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Doug Fioranelli, RKC-II, Bottoms-Up Get-Up

Train Your Weakest Link…

If I had a quarter for every person I’ve trained who blurted out, “That wasn’t too hard, I could have done more but my grip was giving out,” after a difficult set, then I would have enough money to pack a pair of shorts, my 32kg kettlebell, and then swing my way through retirement on a sandy beach.

As the true professional I (mostly) am, I simply smile to give a false sense of empathy. But, grip strength is a foundational component of strength. It’s the balancing point which determines our success with many movements.

In the past—especially with assisted weight machines—grip strength was not required or emphasized, so many people forgot its importance. Grip strength is often the weakest link that determines if someone will have difficulty performing pull-ups, kettlebell swings—or even passing the legendary RKC Snatch Test.

If their grip wasn’t holding them back, most people are strong enough to pull themselves up over a bar repeatedly. Their legs and cardiovascular systems are also more than capable of performing hundreds of swings and snatches with a sub-maximal weight. Grip is the foundation for many upper body and repetitive dynamic exercises, and shouldn’t just be an afterthought.

Grip strength can be the limiting factor that rears its ugly head to compromise your technique and cut your sets short. Or it can be the bedrock of strength, something to train so that you are stronger, fitter, and more successful at the gym.

In this post, I will present some strategies for focusing on grip strength in your training so that you can do more kettlebell swings and snatches. I will explain two types of grip training: one focused on increasing strength and the other on endurance. Both types should be in your program to ensure success.

Use Your Grip

If you are a true practitioner of Dragon Door Hardstyle training, using your grip should be a common occurrence. Whether you are performing a kettlebell exercise or practicing traditional weight training, your grip should be engaged.

At the gym, it’s common to see people loosely holding their dumbbells when lunging, performing step ups, and even during rows! The idea is simple—when you are moving, grip the weight and engage as many muscles as possible. Not only is this safer because you body will be in a more stable position, it will make you stronger by activating more muscles to assist in every lift.

Adopt this training principle: anytime you grab a bar or weight, make sure your grip is prioritized and utilized throughout the movement.

Ditch the Two-Arm Swing

This might sound a bit blasphemous, but hear me out! Yes the two-arm kettlebell swing is an excellent movement for learning the proper hip hinging movement, and the safest way to dynamically move a relatively heavy weight. But it can sacrifice grip strength—if it’s the only swing we do.

When learning the two-arm kettlebell swing, the grip is involved. But as we become more proficient, grip strength becomes a secondary focus, and takes a back seat to the hip drive and timing of the movement. You might be surprised at your lack of grip strength development if you do too many two-arm swings instead of the one-arm variety.

Most of us have a finite amount of time to train. And since I am a “training simpleton” I want to get the most “bang-for-my-buck”. One-arm swings provide that for me. Whether you use one kettlebell at a time, or one in each hand, the one-arm swing is the foundation for many exercises since it can easily transition to the clean or snatch.

The one-arm swing also calls for more grip activation, since you are no longer relying on two arms. The one-arm kettlebell swing also allows the trainees to train each side individually. Similarly, you will do your leg strength a huge disservice by performing only squats and deadlifts without challenging your strength and stability with lunges and step ups. Training with only two-arm swings will not balance your grip strength in each hand.

If your time is tight and your goal is to perform more swings or to pass an endurance event like the RKC Snatch Test, it is in your best interest to focus more on the one-arm swing and its variants.

Doug Fioranelli, RKC-II, Bottoms-Up Press

Utilize the Magnificent Versatility of the Kettlebell

Even though it is fairly obvious that kettlebells are more versatile that dumbbells, how many of us actually take advantage of this fact? We all know that a kettlebell military press builds a strong shoulder joint and works the grip. Even though the weight is held in a slightly different way, the same effect is achieved by performing the movement with a dumbbell.

A kettlebell is very versatile, you can flip it upside down and perform bottoms-up presses, which are a whole new ball game. I have seen strong individuals easily press a 32kg kettlebell overhead—only to be completely unable to do a 16kg bottoms-up press. This usually happens because of a lack of grip strength. Someone may have the strength to press the kettlebell upward, but when their grips gives out, the kettlebell flops over like a deflated balloon.

Add bottoms-up presses to your routine to strengthen your grip. Instead of overdoing them, simply add in one set after your regular sets of presses as a finisher. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, try the bottoms-up variations of other classic kettlebell exercises like farmers walks, windmills and the get-up. Be careful and consider the risk-to-reward ratio—when grip strength fails, the kettlebells fall in a hurry. A good benchmark goal is to bottoms-up press a kettlebell that’s one half the weight of your standard military press weight.

Don’t Neglect Endurance

When I was training for a kettlebell sport competition last year, I signed up for a biathlon event—five minutes of double kettlebell jerks, then five minutes of snatches with a 24kg kettlebell. I am usually better at snatches than double jerks, but doing them after the jerks when I was tired presented a new problem. My grip was fatigued, and I could not do as many snatches as when I was fresh.

After one of my workouts, my coach, John Wild Buckley, said to do a six minute double kettlebell farmer’s walk with the competition weight. In my mind, I didn’t want to do it because it would be painful, but I knew that it was exactly what I needed to do.

Adding grip endurance sets are not technically difficult, and they substantially challenge and train the grip along with your mental fortitude. I added most of my endurance sets at the end of my workout or I did shorter endurance sets after a set of squats or deadlifts.

I found the farmer’s walks with the kettlebells to be a great grip strength builder along with bar hangs. I switched grips in both, sometimes using a bottoms-up kettlebell position for the farmer’s walk and alternating between an over and underhand grip for the bar hangs. If you can perform one-minute endurance sets with farmer’s walks or bar hangs, your grip endurance will significantly improve.

Now you have some ideas on how to increase your grip strength and turn a potentially weak link into an asset. For more information, check out the video below:

***

Doug Fioranelli, RKC II, PCC, holds a Master’s degree in Kinesiology and is the owner of Rise Above Performance Training™ in Belmont, CA. Check out his blog for more training articles and videos at DougFioranelli.com

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How to Dominate the RKC Snatch Test

by Frank Delventhal on April 20, 2016

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Frank Delventhal Snatch Test

For many, the Snatch Test is a fearsome obstacle to RKC certification. But it does not have to be that way. When you start training frequently enough and have acquired good technique, you will be able to beat the challenge. It’s like learning vocabulary in school—you know what is expected of you, so it becomes more a question of diligence than talent.

What is the RKC Snatch Test?

You must snatch your kettlebell 100 times in 5 minutes. The weight of the kettlebell depends on your bodyweight, age and gender. The average gentleman will use a 24kg and the average lady usually uses a 16kg kettlebell (be sure to check the rules link below to find your exact weight class)

You are allowed to switch hands as often as you like, and can even (carefully) rest the kettlebell on the floor. Click here for the exact rules and kettlebell weight requirements.

What are the Prerequisites for the Snatch Test?

Before you attempt to snatch a kettlebell, you need a solid foundation in the two-hand Hardstyle swing, the one-arm swing, and the clean. These are the preliminary steps of the snatch. “OK” is not good enough—you must be good at these before you begin training for the Snatch Test.

As a general rule you should be able to do 100 one-arm swings within 5 minutes, with a kettlebell at or close to the weight of the kettlebell required for your test. For example, If you have to use a 24kg kettlebell for your test, you should be able to do 100 swings with a 20kg before you begin to specifically train for the snatch.

What Equipment Do I Need?

  • Assorted kettlebells ranging from very light up to your goal-sized kettlebell. (Hopefully your gym is well stocked and also has an RKC-Certified Instructor!)
  • Chalk
  • Optional hand protection: socks, tape, Dragon Skins™, minimalist gloves (cotton gardening gloves)
  • Optional sweat bands for the wrists
  • Your soundtrack
  • Hand care items for after training
  • You may not use belts, thick or padded-gloves, wrist wraps or any other equipment designed to support your body

Chalk

When doing 100 snatches, your hands will need to withstand a lot of friction. A little chalk can help, and will also dry your skin. If you have sweaty hands during the test, you can end up with “burger meat” for hands without chalk. But, too much chalk is also not good, so be sure to discover the right amount that just keeps your hands dry enough. I found that I do very well with just a couple of drops of liquid chalk or by rubbing a piece of chalk. Since chalk generally dries up your skin, it can cause excessive calluses—see the hand care section below.

Socks, Tape, Dragon Skins™, Minimalist Gloves

You are allowed to use sock strips, tape, DragonSkins™, or minimalist gloves (cotton gardening gloves) to protect your hands. If you really need them, that’s ok, but honestly I do better without them. I think you trade an important tactile connection for a little extra protection. But, I also have relatively tough hands that are conditioned to take a beating!

You may not even need these protective items if you train with the following method: begin with a very light weight and slowly progress to heavier weights (which also create more friction) so that your hands have plenty of time to adapt.

Thin Sweatbands or Long Sleeves

I sweat a lot during the test, so I need to wear sweatbands on my wrists—when I don’t have them sweat floods down my arms onto my hands, turning them to “burger meat” by the end of the test. Remember that wraps to protect or support the wrist are not allowed, so make sure that you only use thin sweatbands. Be sure to ask your instructor or judge at the RKC if your sweat bands are ok.

Alternately, you may want to wear a long sleeve compression shirt. The instructor must be able to see if your elbow is really locked out, so make sure that your compression shirt is extremely light and thin. It’s also common sense to use a dry shirt, not one already quenched in your own sweat!

Your Personal “Snatch Test Soundtrack”

The right music can give you extra power. My favorite track has plenty of power, but is not too fast. It’s 5:12 long, so I figured out exactly when to start during the song’s intro.

Listen to that song every time you practice the test. That has nothing to do with enjoying the music, it’s more about training your subconscious to feel the passing time. The song will also help you focus, giving you additional power. Each time you hear the song or imagine it in your head, you’ll KNOW that you will pass the snatch test. If you’re interested in learning more about the mental side of training, check out Logan Christopher’s Mental Muscle. Even though your snatch test at the RKC will be without music, all you need to do is hum the first notes of your song, and you are ready to rock and roll.

Hand Care After Training

The snatch test is also challenging for your hands. Be sure to start your training soon enough before the RKC workshop so that your hands have plenty of time to adapt.

After every workout, check to see if your calluses are hardening. These hardened areas must be removed carefully with a callus remover. Please make sure that you only remove the hard spots. The callus itself is important because it protects your hands from friction and pressure. If you used chalk (especially liquid chalk) you may also want to use a drop of lotion to soften up your hands.

Frank Delventhal Swings

Why should I train specifically for the Snatch Test? Isn’t it enough to prepare with plenty of swings?

This is a question of faith, and it is possible to gain enough power with swings to pass the test. In an objective comparison of the swing and snatch, you will discover that the swing is safer than the snatch. Using the swing to train is generally justified. Additionally, some argue that the Snatch Test is so strenuous that you should not do it very often. Under certain circumstances, I agree with that argument, especially when the student starts with his snatch size kettlebell and tries to work up to the volume of the test. But the title of this post is “How to DOMINATE the Snatch Test”! So, I have a “secret” training plan for you. 😉

Train Success

Start with a kettlebell that you can snatch 100 times in 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter if the kettlebell is very light—even as light as 6kg! The key is to practice the test two to three times a week after your normal workout, and you must succeed each and every time.

Before you do the 100 snatches, take 3 to 5 minutes to actively relax your muscles and visualize completing the test. The more detail you can imagine in your mind, the better. Mentally, you have already finished the test, before you even touch the kettlebell.

It is essential that you succeed each and every time! The goal is to become so accustomed to doing 100 snatches that it nearly becomes boring.

Frank Delventhal InstructingSnatch as precisely as Swiss Clockwork

Watch your form. Every “no count” is discouraging, and many candidates have lost their focus during the test because of it. Take care that you practice strict form. Take a mini break at the top lockout position, when the kettlebell is held over your head. You will have a small rest, and the instructor watching will absolutely know that you are in control of the movement. Your arm should point straight at the ceiling. Your wrist must be straight, and your legs have to be locked out as well. You will look like a “hardcore version of the Statue of Liberty” holding a kettlebell instead of a torch. 😉

Pull your shoulder down to stabilize it. Normally I do not like mirrors while training, but they can be useful for checking your lockout position.

A Tip For the Overhead Lockout Position

If it is difficult to hold the correct overhead arm position, try the “downward dog” yoga pose. Let the tips of your thumbs touch each other, this will increase your mobility—and the ability hold your arms straight overhead. While a yogi will straighten their legs in “downward dog”, that isn’t necessary for our purposes. We want a straight line from the wrists on the floor towards the hips. It takes some practice to achieve that position (at least for most males, the ladies are generally better at this). If you can maintain that straight line, push your shoulders to the floor and over time, increase your range of motion. Improvement may take five minutes to several months, depending on your general mobility.

Changing Hands

Changing hands uses up precious time. It is an advantage if you can use fewer changes—but that also requires more conditioning. Fortunately with kettlebells, you can train cardio and power at the same time! Work up to more reps before switching hands slowly over time. It doesn’t make sense to do more than 20 snatches with one arm before you switch, as that would be unnecessarily fatiguing.

During the live test, your instructor will count for you. While you train, you should have enough concentration to count for yourself. When in doubt, just do ten extra reps.

Rep Schemes

Use your strong hand last as a “secret weapon”. This will make the end of the test will be much easier for you. For example, I am right handed, so I start with my left hand and finish the test with my right hand.

Scheme A: 9 Hand Changes

Let’s start simply. Do 10 snatches, then change hands until you reach 100 reps. If you can complete this scheme in under 4:30, then try Scheme B.

  • 10/10 (10 left / 10 right)
  • 10/10
  • 10/10
  • 10/10
  • 10/10

Scheme B: 7 Hand Changes

This scheme is slightly more challenging, but if you have completed Scheme A with enough spare time, the extra challenge will only be marginal.

  • 15/15
  • 15/15
  • 10/10
  • 10/10

Scheme C: 7 Hand Changes

This scheme allows you to complete 20 snatches with one arm safely. It is possible that you do not need this scheme, and can jump directly to Scheme D, but try it out at least once. As it gets progressively easier, many people like it.

  • 20/20
  • 15/15
  • 10/10
  • 5/5

Scheme D: 5 Hand Changes

The “master level”

  • 20/20
  • 20/20
  • 10/10

When you can easily complete the test with this scheme, and your time is always somewhere between 4:00-4:30 minutes, then you can progress to the next heavier kettlebell. You will probably be faster just because you need fewer hand changes. With the heavier kettlebell, start with the 10 x 10 (Scheme A). It will be more difficult, but you can do it. Progress the same way until you reach your goal weight kettlebell. Do not rush, just use a weight that allows you to succeed every time and the Snatch Test will become easy for you!

Create a Cardio Surplus

Even with your snatch size kettlebell, you should be able to complete scheme D. With extra gas in your tank, you can do the snatch test any time. If you have a bad day (or a cold), just drop to an easier scheme (such as C).

Does it make sense to use a kettlebell heaver than required by the test? No, and I would advise against using a much heavier kettlebell. “Enough is enough!” (Thank you Dan John.)

The RKC certification requirements include more than just the Snatch Test, so use your energy wisely. After you can do scheme D, only train the test once a week or every two weeks to maintain your skill and conditioning.

After your RKC certification workshop, you can work up to more if you want. Now you know how!

Good Luck!

You will greatly benefit from preparing for the test, whether you want to pass it as a personal goal or for your certification. Now that you know how to tackle it, it isn’t a “boss battle”.

Understand that just watching a video about snatching on YouTube does not mean that you can do a snatch! Get an RKC instructor to teach you the right technique. This is safer and saves time. The snatch is the last exercise of the RKC Big Six (swing, get-up, clean, military press, squat, snatch) because the other five build the essential foundation. Enjoy your journey.

“First use your brain, then train!” 😉

Frank Delventhal, RKC-II

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Frank Delventhal, RKC2, PCC, 1 Dan Aikido. Visit his website: https://hamburg-kettlebell-club.de/

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Dan John, Dr. Chris Holder and Chris White instruct at the San Jose RKC

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