Some exercises just make you feel powerful. The kettlebell snatch is one of them. The move involves taking a kettlebell and rapidly powering it directly overhead, arm fully extended, as if you’re hoisting a ball-shaped version of Thor’s hammer. It takes strength in your legs, core, back, and shoulders (and plenty of other muscles, too) to execute this, and it all happens in an instant, blending strength, power, and athleticism into barely a second for every rep.
But this doesn’t happen easily. “The kettlebell snatch, like most about any move that channels serious power, requires a lot of technique,” says MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “Sure, you can get the bell overhead, but you want to get it overhead correctly to maximize strength gains and minimize the chances of injury.”
That’s why you shouldn’t just jump into kettlebell snatches, even if you do feel powerful enough to do them. The best way to learn the kettlebell snatch is to master a step-by-step progression. “There’s an easy way to learn the snatch,” says Samuel, “and it’s something that you can learn either over the course of a single day, or over the course of a few weeks, depending on your experience level.”
No matter what you do, by working through this progression, you’ll set yourself up to get the most out of the move.
Key Muscles Worked in the Kettlebell Snatch
The kettlebell snatch is a full-body move that taxes a host of muscle groups. It also challenges coordination and timing. It focuses in on several key bodyparts.
Glutes and Hamstrings
For as much as it may seem like an upper body move, the kettlebell snatch actually starts at your hips. “Your goal is to explode forward into hip extension,” says Samuel. “This powerful motion creates the energy you need to drive the bell upward.” That hip extension is driven by a powerful glute and hamstrings squeeze that drives your hips forward.
“You’re pulling the entire time on the kettlebell snatch,” says Samuel. “And you absolutely must do this to protect your shoulders.” By keeping lats and rhomboids engaged during the kettlebell snatch, you’ll help pull the bell toward you and prevent your shoulder joint from shifting forward and being at the mercy of the bell’s momentum. That’s valuable mid-back work. Meanwhile, your lower back muscles also play a key role, protecting your spine as you shift your torso upwards.
Your shoulder musculature must be active during the kettlebell snatch, especially during its final moments, as you punch the bell overhead. Your shoulder muscles also work to stabilize the joint in that overhead position.
You’ll work with one kettlebell as you learn the kettlebell snatch, so your abs will have to deal with that offset load as you fight to keep his and shoulders square. That’s not their only job either. At the top of the kettlebell snatch, it’s very easy (and convenient) to slip into arching your back. This, of course, can create lower back issues. How do you avoid that? By tightening your abs. Think of keeping your ribcage tight to your body; your abs are responsible for this. And as you drive overhead, exhale hard and don’t let your ribcage flare.
Four Steps to the Snatch
Start with the swing. Learn the single-arm kettlebell swing first. Your sole goal on this is to start generating the hip power you’ll need to drive the bell overhead. Focus on keeping your core tight, and squeeze your glutes primarily to drive the bell forward. Start with 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
Get to the clean. Once you can do the kettlebell swing proficiently, start doing the kettlebell clean. You’ll start with your swing motion, then, moments after squeezing your glutes, pull the bell close to your body. Aim to actively pull, and pull the bell before it reaches shoulder height. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
Hit the High pull. The clean teaches you to pull the bell and engage your back muscles. Now, you need to learn to create that pull with your elbow slightly higher than your shoulder. “This is the trickiest thing to master in the snatch,” says Samuel, “but it’s the most critical. It’s important to think of squeezing your shoulder blades as you keep your elbow high to protect your shoulder.” Aim to keep the bell close to your body as you do this. “Your back muscles are always engaged. Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side.
Punch and Go. Once you’ve got the high pull down, you’re all set to snatch. Start with the swing, then pull the bell to you as you do in a clean, pulling high. As soon as you’ve gone through your high pull motion, punch your hand upwards. “The bell will flip, and you’ll land in kettlebell snatch position,” says Samuel. From there, lower the bell to your shoulder, and begin the next rep.
How to use Kettlebell Snatches in Your Workouts
The snatch is a full-body move that you can use in a variety of ways. You can train it with a heavy, challenging kettlebell and keep the reps low, doing, say, 4 sets of 4-6 reps per side and working on overall power. If you do this, do it near the start of your workout. Or choose a bell you can handle and use it in a full-body conditioning session, doing, say, 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps and focusing on technique and speed. Either way, it’s a move worth including in your training.
For more tips and routines from Samuel, check out our full slate of Eb and Swole workouts. If you want to try an even more dedicated routine, consider Eb’s New Rules of Muscle program.
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