How to Do the Kettlebell Snatch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Young champion KB Snatch
Rebel gym/Indonesia

Targets: Total body movement, quadriceps, hips, gluteal muscles, core, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell

Level: Advanced

The kettlebell snatch is an advanced whole-body exercise. It develops the entire posterior chain of the body (rear side-butt, hamstrings, back) while building strength, power, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness simultaneously. You should develop your kettlebell skills and strength for six months before you put them together in the kettlebell snatch. Preparatory kettlebell exercises include the swing, Turkish get up, and high pull. You can use the kettlebell snatch as part of a kettlebell strength routine or as a high-intensity cardio interval in a circuit workout or cardio workout.

Benefits

Because of its comprehensive nature, the snatch is often referred to as the king (or queen) of the kettlebell lifts. There are few muscles that you don't use in this lift. It will get your blood pumping and you can use this exercise as a vigorous-intensity cardio workout. The kettlebell snatch develops power, so it can be a good exercise for sports and martial arts. When practicing the kettlebell snatch you will learn to connect your movements and you will develop core stability. In daily life, that will help you move well and can avoid accidents.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Start with the kettlebell on the floor in front of you.

  1. With your feet approximately hip-to-shoulder distance apart (but not wider), sit back to load your hips and grip the kettlebell with your fingers as you would for the swing. The kettlebell swings back between your legs as you begin to stand, further loading the hips. Exhale sharply out from the mouth upon the initial low swing.
  2. Keep arm connected to the body and extend your knees and hips, allowing the inertia of the kettlebell to pull your arm forward.
  3. Just as the arm begins to separate from the body, accelerate the kettlebell vertically as fast as you can by rapidly pulling with the hip, followed by a shrug of your trapezoids (traps). If you are snatching with your right hand, push forcefully with your left leg and pull back with right hip, and shrug with ​the right trapezoid. You are inhaling during the upswing.
  4. As the kettlebell is accelerating upwards, release the fingers and insert the palm deeply into the handle. Allow the momentum to carry the bell all the way to the top and lockout/fixate your arm into the fully extended elbow position, This overhead lockout position is identical to the overhead position in press or push press (thumb facing back, no or minimal rotation at the shoulder). Exhale as the kettlebell reaches the top position. Take additional breaths here as needed.
  1. From the top lockout position, drop the kettlebell back down by turning the palm towards you, and leaning the shoulders and upper body back into trunk deflection as you shift your weight to the opposite leg (if snatching with your right hand, shift to left leg). Inhale on the downswing.
  2. Keep your hips and torso extended maximally and bring your triceps to connect to your torso. At the moment the arm connects to the torso, complete the movement by pulling the hand towards you to change back to the hook grip (pulling your hand back to catch handle with fingers). Follow the kettlebell between the legs into the backswing. Exhale once again as the kettlebell swings back behind you.
  3. Repeat this rhythmic motion to continue performing snatch for desired repetitions.

To summarize these six stages of the snatch movement:

  1. Use a low-inertia swing to get kettlebell moving.
  2. Perform a vertical acceleration pull with hip and trap while pushing with the opposite foot.
  3. Insert hand deep into the handle with thumb facing back.
  4. Fixate (lockout) kettlebell overhead.
  5. Deflect trunk back into hyperextension.
  6. Pull hand back and change grip into the backswing.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this exercise and prevent injury, avoid these errors.

Lack of Experience

You must develop your kettlebell technique before you attempt this exercise. Lack of good skills often results in bruised wrists as you don't know how to control the kettlebell.

Locked Elbow on Raise

Allow your elbow to bend as you raise the kettlebell. This will help absorb the impact at the top of the arc as well as keeping the kettlebell closer to the body. In addition, if you raise with a straight arm the kettlebell will whack you in the wrist and you will get bruised. The only time your arm should be straight is at the top and at the bottom.

Breathing

Don't hold your breath. There are three breaths per repetition. You should be taking a breath during the upswing hip snap. In the top position lockout, take at least one breath, exhale, and take a breath on the downswing. Take additional breaths during the top lockout as needed to recover the breathing and slow the pace (speed) of the movement, so that you can sustain the effort longer and thus achieve more repetitions.

Neck Position

Don't jut your head forward when the kettlebell reaches the overhead position as this can risk injuring your neck. Often, this is due to having poor shoulder and torso mobility.

Modifications and Variations

This advanced exercise takes practice to do correctly. Once you are skilled with it you can build on the intensity.

Need a Modification?

To develop more confidence in dropping the kettlebell from the top position, first practice the half snatch as a variation. The half snatch reduces the range of motion and speed of the drop, giving you more time to learn proper control of the movement. The first portions of the snatch are as previously described to the overhead lockout position. However, in the half snatch, drop the kettlebell from the overhead lockout position straight down to the chest into rack position, then drop the bell from the chest, identical to the lowering portion of the clean.

When confident with half snatch, try the full snatch, dropping from the overhead position in one continuous movement into the backswing.

Up for a Challenge?

You can progress with this exercise by doing it with a heavier weight or with greater speed. You should vary one or the other rather than both. Greater speed with a lighter weight is used for cardio conditioning. A heavier weight with controlled speed is used to develop strength.

If you are working on developing power, do this exercise as a dead snatch. In this variation, the kettlebell is returned to the floor at the end of each rep. Then you snatch it directly up from the floor without a swing.

Safety and Precautions

If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or any heart condition you should talk to your doctor to find out whether kettlebell training is appropriate for you. Pregnant women should train with light weights. Avoid this exercise if you have any injuries, inflammation, or chronic pain in your neck, shoulders, or wrists. You will want to use a lot of chalk on your hands and fingers and the kettlebell handle to prevent the kettlebell from slipping out of a sweaty hand. Be aware that it is typical to develop calluses from using the kettlebell.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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