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How To Do A Kettlebell Snatch

What is it about the kettlebell snatch? We all know that every time someone says “snatch” there are chuckles around the room or gym, especially if the members of the audience are not other kettlebell lifters.

But in all seriousness, everyone wants to rush to kettlebell snatching because it is an advanced skill, and it looks amazing when done well, doesn’t it? This is exactly the reason so many people get banged up wrists, jacked up shoulders, or even worse, end up seriously injured. A bad snatch will get you every time!

So, let’s take it slowly and break down the kettlebell snatch into a few usable drills that will not only help you succeed, but will also help keep you injury free.

By taking it slowly, the end result will be a very strong snatch.

The kettlebell snatch is a great exercise that can help you achieve amazing results when done properly. It can be done light and quick for mVO2 (maximum volume of oxygen) benefits, or heavier and slower to build strength.

Learning the Snatch

At the STRONGFIRST instructor certification we teach the instructors to coach the snatch from the top down. This is the preferred approach because the students would have already learned the military press (lockout) position prior to learning snatching.

The lockout is a great skill on its own, and practicing overhead carries with a packed shoulder, straight arm, and neutral wrist is the perfect way to build the stability needed for snatching.

In my opinion, the lockout should always be revisited before advancing to a heavier size bell. You should always know that you can stabilize the bell in lockout position prior to doing a ballistic exercise like the kettlebell snatch.

5 Steps to Mastering the Kettlebell Snatch

In this video, I coach you through each step for mastering the kettlebell snatch. Please watch the video and read through all the steps below to understand the form in detail before practicing any of the movements.

Step 1: Hike, Clean and Press

Hike, Clean and Press the bell to the overhead position. If you have not learned the steps of the Hike, the Clean and the Military press then you’re not quite ready for the snatch. This is the foundation and the starting point to a solid groove.
So, make sure you learn the above skills then come back to this article!

karen-snatch-215x375Step 2: Lockout Position

This position allows you to check your mobility and stability in a static state before moving on to a ballistic move. You should have the appropriate amount of shoulder mobility to lockout your arm overhead with a straight arm either by the ear or slightly behind it.

If you cannot get your arm in this position straight, I recommend that you have an FMS screening and confirm if the problem is truly shoulder mobility, or if it might be your thoracic spine mobility affecting your shoulders.

You should also have the appropriate stability for the given weight before snatching it overhead.

If you have the appropriate shoulder mobility then you spend time working your overhead carries as mentioned above, as these will also prepare your wrist for the said weight, with no banging or bruising! 

Once your stability is dialed in and you can do overhead carries with a solid straight arm, without the wrist bending, then you are ready to move on to the next drill.

Step 3: Punch Thru Drill

Some people call it the “Horizontal Snatch.” This drill should be done with a very light bell.

Visualize snapping someone with a towel. That snap is a very quick movement.

You first hinge at the hips and hike the bell. Then, as you begin to snap your hips, pull the bell close to your body and keep your elbow attached to your ribcage.

The moment you finish the hip snap with a tension breath, punch your fist out in front of you (towel snap) from the elbow to straight arm.

*It is important to punch from the elbow and not disconnect from the shoulder.

Step 4: High Pull.

The High Pull is not only an exercise on its own but also a lead-up drill to proper snatching.

Hinge, hike and snap the hips as we did in the Punch Thru drill, however you keep the arm closer and bring the elbow high as if you are trying to elbow someone behind you.

This movement is very quick, and the bell should float when the elbow is high by your ear. Then quickly re-hike for the next rep.

You should not be gripping the bell too tightly or hold in this position as the handle will droop and pull on the wrist and shoulder.

*Remember, the bell shoulder should be floating due to the tension breath and hip snap. You are not muscling the bell up toward your ear. I believe everyone should master the high pull prior to advancing to snatching!

Step 5: High Pull and the Punch Thru = a SNATCH.

You would start the set up in a hinge and hike pass the bell with an inhale.

The bell should stay close to your body on the way back up as you begin the hip snap. Finish the hip snap with a powerful tension breath.

karen-double-kb-snatch-450x338Pull the bell up to high pull position. As the bell floats by your ear, quickly punch through the bell in an upward motion toward the ceiling.

You should be in a solid overhead lockout position and the bell should be softly sitting on your strong, straight wrist.

Pause momentarily, re-hike and repeat for next rep.

*If you have advanced to double snatching, follow the same steps with one difference: after the pause at the lockout position, slowly pull the bells down to the rack position, then re-hike from the rack. This is much safer due to the added load.

Common Errors in the Snatch

1. Rushing to snatching too quickly and not grooving good technique.

This shows because you’ll be flipping the bell and banging it into your wrist (hence the huge purple bruises). It looks like someone is trying to do a very high kettlebell swing and then flip the bell over the wrist over the top. I promise you won’t want to do this too many times. I have seen many people come in asking for help with bruises and broken blood vessels because they did not heed my warning and tried to teach themselves snatching at home.

2. Many people wait and use their tension breath at the lockout rather than the hip snap.

You can have a second breath at the lockout but should have the first breath at the hip snap. This is your power source!

I teach my students to use the tension breath at the hip snap and then count the rep out loud at the lockout. This teaches you to use the power to float the bell rather than muscle it, and it also teaches a great pace for the snatch test (if you are taking your StrongFirst certification!).

3. I see a lot of people jet their neck forward at the top of the lockout.

This could just be a bad habit but in most cases it is lack of mobility to get the correct lockout position. If you can lockout correctly in a military press with your head and neck in neutral, then it could possibly just be a habit formed by looking down. When I see this I look at the eye position, and test shoulder and t-spine mobility to rule out those issues.

Now that you are familiar with the drills and common errors, watch the video to remind yourself of each prep step to mastering the kettlebell snatch. Practice each drill and move on when you feel confident and comfortable with each step.

A great way to catch any errors is to record a video of yourself and watch it. The best option is to find a certified kettlebell instructor to check your technique and coach you and help you build a solid foundation of good technique and habits.

And if you need professional guidance on putting together a well-rounded training program with tons of helpful instructional videos and tips on how to perform every exercise correctly, we can help.


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About The Author: Karen Smith

Karen Smith is a highly-respected trainer and coach specializing in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a StrongFirst SFG Master Instructor and Chief Bodyweight Instructor. Karen travels the world instructing and certifying individuals through StrongFirst, and works with clients online and in person. Learn more about Karen on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.