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by Dr. Michael Hartle, Senior RKC
When I first took the RKC Snatch test in April of 2006, I was required to snatch the 24 kg kettlebell 74 times, without setting the bell down and being only allowed one hand switch, period. There was no time limit but the only rest you could have was at the top in the lockout position. When I was in this position, I would make sure I had my hand open, even for a brief second. If the kettlebell touched the ground at any time during the test, the test was over.
I did not really train for this test as serious as I should have, in hindsight, as I failed on my 73rd repetition with the kettlebell flying out of my hand due to grip exhaustion. For 19 years prior to this, I had been competing as a powerlifter at the local, national and international levels, both as an athlete and as a coach of the US team. I was used to gripping something very heavy for short periods of time, usually less than 5 seconds. Occasionally a hard squat or deadlift would last longer, but no more than 8-10 seconds at the most. But I digress…
You see, my grip was used to squeezing something very hard and heavy for short time periods, not something light for thousands and thousands of repetitions or 74 reps, as I had to do that day in April of 2006. I had also misread the Snatch Test rules and thought that you could switch hands as many times as you needed to. Imagine my shock when I was told that I could only switch once!
As the test progressed, I could feel the tightening up of my grip muscles and the metabolic by-products building up in my forearms and hands. After getting to 37 reps with the left, I switched and went to work on the second half on the snatch test with my right arm. As I approached the 73rd rep, I could feel my grip loosening and eventually give way. It was a weird sensation to me for several reasons. First, I can count on one hand the things that I have failed at during my life. Second, I have NEVER lost a deadlift in a powerlifting competition due to grip failure!! Here and now both things had happened!! Ugh!
Fast forward 4 years to 2010. I am now an RKC Team Leader and have been for 3 years. I have taught at several RKCs and thoroughly enjoyed doing that. Because of scheduling conflicts with my semi-pro football team that I play for, over the last 2 years I have not been able to attend the RKC II as a student. Finally I was able get my schedule changed to be able to take part in this great event. One problem now loomed on the horizon: taking the snatch test again!!
Not that I was afraid of taking it, but doing more than 3-5 reps of anything seems boring and redundant to me. Want me to move your car or pick it up? No problem. Want me to carry your refrigerator out of your house? No problem. Want me to snatch 50+ lbs for hours and hours and for thousands of reps (5 minutes and 100 reps are the same in my cranium!!) Are you crazy???
Okay. I need to do this, set an example and be a trooper. But I will need to plan this out and create a system (engineering background!) to be able to merge the mentality of a powerlifter with that of an ultra-endurance athlete and meet somewhere in the middle. The weight wasn’t an issue. Doing anything for 5 minutes continuously was.
One of the things I had to do when I decided to play semi-pro football was change my training around so I had the stamina, strength and fortitude to play 4+ quarters of football. I had a small amount of stamina from powerlifting, especially if you compete in the IPF style of meets, but not enough for football. So, I had to give up some of my absolute strength and replace it with more strength-endurance. As the RKC II drew closer, I used some of this conditioning to help with the training for the snatch test.
I needed to do two very basic things. First, get used to doing that many snatches in a row. Second, devise a system-based plan to achieve ultimate success with the snatch test and finish it with time to spare and some energy leftover.
To accomplish the first task, I added more snatches into my workouts. During my off-season I usually train 3x/week. Since I still do a fair amount of barbell work, performing various powerlifting and Olympic-based lifts and their variations, for years I have used kettlebells to help me warm-up before I get to the barbell.
What I decided to do to help me warm-up and get more snatch practice in, was to do a small circuit of 2-handed swings followed by 10 snatches each arm and repeat. I would rest 30 seconds between each movement, i.e. 15 swings followed by 30 seconds rest, followed by 20 snatches, 10 left, 10 right. 30 seconds rest and repeat. It was working out great for me as I was getting an adequate warm-up and working on increasing my snatch numbers at the same time. I usually would do 2-3 rounds, depending on what I was doing following these circuits.
2 months out from the RKC II, I decreased the rest time from 30 seconds to 15 seconds between movements/rounds and also made sure to do at least 3 rounds as my warm-up before the barbell exercises. I also started to time not only the total time it would take me to do these rounds but also how long it took me to do each set of 20 snatches. By timing the total time, I was able to see how I responded to different environments of training and how it affected my KB circuit. I forgot to mention that I would do various agility/sprinting movements for about 30-40 min outside before coming in to start my weight training. I also used these KB times to better myself by beating the previous time and to monitor my progress.
This was not only increasing my overall conditioning but also my preparedness for the snatch test while at the same time not burning me out on doing the same exercise. I hear many, many potential RKC's, as they are preparing for their Snatch Test, burn themselves out with thousands of reps of the snatch. One of my inspirations for this article was Team Hartle member Maria Burk, RKC. In preparing for her RKC in April of 2010, she over trained and did way too many snatches, trying to get ready for the Snatch Test. After calling me for medical/chiropractic advice and helping her nurse her way back from this injury, she nailed the Snatch Test at the June 2010 RKC!!! After talking to her and listening to what she was doing in preparation for her Snatch Test, I decided to write this article following my Snatch Test at the RKC II.
Just like Dan John and Pavel are talking about in their upcoming book, you need to be smart about your training. By incorporating the swing in between sets of the snatches, I was still able to raise my heart rate and work on my strength endurance while giving my body a rest from doing snatches.
At this point, I still had not tested myself on the 5 minute/100 reps test yet and I was not planning to before the actual test at the RKC II. At this point I had enough repetitions of doing this circuit that I found that I was doing the 20 snatch rounds in about 40-42 seconds, with about 15-17 seconds rest (the time it took to walk around the area I was training) between the swing and snatch sets. Overall, the 3 rounds would take me about 3:40 to 3:50 to complete. So, I had a circuit that was close in time to the overall 5 minute test and I was utilizing exercises that were close to what I needed and carried over for the snatch test. I was also able to ascertain what length of rest I needed/wanted to use for the test during my breaks.
At this point I had not done any snatch sets back-to-back yet and haven't for years. I went to Minnesota to teach at the RKC at the end of June 2010. After that I went to northern Minnesota to go camping with my boys. Coming back from this camping trip I decided to do a few days of training for not only the RKC II but also to stay in shape for the start of my football season.
We headed over to our favorite snow sledding hill by Lake Nokomis, in Minneapolis, to do some training in 90+ degree heat with the heat index creeping near 100. After doing hill sprints for 30 minutes, I rested for a little bit and decided to test my snatches and my "plan" for the eventual test. With my 9 year old son taking care of the watch/timer, my 15 year old, Anthony, and I set out to do a 3 minute snatch test. My goal was 60 reps within this time frame. I had Marcus shout out what the time was when I set the bell down after doing 10 reps with each hand and shout out again at the top of the minute. After doing 60 reps, he yelled, "2:41 Dad!". I was elated to say the least!! Three days later I did the same thing but only for 2 minutes with 40 reps being my goal. Nailed it in 1:40! My plan was working and the timing I had wanted to establish was ready to be tested in 3 days! I still had never done the full 5 minute test of 100 reps consecutively, but I trusted my training and mental preparation, much like I did with my powerlifting, to get me through the test.
One of the things I learned at a young age was to not max out in the gym before a powerlifting competition. It served me well for that sport and I applied that here. In this case, I did not want to burn myself out with lots of snatch reps and instead chose to supplement my training with the swing and the other conditioning exercises I was doing.
First day of the RKC II. Test day. Was I nervous? A little. Just wanted to make sure I passed this test. The faith was there. The kind of nervousness that I get before a football game, a heavy squat. RKC Team Leader Andrea U-Shi Chang was kind enough to call out the time for me. My friend and Senior RKC Zar Horton was my tester.
Here we go! 1st 20 reps done. 41 seconds it took. 19 sec rest. 2nd 20 reps and keeping a good rhythm and feeling good. 42 seconds. 18 seconds rest. Just finished 60 reps and sweating. 40 seconds. 20 sec rest. After the 80th rep, starting to feel tired but realized, after resting for 17 seconds, that I was in the home stretch. As I was thinking what I tell my athletes whom I train, "...last set, best set!!!", I started the final set. With my adrenalin flowing, I cranked out those last 20 reps and set the kettlebell down with 18 seconds to go. Task completed! I worked the plan and goal achieved!
As with most things in life, breaking down what may seem an insurmountable or difficult task into smaller parts and working those parts and eventually putting those parts back together will create a summation that is achievable and possible. Good luck with your training! Power to you!!
Dr. Michael Hartle, RKC Team Leader, is a chiropractic physician. Raised in the frozen tundra known as Minnesota, he once lived in Hawai'i while his father was stationed at Pearl Harbor during Vietnam. He has been practicing in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the last 16 years. A nationally-ranked powerlifter, who has won several national titles with USA Powerlifting, Dr. Michael is also the Chairman of the Sports Medicine Committee of USA Powerlifting (USAPL). He was the Head Coach of the USAPL World Bench Press Team for 8 years, winning the 2004 World Team Title. For the last 5 years, he has been playing semi-pro football, defensive tackle, and loving it! He treats, trains and advises to all kinds of patients, from babies to the elderly, from youth athletes to NCAA student-athletes to professional athletes. He has three sons who keep him busy with their personal endeavors, including hockey, baseball, football, and of course, academics. You can reach him at www.chiropower.com.
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