4 Tips to Make the SFG Snatch Test Easier

Wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes. Nothing about the SFG Certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all five stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared SFG snatch test.

Well, knock it off. And for goodness sake, pull yourself together. It’s only five minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total. You can do this — and make it easier on yourself. I’ll show you how.

Tipsfor the SFG Snatch TestPurpose of and Prerequisites for This SFG Snatch Test Program

Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG Level II Certification in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.” And why not? When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger? Is that not the point of this Certification — indeed, this whole system?

Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching. You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job. In fact, it shouldn’t. If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.

This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily. Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the prerequisites:

  1. You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely. This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention. “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance. Also, because chicken makes you weak.
  2. You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get-ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch. All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test. They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the get-up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role. Don’t neglect them.
Good form for SFG snatch test
Left: Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other; Right: Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow.

Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics. It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.

Tip 1: Get Stronger

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first. It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes. Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps? And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm? 24kg is child’s play. Even very fatigued, you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly.

All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion, “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics.

Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps. Remember: it’s always easier to do less if you can already do more.

Tip 2: Dial Your Technique

The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic:

  1. Keep your eyes forward, not down. A lot of people like to look down for some reason. Stop it. Stop it right now.
  2. Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side. When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so. When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest. Make the kettlebell travel through that line. By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.
  3. Keep your face relaxed and impassive. Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set. This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.
Snatch form for SFG snatch test
Left: standard one-arm swing; Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline. An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.

Tip 3: Use Double Breathing

This is the cue that will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it. Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that). When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.

Mind Blown“The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right? So why not breathe twice as much?”

I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate. This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake. It’s that important.

How do you do it? Simple: on the backswing you sniff in. On the hip pop, you breathe out. Old hat. Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster. The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued. As Master Whitley has said, “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”

Just how effective is this technique? With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down. Three times the work capacity because of one technique. Yes, it’s that good.

This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly. Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back.

Tip 4: Follow This SFG Snatch Test Program

In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended. Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day. The other days you’re expected to swing.

If you’re training for your SFG Cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train four or even five days a week. Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.

Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max,” i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique. A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for. This will be your working weight for the next few weeks. You will be using a template I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.

2 minutes: snatch on the minute
1 minute: rest
2 minutes: snatch on the minute

It’s easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.

With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day. You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template. Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.

Week 1: 3/3
Week 2: 4/4
Week 3: 5/5
Week 4: 4/4
Week 5: 5/5
Week 6: 6/6
Week 7: 5/5
Week 8: 6/6
Week 9: 7/7
Week 10: 6/6
Week 11: 7/7
Week 12: 8/8
Week 13: REST

For me personally, I found once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready. Doing 56 snatches with 32kg in five minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life. No stress, and no sweat (literally). Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.

For your other days, swing. Heavy and often. Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight. Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles. These swing days may look like this:

  • Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
  • Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
  • Friday: Snatch day
  • Saturday/Sunday: Off

As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two. Then go up a bell size and start over.

Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pull-ups/flexed-arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and get-ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.

Tell Me How Your SFG Snatch Test Goes!

There you have it. A simple and — dare I say it — borderline easy way of taking your snatching from chump to champ. Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.

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Aleks Salkin
SFG II
Aleks Salkin is a Level II StrongFirst Certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II) and an Original Strength Instructor.

He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed in his early twenties to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel.

He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online, as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics.

He is the author of The 8-Week Kettlebell and Bodyweight Challenge.

Find him online at Aleks Salkin and on Facebook.
Aleks Salkin on Facebook

39 thoughts on “4 Tips to Make the SFG Snatch Test Easier

  • Hi Aleks,
    Can you (or anyone who knows) please clarify The reps and durarion of each training session in Regards to snatches. For example
    3/3 means we do:

    First minute: 3 reps L; 3 reps R
    Second minute: 3repsL; 3repsR
    Rest 1min
    Third minute: 3repsL; 3repsR
    Fourth minute: 3repsL; 3repsR
    Done with week one.

    Is this correct?
    Thank you!
    -brent

  • Aleks, thanks for this post! I used this 2,1,2 protocol to train for my SFG recert. After killing the snatch test today, I couldn’t wait to let you know how effective it was. I gained 39 seconds from my last snatch test, and this was my strongest certification to date.

  • What do you mean by ‘Snatch on the Minute’ in 2 on 1off 2on concept?

    3/3 means 3 snatches on each arm in one minute X 2 (total of 12 reps in 2 mins)?

    And Repeat after one minute break?

  • The only other thing I’ve found that has sped things up is speed switches. I think I found a video of dave whitley doing them once. After the lockout you switch hands on the way down to the bottom position. One to be practised and perfected outside away from innocent bystanders.

  • Awesome article Aleks. I’ve never needed the double breathing but you make a compelling argument to try! Love how you strip away all the fear & perceived complexity of a snatch training program (and your shirt), making it accessible for everyone willing to do the work consistently.

    • Thank you, Martine! You’re a machine anyway, so you probably don’t need a second arm to do your snatch test, let alone double breathing 🙂

  • Hey Aleks,

    Great article! A question on the program you wrote. When you suggested doing 10 one-arm swings on the minute for 20 minutes, did you mean doing 5L/5R on the minute, or 10L/10R on the minute? Thank you for the clarification and writing this great article! Very much appreciated!

  • Hey Aleks,
    Thanks for such a great article, I am so happy I stumbled across it. We recently had the SFG 1 Cert in SA end of March and failed the dreaded Snatch test with 13 Snatches, and am in the process of training for the ‘redo’ and I have found that I really struggle with catching my breath. I do consider myself a reasonable ‘fit’ person, but the snatches just completely winds my. Enter your article and the Double Breath. Oh my word…what a Game Changer!
    I tried it this morning with a 6/6 OTM for 10 and I felt good after! Better than good, I almost went for another 10 rounds! Did not felt as exhausted as I normally do. Although I do struggle with the rhythm of the In and Out with the Left arm for some reason, sure with more practise this will become second nature.
    I did consider going on bell up, and it makes perfect sense the logic, at the moment I barely get a one size bell up with a Press am I hesitant to try and snatch with it so close to the redo. But it will be a mission of mine to be able to snatch a 20kg bell ‘effortlessly’ in the near future

    Thanks again
    Future SFG I
    Yolandi

    • Hey Yolandi! So glad you liked the article! Snatches are definitely gonna challenge your wind, so managing that is very important, and I’m glad you’re finding this technique is working for you. Keep up the good work!

      – Aleks

  • Great stuff Aleks,
    Kudos to you on the increase in snatch numbers.
    The double breathing technique…definitely going to try that.
    I love snatching but have a real problem with the drop tearing up my hands, I know it’s a form issue but seem unable to fix it. At present I have been practicing the half snatch to get round this but I suppose it needs to be addressed at some point.
    Benn.

    • Glad you liked the article! As for tearing up your hands, I haven’t torn them snatching in many years. You definitely *can* fix it. Perhaps I’ll make a video or write an article on this…

      Happy training!

      – Aleks

    • Good question, Mike. I’ve actually never done the SSST, so I couldn’t tell you from experience, but I would be willing to bet that a variation on this would get you a good portion of the way, though 10 minutes is a long time for snatching and you’d definitely want to do more than just heavy snatches; higher reps for prolonged sets would most likely be in order at some point during your training.

      Happy training!

      – Aleks

  • Thank you so much for this article! It could not have come at a better time for me…..just a few weeks before my level 1 cert in San Diego. I did a snatch test about 2 weeks before the cert and although I completed it in time, I pretty much muscled through it with NO breathing plan other than to keep breathing! I was so winded…..so beat up after that. Then comes this article…..I practiced this technique and implemented the breathing. BOOM …… When I finished the snatch test at the cert I was a bit winded but it felt……(dare I say it)…….EASY. Thank you so much!!!

  • Hey Aleks,
    Great article. Quick question with the training program you have there, and I think I know the answer but just to clarify.
    When you say double swing that means 2 KBs at your snatch test weight? So in my case 2 x 24kg for 5 reps OTM…..
    Cheers
    Craig

    • Hey Craig!

      Yes, either two kettlebells at your snatch test weight or above. As the weeks go by keep adding reps until you can do 10 double swings on the minute. Then, you can either decrease the rest period until you’re doing 10 swings every 30 seconds or go up in weight and start back at 5 reps per minute.

      Hope that helps. Train strong!

      – Aleks

  • Great note on putting in quality time with ALL the SFG movements. I’m putting focus on heavy double front squats right now…it so easy to see how doing these will make snatching bells that much easier.

    Also, spent some time this Summer snatching the 32kg. Got my time down to about 11 min for 100 reps…. the 24kg is no longer that Monster it used to be! No more close shaves!

    • Hey Tom-rade! Yes, everything builds one upon the other, so ignoring one thing will end up leaving you lagging behind in another thing.

      Great work with the front squats and heavy snatches! Give the double breathing a shot and watch as your work capacity shoots through the roof!

  • Hi Aleks! Thans for this great article.
    The only qustion I still have, being not a native speaker:
    Doing snatches (or any other explosive KB work) on minute meens for me, that I start with the minute, do my reps and then rest till the minute is over, starting with the next minute’s beginning my worl again.
    If I misunderstood anything, let me know!
    Stay strong!
    Sergej

    • Nope, the opposite. Because you can switch your hands as many times as you want, take advantage of that. I would do, say, 5 on my right and then 5 on my left, and then rest for the rest of the minute. It will allow you to get more volume in and won’t waste any training time.

  • Fab, Aleks! I almost wrote this article myself, and thank God I didn’t, as you did such a splendid job!
    (just recert snatch test passed on 4:59:20).

    • Thanks, Doc! I have no doubt you would have dropped some major knowledge bombs, if your article on improving your press is any indication. Send your thoughts my way some time – I’ll be very happy to read ’em!

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