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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What are the gloves for?

Anyone who has learned GS lifts from “the Sergeys” and their peers (circa 2009 - 11), learned the evil beauty of using gloves in GS Snatch training.

The glove is for overload sets. This might seem wrong to someone who has embraced the mentality that there is no “train to exhaustion” in effective endurance conditioning. In fact overtraining is an easy mistake to make with Snatch programming, so use this tool with discretion.

It soon becomes obvious to beginner GS lifters that the grip is the weakest link in the
Just plain, innocent work gloves. 
muscular chain. Though it is a full-body exercise, if the lifter does not learn correct technique in the beginning the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the forearms will fail sooner than expected. Once the grip fatigues in a Snatch set it’s a matter of seconds (at best 120) before the weight simply launches. For the record, launching the kettlebell is not a good skill to practice in training. Not only does it give GS lifting a bad image in the gym, like it or not, in a competition it’s the end of your set.

If you’re going to try using gloves for training, get simple work gloves. No non-slip surfaces, thumb/finger pads or cut-off fingers. Cotton work gloves. Start with whatever you consider a "drop weight," and attempt 200 reps of non-stop One-Hand Swings. See if you can perform 100 reps on each side in one go. One hand switch.

There are at least three reasons for glove training. Beefing up the grip is at the top of the list, but let's not overlook its effectiveness as a technique training tool.

Grip strengthening:
The glove reduces friction between the handle and hand. Like the old-style method of olive oil on the handle for a friction-less surface, with a glove you don’t need to de-grease your gear before you use it again.
Another “hard-style” grip trainer is swinging two kettlebells in one hand, thus putting the muscles in a position of compromise and under a heavy load. However, as a finishing set the Snatch lifter does not benefit by this load increase, which may cause deterioration in form, or increasing workout volume at the end of a training session.

The glove set load is at least 4kg less than the competition load. Because the glove creates a friction-less surface, more finger flexor activity is required to keep a hold on the handle. This increases the physical experience of the weight by about 4 kilograms at the points of maximum inertia, so the lifter practices with a drop weight, loading the grip without overtraining the entire body.

Technique tool:
"This is how the glove landed."* A thick glove.
The aim of a Snatch lifter is to use as many muscle groups as possible to keep the ‘bell in play. Glove sets create an excellent opportunity for the lifter to find ways to use lower body muscles and timing to achieve this goal. Using the glove early in a training cycle can help the lifter discover correct technique to reduce handle rotation at the points where blisters most often occur.
There are a few variations that could make all the difference in a lifter's training cycle. Glove sets may include One-Hand Swings for rep count (excellent for training correct timing and leg movement), adding a Swing to each Snatch (helps the lifter integrate nuances in the acceleration pull), and adding time to the overhead hold (if you don't have fixation, you don't get a rep count, so learn to love it) to name a few.
I personally use fast paced glove Snatch and high-rep glove Swing sets for testing new form ideas. With the drop load there is opportunity to experiment with subtle movements. This translates to the training load in subsequent workout sessions.

Protect the skin:
It is generally unwise for a Snatch lifter to put his/her hands at risk of tearing off a callous. Torn skin can be an unwanted turn in the training cycle, requiring up to a week of partial to complete stop from Snatch training to heal. Rather than attempting a third or fourth heavy set in Stages 2 or 3, a wise lifter will drop to a long glove set for skill and grip training. This allows all the fight to leave with the sweat, and the lifter ends the training session with hands intact.
Within two weeks of the competition the gloves preserve skin while continuing high-rep/low volume skill practice. No matter how well conditioned a lifter may be, there is no place for over-confidence in the Snatch these last weeks. Glove sets will help keep reality in check when used correctly.

By way of last paragraph disclaimer, this is certainly not all there is to GS Snatch training. In fact, I discourage anyone from taking blog post advice as reason to re-vamp the entire training program. I advise all GS lifters to get first-hand instruction at training seminars. Hook up on Facebook and you will see there are many good options. To prepare for a competition, employ a coach. Unless you are lucky enough to live near a Kettlebell Sport club, few GS-specific coaches are available in most gyms, so you will most likely need to work with someone remotely. Any online coaching will require you to video lifts and report training results regularly. If you choose a remote coach, make sure you enjoy communicating with this person, he/she will hold you accountable for your goals.

If you need my advice, send me an email at I am happy to give initial consultation on your GS lift video, and am I available as an online coach. 

Best wishes to all for productive, and tear-free Snatch training!
Glove Snatch Bloopers video
* Thanks to Amanda Wagner for permission to use this photo and her quote.