The Kettlebell Snatch: A Swing That Ends Up Overhead
by Pavel Tsatsouline
A few years ago I was asked to write a book about kettlebell training. At first it seemed like an interesting idea, but after some research I realized that there wasn’t much out there yet on the subject.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands and create something myself.
After all, if someone else already did it, why not?
I’ve been doing kettlebell training since 2005 when I started working with Pavel Tsatsouline. Since then, I have become very good at it and have learned a lot about it. While most people are familiar with the basic movements such as snatch, clean and jerk or push press, they don’t really understand what exactly happens during these exercises.
For example, do you think that most people know that the bar needs to start over your head before you can perform a snatch? Or that you need to keep the bar overhead until the last possible moment before dropping it back down?
So, I thought it would be useful to put together a book that explains everything about kettlebell training. The goal isn’t just to teach you how to perform each exercise correctly; rather, I want to show you how kettlebells work as well. If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind kettlebells, then this book will give you plenty of information.
Don’t worry if you have never done a kettlebell exercise in your life, either. I will break everything down into very simple steps.
Once you learn the basics, you can repeat the important parts as many times as needed until they become second nature to you. After a while, you won’t even need me anymore and you can go out there and teach yourself (a bit like learning how to ride a bike).
If you have done some training before, then great! You can probably fast-forward over sections that seem too basic for you.
Or, you might find that you have been doing something wrong all this time. After reading this book, you will know everything there is to know about kettlebell training. Then, nothing will stand between you and your goals!
As always, I suggest getting a couple of kettlebells for this project. One is not enough because you will inevitably mess up one side and you won’t be able to continue.
Also, having a friend helps with the photos and makes the exercises more fun (but it is not necessary). After reading this book, you will understand why I made these suggestions.
Let’s get started!
Chapter 1: Light Weight, Heavy Duty
I am going to start this tutorial with something very basic. If you know what a kettlebell is and how to use it, then you may want to skip ahead a bit until you come to a topic that you don’t understand.
If you have never used a kettlebell before, then I suggest that you go get yourself one now. If you have no idea what a kettlebell is or where to get one, then you need to head over to the nearest sporting goods store or go online and order yourself a couple.
I suggest getting one that’s around 24 kilograms (53 pounds) and another that’s around 8 kilograms (17 pounds). If you want, you can always increase the weight later, but it is much better to start with something lighter until you learn how to use them properly.
This may seem like a rather large weight for someone who has never lifted anything before, but trust me: with proper technique, you will be lifting much heavier weights before too long. Kettlebells are Excellent tools for learning correct movement patterns because they are so unforgiving.
If you don’t learn them correctly, you’ll know very quickly and will have to correct it before continuing.
Once you have your kettlebells, we can begin. Look at the two weights and try to grasp what they are and how you would use them.
If you want, you can also watch some people use them at your local gym to get an idea of proper form.
Wonderful! You are ready to begin.
Let’s start off with the most basic movement there is with a kettlebell: the swing.
BASIC MOVEMENTS: SWING
The swing is a very natural movement that mimics the motion of throwing a punch. If you’ve never done kettlebells before, this will also feel very weird at first.
Don’t worry; it will get better with practice!
Grab the handle of the kettlebell with both hands and lift it off the floor. Your arms should be straight, but not locked.
Keep your feet apart and your back straight. Imagine there is a string at the top of your head and someone is pulling it up. This will keep your back straight and automatically assume the correct position.
Now that you are in position, just swing the kettlebell back and forth like you would throw a punch. The weight of the kettlebell will do all the work for you, so you don’t need to add any extra force; just gently move it.
Here comes the unnatural part. Once you’ve gotten the basic rhythm of the swing, you need to pull your arms through and let go of the kettlebell at the top of the backswing.
What this will do is put the kettlebell in the air and allow it to rotate around your wrist as it falls. This is where people mess up. The temptation is to try to catch it, but this will cause you to bend over too far and hurt your back. As long as you let it fall freely and don’t try to catch it, your arms will automatically swing up and catch it as it comes down.
Try this a few times until you get the hang of letting go. When you’re ready, hook your finger over the top of the handle so that if does not fall straight down, but rather out in front of you.
This will take a bit of the momentum from the fall and slow it down so that you can easily catch it.
Once you’ve got it down with one hand, do the same thing with the other hand. Alternate back and forth with each rep.
Eventually, you will be able to swing the bell and catch it with the same hand. This reduces the momentum further so that it’s almost at a complete stop by the time it reaches your hand.
Start slow and gradually increase reps as you get stronger. Just like any exercise, start off light and build up gradually.
Don’t try to push too hard or too fast. It’s better to do 5 reps at a reasonable pace than to try to do 10 and end up taking 3 minutes to finish them. Trust me, you’ll get there eventually.
Once you’re comfortable with the movement, you can start trying some tricks. There’s a reason this is the “Turkish get-up.” You can make this into a full on aerobic exercise by adding extra motions such as getting up off the floor or even getting out of a chair.
The great thing about this is you’re learning how to move your body in a variety of ways and how to control an object of varying weights. This will not only help with strength, but also flexibility and balance.
These are all skills necessary for self defense training and you can apply them to other physical activities.
Not everyone has access to kettlebells, but you can still practice the Turkish get-up. All you really need is something heavy that you can lift and move around.
Sand bags, water jugs filled with either water or sand, or even a large book will all work so long as you know how to use them properly.
Of course, there are pros and cons to training with kettlebells versus other types of weights. The biggest con is cost.
A good set of kettlebells can cost well over $100, which might be a bit much for some. The biggest pro is the versatility of the movements. Most other types of weight only let you swing the weight or push or pull it along some sort of guide. A kettlebell lets you swing, twist, reach, and move in every direction.
Kettlebells are also great for cardio training because they force you to control your breathing while using them. This is especially true when you start learning the more advanced movements.
They’re also great for working your grip and hands.
One of the most misunderstood facts about kettlebells is that people think they’re just for building strength. While it’s true that they’re great for this, they’re also great for cardiovascular training.
Swinging a heavy weight in a controlled manner is great for stamina and calorie burning. It’s also great for balance and flexibility because it forces you to find your body’s natural rhythm and move with it rather than against it.
For your first workout, you should start with an empty 20-32lb kettlebell and just practice the Turkish get-up until you feel comfortable with the motion. From there, you can either increase the weight or move on to another exercise.
Just remember, start slow and work your way up. There’s no rush.
Also, I highly recommend that you watch the video on the Turkish get-up below and read this article before you start training.
A Typical Kettlebell Workout Routine
Now that you know what kettlebells are and some of their benefits, let’s talk about how to incorporate them into your personal defense training routine.
Perform the following exercises for 3 sets of 5 repetitions each. If the weight is too heavy, start with 3 sets of 10, then decrease the weight until you’re able to perform 3 sets of 5.
Once you can easily perform 3 sets of 5, it’s time to increase the weight.
Perform this routine at the beginning of your workouts. For cardio training, you can run, jump rope, perform mountain climbers or whatever else you might prefer.
A1. Turkish Get-Up – this movement teaches you how to move while in a vulnerable and extended position.
It’s also an all-around great exercise that strengthens your entire body.
A2. Windmill – Strengthens your core, grip and gives you more practice with one-side movements
A3. Single Arm Row – Builds up your back, arms and shoulders to help with punching power.
A4. Single Leg Deadlift (Unweighted) – improves your balance and builds up your hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
Important for quick changes in direction.
Perform the above four movements in the order listed. Rest for 90 seconds after you’ve completed all of them.
After completing your set, repeat the entire circuit once before moving on to the next exercise.
B1. Single Leg Squat – This is a single leg variation of the squat.
It strengthens your legs, hips and core in a functional way rather than just building quads and glutes.
B2. High Pull – Strengthens your shoulders and back while teaching you to pull with an extended arm and open hand into a closed fist.
Also great for working your lats and shoulders.
Sources & references used in this article:
External kinetics of the kettlebell snatch in amateur lifters by JA Ross, JWL Keogh, CJ Wilson, C Lorenzen – PeerJ, 2017 – peerj.com
Magnitude and relative distribution of kettlebell snatch force-time characteristics by JP Lake, BS Hetzler, MA Lauder – The Journal of Strength & …, 2014 – journals.lww.com
Snatch trajectory of elite level girevoy (kettlebell) sport athletes and its implications to strength and conditioning coaching by JA Ross, CJ Wilson, JWL Keogh… – … Journal of Sports …, 2015 – journals.sagepub.com
Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads by SM McGill, LW Marshall – The Journal of Strength & …, 2012 – cdn.journals.lww.com
Cardiopulmonary demand of 16-kg kettlebell snatches in simulated Girevoy Sport by M Chan, MJ MacInnis, S Koch… – The Journal of …, 2020 – cdn.journals.lww.com
Kinematic and kinetic variables differ between kettlebell swing styles by GS Bullock, AC Schmitt, JM Shutt, G Cook… – International Journal of …, 2017 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Demands of the Kettlebell Snatch by JA Ross – 2018 – researchbank.acu.edu.au
Biomechanical Loading of the American Kettlebell Swing by J Mitchell, WM Johnson… – ASME …, 2015 – asmedigitalcollection.asme.org
How to Smooth Out the Kettlebell Snatch by M Beecroft, RKC Master, M Bos, A Du Cane, A Gala… – rkcblog.dragondoor.com