22 Feb The Kettlebell Snatch and Aerobic Capacity (New Science)

Kettlebell Crossfit WorkoutDoes the kettlebell snatch really improve aerobic capacity?

The answer may seem obvious to those who’ve expereinced the power of the full body explosive exercise, but now we have new science to support the claim.

If you know anything about the kettlebell snatch, I’m sure your guess would be as good as mine in that it would improve cardiovascular fitness with the right training protocol.

But, would you guess a signfiicant improvement in just a few short weeks with minimalist snatch based program?

There’s a brand new study that looked at the kettlebell snatch in 17 female collegiate soccer players and it’s a very interesting study on the continued benefits to support the latest science in the area of kettlebell training.


The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of high intensity kettlebell training, specifically the snatch, in female athletes who had experience with kettlebell training.

While all athletes were experienced with kettlebells, the kettlebell snatch was not part of their previous training regimen.

This latest study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated significant aerobic benefit compared to a circuit weight training group in female athletes.

There were 2 groups in the study, the kettlebell group and the circuit weight training group.

Aerobic capacity, as measured with MVO2 max, was assessed prior to training and after completion of a 4 week training period with either kettlebell training or a rigorous circuit weight training protocol.

The kettlebell training protocol consisted of the Viking Warrior Conditioning program (The 15:15 MVO2 protocol) designed by Kenneth Jay.

It should be noted that the full MVO2 protocol by Jay has a goal of 80 work sets, which is a 40 minute session.

The total time in this study was 20 minutes or 40 work sets (more below), half of what the full protocol calls for.

What would the results have been if the full protocol was implemented?

The kettlebell training group used a 12 kilogram kettlebell and athletes would perform between 7 and 9 repetitions every 15 seconds followed by a 15 second rest period.

The number of repetitions was determined by cadence assessment as per the MV02 protocol.

As just mentioned, the total time for the workout was 20 minutes, which equated to 10 minutes total work time.

Each session was done 3 times per week.

It should also be noted that all athletes in the kettlebell training group performed snatches with technique that was assessed by a certified kettlebell instructor, an RKC/CSCS.

Let’s compare what the athletes in the circuit weight training group performed.

These athletes completed five exercises in succession which compromised one circuit.

Each circuit was performed five times.

The five exercises in the circuit included:

  • 20 ball squats,
  • 20 sit ups,
  • 10 windmills,
  • 10 jump squats,
  • a 400-meter sprint/run

In case you’re wondering, since the windmill is not considered a “ballistic” exercise with a kettlebell, it is NOT classified as kettlebell training in this study.

I think you’d agree, this is a “fairly” rigorous full body circuit training session that should elicit cardiovascular benefit.

The circuit took two minutes to complete followed by a two minute rest period and the total workout time was 20 minutes with 10 minutes of actual work time (the same as the kettlebell training group).


What did the study show?

The outcome of this study demonstrated that after 4 weeks of either kettlebell training intervention or circuit weight training, there was a significant increase in the aerobic capacity in the kettlebell group.

The average increase was 2.3 ml/kg/min or approximately a 6% gain in aerobic output.

A 6% improvement in aerobic capacity over 4 weeks of kettlebell snatches that were performed three times a week for 20 minutes is quite impressive and confirms what we may expect about the benefits of the snatch exercise.

A 6% improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness in just 4 weeks with a 20 minute protocol.

Here’s a few more interesting notes about the study.

These athletes were all previously experienced in kettlebell training.

They were not naive to training with kettlebells, although they were new to training the kettlebell snatch.

Because of this, the authors noted that the findings should only be generalized to individuals who are trained or have experience with kettlebells.

It would be interesting to see a similar study designed in individuals who were kettlebell naive (those that have had no prior kettlebell training experience).

Would the output be even greater?

The kettlebell snatch is an expression of full body force and power. If you’ve experienced it, you already know the cardiovascular component to the exercise is very demanding, especially with high volume, high repetition work.

The kettlebell snatch, as performed during this protocol, can be seen to activate the 3 different energy systems (ATP, glcolytic, oxidative).

This study provides evidence of the improved aerobic capacity benefits of performing the kettlebell snatch exercise combined with an effective protocol.

Kettlebell snatch + effective protocol = improved aerobic capacity

As noted, this study was only done over a 4 week time period.

It would be very interesting to see the results if the study was in longer duration, six to eight weeks or potentially even longer.

Would that provide even greater improvement in aerobic output?


The bottom line is that kettlebells, specifically the kettlebell snatch, is a unique and beneficial way to train for total body strength and conditioning.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence about the benefits and utility of kettlebell training.

Athletes and those who are experienced with kettlebells may increase aerobic capacity in a short period of time using a high-intensity intermittent training protocol such as the MVO2 15:15 protocol.

One thing is clear.

The science of kettlebells continues to grow.

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Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Subscribe below or go to RdellaTraining.com/join to get your FREE Report, Kettlebell Impact with 12 of my best Kettlebell Workouts.
  • Lior
    Posted at 21:04h, 22 February Reply

    Thanks for the post! Very interesting and might be the push that I need in order to try out the viking warrior protocol.

    Here is a freely available thesis that probably contains much of the contents of the journal paper:

    • Scott
      Posted at 19:45h, 27 February Reply

      Thanks for sharing Lior. Yes, that’s the full article that contain’s all the specifics on the study -it’s a good read. Hope your training is going well man!

  • Patrick McMahon
    Posted at 16:14h, 23 February Reply

    Since the instructor who ran the study was RKC certified I assume that the hard-style snatch was performed. Do you have any info on how Kettlebell Sport style (more energy efficient) would size up?

    • slow
      Posted at 17:50h, 27 February Reply

      Patrick, I’m interested to know what the differences are between them? I train with an SFG instructor so we do hardstyle but as we’re prepping for TSC in April which includes a snatch test we’ve just started technique workshops on anatomical breathing – we usually use biomechanical. So, now we’re doing kettlebell sport breathing (2 breaths pre snatch). But is there more to the differences than the breathing? It has definitely helped me find a good rhythm & be able to snatch for longer.

      • Scott
        Posted at 19:54h, 27 February Reply

        Interesting… The breathing is so important, that would seem to play a huge role, but the GS style and HS are so different. Interesting what you mention about the anatomical breathing, seems very “counterintuitive.” Keep us posted on what you experience with the different breathing techniques you’re testing. Cheers!

        • slow
          Posted at 10:27h, 28 February Reply

          Hi Scott

          As I don’t know the difference between HS and GS, I can’t really comment about technique differences, but I’m definitely finding that doing my usual HS snatch using anatomical breathing is making a big difference. I couldn’t say whether it is just because the double breath pattern is leading me to get into a very regulated cadence with plenty of float & rest, or that it’s actually delivering more oxygen / at the right time and this is what’s making it better. All I can say for sure is I can keep snatching for longer and it feels much easier. My feeling is when I’m doing them is that the short in breath at the bottom of the swing sets me up great for an explosive hinge, that feels much less ‘costly’ aerobically – the bell floats up but I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged aerobically as much. That probably doesn’t make much sense – I’d say, give it a try ; )

    • Scott
      Posted at 19:48h, 27 February Reply

      Yes, that’s the assumption that it is a hard-style snatch. At this point, I have not seen any studies with GS style. Good question, but most of the studies (or all) have been with hard-style approach.

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