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Snatch a Heavier Kettlebell

June 10, 2005 07:55 AM

Sooner or later every kettlebell lifter is going to want to try a heavier 'bell. Over time a dedicated girevik may move up three or four times. The question is, how do you safely leap the gaps between traditional Russian kettlebells? They don't come in five-pound increments, you know. What do you do after the big brown truck leaves and the box is open? The following is a quick "SOP" for working up to snatching a heavier KB.

The three step sequence that involves swings, cleans, overhead supports, and finally snatches works well for my clients, and I found it useful as I began using 70 and 88 pound 'bells myself. A seasoned lifter may run through all stages of this approach in 5 minutes and be "good to go" on these lifts. Someone with less experience or making a more difficult transition may take weeks to work through it safely. Regardless, it is a progressive and safe approach that should prevent accidents and those "whoops!' moments that come from doing too much too soon. So thank the truck driver, open the box, and get busy.

1. The Swing
"If you can deadlift it, you can swing it." Even if you think you may have "overshot" and ordered too heavy a KB, don't despair. If you can sumo-style deadlift it, you can swing it to some degree. Remember that Highland Games athletes swing plate-loading kettlebells of 150 pounds or more to train for the caber or weight-for-height event. So start with swings, as low as you like. As you feel ready, increase the height. Over time you will learn to more explosively snap the hips and to recruit more tension when accelerating or decelerating the kettlebell. When you can one arm swing it to about chest height, you're ready to try the clean.

2. The Clean
The first time I one-arm-cleaned a 70-pound kettlebell I wasn't ready to receive it in the racked position. The weight hangs to the outside of the arm, and while a lighter bell gave me no problems, two poods was a surprise. It wrenched my arm to the outside and I quickly dropped it. To get a feel for the weight, perform your first clean with two hands. Once you have the weight racked, take away the extra hand and walk around with the KB held with just one. These walks will "clean your clean." If your clean has become sloppy (held too far out or too high) due to your old bell being too light, walking with a heavier one in the rack position will fix it. Once you can reliably clean the KB with one hand, you might think you're ready to try a snatch.

3. The Overhead Support
Hold on. There are two pre-requisites for being able to snatch a given KB. The first is to be able to swing it to the head height. The second is to be able to hold the KB in a secure overhead lockout. Note that pressing the KB has nothing to do with this. At the time I first attempted the snatch I could easily press a 1-pood KB with one arm for many reps. However, I was not prepared to accept the weight at the top of an explosive snatch, and so I dropped the weight on my head. (I was lucky: it had no lasting effects except that I can no longer remember the second grade.) As with the clean, the way to develop the needed stability is to put the weight overhead with a press, push press, or jerk (one or two handed) and then walk with the KB in the lockout. Once you feel confident controlling the bell upstairs, you should be ready to snatch the bigger kettlebell.

There you have it: a safe sequence for working with a new and bigger KB from the ground to overhead. Use it, teach it to your trainees, and go get that new kettlebell.

Jeffrey Crews, RKC is a strength trainer and certified Russian Kettlebell instructor based in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. To contact Jeff for individual or group training or workshops email him at