Multiple people have said “It is never fun” when describing the 5-minute snatch test at the SFG I Certification. Doing 100 reps is a rite of passage for many. The bi-annual TSC event in April and October provides another opportunity to see how many snatches you can do in 5 minutes. I am not sure we can make the snatch test fun, but I hope to make it tolerable by examining the energy systems and how we can use that knowledge to train for the snatch test.
How the body creates energy can be a complicated process. In this review, I want to keep it rather simple and cover the main points. We do have to dive deep at times, but you won’t have to hold your breath for long. If you can’t handle any dive into the energy systems, skip to the end for a snatch test protocol.
ATP—The Currency for Energy
Adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) is the center of our energy systems. It creates energy for muscles to work by donating a phosphate molecule and releasing energy (and becoming adenosine di-phosphate in the process). This process of ATP->ADP is absolutely needed for muscle contractions. We can think of it as being essential for any muscle contraction. There are some other considerations (rate of firing, calcium binding sites, etc.), but for now we can think of ATP as our currency that we need to purchase muscle contractions.
How Muscles Work
I find muscular contractions to be fascinating. It is not vital to your knowledge of the energy systems, so feel free to jump down to the alactic system. However, if you want some more fun, here are a series of videos on how muscles contract. You might also want to take a look at this one first for a good animation:
Bonus: Check these two videos out after, if you want to dive even deeper:
The Alactic System
The simplest energy system to describe is the alactic system. It is the system that acts the quickest and gives us the most power. Those benefits come with a cost in that it is short-acting. We only get this boost for short periods of time. It uses ATP that is stored in the cells and creatine phosphate, which quickly gives up a phosphate molecule to change ADP back into ATP. (As an aside, it is one of the reasons that creatine intake has such an effect on muscular strength; however, the body can only store a limited amount). Within 5 seconds of maximum effort (think a full-effort sprint), your creatine phosphate system is depleted by a third. Within 15 seconds, it is reduced by 50% and within 30 seconds it is basically depleted. This system is great for maximal 1 rep max attempts or quick sprints. As we move past a few seconds, the other energy systems kick in to create ATP.
The Glycolytic System
The glycolytic system is not as powerful as the alactic system, nor as quick acting. It lasts a bit longer though (we are getting closer to that 5 minute snatch test window). It is both anerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (uses oxygen). This system uses glucose to create ATP molecules. It also produces lactic acid, which creates the ‘burn’ when we train. Lactic acid has its purposes, but it is associated with inefficient processes that create free radicals and long-term damage to our system if overused. (It also helps with hypertrophy, so just the right amount is important; Pavel discusses the right amount in his Strong Endurance™ seminar.) I don’t want to say we want to avoid using this system, but we want to use it in the right amount and with proper timing (more on this later).
For a deeper dive, take a look at these videos:
The Aerobic System
The aerobic system uses oxygen to create ATP molecules. This system is the least powerful, slowest acting, but longest lasting. It is also quite efficient and burns fats and/or carbs as energy. If you need all-day endurance, you need this system.
Soviet Anti-Glycolytic Training and Maffetone’s System
Verkhoshansky (and Phil Maffetone in the west) created training systems that relied on the alactic and aerobic training systems completely. The goal was to expand the window of those two systems so that the glycolytic energy system would not have to be used as much. Maffetone trained long-distance runners to only utilize the aerobic system by keeping their heart rates below what is now known as the Maffetone number: 180-age. Thus, a 35-year-old would train by never letting her heart rate go over 145. For elite athletes this meant walking up hills. Most people would really have to trust the training to continue what seems unnatural to their training. Maffetone enjoyed a great deal of success for athletes who could continue this method for a few months. Their bodies became ‘fat adapted’ (using fat as the primary fuel source) and became much more efficient in the process.
The Snatch Test
The snatch test is ‘not fun’ for many people because it becomes a 5-minute glycolytic lactic acid bath. However, we can use our knowledge of the energy systems and Pavel’s Strong Endurance™ methodology to assist in making it (dare I say) enjoyable.
The below 3 to 4 day a week protocol began with a few people who did not complete their SFG snatch test. During their testing, they started out quickly and burned themselves out toward the end (finishing with about 80 to 95 reps). My initial thought was to slow them down and provide a cadence, but it developed into an anti-glycolytic training protocol. Here is the plan:
In the first week of this protocol, we want to train the alactic and aerobic systems. We will do 5 powerful reps every thirty seconds and rest for the remaining time. The alactic system is primarily responsible for the work and the aerobic system replenishes the ATP. If you find yourself being unable to talk in the third or fourth minute, go down to 4 reps or stay with this rep scheme for a few more weeks. Do not go on to the next week until you can do this training session without panting or being able to complete sentences. Do this training 4 days a week.
00:00 to 00:30—5 snatches left
00:30 to 01:00—5 snatches right
01:00 to 01:30—5 snatches left
01:30 to 02:00—5 snatches right
02:00 to 02:30—5 snatches left
02:30 to 03:00—5 snatches right
03:00 to 03:30—5 snatches left
03:30 to 04:00—5 snatches right
04:00 to 04:30—5 snatches left
04:30 to 05:00—5 snatches right
We will do 6 reps every thirty seconds. If you can’t finish a sentence or are panting at the end, you may need to go back to five reps or spend another week at 6 reps.
Week 3 and on
Keep adding a rep each week until you reach 10 every thirty seconds. This pace will lead you to hit 100 reps after five minutes. It is interesting as the people I have trained using this method often look like they could do another couple of minutes when they set the kettlebell down at 100. It would be a good way to train for the 10-minute snatch test with 200 reps (the Secret Service snatch test). I also remember Mark Reifkind asking how many people can keep the biomechanical breathing match for 100 reps. Using this method, I have seen multiple people do each set of ten with the biomechanical breathing match for all rounds.
This program is a small piece of Pavel’s Strong Endurance™ protocols. His protocols tweak the glycolytic system to build muscle and endurance in unique ways. We will have many exciting new materials coming soon on these topics. For now, this snatch plan is a great short-term protocol that has helped multiple people pass the snatch test with much less burn (presumably from the glycolytic system).
For more information on these types of programs, come to All-Terrain Conditioning™—a two-day course in applied Strong Endurance™ techniques that also focuses on the movements needed to complete these protocols.