“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”—George Harrison
Over my years as a coach, I have seen many people demonstrate a variety of kettlebell movements with differing degrees of success. Perhaps they are unaware of the mechanically advantageous groove for a movement, or they’ve just never really appreciated that certain techniques and guidelines make lifting a weight safer and more effective. The StrongFirst manual has always featured exercise standards that maximize both safety and performance.
In this article, we will explore a subject that often causes students a problem, regardless of their strength, size, or body shape: the kettlebell trajectory during the swing, clean, and snatch.
In training, we can figure out many things by visualization. In class, my students find it very helpful to understand the direction of the kettlebell during different movements.
Time to Learn
Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to teach the kettlebell snatch during the SFG Kettlebell Instructor Certification at the Dome of Strength in Chicago. To help the SFG students, I decided to introduce my ‘SFG Clock’. After the cert, I had a lot of positive feedback about my system, so I thought I would share it with the StrongFirst community.
When I attended my first SFL Barbell Instructor Certification in Hungary, StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor Dr. Michael Hartle taught us about the SFL Clock. This is a simple but effective tool that teaches the optimal direction of movement for our hips in a variety of barbell drills.
Inspired by the SFL Clock, I made the SFG Clock to show us how to drive the kettlebell from its starting point, through its transitional stage to its end point, during the swing, clean, or snatch.
Ballistic kettlebell movements are like driving a car on the highway—a lot of metal moving at high speed is potentially unsafe without proper instruction. Whenever we head to a destination, we need some guidance along the way. Road signs help drivers reach their destinations safely; without them, drivers will run into danger.
Likewise, taking the wrong path during ballistic moves will end up causing trouble, sooner or later. Don’t worry, the SFG Clock is designed to guide you and the kettlebell safely to your goal.
By using road signs, we can also save time, mileage, and fuel on the way to our destination. Similarly, efficient movement during a lift ensures all your work goes towards achieving the intended result, with the least amount of wasted effort.
Efficiency, performance, and safety are all part of the same process. The SFG Clock will keep you on the right path.
StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor Jon Engum teaches that there are three problems in kettlebell training: starting problems, finishing problems, and timing problems.
To fix a starting problem, remember the 5 o’clock position. The starting position for the kettlebell in the swing, clean, or snatch should always be the same; if we imagine our feet to be at 6 o’clock, the kettlebell starts at 5.
If you start with the kettlebell too far away at 4 o’clock instead of 5 o’clock, your back will likely be rounded instead of neutral, and your shoulders lack a strong connection with your torso. If you start with the kettlebell too close, underneath you at the 6 o’clock position, your hike will be weak.
The Kettlebell Hike Pass
Although we are talking about journeys, with kettlebell ballistics, when we talk about hiking we don’t mean walking along a mountain trail. In this case, we mean hiking the kettlebell back between the thighs to develop maximum power before sending the kettlebell on its way to its destination.
In transit, we have to load up the muscles of the posterior chain, just as when we travel we have to load enough energy such as food and fuel.
In the hike pass, the kettlebell moves to the 8 o’clock position. The hike pass is the transitional stage of the movement—a waypoint on the kettlebell’s journey.
The Kettlebell Swing: As Easy As 5-8-3
For the swing, clean, and snatch, the starting point and the transitional point are the same, but the final destinations are different.
The destination of the swing is the 3 o’clock position.
If we aim for the 1 or 2 o’clock position, correct back posture is likely to be sacrificed. When you train with heavier kettlebells, the swing destination might be slightly lower than 3 o’clock. None the less, our intention and goal is always 3.
Kettlebell Cleans From 9 to 6
To finish the kettlebell clean, we have two more steps in quick succession after the hike. For these, we are going to visualize the direction of movement for the elbow, not the kettlebell.
First, pull the elbow back sharply towards 9 o’clock as you begin to stand up.
Then, as you snap to vertical, quickly drop the elbow under the kettlebell, so it points at 6 o’clock.
Once the kettlebell is cleaned, it sits on the arm as if loaded on a spring. This step is crucial for making a heavy press.
Snatch the Kettlebell to 1 Then 12
With the kettlebell snatch, we also have two points to hit after the hike pass.
The end position is simple enough; the snatch should finish in the same position as other overhead moves, e.g., get-up, press, jerk, push press, windmill: they all finish with the kettlebell at 12 o’clock.
However, if we try to go directly from the hike pass at 8 o’clock to our finish position at 12, the kettlebell will pass uncomfortably close to the body, compromising shoulder mechanics.
Likewise, if you swing the kettlebell out in front towards 2 o’clock, its momentum will pull you forward, your arm straightens too soon, and the kettlebell lands with a painful whack on your wrist.
Therefore, on the way up, aim halfway between the two. Think of the kettlebell travelling towards 1 o’clock instead—not too close to the body, not too far away. Then, as the kettlebell passes overhead and your arm straightens, guide the kettlebell towards its destination at 12 o’clock.
The SFG Clock gives you clear road signs to follow for each of these three ballistic moves. Remember, the start and transition are the same, but the route to each destination is slightly different.
Now you have a clear picture of where you want to go and how to get there. Drive safely and enjoy your journey.
A huge thank to my friend, Jackal Kim SFG, who runs MADMAX gym in Busan, for his illustrations.