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’. 

This weeks training

An example of a current week of training:

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
Bike30/15 – 3 sets of 11 reps @125% FTP60 mins between 62.5 and 75% FTP90 mins + 6 second maximal sprints30/15 – 3sets of 12 reps @125% FTP60 mins between 62.5 and 75% FTP 90 mins + 6 second maximal sprints Off
S&CMP 5x(2,3,5)
Snatch 3×7
Swings 3×7
Squat 8-6-4
Deadlift 120kg
Swings 10×7
C&P 5×1
Snatch 3×7
Swings 3×7
C&P 5×1
Snatch 3×7
Swings 3×7
Squat 8-6-4
Deadlift 120kg
Swings 10×8
Loaded carries
C&P 5x(1,2,3,4,5) Off
Core50 sit-ups
60-sec  plank
50 sit-ups
70-sec plank
50 sit-ups
80-sec plank
50 sit-ups
90-sec plank
50 sit-ups
100-sec plank
50 sit-ups
110-sec  plank
Off
Run20-25 minsHill sprints 3x 8 sec 20-25 mins
10 min warm-up
Surges 8x 20 secs w/ 40 sec jog
5 min cooldown
OffDrills
Hill sprints 3x 8 sec
20-30 mins
20-25 minsOff
StretchDead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Dead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Dead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Dead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Dead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Dead hang
Squats
Couch stretch
Indian knot
All – 3×30 secs
Off
Training plan for week commencing 22nd March

My main goal is to get to a four w/kg FTP on the bike and total around seven hours of riding on Zwift each week. As my main priority, the riding is done in the morning to make sure I don’t ever miss it. The schedule follows a polarised programme with two HIIT sessions per week. The 30/15 intervals involve repeats of 30 seconds at 125% FTP, followed by 15 seconds at 50% of that number.

The strength and conditioning workouts support my riding goal and is mainly maintenance. Swings are with a 40kg kettlebell (The Bulldog), the presses are with a 24kg kettlebell and a 32kg for the 5×1 clean and presses. The strength sessions are short and fit into a break at lunch on most days.

I am using the running to get some additional aerobic training, get out of the house, and prepare for the second half of the year when I transition to focus on getting to the next level of the distance runners progression 40 minutes 10km. I run in the evening after work.

My current morning routine

6:00 Wake up

6:05 50 sit-ups

6:10 Protein shake

6:15 Plank

6:20 Yogurt + berries

7:00 Bike

8:30 Shower

8:40 Stretch

8:50 Work

Is your health worth 1% of your day?

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Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a campaign in 2012 called ‘Come with me if you want to lift.’ The campaign aimed to get as many people as possible, spending an hour per day working on their health and fitness. When listing the rules for success in his book, Arnold wrote that taking one hour to focus on your health is just 4% of your day. Spending this time each day will compound and lead to exponential improvements in your quality of life over time. Most people cannot find an additional hour in their day straight away, so he suggests to start with just 15 minutes or 1% of your day and as you progress, the amount of time you can devote to your fitness will go up.

Whenever you hear someone you care about complain about time, ask them if a longer, better life is worth 1%.

Arnold

Percy Cerutty had a similar idea in his 1967 book Be fit or be damned. Percy lists the three most essential areas for health; Pedestrianism, a strong core, and regularly picking up heavy things. For pedestrianism (walking and running), Percy suggested running just 15 minutes per day on most days, starting with walking, then progressing to run/walks, with a long term goal of running 2 miles in this time (7:30 minute miles). He also suggested doing one longer run per week that you build up to 10 miles. For core strength, Percy suggested doing ten sit-ups as soon as you get out of bed and working towards a goal of 100 in a single set with a second set in the evening before bed. The deadlift is the king of exercises, and Percy believed that everyone should do it regularly. He wrote that you should start with half your body weight on the bar and have an eventual goal for health of lifting your bodyweight 5-10 times off the floor.  

Dead-lifting, that is, heaving heavy articles whatever their nature may be off the earth, must be considered a primary physical function of homo sapiens.

In a society where most members can afford to have all or most of the modern amenities, the barbell should be considered an integral part of healthy living.

Percy Cerutty

Commit to spending just 15 minutes per day, every day on your health.

When asked by family and friends what they should do to get fit, I usually give two suggestions;

  1. Couch to 5k
  2. Andy Bolton’s kettlebell swing ladder.

The couch to 5k programmes, such as the free one provided by the National Health Service, progressively takes someone from not running at all to running five kilometres without walking in nine weeks. The kettlebell swings ladder starts with 5 minutes of exercise and builds up to 10 minutes, giving you some time to warm up with some air squats and glute bridges. Doing the couch to 5k run/walks three days per week, the kettlebell swings on the three other days, some sit-ups each morning, and a day off should give you a good start towards health. 

For January this year, I am giving the Yoga 15 challenge a go. If you are struggling to get a Kettlebell and it is too cold for you to start running, why not join me?

Once you are in a routine, have a go at some four minute movement breaks throughout your day to get you moving and deadhang from a bar for shoulder health. If you get a kettlebell and are doing the swings, add some overhead presses too. After completing your first 5k, have a look at what is next on your distance running progression.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions and let me know if you are committing to 1% of your day for your health.   

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. 

The best kettlebell programme

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

I like to do my heaviest lifting on a Saturday, It is currently my rest day from running, and it allows me not to rush the rests between heavy sets of deadlifts or bench press as I tend to have less going on. I have been building up a home gym over the last few years and makes Saturday workouts even more straightforward. Ever since I moved into a house with a garage, I have picked up a second-hand gear including a barbell and bumper plates and have taken advantage of sales to pick up smaller items including kettlebells.

Gyms have been closed in the UK for most of the last seven months, leaving many people unable to train. I have been suggesting a simple kettlebell workout and progression from the Deadlift legend Andy Bolton that can be completed in 10-15 minutes (just 1% of your day) that I found in Ross Edgley’s ‘Fittest book in the world’. I tried the programme two years ago when I was getting back into strength training after preparing for an ultramarathon and found it quick, easy, and useful.

The ladder

  • Day 1: 5 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 2: 6 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 3: 7 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 4: 8 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 5: 9 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 6: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 5 minutes.
  • Day 7: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 6 minutes
  • Day 8: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 7 minutes
  • Day 9: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 8 minutes
  • Day 10: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 9 minutes
  • Day 11: 10 swings every minute on the minute for 10 minutes – 100 swings total in 10 minutes!
  • Day 12: either get a heavier bell and start back at day one or if you are not ready to make the jump to the next size, start the ladder again but cut the time in half so every 30 seconds rather then every minute.

Which Kettlebell?

Start with a 16kg kettlebell, then progress to a 24kg, then 32kg, then 40kg, and finally ‘The Beast’, at 48 kilograms. The big jumps shock the body to encourage growth. It can be tempting to make smaller jumpers, so 20kg for your second kettlebell but you will quickly outgrow it, and you will end up spending more money than you need. Many people are happy with just 16kg, 24kg, and 32kg Kettlebells and never feel the need to go heavier. If you do choose to go heavier, 100 swings with the 48kg kettlebell in 10 minutes represents an impressive level of strength and conditioning so send me a video on Twitter if you manage it (I have completed the ladder with a 32kg bell and have ordered a 40kg). 

Ideas on how to do it

The beauty of the workout is its simplicity, train when you can and gradually work up the ladder until you complete it with your current weight. I have included some suggestions of how you might want to get started for those that what extra help. 

When you start, especially with the 16kg bell, and depending on your level of fitness, you could probably do the workouts five days per week, skipping a day when you are too busy. As you get further up the ladder and the bells get heavier, you will need to add more rest days or start to introduce different exercises on the days do not swing. For example, once you reach the 32kg you might do your swings on Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday, then go for a run on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. If you need to keep your workouts short, you could introduce some overhead pressing or snatches with the 16kg bell on the non-swinging days.

Don’t be stupid

I am not a qualified doctor or fitness professional and you are swinging a cannonball with a handle around so do this at your own risk. If it hurts stop, and if you are injured, wait to recover before you start. Check out Ross Edgely’s book for more ideas on getting fit and lookup Strongfirst on their website or on youtube for all things kettlebells including technique, different programmes or to find a certified coach.

Get high quality coated kettlebells; if you look after them they will last a long time, probably longer than you will, so it is worth paying an extra £30 to get something that has a smooth and even handle. You get what you pay for! Brands that make high quality coated Kettlebells and sell in the UK include Bulldog gear, Primal Strength, Strength shop, and Again Faster. Rogue Fitness for everywhere else in the world.

Find me on Twitter if you have questions or if you have a go and want to share the results.