5 Mistakes You’re Making with The Kettlebell Snatch
Before I dive into how to improve your kettlebell snatch and the 5 common mistakes. I wanna take you back to 2019... when I was teaching a SFG I StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor Certification in San Francisco with my mentor Andrea U-shi Chang.
It was at one of coolest gyms I'd even seen.
We were hosted by 3 super-cool pros from Oaklands Most Powerful (OMP). If find yourself in their neck of the woods... I highly recommend you reach out to Melissa, Alexei, or Luis -- super great (and STRONG) peeps.
Since 2013 I've attended numerous SFG certifications.
Either as a student.
Team leader or senior instructor.
And there's always ONE common theme amongst the candidates. It's the nerve-racking. Stress-elevating event everyone dreads...
The coveted. The feared. The revered.
5 minute Snatch Test.
Arguably the toughest thing you can do with a kettlebell is snatch a 24kg 100 times in 5 minutes (or with a 12/16kg if you're a lady).
Here's how it goes down.
At the end of day two... you crawl into your hotel room sore as hell. Hands are beat to shit -- maybe even bloodied from your 1000+ swings, cleans, and snatches from the last two days.
Drawing up a bath... you dump two mini trash cans worth of ice you fetched from the icemaker down the hall into the tub.
You soak for the next 5 minutes. Eyes closed trying to control your breathing—the ice bath helps (a little).
Day 3 hits. You're scheduled for "team training" for the first 3 hours of the day to work on all the skills you learned but...
... all you can think of… is the snatch test.
The time finally comes and you're up next.
The clock beeps, "SNATCH!"
Yells the Master Instructor leading the event. You take off like a bat out of hell. Maybe you did 10 snatches right, then 9 snatches left. But lose count in your delirium. Finally regaining consciousness when you hear your counter say "51!"
Your grip is pumping.
Arms, legs, and lunges burning—and on the verge of going numb—you painfully put the bell down as you gasp for air.
3 minute market comes around and you know you’re screwed, “how the heck am I gonna snatch another 49 reps… I can barely feel my legs and forearms?!”
You hike the bell back and snatch again but…
you eventually crash & burn like a plane shot down over the Mediterranean around 60 some odd reps.
Why/how did this happen?
There are many reasons I'm sure. Here are two of the most common:
- You clearly didn’t have a strategy to get you from 0-100 snatches. You just "let’er rip."
- You lack the technical skills set (and strength) to endure a daunting task for 5 minutes.
That's what this post about. How to improve your snatch, take your skills to the next level, and own your next snatch session (and even your next snatch test attempt).
To do this.
You need to be aware of the...
5 Mistakes You’re Making with The Kettlebell Snatch
(so you can build a stronger... more capable body.)
Common Kettlebell Mistake #1: "Swing to Overhead” & Casting out
I made this mistake for years. There's an adage in the kettlebell community. "The snatch is a swing which ends overhead."
This is confusing and as a result. You’re literally swinging the bell overhead. The problem with this concept is?
The swing is primarily a horizontal projection of force. Meaning. If I were to swing a kettlebell... then let it go.
It should project out in front of me (Which is why you never walk in front of someone swinging a bell).
The clean and snatch on the other hand are vertical projections of force.
Well technically they are also horizontal projections but... after the hip drive. Next step is to redirect the force by leading with the elbow.
Why should you care about which way the kettlebell travels in route to lockout? One word.
It's likely your grip will give out in the snatch test before your legs and hips do. "Swinging to overhead" smokes your grip. Because now you have to decelerate the bell and then redirect its trajectory.
Lead with the elbow as if you're going to clean the kettlebell. Then quickly punch overhead.
It's actually better to say.
The snatch is a clean that ends overhead.
This requires less energy... saving your grip for the final sprint to close out your snatch test attempt.
Common Kettlebell Mistake #2: Pulling the Bell out of Your Hips
All of the pendulum-based ballistic exercises are "pulls." The clean and snatch even possess an hint of a should shrug (not to be confused with disconnecting the shoulder).
The "pull" I'm referring to here is... generating tension through the elbow in the back swing.
Flexing at the elbow... and pulling the bell out of your hips. Ever have sore elbows after cleans and snatches?
If so. This is why.
Focus on driving through the hips. Pull your knee caps up as if squeezing out a set of leg extensions. From here lead with the elbow and redirect the bell over head.
Depending on how heavy the bell is (or the amount of effort you put behind the bell) there may be a slight rotation of the upper body.
Based on my experience... this is a natural result of a single arm pulls. Driving through the hips completes 85-90% of the work. Requiring less from your grip.
Common Kettlebell Mistake #3: Over Gripping the Kettlebell
Years ago I was talking to friend of mine who at the time was preparing for the level 1 RKC (StrongFirst didn’t exist at the time).
He asked me, “What was the most overlooked aspect of peoples preparation for the RKC level 1 cert?”
My first thought was… hand care. Too many freak out about the snatch test—for good reason.
Only to fail because by the third day. Their hands are shredded.
Reminds me of when I attended my level 1 RKC at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, Ca. [Sunday] 21 August 2021.
That morning at breakfast everyone was comparing their hands. Many looked like they were forced through a meat grinder. Some how… mine looked fresh. Almost as of I hadn't swung kettlebells all weekend.
In fact... that's what one of my teammates said, "mate... it's looks like you haven't touched a bell all weekend," he said in his Aussie accent.
12:00 noon hits. Our warm up is over and it’s time to snatch. I was second in line. The guy ahead of me couldn’t continue after ~30 snatches. I'll never forget what he said as he walked by me with his head down looking at his tapped and bloodied hands...
"... Dude… I had to stop. I could feel the blood pooling in my bandages."
I went on to complete mine.
10 snatches alternating hands. Without a scratch. I don't say this to brag... merely to demonstrate the important of taking care of your hands and knowing how to grip the bell.
I spent the last 6-8 weeks (of my 10 month preparation) leading up to the RKC... practicing the snatch.
Our daughter was just born a few months before. And I remember taking small breaks to go out to the patio and practice 20 snatches. 10 right. 10 left (I did this Throughout the day… before I even knew what “grease the groove was.”).
I focused on the catch on the way down. I was intentional about hooking the kettlebell with my fingers vs. over gripping it like a dumbbell.
I practiced the insertion I demoed here. I call it...
The "Orbit Drill"
This is a key concept to understand to improve your snatch. Which is knowing how to manipulate the handle because... it's the handle which controls the bell.
Kinda like the rudder of a ship. Or the head and how it controls and leads the body. This concept came natural to me with my Jiu-Jitsu background.
Control the head. Control the person.
If you wanna improve your snatch and take it to the next level... no more over gripping for you.
Common Kettlebell Mistake #4: Not Staying in Your Lane
Each time I have the pleasure of teaching a StrongFirst certification with Zar and Andrea it's a blessing.
The day before the cert we spend HOURS breaking down and analyzing each others skills and technique (gotta lead by example).
It's more mentally exhausting than physical. And this was a great lesson I learned from them. The concept of "staying in your lane" when snatching.
The same goes for the kettlebell clean.
I believe this mistakes comes to life because of the way the snatch is still taught… with the traditional "high pull."
The idea of swinging the bell then... pulling your elbow back as if you're elbowing someone behind you. I used to teach it this was as a newbie instructor. But I noticed. Most students had a tough time grasping the concept until...
I discovered a better way.
Using this progression and positioning of the elbow.
For most exercises... it's easier to learn and grasp the concepts by starting with the end in mind. Then reverse engineering the process. Especially with the clean and snatch.
If you're following the traditional high pull (with the elbow flared) then trying to reverse the process.
You end up with common mistake #4. Not staying in your lane. This disconnects the shoulder -- leaving it vulnerable.
In your next snatch practice... focus on keeping your elbow in tight. A good way to practice this is... snatch near a wall or punching bag.
If your elbow strikes the bag. You're not staying in your lane.
Imagine you're "painting the fence" as the wise Mr. Miyagi would say.
This is important because it keeps the bells close to your center of mass. And the closer the bell is to your center of mass... the more leverage you have over the bell.
Which means less energy leaks and a stronger & faster kettlebell snatch.
Common Kettlebell Mistake #5: Too Much Tension Through Your Neck
If you ever have a sore neck or shoulder after snatching... this could be why.
Back in 2013 I was recerting my level 1 skills at a CK-FMS event in Minnesota.
And Brett Jones was watching me during my snatch test (talk about being nervous and eager to perform as the same time).
I remember at the end he pulled me to the side and coached on how to "finish my snatch" and not "FINISHED MY SNATCH!"
With the ladder being me driving my neck down and forward.
And the former being smooth, relaxed, less tense, and better posture at the top. This lesson stayed with me to this day.
At the top of your swing, clean, and snatch... focus on "getting tall."
Imagine there's a thin piece of wood a couple of inches above the crown of your head. At the top of each rep... try to touch it.
Remember. All tension in your strength training should remain neck down.
It's easy to get caught up in these little mistakes when you train on your own (and don't have a coach to guide you each session).
In your next snatch session...
I recommend recording yourself from your phone. Don't think. Just train. Then watch the video and see what you see. You'll surprise yourself.
And there you have it dude.
5 mistakes you're making with the kettlebell snatch and how to improve them and take your snatch game to the next level. So you can build a stronger… more capable body.
Let me know which of these work best for ya by leaving a comment below.
If you plan on prepping for the SFG I snatch test.
You're gonna need a real strategy on test day. I've put together 5 performance-boosting snatch test strategies together for you here (on the house). So you can crush your next snatch test attempt.