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The Ergonomics of Snatching

August 11, 2009 02:48 PM

Ergonomics is defined as designing something to fit the worker, to make it better. In application to the snatch this means taking a basic template (the hard-style kettlebell snatch) and making alterations to form specifically to minimize hand tears, maximize strength and power, and maintain perfect form and the chain of fluidity from the first snatch to the last.

The kettlebell snatch drop and catch for saving your hands.

While this method will work for most, it will not work for all. Those with small, meaty hands may find it difficult to perform the maneuver.

Most hand tears from snatches as well as cleans come from the rotation of the handle through the palm, and the handle catching the callused pads of the hand in the descent. The way around this is simply to not allow the aforementioned to happen.

Many people overgrip the bell during the snatch. This slows the bell down over the top (causing a thump on the forearm) and on the way down as well. Aside from causing repetitious rotations through the palm (ultimately leading to blisters and tears) this also causes you to use far more grip strength than necessary, and ultimately you may fail your snatch test due to grip.

I do not want my limitation during repetition snatching to be arm strength. Really, there should be little arm strength required during the snatch. This brings us to another benefit of the drop and catch, which is the unloading of the arm on the way down.

Beginners often find themselves "casting' the bell out in the descent, and using arm strength to hold onto it. Done enough times this will cause the arm and more importantly the grip to wear out. I can avoid this by simply dropping the bell closer to the body (perhaps half the distance of when it is cast) and shadowing it down with my hand. For all intents and purposes I never actually "grip' the bell, in the traditional sense. My hand never closes. I keep contact with the handle on the way down, but that is all. I then hook it in my fingers at abdomen level to control it, and once the backswing is complete the snap of my hips propels it back up. Still my hand has never actively "gripped' the kettlebell.

Breaking down the "drop and catch' shotgun style.

Many if not most are accustomed to gripping the handle of the bell and letting it rotate through the hands, allowing the arm to become fully extended on the way down, effectively being pulled by the kettlebell. Instead I would like you to practice your descent as follows.
  1. From the locked out overhead position of the snatch, instead of grasping the bell and flipping it over, toss it over with a loose grip like an overhand softball throw. Now instead of gripping it, hook the handle in your fingers at about eye level. Even now you are not doing anything to slow the bell. Your hooking hand is simply "along for the ride', as you have thrown the bell straight down. You can ultimately become more aggressive with this technique, throwing the bell down faster to increase the speed of your snatch cadence. In the beginning it is best to take it slowly and refine your technique. Remember that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

  2. As you do this pull your elbow in and slightly out to the side, effectively mimicking the same position your were in during the ascent. We know that "stiff armed' snatches do not work as they allow you no way to punch through to lockout unless you are an advanced practitioner. So we draw the elbow back on the way out to give us room to punch through. You are reversing that same motion to drop the bell closer to the body and unload your arm. Now you do not feel that pulling sensation that you used to feel on the way down when you allowed the bell to cast out and pull you away.

  3. At abdomen level you begin to control the bell with your finger hook, still not closing your hand to grip the bell.

  4. When you punch back out to the ascent you will still keep a loose grip. Some may even prefer to leave the hand open, effectively spearing the handle. I have found that this fixes many problems in the snatch, such as overgripping the bell and hyperextension of the wrist.
Practicing the drop and catch from the clean.

This doesn't really require much explanation. Many find the learning curve to be difficult with the drop and catch in the snatch. A way to work on the technique with a little more control is to perform it during the clean. Basically, you will be doing exactly what I am about to tell you not to do in the next section.

From the rack position instead of corkscrewing the bell around the forearm to bring it down, pop it over the top in the same manner described above. Rehearse this until you feel competent, and then begin practicing from the lockout of the snatch. Part of developing this technique is improving your finger strength, and learning from the clean will allow you to do so in a safe manner.

Reciprocity in the snatch and clean.

This is a deviation that I see constantly in the clean and snatch. Have you ever observed someone hit the first 1-3 snatches perfectly, and then all of a sudden they begin effectively doing overhead swings, completely stiff-arming the movement? This ties in to the old saying "What goes up must come down' or in our case a reversal of that. What you do in one direction you will begin to do in the other as well.

The reason for these snatch and clean deviations is that if you are performing proper snatches, drawing the elbow back and punching through at the top, but you begin to swing the kettlebell with arm fully extended on the way down, you will then begin to do the same thing on the way back up. Very rarely have I seen an instance where this was not the case.

The same occurs in the clean. For our purposes the bell rotates around the forearm popping softly into the rack position, and returns the same way. However, I often see practitioners begin properly with solid rotation, but one simple overhand toss on the way down changes all of that, and suddenly the clean goes to hell.

Part of this ties into the mentality of "I'm done, so I don't have to pay attention anymore.' Think about it, how many times have you seen someone belt out a set of perfect swings only to bring the bell down stiff legged, back rounded, etc? The same thing can occur on a more micro scale during the movement. The Girevik is so focused on the ascent of the bell during the clean or snatch that they lend short shrift to the second portion of the movement.

Long story short: the first and second halves of the clean and snatch should be identical to preserve the integrity of the technique.

You're not done until you're done.

Additional considerations.

Be prepared for the new blisters and calluses that will develop on your fingers. Remember that you are transferring the friction and rotation from your palm to the insides of your fingers. However, the calluses should be very small, and properly cared for should not present a problem.

Attending to your calluses is very important. I often hear people complain about hand tears, and they then tell me that they only shave their calluses every 2-3 days. If you are doing many snatches and cleans you must attend to your calluses daily. Mark Reifkind, Master RKC's prescription of soaking the hands in warm water for 5-10 minutes, letting them dry for 30 seconds, then knocking off the calluses with a pumice stone is right on the money.

Using a non-greasy hand lotion such as Corn Huskers during the day will also be very beneficial. If you allow your calluses to become hard they will more easily catch on the handle of the bell. If you keep them softer and more pliable they will still protect, but will not be as likely to catch. Using a more aggressive treatment at night will help with the overall condition of the hands as well.

For video examples of this technique and others go to

Jordan is an RKC certified kettlebell instructor in Palo Alto, CA where he works at Mark Reifkind, Master RKC's Girya. His website is