The kettlebell snatch is a movement that exemplifies grace under fire, beautiful mechanics, and explosive hip power…if performed properly. Improperly performed, it can become feared for being painful or injurious. If you’ve ever had a heavy kettlebell fall onto your wrist with a bang during the snatch, then you know exactly how people have come to associate kettlebell snatches with wrist bruises and pain. While proper technique may seem to be shrouded in mystery, the kettlebell snatch is accessible to most athletes with the correct thoracic and shoulder mobility and stability.
An understanding of what the kettlebell snatch is provides a necessary framework for the movement pattern. There are two types of kettlebell snatches, swing and dead, and for now we will focus on the swing snatch. The snatch is based on the kettlebell swing; a proper hip hinge and explosive hip thrust is necessary and must be mastered before attempting the snatch. To repeat a popular quote by Master RKC Brett Jones: The kettlebell swing is energy projection, while the kettlebell snatch is energy elevation. If an athlete has a solid swing, then learning to move from projection to elevation becomes much simpler. Pavel Tsatsouline recommends that athletes practice their swing for one full year before progressing to the snatch. One-handed swings in particularly are helpful for developing snatch technique. The kettlebell clean, military press, and Turkish Get-Up are also prerequisites before snatching. Athletes should be able to perform a full lockout overhead with neutral wrists, the arm next to the ear or slightly behind without compensations. Accomplishing these pre-reqs with proper technique, mobility, and stability is challenging enough, and the truth is that the snatch is far more easily and successfully learned when the athlete spends significant time developing these baseline skills first. In fact, it is also recommended that experienced athletes revisit these pre-requisites before advancing to a heavier bell for snatches.
While pages could be filled explaining how to perform a proper kettlebell snatch, there are some basic principles that can outline the movement. Most kettlebell experts suggest teaching the snatch from the top down: hike, clean & press, drop down. Not only does this ensure that the athlete has met the mobility requirements and can safely lockout a weight overhead, but it also tends to cut down on bruising while learning technique and has the athlete performing full snatches more quickly. Athletes should practice dropping the bell close to the body with a slight bend of the arm while bringing it in to the midline of the body, a technique known as the corkscrew. A proper drop sets up the next snatch for success and maintains energy and grip strength. A few common coaching cues for the drop are to envision a swimming crawl stroke, to think about “unzipping your jacket,” or to visualize pouring a pitcher of water out from the lockout position.
Once the athlete is comfortable with the top-down version of the snatch, it is time to add in the upward swing. This phase of the snatch can be practiced with a few drills, including the high pull and the punch-through or “horizontal snatch”. The Hardstyle “tension breath” at the hip snap provides a significant power source and encourages the athlete to float the bell overhead rather than muscling it. The combination of the high pull and the punch-through teaches the athlete how to “tame the arc” of the upward swing, meaning to keep the bell close in to the body while shrugging the shoulder back and down. The tamed arc combined with a properly timed punch to the ceiling allows the bell to land softly on the forearm. At this point, most athletes would benefit from practicing some half-snatches before moving on to the full movement: swinging up but dropping to the rack position before hiking back again. This drop technique is also used for double kettlebell snatches.
As mentioned, one of the most common issues with the kettlebell snatch is allowing the bell to swing over the hand so that it lands with a thud on the wrist. Wearing wrist guards can be useful since the weight of the bell alone, even in proper positioning and form, can be quite heavy, but it shouldn’t mask improper technique. Banging of the wrist during the snatch is usually corrected by taming the arc, punching the hand straight up with a neutral wrist, moving the hand around the bell rather than the other way around, or “hooking the kettlebell” rather than gripping it. Muscling the snatch is also quite common and can be improved by aggressively throwing the bell back during the hike (known as overspeed eccentric) to generate a far more explosive hip snap, which is the key to avoid overuse of the shoulder or arm. Finally, it must be restated that proper mobility and stability, particularly in the shoulders and thoracic spine, be demonstrated prior to learning such a dynamic overhead movement. While it may not be immediately accessible to all populations, the physical and mental benefits of mastering the kettlebell snatch make it well worth the time, practice, and skill development.