Kettlebell Snatch: If You Want to Have It All
Strength, power, cardio, fat loss, stability, mobility. Can you target all those high-hanging fruits with a single exercise?
Look no further: kettlebell snatch is the ace up your sleeve.
Reap the benefits of this full-body workout, including (but not limited to):
1. Calorie burn and fat loss. Kettlebell snatch employs hundreds of muscles, which, in turn, use tonnes of energy. And energy is what? Correct: calories – carbs and fats!
2. Low-impact cardio. That's right: you do not need to move your feet and stress your joints to elevate your heart rate and get a sweaty cardio workout. A kettlebell snatch will get your heart and lungs busy and make them stronger.
3. Strength and power, obviously. Every movement, using a heavy (or moderate heavy) weight is associated with strength and power gains. Kettlebell snatch is no exception.
4. Stability and mobility. Whatever musculoskeletal asymmetry, injury or deficiency you address, the first thing you will hear from your physical therapist or coach is: not enough mobility and weak stabilizer muscles. Here, kettlebell snatch is also one of the top choices, because to learn a good snatch you will need to be able to open up your chest and extend your hand all the way up.
Whether you are a runner, a powerlifter, a martial artist, a humble dude or gal looking to improve their fitness, kettlebell snatches are your answer to multiple strength and conditioning questions.
Muscles Worked in a Kettlebell Snatch:
Kettlebell snatches will work all your big muscle groups: quads, hips, glutes, hamstrings and core. Their upper portion will work your shoulders, arms, mid- and upper back.
Your upper back will gradually be able to open up more, which will improve your posture in everyday life. The snatch will also take care of your shoulder mobility and stability.
The cherry on top is your grip, which will become more confident and strong from the repetitive moving of a heavy weight all the way up and down.
Getting ready for the snatch:
The kettlebell snatch is considered an advanced exercise and one to build up to. It is arguably one of the most technical, intimidating (to novices) and complex kettlebell movements. To fix your fears and avoid injuries, master the following exercises first (the Kettlebell Swing, Clean and Press are an absolute must):
1. Kettlebell Swing
2. Kettlebell Clean and Press
3. Kettlebell High Pull
5. Turkish Get-up
Ideally, you should already have a pretty good shoulder and thoracic mobility (thoracic spine is the region of the spine at the back of the chest, mostly between your shoulder blades), because you will be snatching the bell over your head. You should be comfortable performing exercises with the kettlebell above your head. If in doubt at any stage, consult a kettlebell instructor in person, online or head down to a kettlebell meet up or club. If you feel like you are ready and comfortable, and ready to start with a light kettlebell: then here's how it's done.
Kettlebell Snatch Form
If it helps you to better understand the pattern of this movement, you can think of a kettlebell snatch as of a kettlebell clean and press, where you skip the middle part (aka the racking of the bell at the shoulder-level).
Here's the sequence:
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width, toes pointing forward rather than at an angle. Hold one hand (not the one you will be using to grab the bell) up to the side – for counterbalance.
2. Grab the handle of the bell by the inside corner. Here, your arm should be snug next to your body. You want to maintain this contact as long as possible, before pulling the bell up.
3. Start swinging the bell as you would for a kettlebell swing, but keep the bell close to your body.
4. As the kettlebell passes your knees, start pulling it up and back, so that it transitions from an arch to a more vertical path. Imagine that you are standing in front of a wall which you may not hit with the bell as you pull it up.
5. When the bell reaches your chest level, pull it towards you and push the hand up. Important: as the bell moves upward, rotate your hand around it rather than flipping it over your hand (to avoid beating yourself up on the forearm. Those bruises hurt a great deal!).
6. At the top of the snatch, your fingers should be pointing upward rather than wrapped around the handle of the bell. Your wrist should be as flat as possible, as opposed to the "barbell grip" – it will prevent your elbow from bending. The body of the bell should be resting on the back of your arm. Your core must stay engaged, the elbow of the hand holding the barbell must be locked, and the shoulder must be packed tight into your back – no floppy postures.
7. From the bell-up position, turn your pinkie towards the front and let your hand come down. The kettlebell should roll nicely around your hand rather than flopping down your forearm. On the descent, keep the kettlebell close to your body.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. Too soon. Before you start learning the kettlebell snatch, you must have mastered at least the Kettlebell Swing, Clean and Press. Besides, you need good shoulder stability and mobility. Don't hurry: work on those first.
2. Floppy shoulder. At the top position, your shoulder should remain tight in its socket. It will prevent the momentum of the kettlebell from pulling the shoulder out of its safe position.
3. Around – not over. As you snatch the bell up and drop it down, it has to go nicely around your wrist – not drastically fall over and hit it with all its metal madness. Try moving your hand around the bell rather than moving the bell around your hand.
4. Achy neck. At the top position, don't push your chin forward. Keep it tucked back, otherwise you might injure your cervical spine. Do not hurt your neck – it is pretty useful in everyday life.
5. Straight arm. Do not keep your arm straight throughout the movement. At the pull portion of the snatch, bend it – you will straighten it again later, at the top. Keeping the arm straight all the way up will result in hitting your forearm with the bell.
6. Forward pull. If you feel that the barbell is pulling you forward, and your centre of gravity is moving towards your toes, you are not doing it right. Keep your weight off your toes, move the load towards the powerful muscles at the back of your body.
7. Not breathing. "I breathe", you will say. Sure, you do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this right now. But what we mean is: you need to maintain proper, rhythmic breathing throughout the entire set. Start the lift with an inhale. Exhale during the snatch up. Take a quick inhale with the bell at the top. Repeat.
Helpful Tip for Hardcore Snatching
Take care of your skin. No, it will not make you look like a sissy. It will actually help you get stronger, because you will be able to train without breaks, pain-free. Multiple snatches may be tough on your hands, especially if you use chalk. Address your calluses and other skin issues on time. Real badass lifters take care of their hands before they turn into a bloody mess.
The number of sets and reps of kettlebell snatches will depend on the type of training you pursue: do you want to use them as part of your strength training routine? Or as your conditioning ritual?
The general rule is this: if you want to incorporate them in your strength training, you can do heavy weights with a low number of reps, powerlifting style.
The other way is to perform really high numbers of reps: 50–100 reps per side (so-called Russian style); these numbers may be broken down into 5–10 sets.
However, just as with every kettlebell movement, you should always aim at maintaining a good form. As soon as you feel it slipping, take a break.
Kettlebell Snatch Variations
Once you have mastered the classic kettlebell snatch, here are a few variations to try:
Double Kettlebell Snatch. Once you find a single-handed snatch too easy – it is time to… triple the number of reps! Ok, now seriously: if you want to add some pizzazz to your snatch workouts, you may transition to a Double Kettlebell Snatch. Here, you will be snatching a kettlebell in either hand.
High Transition Snatch.
This is an advanced movement. Try it only when you have mastered the classic snatch and start with a light weight. To perform it, you will be switching hands with every swing and, instead of catching the kettlebell at your collarbone height, start catching it higher and higher – until you are able to catch it at the top. Again: this movement is not for beginners. If you cannot do a perfect snatch, stay away. It is also not to be performed when you are tired: you risk being sloppy and dropping that chunk of metal on your foot. Never a good idea.