High-rep kettlebell snatches

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Lockdowns over the last year have made kettlebell training a central element in my daily routine. I write this on a seaside holiday in the southeast of England, to which I brought a 24kg kettlebell in the car (no joke). Working from home means I risk spending all day sitting down with little reason for any meaningful movement, so I have a couple of kettlebells in my conservatory for quick access between meetings. I know that each day, with just 10 minutes, I can get 10×10 swings with a 40kg kettlebell or if I am swamped and only have 5 minutes, I can do 10×10 single hand swings with 24kg.

I think every household should build a collection of kettlebells as a home gym or a ‘Courage corner’ as the Russian Military calls it, according to Pavel in The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Kettlebells are cheap, will outlast you, require no additional equipment, and the techniques are easy to learn from Youtube. 

Progression on Kettlebell swings

  1. Two-handed swing
  2. One-handed swing
  3. Clean
  4. Snatch

High rep kettlebell snatches are hard; they test your mental resilience, conditioning, grip strength, and shoulder strength and mobility. High rep kettlebell snatches will highlight and fix problems and asymmetries in your swing technique. As a ballistic movement, it is a great way to build a powerful hip snap that will carry over into other activities like running, and it will burn fat at the same time.

Before trying high rep or heavy kettlebell snatches, it is good to build solid technique on the push press and the more accessible swings. Once you start to train the snatch, think of it as a one-handed swing that goes all the way up and swing from the top – pauses with the kettlebell overhead and let your bell drop into the swing movement. 

Start with a 16kg Kettlebell (if you have one) and spend time learning the groove of the movement before you move to a 24kg kettlebell. Until you have mastered the movement, treat it as a practice rather than a workout, take your time building up the reps and weight. Use heavy swings, cleans, and presses for your strength and conditioning work until you feel confident with the snatch.  

Milestones

The first big test is the StrongFirst snatch test that forms part of the entry-level certification. Dan Johns rep recommendations of 20/15/10/5 (per hand) starting with your weaker hand is a great way to approach the test. As Dan points out, by the end of the first set of 20, you can smile as you have completed the most challenging part.

  1. StrongFirst Certification Snatch Test: 100 snatches in 5 minutes with a 24kg kettlebell
  2. The US Secret Service 10-minute snatch test: 200 snatches in 10 minutes with a 24kg
  3. Tactical strength challenge: max snatches in 5 minutes with a 32kg kettlebell
  4. Girevoy national ranking: Snatch a 32Kg kettlebell 40 times with one arm, then 40 times with the other back to back 

Training

High rep snatching with a kettlebell can be tough on your hands, and once the skin on your palms rips, it will take time without training to heal. Only snatch 2-3 times per week to avoid over breaking the skin and supplement with other types of swing and presses that are easier on the grip.

I like to use a combination of Pavel’s rite of passage method, including the clean and presses from Enter the Kettlebell and the progression ladder from Jason Marchall’s TSC prep plan.

Monday: 5-10 snatches per side on the minute every minute for 7 minutes with competition weight based on the milestone you are working towards.

Wednesday & Thursday: 3 sets of 1-10 snatches with the weight above your Monday workout weight followed by 3 sets of 5-10 heavy swings with 3 minutes rest between each set. 

Start with five snatches on each arm, and each week add a snatch on each arm until you get to 10 reps on each side, then start the ladder again but with a heavier kettlebell or add a minute (e.g. 5/5 for 8 minutes with 28kg). For the snatches on the mid-week workouts, start with three sets of one rep on each side and add a rep per side for each subsequent workout. Progress to a heavier kettlebell once you reach 10 per side for three sets.

So, if you haven’t already, buy at least a decent 24kg kettlebell (cheaper bells can have uneven and rough handles) and work through the progression of the swings, training most days based on feel. From there, get a 32kg and then a 40kg kettlebell and build your ‘Courage corner’. 

Character

The following is taken from the author’s foreword of Middle Distance Running by Percy Cerutty published in 1964.

I teach:
It is not important that we merely compete: that it is important that we endeavour to excel. That means, we do with all our ‘heart and soul’ that which we find at hand to do.
That we leave ‘no stone unturn’d’: no page unread: nothing frustrates us – since with the difficulty is the means of overcoming – and this once we have resolved upon a course of action.
There are much more priceless things than winning especially, if the victories be ‘unearned’ or ‘cheap’.
It is the ‘training’: the ‘way’, that is valuable. That winning is only evidence of something and may be valuable, or not.
That ‘value’ is only ‘earned’ when there has been self-discipline: exhaustive effort and the development of intelligence through experience and thought.
That without these factors preceding ‘winning’ – winning itself, rather than be an advantageous experience, can stultify the personality – not add to it.

I hold:
That suffering and dedication is the only way to understanding, compassion and courage.
That these three add up to a lovable personality, true withal, and the most priceless of all – character.

Percy Cerutty

The greatest miler in history

I finished the biography The Golden Mile: The Herb Elliott Story today. His mental and physical training would best be described as character building. If you like to run, think that modern methods are a little tame and want to read about how the best athletes trained in the ultra-amateur era of athletics, this book is a must-read. Once you are finished with this book, pick up a copy of Why Die: The Extraordinary Percy Cerutty ‘Maker of Champions’ to learn more about the famous Portsea camp and Cerutty’s coaching methods. 

Camp activities followed a fairly regular pattern. A typical day went like this: 7 a.m.: A five mile run before breakfast in any direction our whim took us, followed by a dip in the ocean. 8 a.m.: Breakfast of uncooked rolled oats (without milk) sprinkled with wheat germ, walnuts, sultanas, raisins and sliced banana. Perhaps a few potato chips to follow. 9 a.m.: Swimming and surfing or outdoor chores like chopping wood, painting and carpentry. Noon: Training and lectures at Portsea Oval, followed by another swim. 2 p.m.: Lunch – fish and fresh fruit. 3 p.m.: Siesta. 4 p.m.: Weight lifting. 5 p.m.: Ten mile run along dirt roads ending once more at the beach. 7 p.m.: Tea and a general discussion led by Percy on a wide variety of subjects. 11 p.m.: Lights out.

Herb Elliott

Herb Elliott, the 1500m gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics, is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time. The Percy Cerutty athlete saw running as the ultimate expression of the human body and embraced his coaches methods of natural eating, long runs in the mountains, sprints up dunes, sea swims, and weightlifting to develop extreme levels of strength and conditioning. Besides his physical abilities, mentally Elliot was a highly intelligent savage who through reading philosophy and embracing suffering, cultivated both unwavering confidence in his running performance and a will to win that saw him unbeaten in the mile and 1500m in his short adult career.

Most athletes imagine themselves at the end of their tether before they’re even seventy-five per cent exhausted. I was so determined to avoid this pitfall that if at any time I thought I was surrendering too soon to superficial pain I’d deliberately try to hurt myself more. In apparent conflict with this self-inflicted scourging was Percy’s theory that running should be a free expression of the body; that my body in motion, in the words of the song, ought to be doing what comes naturally. I trusted that my intelligence and enthusiasm would produce a happy compromise between this theory and my striving for perfection through pain.

Herb Elliott

While reading this book, I found my mindset changing towards heavy training. I started to see my quality sessions as an opportunity to push hard and embrace the pain a little more, driving with my arms and lengthening my stride when it started to hurt. I have begun heavy deadlifting and overhead pressing again on the journey to a double bodyweight deadlift and bodyweight overhead press, the standard that Percy Cerutty set his runners. And I have picked up my old copies of Stoic philosophy books and started to listen to Classical music from time to time including Beethoven’s Tempest III Allegretto when I need some inspiration.