Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why doesn't Crossfit use the Kettlebell Snatch?

A question posed over at Byers Gets Diesel

Crossfit is intentionally broad, general and inclusive. The kettlebell swing is broad, general and inclusive.

The GS style snatch is not. Hand someone a moderate weight and challenge them to do more than 20 reps; they will end up bruised, callouses torn and cardiovascularly unchallenged and frustrated. It’s true that the barbell snatch is difficult, that thrusters are tough, that kipping pull ups take time to learn. It’s also true that there’s a shortage of qualified coaches in weightlifting and gymnastics. The problems of coaching, equipment and access to information are essentially the same. So what’s the difference?

Ignorance; most people consider the barbell snatch essential to the development of speed and power in hip extension. They often see the kettelbell snatch in the same way. Why use a kettlebell, which is typically restricted to 53, perhaps 70lbs? A barbell can be easily loaded with 95lbs and already the general benefits are exceeding the KB experience. Add to that the difference between “Ow my hook grip hurts” and “Fuck. I tore another callous”. Why even bother?

The kettlebell snatch is not a barbell snatch. Let me repeat this:

The Kettlebell Snatch is not the Barbell Snatch. Nor is it a substitute for it. They are not interchangeable and they do not address the same training needs.

snatch from AW on Vimeo.

(PS: I have no idea who this guy is, I just searched Vimeo and his was the nicest looking snatch that came up first. And really, it's pretty good. So kudos to you, AW. If you don't like your video here, I will take it down)

I hope the differences are obvious. Even though this imagery is immediately obvious to most, very few who are exposed to the Kettlebell ever attempt to time a continuous set, to do more than 20 reps on one hand or other aspects of Girevoy Sport that would be considered ‘introductory’ at most.

I believe that the quick answer is ‘because it’s hard to do/coach’. I believe that the harder/longer answer is that most people, including most Crossfit trainers who are not RKC/AKC/Jeff Martone certified don’t realize the differences between the barbell and the kettlebell. Anyone that asks you “Why not use dumbbell” is not experienced in Kettlebell training. Coach once said “I don’t know anyone that is GOOD at the Olympic Lifts that would argue that they are dangerous or don’t apply to athletes” (roughly). The same is very true. I don’t know anyone that can do a continuous set of 100 snatches that would say “This doesn’t help me develop the same power that heavy power cleans do”. Finally, Crossfit HQ has stepped away from WODs that are too coaching/equipment intensive. If you’ve been around for a while, you remember seeing things like Rx for swimming for instance. They have whittled down the tools to a core group: “the 9”. While they will make room for the Olympic Weightlifting barbell snatch, they are currently not willing to allow for the Long Cycle. That’s their call. Simplifying is a good thing. If you haven’t noticed, the workouts that really use the full lifts are not as frequent as thrusters, or SDLHP.

Take home message; Girevoy Sport is an intermediate cardiovascular sport that tests anaerobic endurance, lactate threshold, VO2 max, grip endurance, hip power, shoulder stability and perseverance. If you’re from the martial arts world, some teacher at some point has most likely made you hold ‘the Horse Stance’ for minutes on end. If you played Football, you ‘ran suicides’. The kind of pain that must be tolerated is very similar. It’s slow paced, and repetitive. It isn’t sexy. If you can do it, you are a better man/woman for it. Not everyone chooses training modalities based on the positive impact to their development as person, but minute nine of a GS set of snatches is spiritual. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. I don’t blame you. I don’t look down on you. I just don’t think you’re qualified to speak on this particular subject. It’s entirely the same as saying ‘you do Crossfit’ when you’ve never been into an affiliate gym. You don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

So I have pointed out what’s wrong. How about a solution? I don’t know if there’s an easy answer. Do you have access to a qualified coach? Do you want to do it? Do you think that you would benefit from greater grip strength and endurance, repetitive hip power, greater resilience and flexibility in the posterior chain? Well, you can start in some of my earlier posts.

this may help as a place to start

Not everyone will head towards 100+ reps of 24kg or 32kg snatches, as Valery was doing above. But any Crossfitter(male) can do 50 reps with a 24kg. That means you can do 100 with the 16kg without hurting yourself, and that’s a great way to replace 1000m row if you don’t have a rower, or 800m run if you’re smart enough to hate running. If you don’t know how to run, don’t have shoes and don’t have a good surface to run on, it’s not smart! Sub the KBs!


ThreeRivers CrossFit said...

So, 100 KB snatches w/ 16kg= 800m run or 1000m? roughly? Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter much, but I'm trying to be consistent with subs.

Jason M Struck, RKC said...


If you were comfortable with the 24kg snatch, you could hit 20RPM with the 16kgs for 4-5 minutes, and that would sub a 1000m row OK.

It's more like a 1600m run, isn't it? If you're hardcore, I'd say 100 KB swings is a high intensity cardio 5-6 minutes.

Corey said...

Snatching a 16 kg kettlebell at a pace of 7 reps per 15 seconds, with a 15/15 second work rest ratio will get your steady state heart rate up to 91% of your age predicted heart rate max. Which is approximately close to your lactate threshold. Therefore, if you want to train your lactate threshold using the kettlebell snatch, use a 20 kg or higher.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

Individual results may vary Corey. Assuming that any specific weight will equal a specific outcome for more than one athlete would be specious thinking. Also, we are talking about GS snatching, not Kenneth Jay protocols. In GS there is NO rest, the kettlebell can not be put down. Age predicted maxes may be less useful than simply recording the actual heart rate. In my experience, active adults tend to have maxes still quite near 200, even if they are 40-50 years old.

Addressing both John and Corey's question: there's no standard 'sub' probably. For any given athlete, it's best to know their capacity and to program accordingly, rather than trying to come up with a set rule or guideline.

On another note Corey; If your laboratory tested Lactate Threshold is 91% of VO2max and your VO2max is over say ~65mL/kg/min why don't you come down to RVA: I've got some sports I'd like to coach you in.