The Kettlebell Snatch, like its barbell cousin, is one of those unique movements that allow the individual performing it to express multiple aspects of fitness simultaneously. Power, strength, coordination, stamina, balance – all of these are required to complete it successfully. But unfortunately, if an athlete has an instructor who’s dogmatically rooted in a singular system, or their only coaching experience is what they’ve found online, then they may not understand the intricacies of the movement or realize that different variations can offer different stimuli. As a result, the athlete may end up missing out on some of the benefits each have to offer.
Why the Kettlebell?
First off, why choose a kettlebell over, say, a barbell or dumbbell? For one, it is an implement that sits in a single hand and takes up far less real estate than a barbell when it comes to storage or training space. For another, owing to the unique handle position (sitting on top of the weight rather than between as it does on the dumbbell), the kettlebell offers the unique ability to shift its load dynamically while it moves around the hand, elbow, and shoulder. Thus, by modulating the amount of pressure on the grip throughout a movement, it can swing so that the weight stays always stays below the hand, whether it’s under the waist or above the shoulders. This doesn’t mean that the kettlebell and its snatch variations are in any way superior to other tools, simply that its condensed size and load distribution offer some notable advantages in terms of practical application.
Hardstyle vs GS
There are numerous “schools” of kettlebell, but all of them have essentially spun out of two forms: “hardstyle,” which was popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline first as the RKC and then through StrongFirst as the SFG; the other style, “GS” (“Girevoy Sport”), is the competitive style of the kettlebell – which formalized into an organized sport during the 1960s.
The style of kettlebell used by each of these approaches is notably different. As a rule, GS kettlebells are all uniform size (regardless of the weight), have a far more squared handle, and are differentiated by a standardized color schematic: red for 32kg, green for 24kg, yellow for 16kg, and blue for 12kg. On the other hand, the hardstyle kettlebells are generally cast-iron, vary in size based on their weight, and have larger handles.
The type of hinge and breathing pattern differ as well. In Hardstyle, the hinge is essentially a ballistic deadlift – feet stay firmly planted throughout, the hips are driven back through a tight wedge, there’s a minimal forward pitch of the knees (owing to the shallower depth of the hinge), an explosive driving of the weight into the ground and a hard lockout of the abdominals, glutes, and quads are utilized at full extension. With Girevoy Sport, the movement is far more fluid – the weight transfer is more of a rocking motion, with subtle twists in the torso and hips that amplify its fluidity. With Hardstyle, you breathe in what is called a “biomechanical” pattern – taking a breath in as the kettlebell goes to the back of the hinge and exhaling forcefully as you explode back out. In GS, the breathing pattern is referred to as “anatomical,” – meaning you do the opposite: exhaling as you move into the hinge (the lungs compress) and inhaling as you come out of the hinge (as the chest and diaphragm expand).
Lastly, the path of the kettlebell differs as well – referring to the movement of the hand, arm, and kettlebell, it moves through either a “flip” or a “corkscrew.” With the flip, the hand remains in a relatively supine position, punching through the handle as the kettlebell “flips” and travels overhead; likewise, to initiate the return to the bottom, the athlete will gooseneck their wrist to pop the kettlebell over the top. With the corkscrew, as the kettlebell comes out of the bottom, the hand rotates into a neutral, or “hammer” position before returning to the “palm out” position at the top, allowing the kettlebell to swivel around the wrist and hand, creating a “corkscrew” path for the kettlebell. It’s important to note that although the hinge and breathing pattern is very particular to each style, the “corkscrew” technique will often show up in hardstyle as many find it less jarring on the arm and shoulder than the more traditional flip and catch.
Which One Is the Better Choice?
As with everything in fitness, the truth is – it depends entirely on what you’re using it for. Obviously, if you’re looking to become a certified coach, you’ll have to train and perfect the method used by your certifying body. On the other hand, if the decision isn’t predetermined by a certification requirement, then best to consider the outcome that you are working towards – is it power, or is it endurance? The two styles can be applied to both outcomes to a certain degree, but each favors one more than the other. If your goal is to develop a singular and explosive movement, then everything about hardstyle – driving to full extension, the knifing movement of the hand, and the hard lockout of the trunk as the kettlebell goes overhead – contribute to this goal. However, if you’re aiming to develop endurance, both aerobically as well as through repeated expressions of strength, then the efficiency and fluidity of Girevoy Sport may be your better option.
Like the martial arts, there will always be those rigid devotees of each school that swear their method is the “best,” – but that sort of narrow perspective can inhibit potential growth and development. In truth, your best approach would be one that keeps an open mind, exploring the limitations and advantages of each, and then – in the words of Bruce Lee – “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
Unless you are utilizing the “bottoms up” position, which, again, isn’t possible with a dumbbell