High-rep kettlebell snatches

Photo by Taco Fleur on Pexels.com

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’. 

Rite of passage

According to the Oxford reference website, a rite of passage is ‘A ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life, especially birth, initiation, marriage, and death.’ In Pavel’s book Enter the Kettlebell, he writes about a Russian rite of passage; a boy becomes a man when he can one-arm strict press a 32kg kettlebell over his head

The book provides a simple programme to prepare you for this initiation; performing clean and press ladders three days per week with a heavy, light, and medium day. The book suggests to use Saturday as your heavy day, Monday as the light day, and Wednesday as your medium day. Start with a Kettlebell you can strict press 5-8 times with your weaker arm. For better progress and balance, do pull-ups in between each rung of each ladder matching the number of presses.

Heavy day

  • Week 1: 3 sets of a 1,2,3 ladder 
  • Week 2: 4 sets of a 1,2,3 ladder
  • Week 3: 5 sets of a 1,2,3 ladder 
  • Week 4: 5 sets of a 1,2,3,4 ladder 
  • Week 5: 5 sets of a 1,2,3,4,5 ladder
  • Week 6: move to a heavier Kettlebell and start again on week 1

For the light day do five sets, but two rungs less than the heavy day. For the medium day do five sets, but one rung less than the heavy day.

So week one you would do a clean and press with the left arm, then a clean and press with the right arm and then one pull up to complete the first rung on the ladder. Then two clean and presses with the left arm and two clean and presses with the right arm, then two pull-ups to complete the second run. Then three clean and presses with the left arm and three clean and presses with the right arm, then three pull-ups to complete the first ladder. Rest before starting the second set.

Each rep is one clean and one press. The aim is to practice the clean and press as a pair to prepare you for heavier Kettlebells.

I can do eight presses with a 24kg Kettlebell, and so I am using that for the next five weeks before moving up to the 32kg. I am continuing with the swings from my earlier post and including five sets of five goblet squats with the 32kg kettlebell. The combination of heavy swings, goblet squats, clean and presses, and pull-ups is an excellent strength and conditioning routine on top of my running.

The ultimate goal described in Enter the Kettlebell is to press the Kettlebell closest to 1/2 your body weight (40kg Kettlebell for me) and do 200 kettlebell snatches in 10 minutes with 24kg. This book will provide a good six months of training to get me to that benchmark.

I aim to test the 32kg press on new years eve. Let me know on Twitter what training you are up to at the moment, and any rites of passage you think are worth achieving.