Improving with Fatigue: The Snatch

kettlebell workoutYesterday marked Day 1 of a new program for me.  These days, I've been cycling my programs in 6 week phases to make sure that I “master” the exercises that I'm doing, and so every time I start a new program, I get really excited.

One of the elements of this phase's program that I'm excited to start again are High Rep Snatches.

I've noticed that when training using high-rep snatches – both for myself and my clients – that in addition to grip strength and upper back strength improving, fat loss results go through the roof.  This is why I recommend training for higher reps every now and then to break things up and to really initiate a change in your physique.

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It's been a while since I've done the RKC Snatch Test.  For those of you new to the blog, the RKC Snatch Test is one of those Rite Of Passage evaluations that you have to go through in order to be certified with the very prestigious RKC Governing Body of Kettlebell Instructors.

It involves snatching a 24kg kettlebell 100 times within a 5 minute period.  A tough practice for anybody who attempts it and an incredible workout in itself.

Training for the snatch test, for me, involved really building up the work capacity for a couple of months and refining my technique to make the snatch look more athletic and fluid.

Having practiced the snatch for a few years now, one of the things that I've noticed is how my technique improves the longer I am into my set.

After a lot of deliberation, I'm pretty sure I understand why and I can almost guarantee that if you pay attention to your technique, you'll notice that it will improve during the later periods of your set as well.

The reason is because the snatch is a movement that should be dominated by the hips (the powerful thrust that comes from driving your glutes and hamstrings).

The problem is that with a lot of kettlebell practitioners, the initial tendency at the beginning of a set of high rep snatches is to really use your arm to “pull” the weight up.

As your set continues, your arm begins to fatigue and your body tries to find ways to get your kettlebell overhead because “muscling” the bell up with your already fatigued arm is becoming more and more difficult.

The result is a more powerful hip thrust where you are creating a greater float in the bell and thus only guiding the kettlebell up to the overhead postion with your arm.

This creates a more esthetically pleasing snatch where your hips are the prime movers (as they should be) and your arm acts in a secondary role.

This completely explains why technique improves with fatigue when it comes to the snatch.  Your body has no other choice but to use the correct muscles – the bigger, stronger and more dominant hip prime movers – to perform the exercise leaving the guiding muscles – your arm – to do its job of just guiding the bell up.

One of the tricks I suggest you do to improve your snatch technique is to practice your snatches with your weaker arm and take notice of how much your hips come into play when “pulling” the bell isn't so easy.  Ideally, this would be how the natural flow of the snatch should feel like.

In the end, to master your technique, you really need to simply just pay attention and be aware.  It's almost a Zen-like approach where being present and constantly just being in the moment when you're training can lead to breakthroughs in your kettlebell practice.

Try it and see if the same happens for you.

Chris Lopez, RKC

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7 Comments

  • Reply March 12, 2012

    Ken Sayar

    As usual Chris, great post. Your mention of the Zen state is so true, it takes that state to exceed 200 swings correctly with a 25kg KB. Snatches are something yours truly needs to practice because grip is key with high-rep swings, so much so I have to wear wrist hooks to keep my KB in place.

  • Reply March 12, 2012

    Jean Ann

    Your messages are informative, motivational and just fun. Thank you. I always look forward to them.
    ja

  • Reply March 12, 2012

    Jonathan Sarr

    Chris,

    I’ve been focusing pretty intensely on high-volume snatches for several weeks now, so your post is particularly interesting. I followed you during your training for the RKC test training time, and I’m wondering a couple of things:

    First, how exactly did you train to get up to 120 snatches in 5 minutes? Was it as many as possible in a row, then switch hands? Or did you do five sets of 10 per side? How did you do it?

    Second, did you ever train for the next major goal: 200 snatches in 10 minutes? If yes, what did your training regimen involve?

    Thanks much for the reminder to focus on utilizing the major muscles for the snatch. Good stuff.

    Jonathan

  • Reply March 13, 2012

    Mo

    Hey Chris,
    Thanks for your emails , look forward to them always, in the RKC test, 24 kgs – 100 snatches in 5 mins.?. is that right or is it 100 per hand ?. not sure please clarify..how many times can you change hands in this ?. i was looking at a personal goal doing this with 16 kgs by the end of the year.

  • Reply March 13, 2012

    Emily

    I finally figured out the snatch so that I don’t get the wrist bang so I just can’t imagine 100 reps in 5 minutes let alone with a 24kg. Funny…it was my weaker side (the left) where the kettlebell didn’t do the wrist bang which was how I eventually figured out what was wrong on the right side…just goes to show just because you know the technique…it doesn’t mean you are doing it correctly on both sides.

  • Reply March 24, 2012

    John Boyer

    Hi Chris. Sounds good, I’ll try and remember this as I prepare for the Tactical Strength Challenge. Say have you ever done the TSC before?

  • Reply May 7, 2012

    Josh

    @Mo – The RKC snatch test is total reps for both arms, switching as often as needed. For example: you could do 20 left, 20 right, then 10 left, 10 right, 1 left, 5 right, etc. There is no set or rep scheme. It’s simply as much work as possible within the time limit.

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