Tag Archives: snatch

The 1-Arm Kettlebell Swing

In the world of Kettlebell sport the 1-arm swing is the foundational movement. The contested movements are the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell clean & jerk. Success is predicated upon a firm grasp of the 1-arm swing which underlies both the clean and the snatch. Nonetheless, the 1-arm swing is a great exercise on its own which has tremendous carryover to other athletic endeavors.

Unfortunately, the kettlebell is underutilized and misunderstood amongst the crossfit community. The 2-arm American swing, the go-to-exercise in CrossFit) is a great exercise in regard to its ability to deliver a potent training stimulus. The 1-arm swing, however, might be a better tool in the development of athletic movement. Specifically, the development of rotational power.

All unilateral movements (1-arm or 1-legged movements) demand an athlete either generate rotational forces or resist rotational forces. Running, punching, kicking, throwing, swinging are all powerful unilateral movements where rotational forces must be managed. It is in the teaching and developing rotational movement that many CrossFit coaches and athletes have a blindspot. As CrossFit has developed into its own sport that ultimately tests for power output, we have cornered ourselves into a relying on a body of movements that only operate in the sagital plane. As most of our daily battles in the gym are against gravity we have become extremely adept at moving up and down. However, in nearly all other sports we need lateral and rotational movements on the field of play. And coaches and gyms that have a bigger picture of fitness beyond purely CrossFit style competitions recognize this and program and teach accordingly.

Let’s get back to the point, the 1-arm swing. The basic understanding of how to perform this movement is flawed in the general public. The bottom and top positions are both done incorrectly for purposes of power, alignment and transferability. I have detailed here what the important aspects of the top of the swing are.
1) Square the hips and shoulders at the top
2) Keep your shoulders down and back
3) Relax your elbow down and squeeze your armpit closed
4) Turn your thumb to about 45 degrees above horizontal
5) Stop at about shoulder height with the bell in front of your nose.

1-arm kettlebell swing top position analysis from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

I have detailed here what the important points are for the bottom of the swing.
1) Have the bell completely back through your legs
2) Have your arm glued to your body
3) Have your shoulders rotated
4) Keep your legs relatively straight and work on hinging forward rather than squatting down
5) Make sure the non-swinging arm is swinging as well to assist in proper rotation

1-arm kettlebell swing bottom position from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Finally let’s look at a few swings in their totality to get a sense of how they should be performed.

1-arm kettlebell swing analysis from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

I encourage you to go and pick up a kettlebell and start swinging and record yourself and see if you can dial in the 1-arm swing. Once you do, then we can move towards the snatch and the clean. Have fun and train hard.

“Stick to the basics and when you feel you’ve mastered them it’s time to start all over again, begin anew – again with the basics – this time paying closer attention.” – Coach Greg Glassman

Advanced Kettlebell Course

I spent the weekend taking the CrossFit Advanced Kettlebell Seminar with Jeff Martone.  The content was divided between what I call “Old School” and “New School.”  The Old School stuff was rotational work with the kettlebells most notably the Windmill and the Bent Press, two lifts that are synonymous with physical culture.  Look at this iconic photo of Arthur Saxon.  How cool is that?  arthur_saxon.fw_

The new school content was what is known as Girevoy Sport or Kettlebell Sport.  In this sport like Olympic Weightlifting there are 3 contested lifts: the snatch, the clean, and the jerk.  However, unlike Olympic Weightlifting, this is an endurance sport where athletes compete to complete as many reps as possible (usually in 10 minutes) of either snatch, clean & jerk (“long cycle”) or jerk (“short cycle”).  They basically stand in one place and lift the kettlebell(s) as many times as they can without putting it down.  When competing with a single bell, they are only allowed one hand switch.  The bells can not be put down.  Merely standing and holding one or two kettlebells for 10 minutes without putting them down can be arduous.  Imagine exercising non stop for that time.

Personally I was excited to work on Windmills and the Bent Press was a move I have struggled with and was eager to get some pro tips on how to do it correctly.   I have had some exposure to Girevoy Sport through friends but never really had any desire to do it.  However, I was fascinated by the fact that my female friends could do 100 kettlebell snatches on each arm without putting the bell down.  My best was around 27.  So clearly there was something to be learned about efficiency.

I prefer the kettlebell moves where I do 3 to 5 reps per side and put the bell down.  When we got to the KB Sport section of the course I was less enthusiastic to be doing longer sets of cleans, jerks and snatches.  However, Jeff was able to layer on so many effective techniques to help relax.  The goal as he described it was not a powerful effort but effortless power.  With each passing set he cued different ways to stand without tension, to relax whatever body part wasn’t working like your face or the opposite arKB_Sport_Featurem.  He emphasized “anatomical breathing’–breath coinciding with the position of the body.  Constantly breathing and not holding the breath.  He emphasized a relaxed grip and different ways to minimize the stress on the grip.

By the end of the weekend we tested out with a set of 30 snatches on each arm with a 20kg kettlebell.  It was the easiest 60 kettlebell snatches of my life. I was shocked at how little I was winded after the effort.  My grip was taxed but I never felt like I had to drop the bell nor was I afraid it would fly out of my hand if I dared to do another rep.  I was a little surprised because, if you have ever spent two straight days swinging kettlebells, then you know your hands are just rubbed raw and your hamstrings are smoked, I thought for sure I was going to struggle to get to 30 reps.  I didn’t.  It was effortless power.

It made me start to wonder if I could use these techniques to do 60-100 reps of any exercise.  Martone claims that the Russians use that 100 rep milestone for squats and deadlifts and lots of other exercises.  Certainly being more efficient and more relaxed and breathing more would have to carry over.

I’m lucky if I breathe once per rep.  We learned that on just the swing itself you take two breath cycles.  Additionally, when you receive the bell there is an exhale, when you lower the bell there is an inhale.  If you rest with the bell in the rack or overhead, you continuously puff out short exhales.  Ultimately, there is way more breathing going on in one rep of a kettlebell snatch than I had previously imagined.  This breathing helps a lot in being able to sustain longer efforts.  I think about what I do in a set of wallballs or burpees and realize I am not breathing nearly as frequently as I could… or should.

Further exploration is required.


Shoulders Up?

There is a debate that is still raging on about whether to push your shoulders up or pull them down. This is in reference to the overhead position seen in handstands and some weightlifting moves.  Many schools of thought say the shoulder, or more specifically the scapula, should be depressed when overhead because that is more stable. However, gymnastics and weightlifting coaches often cue “push the shoulders up into your ears.”

What is the correct answer? It depends.  I will examine this from several perspectives.

As an initial point of reference, I refer the reader to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.  Khan was defeated in the end, because he suffered from two-dimension thinking.  Kirk was able to get the jump on Khan by using three-dimensional maneuvers.  In order to understand the shoulder we must think in three-dimensions.

Overhead we seek to create stability.  The body has two basic ways to create stability: active and passive.  Our body defaults to a passive stability all the time: when we lean our hip over when standing in line; when we rest our chin on our chest while texting; or when the arch of our foot collapses and rests on the ground.  A passive stability is where a joint moves into some end range where, because of bone-on-bone restrictions, it can no longer move and is therefore “stable.”  An active stability is created with muscles and bones working together to create position that is strong yet also has movement options.  For example, externally rotating the hips to create stability in the hips that also allows for strong stable hip movement.  See squatting.

The shoulder, much like the hip benefits from active stability through external rotation.  That’s why our rotator cuff is so important: the Teres Minor and Infraspinatus externally rotate the humerus to create stability.  That is not the only mechanism for stability.  The shoulder is a complex system made up of the humerus, scapula and clavicle.  The scapula and clavicle anchor themselves on the axial skeleton (spine and ribs) and, therefore, the core musculature must stabilize the axial skeleton for the scapula and clavicle to be secure and stable.  A weak core leads to a weak shoulder.

A cue is just a cue.  When you hear the cue “shoulders up”, you shouldn’t mistake that for complex anatomical discourse.  It’s merely a direction designed to elicit as certain action from the athlete.  For example, if I cue someone to lift their chest up during a squat, I don’t care about their chest.  I care about their back and that I see it rounding.  Asking the athlete to lift their chest can create a series of events by which they engage their spinal erectors and bring their spine back to neutral or at least stop the flexion fault that is occurring.  It is a very quick shorthand to fix a fault.  Cues can create other faults.  I might cue an athlete to lift their chest and a series of events might unfold where the athlete goes into over extension of the spine and rocks their weight forward onto their toes.  That is a cue misapplied.  it’s not the cue’s fault, it was merely the wrong cue for that athlete.

When I cue “shoulders up” what do I want and what do I not want?  I want my athletes to actively push against gravity.  Always.  I am strength and conditioning coach and overcoming gravity is the means by which people get stronger. In a plank position, I want my athletes to push down on the ground until the scapula protract and their upper back starts to look slightly rounded (kyphotic).  I also want them to externally rotate so that the pits of their elbows face forward.  So I verbally cue “push the ground down.”  I also might give them a tactile cue of putting my hand on their upper back and tell them to push their upper back into my hand.  I would also tell them to screw their hands into the ground to create external rotation.

When the athlete goes into a handstand the same holds true.  I want the athlete to push the ground down.  I want them to externally rotate.  This is optimal.  What we see is that shoulder flexion and external rotation are both necessary components but there is a tension that exists between them, however they are not at odds.  If I cue “shoulders up” it is because I see an athlete that is not pushing down into the ground and is lazy through the shoulders.  However, I do not want to see my athlete push their shoulders so far up that they internally rotate and lose stability.  As is always the case when working with humans, they are fallible and they can misinterpret directions.

What we see can be misinterpreted.  The eye is fallible.  We need to embody these techniques and it is impossible to understand lifting heavy without lifting heavy.  We can get away with a lot of things that seem right in theory but if that theory does not work when applied to maximal loads then the theory was wrong.

Here is what I see: when I drive my shoulder all the way up to my ear, my humerus internal rotates.  When I actively externally rotate, the humerus screws itself back in and the shoulder appears to drop slightly.  When doing this in the mirror, it looks like I am depressing my scapula.  Under load we might end up in essentially in the same place but the muscular action is quite different and important.  Under heavy load the need to tell an athlete to depress is obviated by the fact that A HEAVY FUCKING LOAD IS PUSHING DOWN ON THE ATHLETE!  The athlete’s job is to PUSH AGAINST THE HEAVY LOAD.  This action of pushing is tempered by the act of also having to externally rotate.   Thus the cue would be to “break the bar.”  The best analogy I can give is to that of a screw vs. a nail.  We do not merely hammer our shoulders up into position, we push up and screw in to create stability.  It’s important that we remember that we are working in three dimensions and there is not one simple cue that will fix everything.

Cueing the Overhead Position from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Overhead strength from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.


I got to work on my Snatch with Karyn Marshall today.

190lbs! PR

About frikkin’ time! I focused on keeping my arms relaxed. Really keeping my chest up and looking up and not letting my eyes drop to the floor.

If you wait for everything to be just right, you’ll never do anything.

At 40 years of age I competed in my first Olympic Weightlifting competition, the 2011 Connecticut Weightlifting Open Championships. It seems silly that I have waited this long to compete. I have never really like competitions but for some reason I am finding myself competing more and enjoying it. It has a lot to do with the confidence I have gained by doing CrossFit. I only competed twice in jiu-jitsu tournaments and didn’t enjoy the experience. It’s so nerve-racking and it’s much harder to impose your will on an opponent that is fighting back. However in CrossFit and weightlifting competitions, you can more easily impose your will and thus perform to your potential. I was very nervous today as well as tired and sore, but after completing my last snatch, I started to feel better. I wasn’t the worst lifter there, but I was definitely close to the bottom. Nonetheless, I looked pretty good out there. I just have to get my numbers up.

In the 94kg weightclass and weighed in at 90kg

65, 70(F), 72kg

Clean & Jerk
80, 85, 90kg

I wasn’t feeling particularly fast or explosive for the snatch and stopped at 72 when I had planned on trying for 75kg. I can hit 75, but after missing 70 because I wasn’t tight in my receiving position I decided to play it safe and try 72. The clean and jerks each got better as they got heavier. I was surprised. I power cleaned 215lbs the other night, but everyone told me that I should try to just hit 6 out of 6 lifts at my first meet. I played it really conservative and hit 5 of 6. So not too bad. The little nervous energy of being on the platform forced me to be a lot more aggressive. Thank goodness because I was feeling really sluggish in warm ups. Hitting low numbers like this means that when I compete again, I will definitely hit bigger numbers. I would like to continue an upward trend over the course of a few more competitions in the next few years.

Other thoughts on the competition. Don’t go early. These meets take all day. My weight class weighed in at 2 and was supposed to start lifting at 3pm. We didn’t start until around 5pm. There are several reasons why the sport of Olympic Weightlifting isn’t popular in this country and one of the reasons is because these competitions take all day long and are kind of boring. Big lifts are spectacular. The people are really excellent. It is super fun to do the lifts, but the events are just so boring. The event was sponsored by Team Connecticut, Risto Sports and some protein company. So they were selling Team Connecticut t-shirts, giving out protein shakes and selling Risto shoes. Not exactly an exciting array of vendors.

These events are always a stark contrast to CrossFit events where everyone is young, in-shape and barely clothed. Weightlifting competitions are filled with a lot of stereotypical looking coaches (old, fat men and scary lesbians) and geriatric judges and volunteers. Not that they aren’t wonderful people, they are. It’s just an interesting contrast. Another example is the food: they serve pizza and cookies at these meets instead of paleokits.

All in all, I have to say I enjoy competing more and more but would like to see the sport of weightlifting get a makeover.