Bruising your forearm or wrist is a common problem when you start working with kettlebells, but it doesn’t have to be that way. People who are able to do snatch after snatch without pausing are not simply used to the pain; they have simply learned how to do the move without whacking themselves in the wrist.
So let’s talk about how you can learn the same techniques they are using.
Learn the proper hand position
First, let’s talk about the position that the kettlebell is in when you’re holding it still. (In a minute we’ll talk about how to get it into position as you’re lifting.)
Your first instinct might be to grip the center of the handle, with the round part of the kettlebell pressing into the back of your forearm. But a more comfortable position is to hold it diagonally. The part of your hand where your palm meets your thumb should be at or near one corner of the kettlebell handle. If you think of the handle as a rectangular window, this crook should be on the top corner, and your wrist or forearm at the opposite bottom corner.
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Your wrist should be as straight as you can get it, so that when you’re holding the bell overhead, your arm and wrist are a solid, vertical support pillar that holds the kettlebell’s weight as it presses down on you from the handle.
Take a look at the two photos above. Both of these positions should be comfortable when you’re holding the bell still. It’s okay if they feel weird and different, because you’re trying something new, but you shouldn’t feel any pinching or pressure. Your fingers should be relaxed enough that you could straighten them out without losing your support of the bell.
Don’t flip the bell over your hand
So that’s position. The rest is technique. How do you get the bell into that comfortable position without smacking it into your wrist on the way there?
Here’s the big revelation: whether you’re doing a snatch or a clean, the bell should not flip over your hand. Beginners often worry about how to make the bell land softly, when the real winning move is to not let it drop down on you at all.
Let’s start with kettlebell snatches, because those are often the most mystifying, and yet they turn up pretty commonly in beginner level workouts. Whether you’re doing hardstyle, sport style, or whatever the hell it is crossfitters do, the phases of a kettlebell snatch go something like this:
- Use your hips and legs to get the bell moving upwards, very much like a swing.
- When the bell is around chest height, shrug your shoulder backwards to get the bell moving toward you. Your elbow bends slightly to allow this. (It still has some upward momentum, so it is moving toward you but also up.)
- As the bell is floating in the air, sneak your hand underneath it, inserting your hand into the position we studied in the previous section. This will feel like punching upward, and in the process, the bell will very gently come to rest with its handle in your hand and its round part in contact with your forearm. Again, most of the weight is in the handle, with your arm as a support pillar.
To get the hang of this, you can practice the first two steps in what’s sometimes called a “high snatch pull.” Cleans work the same way, except the second step happens around waist level, and the bell comes to rest at shoulder level instead of overhead.
How do you get all this to happen in a split second? Well, practice will help. There are also a multitude of little technique tips that can help, like keeping the bell close to your body, but they’re better explained in video format. Check out this tutorial from Brittany van Schravendijk, or this one (which includes tips for awkwardly-shaped kettlebells) from Joe Daniels, both of whom are high level kettlebell athletes and coaches. I also love this tutorial from trainers Jason and Lauren Pak, especially for its side-by-side examples of good and bad technique.
The bottom line is that hurty forearms are not just part of kettlebell training, and with some practice and technique, you can get the bell to find its place gently, instead of whacking you on the wrist with each rep.
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