Traditionally performed with a barbell, snatches account for one of the two exercises -- the other is the clean and jerk -- that you see in Olympic weightlifting competitions. While barbell snatches may seem just about the coolest exercise going, given the complexities of the whole move, you might be better off starting with the kettlebell snatch. It’s a little simpler to master but still provides you with all the benefits of snatching.
Watch any of the female weightlifters at the Olympics, even the tiny women in the under-48 kilogram weight class, and you'd think that the snatch was as easy as 1-2-3. The truth though is far different. Snatches work pretty much every muscle in your body but focus heavily on three movements -- knee, hip and ankle extension -- to generate the speed and power needed to lift the bar overhead. You can't really just pick up a barbell and perform a snatch -- you need a coach to learn the techniques, notes Sally Moss, weightlifter and coach at Ultimate Performance in London as well as author of the Gubernatrix website. Even trying to learn from watching videos can be a bit of a stretch.
Kettlebells have taken the fitness industry by storm. Once reserved purely for athletes, they're now a staple in many fat-loss and fitness programs. Kettlebell snatches focus on exactly the same movements as the barbell snatch and are also a total-body exercise but are a little easier to master. Firstly, you only need to lift one arm at a time, making them much easier on your shoulder joint mobility. There's also far less chance of you KO-ing a fellow gym-goer lifting just one kettlebell above your head, rather than flinging a 7-foot Olympic barbell up in the air.
Barbell snatches require you to have excellent mobility throughout your whole body as well as muscular speed and power -- try to do a snatch slowly and you're in trouble. Just because the kettlebell snatch is slightly simpler doesn't mean you should approach it nonchalantly. Performing lots of kettlebell snatches can give you seriously gruesome hands and leave you with eye-watering callouses, notes kettlebell coach and personal trainer Neghar Fonooni. To avoid this, you need a loose grip so the bell doesn't create friction against your skin. You might also end up with very bruised wrists at first, where the bell smacks into your forearm at the top of the movement. Bend your elbow slightly as you lift and punch through forcefully at the top to soften the blow and keep your arms bruise-free, Fonooni advises.
The barbell snatch is a fine lift and if you have access to a coach and a gym that lets you perform the Olympic lifts, then go right ahead and learn how to snatch. You might be surprised just how tiring a set of five well-performed snatches can be. When training on your own, or in your typical commercial gym though, kettlebell snatches are definitely your best option. You still need to take time to master the technique and may even require the assistance of a coach or kettlebell trainer, but they take a lot less brain power, giving you more workout time for other exercises.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.