Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Strong(er)

Conquering The 5-Minute Kettlebell Snatch Test

In my opinion the Kettlebell snatch is the most powerful and beautiful movement one can perform with a kettlebell. Nothing looks as athletic or awesome as a girevik standing tall with perfect posture holding a kettlebell locked out overhead, victorious.

Aside from just looking cool as all-get-out the kettlebell snatch is just hard work. So hard that the average person measured burns over 20 calories per minute performing them.  The kettlebell snatch uses muscles from your fingers to your toes, the bell travels twice the distance as the kettlebell swing yet uses only one arm and therefore takes nearly twice as much effort… if not more. It requires more mobility than a swing, as well as the finesse to not crash the bell against your forearm. Then you have to drop the bell from the overhead position and master the backswing before gravity and the kettlebell conspire to master you.  The kettlebell picks up speed accelerating down and back until the moment you brace, drive your heels through the earth and rip the bell overhead for another rep. The bell floats upward as you steer the weight to catch it, pausing in perfect stillness… a timeless victory pose the likes of which have been immortalized in statues and paintings for millennia. Very few workouts feel as exhilarating to me as a hard set of kettlebell snatches. Something about it is primal. High rep sets leave your chest pounding, lungs burning and forearms swollen. It is literally about as close as you’ll get to feeling like you’ve been in a fight without throwing a single punch. During extended sets it is often a combination of simple tenacity, fighting spirit and nerves of steel that separates the casual exerciser from the disciplined trainee.  The perfect exercise. Vicious poetry in motion.

In the world of today’s kettlebell enthusiast the minimum mark of competence for a would be kettlebell instructor is the five-minute snatch test.  Men and women typically use a 24kg(52.8lb) or 16kg(35.2lb) bell respectively and are required to perform 100 repetitions to standard without dropping the bell or allowing it to touch the shoulder.  Although not everyone who trains with kettlebells needs to nor should become a kettlebell instructor I believe everyone should strive to achieve and eventually exceed the work capacity required to pass this minimum standard on any given day.

 

THE “OEKB SNATCH TEST CONQUER” PROGRAM

There are many proven methods for passing the snatch test.
You’ll find mine below.

 

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Get stronger and get the reps in. It’s really that simple.
Spend some time with a heavier bell overhead to make your snatch test bell feel light by comparison.
Take your time to build up to more than 100 snatches with your snatch test bell in a single training session, then keep reducing the total time it takes to complete. Gradually reduce the number of hand switches and the rest taken until you are showing the test who’s boss.  Always stay intimately acquainted with heavy swings. Once or twice a year tackle heavy getups and deadlifts and set a new PR. Any improved strength you make in these two movements will give you a bigger engine for making the snatch test easier and easier.

CAVEAT:
Lets face it, the kettlebell snatch is not for everyone. Some hard living individuals have acquired enough injuries in their lifetime to preclude snatches and others simply don’t yet have the mobility, stability, strength or technique to safely perform high-repetition snatches. That’s neither good or bad… it just is.  In situations like these variations of  kettlebell swings, high pulls, carries and getups will do the trick.  Keep in mind that an experienced and qualified instructor can show you countless ways to get killer workouts and results with kettlebells that work within your limitations  while expanding them. 

 

Prerequisites
Step one is to get with your doctor especially a cardiologist and make sure your heart is ready to tackle this sort of training.  Nowadays  I can literally pass the snatch test without sweating and recover very quickly.  This wasn’t always the case. Back in 2007 before I knew what I was doing my heart rate once reach 214+ bpm during a snatch test… I stopped and slowly built up using a reasonable plan.

Step two is to get screened by a Functional Movement Specialist who can make sure you have the fundamental movement patterns to train the snatch safely. This means getting adequate scores on the shoulder mobility test, active straight leg raise and rotary stability screens.

Step three is get with a competent SFG instructor (many of who are also FMS certified)  and learn to safely perform the hardstyle swing with a variety of bell sizes up to a 48kg and 32kg for men and women respectively. Then learn to perform the getup and one hand swing.  Once you’ve become proficient in the two-hand swing, the getup and the one-hand swing it’s time to learn how to snatch. This will take some time to develop competence as you must learn to catch the bell in the overhead lockout without abusing your forearms and learn to control the bell safely during the drop in manner that protects your shoulder and saves your hands.  When you can perform several sets of 10 or more snatches using your regulation bell without tearing your hands or bruising your forearms AND you can perform rock solid getups with a heavier bell it is safe to begin training for the snatch test using the program below. Enjoy.

BASELINE TEST:  perform a 5-minute snatch test.

Record the following stats in your notes:

  • The total number of reps achieved.
  • The time it took to complete all your reps.
  • Your rate of perceived exertion on a scale of 1 to 10.  (1 = very easy and 10 = 10 a near death-like experience.)
  • The highest and lowest number of reps you performed per set.

Rest several days then perform one of the following workouts 1 day per week.
NOTE: If you are preparing to pass your snatch test for an instructor certification I recommend performing this workout or at least your hard test days on the same day of the week that you will be required to pass your snatch test.

WORKOUTS

THEORY OF RELATIVITY WARM-UP

With a heavier bell  than your snatch test bell spend a total of about 1 minute performing easy snatches, one-hand swings, overhead lockouts or getups. Example: 3 snatches per arm  and hold the lockout overhead for 10 seconds or so.  The idea is to prepare your body & mind for the weight of a much heavier bell than you’ll be performing snatches with. If done properly, when you perform your first set of snatches with your snatch test bell it should feel like a toy in your hands giving you a psychological edge and sense of relief.

Rest 1 to 2 minutes then use your snatch test bell and perform one of the following workouts for the day.

STEP 1: Volume (Total Reps)
Set a 10 to 15 minute time-limit.
Setting the bell down and resting as needed complete as many snatches as possible in any rep scheme you choose in the time allowed.
Repeat the workout each week until you can complete 140 reps  in 15-minutes.

STEP 2: Fewer Hand Switches & Set Downs)

When you can complete 140 reps in 15 minutes stay with 140 reps and strive to continually achieve fewer hand switches and fewer set downs until you can perform all 140  reps in sets of 10 or more with 13 hands switches or less and 6 set downs or fewer.

STEP 3: Compress

Compress your rest periods until you can complete 140 reps in 7 minutes.
At this point you’re ready to pass your 5-minute snatch like a champ.
Rest one week and perform a snatch test.

 

SNATCH TEST
Every 5 weeks or so replace the prescribed workout with either a modified snatch test or all out snatch test.
Perform the “Relativity Warmup” above then…

Option A.) Snatch Test
Perform 5-minutes of snatches all out.
I recommend beginners use the standard approach of 10 sets of 10 reps per arm.

Option B.) Modified Snatch Test  2-minutes on, 1 minute off, 2-minutes on
This  is a useful variation for those who struggle with the idea of 5 non-stop minutes of snatching. As an instructor I use this when I recognize someone has the conditioning to pass their snatch test, but lacks confidence or just HATES all manner of high-rep training.  Quite often people surprise themselves and get 60 reps in the first 2-minutes, then an easy 40 or more in the last two minutes. It’s easy to see why this can be a great confidence booster when used wisely.

WORKOUT FREQUENCY and R.P.E.

If you use this workout once a week, just go all out… one week should be enough time to recover for the average trainee.
Your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) should be in the  8 to 10 range. I recommend closer to 10 than 8.
If you want to perform this workout more than once a week you will need to vary the rate of exertion.

Twice a Week: Every 2nd or 3rd workout should be all out while the remainder of your workouts should be around an 8. On these easier days you can take more rest, set the bell down more often, use a lighter bell or an easier technique with your snatch test bell such as one hand swings or high pulls.

Three Times a Week: Go all out once a week. The following workout should be very easy around 6 RPE. One the easy day feel free to use a heavier bell and just rest enough bring the RPE down to 6. Perform one more workout that’s about an 8.  Feel free to use a lighter bell on your medium day and more reps per set between hand switches.

During the Two and Three-Day / Week options you will only try to beat your Personal Best on the “All Out” days.

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2 comments on “Conquering The 5-Minute Kettlebell Snatch Test

    • Thank you Fated Blue.

      I’ve been where you are. I remember how daunting and painful the snatch test seemed to me at first.

      I was stubborn at first and nearly killed myself just hammering the test repeatedly. It was like taking the ACTs or SATS repeatedly without studying for them, or doing my homework.

      Then I found a proven program “the Rite of Passage” and stuck with it. Since then, the stronger I’ve become and the more my technique has improved the easier it’s been to maintain my snatch test.

      Make sure you’ve the required mobility.
      Dial in your technique.
      Get a heavier deadlift ( read Power to the People or Easy Strength)
      Get a heavier getup ( read Simple & Sinister)
      Practice either your swings and snatches daily.

      Remember, If one human can do it, so can you. Take your time and sneak up on it gradually. It’s a hard but reasonable standard. Once you have it, keep it! Losing it and starting over can be mentally harder for some than achieving it in the first place.

      You’ve got to BELIEVE you can do this then put in intelligent and consistent work.

      Let me know if I can help.

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