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Three types of kettlebell snatches

One of the most effective kettlebell exercises is the snatch - bringing the 'bell from the bottom position to locked out overhead in one movement (as opposed to the clean-and-jerk, which goes through a "racked" position at the shoulder). For those learning the movement, however, there may be some confusion when watching different trainers - all highly qualified - using fundamentally different techniques.

Jonathan demonstrates a kettlebell snatch
Jonathan Sabar

The important thing to remember is that it's not about right or wrong (unless you're watching a video from a certain nationally-televised fitness personality - then it's probably wrong). Instead, it's about what you are trying to accomplish from the movement. This article, along with the embedded video recorded at DEFY! in Broomfield, will discuss three common kettlebell techniques, and help you decided which one is right for you.

Fluid style

Valery Federenko's World Kettlebell Club, including the American Kettlebell Club division of the WKC, is the world's largest sanctioning body for Girevoy Sport, or the competition of kettlebell lifting. Snatches are one of the three contested events (along with the jerk and the long-cycle clean-and-jerk). The fluid style (also referred to as sport style or Girevoy) commonly used in competition has one purpose - to facilitate the competitor, or Girevik, in snatching the kettlebell to a locked-out position as many times as possible in the 10 minute competition time.

The distinguishing factors for the fluid style are all in place to incorporate as much muscle as possible, and maximize the sheer number of completed reps: a full-but-compact swing is used, including a slight rounding of the back at the bottom of the swing to get the entire posterior chain actively participating. The kettlebell does not touch the ground anytime during the competition time (touching the ground is immediate disqualification from the event), and the hand sweeps around the kettlebell on the "catch" to avoid stretching and tearing the skin.

Train using the fluid style of kettlebell snatches if your goal is to compete (or to train like a competitor). There is no better form for high-repetition, non-stop work in this event!

Hard style

Pavel Tsatsouline can take credit for popularizing the kettlebell in the USA. Bringing this awesome implement into national awareness by devising a more general fitness program around it allowed millions of people to discover its effectiveness.

Pavel refers to the technique he trains in his RKC certifications as hard style, which draws a comparison between kettlebell work and martial arts, with the purpose of creating, in his words, "appropriate technique and maximum power in the shortest time possible.” In other words, where the fluid style is intended to allow the Girevik to go the distance, the hard style is intended to train the body to work very hard, very quickly.

Hard style kettlebell snatches also use a full, compact swing, with the kettlebell passing over the floor at the bottom rather than touching. Where the hard style and the fluid style differ is primarily in tension. While the fluid style allows the torso to act as a spring, rounding and tightening at the bottom, the hard style keeps tension throughout the torso, and only allows movement through the legs and hip joint. The resulting hip loading causes a tremendous drive at the glutes and hamstrings, and the low back should only be involved in the force transfer (i.e. turning the power generated at the hips into motion at the 'bell).

The hard style is ideal for general fitness goals, rather than competition. The tight-back position of the hard style may also be recommended for both beginners and anyone with pre-existing back issues, where rounding may be contraindicated.

One other factor that distinguishes the hard from the fluid style is that, while a competitive girevik will generally "scoop" the kettlebell up by rotating their hand around (see video), the hard style practitioner will usually tuck the elbow slightly and "punch" the fist up, bringing the back of the forearm to the kettlebell from underneath. This is very much a matter of which form will best protect your hands, and avoid blisters and torn calluses.

CrossFit style

Jeff Martone, CrossFit's specialty certification trainer for kettlebells, teaches a snatch technique that uses the same elements as Pavel's hard style. In practice, however, many CrossFit athletes have found that a movement that comes straight up their bodies is measurably faster. For that reason, this "unofficial" version is frequently associated as the CrossFit style kettlebell snatch.

In this style, the kettlebell will start either on the floor, or held just above it. Rather than a swing, the CrossFit style more closely mimics a barbell or dumbbell snatch, with a sequenced movement of hip extension followed by a shoulder shrug, elbow pull, and finally tucking the elbow under to catch the kettlebell on the wrist, in the same "punching" motion as in the hard style.

While the CrossFit style snatch loses much of the hip-drive training benefit of the hard style and fluid style, the goal in CrossFit competition is raw speed (or more specifically, "doing more work, faster"). Since a CrossFit event may have significantly fewer repetitions in one round, a competitive athlete who can reduce their time on a set of 20 snatches by several seconds gains a major advantage.

The CrossFit style kettlebell snatch is perfect for low-to-moderate repetition sets (for example, 10-15 reps per arm at one time) where the goal is a fast time-to-completion.

Wrap-up

One of the most frustrating elements of fitness for the intermediate trainee is seeing disparities in technique between equally knowledgeable coaches. Often these aren't caused by one trainer being right and one being wrong, but rather by the perspectives arising from differing goals. Knowing what technique will help you reach your own personal goals will help you decide which direction to go.