By Rob Shaul, Founder
Three weeks of high rep kettlebell snatches maintained general strength and increased sprint-based work capacity.
Background and Study Design
We conducted a 3.5-week Mini-Study using remote lab rats to test the transferability of high repetition kettlebell snatches to max effort strength, strength endurance, and sprint-based work capacity.
One group of remote Lab Rats completed the study in December, 2020. To begin, the Lab Rats completed an assessment consisting of:
(1) Work up to 1RM Hinge Lift
(2) Max Rep, Hand Release Push Ups in 2 Minutes
(3) Max Rep Pull Ups
(4) Max Rep Prone to Sprint (40 Feet) in 6 Minutes
The next day the lab rats completed a 90-second kettlebell snatch assessment (women @ 12kg, men @ 16kg) for reps.
For the following 3 weeks, the lab rats completed the following training schedule:
- Monday: 20 Rounds of 60-second Kettlebell Snatch Intervals based on their 90-second Kettlebell Snatch Assessment Score. The number of snatches each athlete completed increased over the course of the study.
- Tuesday: Volume Kettlebell Snatches (beginning at 300x and increasing to 500x). These were completed in sets of 20x reps, with a 30 second rest between sets.
- Wednesday: 45 minute, Easy pace run or bike/spin
- Thursday: 20 Rounds of 60-second Kettlebell Snatch Intervals based on their 90-second Kettlebell Snatch Assessment Score.
- Friday: Volume Kettlebell Snatches (beginning at 300x and increasing to 500x). These were completed in sets of 20x reps, with a 30 second rest between sets.
- Saturday: Rest or active recreation
- Sunday: Rest or active recreation
One note … a handful of the male lab rats completed more than 50x reps during their initial 90-second Kettlebell Snatch Assessment. Those who did were asked to re-complete the assessment at a heavier kettlebell, and continue to use that heavier kettlebell across the cycle.
The lab rats were not allowed to complete any other fitness training during the 3-week study period. They were allowed to complete active recreation on the weekends.
At the end of the 3 weeks, the lab rats re-completed the general strength and work capacity assessment, and the 90-second kettlebell snatch assessment. The results form the pre and post cycle assessment were then compared.
Results and Discussion
A total of 12 individuals completed the entire training 3.5 week cycle. Below are the individual lab rat results.
The pre and post cycle max effort and strength endurance results showed modest gains – so modest all we’d only feel confident asserting that the lab rats’ max effort (hinge lift) and strength endurance (hand release push ups, pull ups) were maintained across the cycle.
The improvements in these assessments aren’t significant enough for us to determine that high rep kettlebell snatches improved strength. But that no strength was lost across the cycle is somewhat significant.
The general fitness area which did show significant improvement was the 3-minute prone to sprint assessment. The lab rats saw an average of 10.2% improvement between their pre and post cycle assessments – even though at no time during the cycle did they do any additional prone to sprints.
Monday and Thursday’s assessment-based kettlebell Snatch intervals carried a solid work capacity punch. The study results indicate that work capacity gained doing kettlebell snatches transferred to another mode (shuttle sprints).
Not surprisingly, the greatest area of improvement (17.8%) was in the 90 second kettlebell snatch assessment.
Based on our standard of “continuous improvement” there are two take aways from this study. High Repetition Kettlebell Snatches …
- (1) Appear to maintain, but not improve, max effort strength (1RM Hinge Lift) or strength endurance (Max Rep Hand Release Push Ups, Max Rep Pull Ups).
- (2) Do increase general fitness work capacity
The kettlebell snatch is a unique loaded exercise as it can be completed in high repetitions, is a total body movement, and brings with it a work capacity and potentially, endurance, component when completed in high repetitions.
However, the transferability of fitness improved doing high repetition kettlebell snatches is limited. Ultimately, doing high repetition kettlebell snatches mostly improves the athlete’s ability to do kettlebell snatches. The exercise is not a panacea which effectively transfers fitness to other modes.
While not surprised by these results, we were hoping for more transferability. For the coach, the kettlebell snatch is an incredibly versatile exercise … it’ takes only one piece of equipment, needs only a 3-square foot area, and can be completed by athletes recovering from injury … indeed I personally completed this study (sans the strength and prone to sprint assessments) while recovering from a full hip replacement).
The kettlebell snatch does come with two significant drawbacks. First, it is a relatively technical exercise – one which a few athletes can never seem to master. Second, high repetition kettlebell snatches are hard on hands. Several of this study’s lab rats reported struggling with hand tears and we don’t recommend doing high rep snatches without wearing gymnastic straps or similar hand protection.
Finally, after doing kettlebell snatches 4 days a week for 3 weeks, many of the lab rats were sick of this exercise. No surprise there.
Athletes who scored more than 50 snatches on the original 90-second assessment were asked to re-assess at a heavier kettlebell. In hindsight, we should have asked those who scored 40+ snatches to re-assess at a heavier kettlebell. This may have lead to greater general fitness strength gains.
We’ll likely not repeat this full study, but if we used the 90-second assessment and progressions in future programming, will use the 40+ rep standard for bumping up kettlebell size.
While kettlebell snatches did not have the transferability we’d hoped to see, we aren’t giving up the search for a single exercise that transfers across multiple modes – strength, work capacity, and endurance.
In the future we’ll do a similar study and replace the kettlebell snatch with high repetition barbell clean and presses, sandbag get ups, Curtis P’s, or another total body exercise that carries a significant work capacity hit.
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