Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Unsnagging the Kettlebell Snatch (Part 3)

Continued from last post, Unsnagging the Kettlebell Snatch (Part 2):

In our last post, we discussed the two most common snagging points during the kettlebell snatch: uncontrolled arc of travel, and, uncontrolled height of travel.  Let’s cover some more common mistakes seen during the snatch and we’ll move onto some drills to correct these mistakes.
Other common mistakes:
  • Circumduction – This is a compensatory movement due to insufficient vertical height of travel during the snatch.  By snatching the kettlebell in a lateral circular motion, the final height of travel is less than that of the correct technique.  Now the video below is definitely exaggerated, however, keep this compensation in mind – you may be doing it without even knowing it.  To correct this problem, pop into the lock-out position of terminal knee and hip extension with exaggerated explosiveness. This usually corrects the problem and will give you the vertical height you need.
  • Heel Lift (Plantar Flexion) – This is also a compensatory motion due to insufficient vertical height of travel.  However, most people end up using plantar flexion because the kettlebell they are using is too heavy.  Try a lighter kettlebell and focus on keeping your feet flat on the ground and using your knees, hips, and core to propel the bell upward.
  • Late or missing Hip-Pop (Hip Extension) – I don’t see this compensatory motion all too often, however, it comes up frequently enough that I felt it was worth mentioning.  This tends to happen due to weak gluteals, tight hip flexors, and/or insufficient shoulder flexion.  I also see this occur from time to time when individuals focus too much on knee extension that they forget to engage their hip extensors.  Again, the video is highly exaggerated and the actual compensation is more subtle than it is pronounced as seen in Circumduction or lack of Knee extension (below).  If the root of the problem is just forgetfulness in engaging the hip muscles, a heavier bell will take care of the problem.  The increased weight will require the individual to fully engage all the muscles required for the vertical component of the snatch.  If the problem is weakness in the gluteals, then stick to cleans and squats until the individuals develops the strength necessary for the current weight.  One can also use a lighter bell just to master the technique.  However, if lack of range of motion is the problem, then stretching and Physical Therapy may be the path of choice.
  • Late or missing Knee Lock-out (Knee extension) – Lack of proper knee extension can occur simply because the individual is focusing intently on the hip-pop motion.  This can also be an accentuated compensatory motion which remained undetected until the high intensity demands of the snatch.  I also see this compensation kick in when individuals have tight hamstrings.  For hamstring tightness, again, stretching and Physical Therapy is a sure path to fixing the problem (and future problems which may remain a ticking time bomb).  If the individual is simply forgetting about the knee lock-out motion, a heavier bell or a visual cue (ie. a mirror) is a great way to get the muscles to engage properly.  However, if this stems from poor technique hidden since the infancy of learning the kettlebell swing, then one must go back to the origins to fix the problem.  Pick out a light bell and progress to a generously heavy kettlebell for the individual.  Work on technique and intently contracting the quadriceps and the gluteals at the top of the swing.  As you progress to the heaviest kettlebells, one will be forced to utilize as many muscle fibers as possible.  There are a couple other drills to address the knee lock-out deficiency which I will discuss in the next post.

So let’s talk about two drills I like to incorporate for individuals struggling with the snatch.  Again, the two most prevalent problems during the snatch are uncontrolled height of travel and arc of travel.  The best way to address this is utilizing the kettlebell clean – the precursor to the snatch itself.  I’ve mentioned in the past I really enjoy the natural physics aspect of kettlebell exercise for numerous reasons – one big reason is that it is self limiting.  At a certain level, compensation is not an option because the body simply cannot handle the physics. The result – the kettlebell simply falls harmlessly to the floor and the individual needs to start over and re-evaluate technique.  For the other interesting compensatory motions, using a staged kettlebell snatch routine is a great way to self-check technique and achieve the proper snatch.  Again, utilizing a lighter bell and progressing to a heavier kettlebell is a great way to tease out all the problems; when intensity increases, all the funny compensations come out of the woodwork – and – correction is forced due to the intense load.  If the individual cannot correct, the bell will not properly move.  I will discuss this further in my following post.  The other drill I like to use is an ultra-light snatch drill.  Using grip vs. technique to decelerate the kettlebell at the top of the snatch is a very common problem.  Using a small kettlebell, one can tease out this problem and practice smooth technique vs. forced results.

Heavy Clean and Release:  Progressing to a generously heavy kettlebell, practice cleaning and releasing at the top of the vertical height of travel.  Remember to keep the kettlebell as close to the body as possible.  The larger the bell, the farther the kettlebell will be away from your body simply due to the dimensions of the kettlebell.  Nevertheless, the key aspect of focus is that vertical release.  If you are doing this properly, the kettlebell should be easily released and caught at the highest point of travel.  If you are having an excessive arc of travel, or, are not engaging your lock-out technique, the kettlebell will travel away from you when you release it.  Another tip: if you ARE properly locking-out at the top of clean, you should see a slight jolt in your body.  This signifies that you are indeed engaging knee extension and hip extension with sufficient force and intent.

Ultra-Light Snatches: If decelerating the kettlebell with technique vs. grip is the problem, using an ultra-light kettlebell is a great way to practice technique.  The lighter kettlebell poses less of a threat to the tendons of your wrists.  Try practicing the snatch and ending the snatch with an open grip.  This forces you to decelerate the kettlebell using technique.  It is also a very good test to see if you are using your legs, hips, and core to propel the kettlebell vs. using your arm to lift.  If you are able to perform the ultra-light snatch, then move onto the next heaviest kettlebell – be sure to end the top of the snatch with an open hand.  If you are even tempted to close your grip, then you are more likely to compensate for technique – this means you should go back to the lighter bell until you can master the open grip snatch.

Notice how early the hand should open during the Ultra-Light Snatch, Open Grip Drill.

There are few more common areas which snag up the snatch.  More videos, more discussion, and more Kettlebell Therapy™ to come!

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