Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Advantages of the Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch: Swing, pull, press, pause

The kettlebell snatch is a notably complete strength building exercise. That makes it beneficial both as part of a exercise program, and as an example of what a good strength exercise includes. This article will describe why the kettlebell snatch is so useful in an exercise program, as well as some of its limitations. The goal is to describe without being a tutorial.

There are several things that make an exercise more 'complete'. First is that the entire body is involved, feet to hands. Second is that it involves a large range of motion and working in more than one direction. Other important factors are that both the movement and stabilization are provided by the body, it can be progressed(made harder), it has both strength building and power(strength speed) development, and that it has good carry-over to other sports and everyday life(aka functional).

Another benefit of the snatch that is lacking in many strength building exercises is the skill and neurological demand. Since so many elements of movement and coordination are involved, and at high speed, the nervous system is challenged to put it all together.

Full Body
The snatch is done while standing, with the resistance(weight) held in one hand. All the force is transmitted between the feet and the working hand, and everything in between must work to maintain alignment. The primary muscles that move the kettlebell are the hamstrings and glutes, and also working hard are the spinal erectors, lats, traps, and rhomboids to resist the pull of the kettlebell, and deltoids and triceps in pressing the bell overhead. Some of stabilizing muscles next.

Kettlebell anti-rotation loading
Range and Direction of Movement
The kettlebell moves from thigh level to overhead, and also from a bit behind the torso, in front of the torso, then above the back. The vertical change is about five feet of lift for an average height man. Besides ROM utilization, this also means a large amount of work(in physics, work is force multiplied by distance).

Primarily the movement is in the sagital plane- straight ahead to behind. However holding the kettlebell in one hand also creates a strong torque on the body in the transverse plane, making this an excellent anti-rotation exercise. With the weight overhead the load is on only one side, so lateral bending must be resisted. These twisting and bending forces strengthen the smaller muscles within the spine, the obliques, quadratous lumborum(QL) and other muscles between rib cage, spine, and pelvis, plus improve neuro-muscular control in these directions.

The snatch can be progressed by lifting a heavier kettlebell or doing more reps. Heavier weight means more power development and more reps builds endurance. The form of the exercise stays the same. Double snatches can be done using two kettlebells, which gives more emphasis on the lower body and spinal erectors with less anti-rotation and shoulder loading.

The snatch is about moving a heavy object overhead. To accomplish this goal when it's not an exercise, a person would use the strongest muscles in the body and use momentum to move the object through the most difficult part. Since not everything needing lifted can be held symmetrically between two hands, training one arm at a time is necessary. The lift would be done planting the feet solidly on the ground and without anything to support or brace the body.

Being able to combine and transition movements is a very important ability for functionality and for sports. The snatch can be broken down into three parts, and this is the way it is taught. It begins as a swing, goes through part of a clean, then a high pull, and finally an overhead press. For hypertrophy(increasing muscle mass) the three parts could be done separately, but when put together in one continuous movement, motor skills are developed and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

The single arm snatch provides minimal load in spinal flexion(anterior core strength), and horizontal push. Knee extension using the quads is not stressed, and standing with the feet even and parallel is not always possible in other activities. Good mobility in the upper spine and shoulder are required to correctly hold the kettlebell overhead(see Improving a Rounded Upper Back). The complexity of the exercise means it takes time and effort to learn to do correctly.

Complementary Exercises
Single arm press
These limits suggest some exercises to add the kettlebell snatch in a minimal program. A walking lunge will provide both quad development for leg extension, and more stability challenge in the hips in an asymmetric stance. Add a horizontal press using an adjustable cable machine or resistance band for a pushing exercise, working the pecs, anterior delt, and serratus, plus resistance to spinal extension via the abs(rectus abdominus) and obliques. Note that this is a hypothetical program, and three exercises really aren't adequate.

The Turkish Get Up deserves mention here- It alone would be nearly perfect to complement the snatch. The Get Up incorporates a wide variety of body positions, is slow with more stability challenge, and has more anterior emphasis. But since it is so good it will get its own article(soon).

For another look at minimal program development principles, see 
Selecting Strength Exercises with Five Examples

Expanded look at the kettlebell snatch

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