By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB
Wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes.
Nothing about the SFG certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all 5 stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared snatch test.
Well, knock it off. And for goodness sake, pull yourself together. It’s only 5 minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total. You can do this — and make it easier on yourself. I’ll show you how.
Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease
Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG II in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.” And why not? When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger? Is that not the point of this cert — indeed, this whole system?
Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching. You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job. In fact, it shouldn’t. If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.
This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily.
Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the preliminaries.
1) You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely. This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention. “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance. Also, because chicken makes you weak.
Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other.
Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow. Not. Even. Once.
2) You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch. All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test. They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the Turkish Get Up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role. Don’t neglect them.
Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics. It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.
1. Get stronger
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first. It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes. Think about it: Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps? And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm? 24kg is child’s play. Even very fatigued you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly. All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics. Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps. Remember: It’s ALWAYS easier to do less if you can already do more.
2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in
The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic.
a) Keep your eyes forward. NOT down. A lot of people like to look down for some reason. Stop it. Stop it right now.
b) Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side. When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so. When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest. Make the kettlebell travel through that line. By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.
Left: standard one-arm swing. Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline.
An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.
c) Keep your face relaxed and impassive. Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set. This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.
3. Double breathing
THIS is the cue that, in my correct opinion, will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it. Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that). When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.
“The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right? So why not breathe twice as much?”
I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate. This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake. It’s that important.
How do you do it? Simple: on the backswing you sniff in. On the hip pop, you breathe out. Old hat. Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster. The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued. As Master Whitley has said “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”
Just how effective is this technique? With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down. 3 times the work capacity because of one technique. Yes, it’s that good. This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly. Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back. click to tweet
In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended. Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice that he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day. The other days you’re expected to swing.
If you’re training for your SFG cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train 4 or even 5 days a week. Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.
Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max”, i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique. A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for. This will be your working weight for the next few weeks. You will be using a template that I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.
2 minutes: snatch on the minute
1 minute: rest
2 minutes: snatch on the minute
It’s very easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.
With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day. You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template. Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.
Week 1: 3/3
Week 2: 4/4
Week 3: 5/5
Week 4: 4/4
Week 5: 5/5
Week 6: 6/6
Week 7: 5/5
Week 8: 6/6
Week 9: 7/7
Week 10: 6/6
Week 11: 7/7
Week 12: 8/8
Week 13: REST
For me personally, I found that once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready. Doing 56 snatches with 32 kg in 5 minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life. No stress, and no sweat (literally). Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.
For your other days, swing. Heavy and often. Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight. Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles. These swing days may look like this:
Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
Friday: Snatch day
As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two. Then go up a bell size and start over.
Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pullups/flexed arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and Get Ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.
There you have it. A simple and — dare I say it — borderline EASY way of taking your snatching from chump to champ. Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.
Aleks Salkin is a Level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and an Original Strength Certified Coach. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics. He regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alekssalkintraining