Mike Mahler executes with precision

The kettlebell snatch is, in proper execution, an elegant movement which packs in all kinds of goodness for your body, brain and soul.

It is a full body exercise. Pretty near every muscle in your body will be recruited to accomplish the snatch. Complete a snatch set. It will be taxing and you’ll need to hold focus. Intense. Functional. Just what you need to call yourself fit.

Despite its apparent simplicity, the tidiness of its lines as the body moves through the lifting and lowering phases,  the kettlebell snatch is demanding and deeply nuanced. It trains heavily the posterior chain muscles of the body — the hamstrings, the gluteals, the low back.  The muscles along the back of the body are often overlooked or minimally recruited in many workout routines, making the kettlebell snatch an important and highly functional exercise for muscular balance in the complexities of sport performance and everyday activities.

In addition to the posterior chain muscles, hip flexors are called upon, strong core activation is required, and the finishing stages of the kettlebell snatch recruit all of the arm and shoulder muscles.  The stabilizing efforts of the shoulder girdle are particularly important for shoulder health and postural integrity.

The kettlebell snatch is a strength movement and requires explosive strength. Force is applied downward, into the ground, through the feet and upward through the hand.  The burst of energy required for executing the movement taps into the anaerobic energy system, but performing snatch sets places a large cardiorespiratory demand on the body.

If you’re interested in the metabolic demands and caloric expenditure of kettlebell snatch sets, check out a post I put up earlier this year.

This post, however, is not so much about all the beautiful benefits of a well performed kettlebell snatch set. It is, rather, about the technique itself. About teaching the movement, learning the movement, honing it to perfection.  These can all be challenges which require and inform patience, a strong sense of focus, and determination.  Will power isn’t so much needed as a willingness is. A willingness to practice, to stick with it, to relax into it while staying tightly held.

I first learned (a loose application of that word for sure) the kettlebell snatch from photos and a written explanation in Tsatsouline’s The Russian Kettlebell Challenge.  It was before there were websites and youtube videos about kettlebell training. I did not learn it well mind you, but was able to have my form corrected during subsequent hands-on training opportunities.  I learned both hard style and GS style, hang snatch and swing snatch.  Which form you do depends on your training style and goals/purposes.

I have instructed hundreds of kettlebell training sessions, taking participants from never-having-touched-a-kettlebell to full onslaught sweat fests. I’ve taught classes where core kettlebell skills were the work of other parties. I’ve participated in a number of training workshops where sometimes disparate methods are taught. I’ve viewed, as well all have, a countless youtube videos and dvds.  I see wonderfully executed snatches and I see things which make me squint my eyes while I wince and cringe.

I am sometimes challenged to find ways of coaching which are helpful, meaningful and definitive for folks new to kettlebells. Particularly challenging, I find, is teaching the kettlebell snatch. My shortcomings in this mildly frustrate me and I consistently look for new cues, better explanations, fail-safe methods.

I see people execute a kettlebell snatch as just an overhead swing either using their grip strength to keep the kettlebell bottoms up or not so that the kettlebell swings around their hand and soundly smacks them of the back of the wrist. I watch others bring the kettlebell around the side of their arm, in a corkscrewing pattern, on the upward trajectory or fail to control the kettlebell on the downward curve of the movement. I see a lot of sloppiness and movements which certainly aren’t snatches. I see them on youtube and I see them in my classes.

Go on, head over to youtube and you can see kettlebell snatches (and a load of other kettlebell movements) which are poorly executed. Not just by the at-home exerciser either.

On the other hand, sometimes there are recorded gems. Great execution, great explanation.  Keira Newton, an amazing RKC Team Leader and owner of Dynamic Kettlebell Fitness, has done just that.  Check out her demos and her style.  She leaves me in awe.

* after writing this blog entry, I found Josh Hillis’ post on the kettlebell snatch. He provides some really great stills from Keira’s videos which highlight all the necessary action. Josh’s work is always worth checking out and, in this case, he provides a useful analysis.