Why Your Kettlebell Snatch Sucks

By Mandy Whitley Photography

By Mandy Whitley Photography

Anyone who first sees a kettlebell snatch being performed online — you think “oh it doesn’t look that hard.” Then you attempt it in your next training session out of curiosity. The result, you look like a stripper kipping your hips back & forth and then immediately stop because you realize you’re tearing up your hands from over gripping the kettlebell. Sound familiar? Yeah that was me, and at the time I never thought I was going to get it right (as you can see below). Our biggest mistake as beginners is thinking simple is easy. Simple is what made AC/DC famous because very few could be like them without sounding like a cheap reproduction. Education and practice behind each movement is what makes them more valuable to our training methods. It’s why many don’t understand the prerequisites and critical strength foundations required to perfect this simple exercise.

So after spending years perfecting my kettlebell snatch technique. I want to share some short cuts that will help reduce the time I spent learning it. While it may seem impossible at first, everyone has that moment with a coach “why didn’t someone tell me that ALL along?!” That’s what I’m hoping to give in this article to breakdown what needs the most work to perfect your kettlebell snatch.

The Foundation: One-Arm Swing

Most are very aware of two handed kettlebell swings, but don't know the primary difference with a one-arm kettlebell swing. So what’s the difference? In Pavel’s book, Simple & Sinister, he finds incredible results on how much power and muscle contraction differs between the two and one arm kettlebell swing:

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“An asymmetrical load seriously challenges the stabilizers and increases the recruitment of many muscles. When I swung a 32kg kettlebell two-handed in Prof. Stuart McGill’s lab, my glutes fired up to 80% maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVC). When I did it one handed, the recruitment was up to 100%. And the lat contraction jumped from 100% to 150%! In case you are wondering how it is possible to contract a muscle 150%, the max is isometric. In dynamic contractions higher values are possible - plyometrics are a case in point.” - Simple & Sinister by Pavel (pg.31)

This is what the U.S Army calls “same standards, different conditions”. So if your two arm kettlebell swing is solid, then you have green light to advance to the one arm swing as long as you understand the glutes and lats fire even harder to resist rotation (asymmetrical load) with the one-arm swing. This is a BIG part of the kettlebell snatch because many think you have to rip and pull the kettlebell up overhead with your upper body and twist & turn the body. When really it’s the power from your hips connecting with your glutes and lats that makes the kettlebell float (keeping the shoulders & hips square). So how is this all done? In the video below, I breakdown everything you need to know about it to integrate more into your workouts to start building your foundations for the kettlebell snatch:

The Punch: Front Snatch (aka Touch of Death)

Just recently, I assisted at Mexico’s first StrongFirst Kettlebell certification, and Master SFG Fabio Zonin brought up this great twist on the kettlebell snatch. This a great learning curve for those having trouble constantly tearing up their hands by death gripping the kettlebell as it ascends up overhead. As you see here, we’re doing the EXACT same thing with the one-arm swing. The difference is one the kettlebell is weightless I keep a little flexion in my elbow so I can punch through the handle to flip it over my hand. This is done by relaxing the hand like you’re going to do the “touch of death” on someone really quick. This same action is needed when performing the kettlebell snatch.

Flick of the Wrist (Gooseneck) Technique

This is the smallest and yet biggest game changer to save your grip when performing snatches. As I stated in the intro, many over grip the handle not letting it naturally flip over the wrist (it’ll result in tearing up your hands every time). Watch this quick tutorial to see how to bypass tearing up your grip with the flick of the wrist using the heel of your hand.

Taming the Arc: Low & High Pulls

This is a big understanding in kettlebell training with any swing variation because whether you’re performing a swing, low/high pulls, or snatch — there’s a constant control of the arc.

The white line represents my vertical plank standard (with lats/glutes engaged with core braced) and the red represents my changing condition of taming the arc.

Piecing it Together: Deadstop Snatches

This is a great way to build your kettlebell snatches at a safe speed and builds lat strength to better protect your shoulders in the long run. A major mistake beginners make is going too fast with the snatch, the kettlebell starts controlling them, and then the elbow doesn’t lock at the top. There’s nothing wrong with a simple pause at the top to show you’re controlling the kettlebell snatch with a strong vertical plank. So if you focus on the power of EACH snatch — the better the technique will be. Hardstyle kettlebell training is NOT about quantity, it’s about quality.

Perfecting the Technique: One-Arm Swing Heavy / Snatch Medium

This is why I love heavy kettlebells — they make your medium sized kettlebells feel like paperweights after a set of swings. Remember, the one-arm swing is the foundation and we can still make it even stronger. The best way to do this is to do a one-arm swing one to two sizes bigger than your snatch size weight. So for example, if you’re a man snatching a 24KG — one-arm swing a 32KG. If you’re a woman snatching a 16KG — one-arm swing a 20KG.

The key is to perform no more than 3-5 reps on each side with your heavy one-arm swings. Perform “fast & loose” to relax the body (shake it off / jump around). Keep the exact same hip power and muscle contraction strength when snatching your medium sized kettlebell. The kettlebell should then fly up with ease because you tricked your body into thinking you’re still swinging a heavier kettlebell. It’s a really good quick fix I’ve been using for years on my students.

Conclusion:

So when implementing any of these snatch foundations; be sure to snatch a kettlebell that best suits you. Never try to lift heavy when first learning the essential techniques. In doing so, you’ll be more consistent and get stronger in the process. It also never hurts to have an extra set of experienced eyes (like a certified StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor) to give feedback on your form and technique.

I’m hoping this article gave you better insight on what details you can work on to perfect your kettlebell snatch technique. I’m currently in the works putting out a GADA Swing: Volume 2 edition in 2019 that will involve more kettlebell doubles and snatches with your steel mace training. You still get my two recent ebooks GADA Swing & Club in this special bundle deal here at this link if you’d like to add more indian clubs, steel maces and clubs into your kettlebell workouts.

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Ian Vaughn