Energy Systems and the Snatch Test

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ousflrOzQHc)

Bonus: Check these two videos out after, if you want to dive even deeper:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiOfeSsjrB8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SauhB2fYQkM

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:

Week 1
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

Week 2
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.

Moving Forward

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.

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Craig Marker
Ph.D., Senior Instructor
Craig Marker, Ph.D., Senior Instructor, CSCS, is a fitness enthusiast who has spent his life trying to help people improve their lives. As a professor, he works with students on how best to understand research and place it into context. He has published over fifty articles, chapters, and textbooks on psychology and research methods.

As a researcher, he understands the cutting edge of strength, sports performance, body composition, and nutrition. As a psychologist, he has focused on research and treatment of anxiety disorders, which positions him to understand motivation and the fear of making life changes.

Craig’s upcoming book, the AntiFragile Self, takes on the topic of building a stronger person in the mental and physical domains.

As a certified StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, Craig views kettlebells as one tool in the trade of forging a better person. He uses the Functional Movement Screen and multiple corrective movements to make sure his students are performing at their best for the rest of their lives.

Visit his intentional community in Atlanta: Armour Building.

48 thoughts on “Energy Systems and the Snatch Test

  • Would following this protocol after each Rite of Passage press ladder session be too much volume? RoP calls for snatching only one of the three days; would it not be as effective to follow this protocol once per week after the light volume press day?

    • @Sean M, IANC (I Am Not Craig) but I would keep to the ROP’s schedule of mostly swings. We have many examples of Anti-Glycolytic Training with swings – try applying Craig’s template to your swings and your snatches.

  • Dr. Marker, thank you for this helpful article. Please could you suggest how to extend this program for the secret service snatch test?

    • @Jeff Constantine, IANC (I Am Not Craig) but I read the article as suggesting simply going for 10 minutes instead of 5. All the other guidance would be the same.

  • Hi Craig,

    I just wanted to thank you. I was able to do 100 snatches during the TSC without setting the bell down and I used this exact protocol for training. Thank you!!

  • I have experienced significant and lasting progress using the Viking warrior protocols … So much so that a five or ten minute snatch test is not a problem. How do the results from this program compare to the results of Kenneth’s program and if there is a difference what is your theory?

  • Any ideas on how to implement this protocol for the 10 Minute SSS Test? Extent the rounds, reps, time limits?

  • Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the article! You mentioned about bio mechanical breathing. How about using the double breathing method?

    • Any type of breathing is fine. The biomechaniccal breathing is probably the most difficult to keep throughout, so I mentioned it to show that they were less likely fully glycolytic. Double breathing is great practice for the TSC (when you are trying for as many reps as possible).

  • Hi Craig.

    Love all your articles. Is it possible to combine this with the A&A swing protocol outlined in the science based approach to passing SFG I&II cert? Example, substitute 5 minutes of the swing protocol with the 5 minute snatch protocol adjusting for the appropriate weight KB and replacing scheme. This is all assuming that you can pass the talk test. I’d be interested in doing this but not at the expense of undermining the desired results of either standing alone. I figured if I’m training the same energy systems they could be combined together.

    • Sounds reasonable to me Ryan. This protocol is not completely an A=A (depends on the person’s baseline). Thus, it might make it tough to do the talk test. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Thank you Craig. Love the breakdown of energy systems!
    I did not know that this was Pavel’s recommended system, but this is how I trained for my snatch test. Must be the Russian thing, we hate to ‘feel the burn’ and strive to avoid it at all costs 🙂 The snatch test was definitely fun for me, and actually super easy. I trained the same way to do the snatch test with a 20kg (I’m a lady) and it was just as easy. Now I’m using it for the 24kg test and the 10min test. Biomechanica match all the way. I’m glad that the method is backed by science! Thank you again!

    • In biomechanical breathing, breath is used to increase intra-abdominal pressure and optimize force production. It creates a rigid core. The opposite would be anatomical breathing where there is inhalation on the upswing. It is more of a relaxed breathing. We often see random breathing on the snatch test as people are breathing in and out as much as possible.

  • Wow !!! 5 Stars !!! So simple, so exciting, an eye opener !!! Can wait to know all about the StrongEndurance Protocol… !!!

    Thanks Craig
    Thanks Pavel
    Thanks StrongFirst !

  • Great, great article. A simple way to inject a training tool for better performance. I am starting it today.

  • Craig,

    Awesome article! How would you add this into a program for someone training for their RKC or SFG certifications? Would it come first or at the end of the workout?

    • Phelon,
      I don’t think it matters too much if you do it at the beginning or the end. I might even do it in the morning before eating or on a fasted state to optimize the use of fat as fuel.
      Thanks.

  • Outstanding article. Great info on the energy systems. Do you believe a snatch program like this would have much carry over to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes endurance during a 5-7min match?

    • Rex,
      It most definitely could. There are quite a few nuances in designing these protocols and how the energy systems are used. For BJJ, I would modify these protocols depending if it were in the off-season, a few months out, or a month before the fight (peaking before the fight would be a bit more glycolytic work). Individual differences also play a role in where people are starting. Some of my athletes seemed to do this protocol without going over their Maffetone number.
      Strong Endurance and All-Terrain Conditioning seminars go a bit more into details.

  • Very helpful Craig,
    I am training using Brett Jones’ SFG level 2 prep program. I have about 6 months until the level 2 certification. I would like to get more control of my snatches. I failed my SFG 1 snatch test by 5.
    Would injecting this protocol (doing snatches 3-4 times a week opposed to only once a week with Chief Jones programming) have a negative effect in my overall program by overworking my shoulders? When I throttle back and not push too hard, too fast on my snatches, they feel great. Thanks Again!

    • Scott,
      There is a great deal of overhead work for the SFG II. My answer might depend on how close you are to you 1/2 bodyweight press. The press is usually a focus for many, so I might not want to overwhelm the shoulders.
      You could either lower some of the other overhead work or do this protocol with heavy one-handed swings. Since you have six months, I might do this protocol with swings with a bell that is one size heavier. For another month, do them with high pulls (so you are close to performing the snatch).
      One way to think about it is if you have high, medium, low volume months for presses, you could add in heavy swings, high-pulls, and snatches, respectively. Wave the load for each.

  • Another fantastic piece Craig – thank you for publishing these AGT articles. This + your BreakingMuscle piece = mind blown. Am excited to have just started a 6-week program for myself (not TSC focused) to experience AGT, and then share the StrongFirst approach more here down-under.

  • Have you tested such an endurance approach using a ketogenic diet?

    Maffetone gave a great talk last year in a ketogenic event and I’m interested in if one who is fat adapted from eating will make faster progress training mostly in an aerobic state.

    • Zach,
      Most definitely. If we truly wanted to make this protocol an anti-glycolytic protocol using fat as our primary energy source could really help our snatches. Individual differences are important as some people might do this protocol and be able to do it completely without getting too glycolytic.

  • Thanks for the information. Would you suggest training with the kettle bell weight that we plan to use for the test? Or Should we start at a weight below and then bell up at some point?
    Thank you,
    Dara

    • Hello Dara,
      My thought was that this protocol was for people who were pretty close to the snatch test. Thus, they would use their snatch sized bell. That would be the simplest protocol.
      If you have a way to go, then you could certainly start with a lower weight. One might even complicate this program a bit by going heavier on some days (fewer reps) to make the lower weight feel easy.

  • Thank you Craig, for providing us with a clean, concise resource to share with our students lacking a background in physiology and cellular respiration.

    Plus, it makes me want to go snatch!

    • Steve,
      I was thinking it as a short-term program for people who need to do the snatch test. As it is written, it will be glycolytic for some people, but minimizing the glycolytic load. I like your idea and someone could certainly do it staying below the Maffetone number (HR = Age-40). One would likely have to stay at the lower number of reps for more weeks. Great question.

  • Can you incorporate this into any strength training or body building type program and still be effective? Would it be done on “off days” or added to the end of a workout? This concept is pretty fascinating.

    • The program above could easily be added to a strength training program. If someone was two months out from the TSC, I might advocate for doing it three to four times a week with deadlift and pull-up strength training. Other strength training is probably also fine. The shoulders will get a training effect from the snatches, so take that into consideration.

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