unzipping your coat
(or shirt) as you control the bell into the hike of the swing and return it to
the ground. Clean and press into the next rep.
Snatch from the Bottom Up, Eccentric
Press and Clean to the Ground
nailed the top down, now it’s time to reverse it. We’re snatching from the
bottom up and then controlling the descent through an eccentric press and clean
to set the bell back on the ground. Here, we want to remember the two-part,
high pull and punch, that I referenced earlier. The snatch, in simplest form,
is a REALLY high, high-pull and a punch. Nailing the timing of the transition
is crucial to a successful catch.
will take time. But start light, as with every step. You can expect to drop a
bell size or two each time you move up the ladder of this progression. This
allows for less punishing mistakes. Accidentally smacking your wrist with a
16kg bell hurts a heck of a lot more than an 8kb bell, let me assure you! Spare
your wrists and start light and/or invest in wrist guards as you’re learning.
You’ve Reached the Full Kettlebell
time to string them together! Take the top down and bottom up, and perform
reps! Start with singles; make sure the bell starts and stops on the ground
with each rep. Then, as you become confident, you can string multiple reps
light and think about all the cues that you’ve learned up to this point. Each
one, from the double arm swing power and control to unzipping the coat on the
descent is absolutely crucial! Without them, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible,
to perform seamless kettlebell snatches.
a video breaking down the full kettlebell snatch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZO3DzqaKfs
is an intelligent progress to every exercise and the kettlebell snatch is no
exception. Moving through each of these stages is crucial to learning a proper
kettlebell snatch. There are drills and techniques to practice at every stage
that go well beyond the scope of this article. As I said in the beginning, the
snatch is a highly technical exercise and I encourage everyone to undertake the
pursuit to learn it. But I equally recommend that you find a StrongFirst
Certified coach to work with – in person or online – throughout your journey. While
there is a trial-and-error period, and learning how best to “punch” the bell so
that you don’t smack your wrist rep after rep, embracing the challenge and
pushing the boundaries of what you’re capable of will teach you more than you
could’ve ever imagine.
Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, Pn1, SFG1