Functional Training Institute

Don’t Forget the High Pull

Boris Bojanovic

Just like the Get Up is the king of kettlebell grind exercises, the snatch is the king of ballistic kettlebell exercises. It marries power & coordination to take the kettlebell overhead in one graceful, athletic movement. Done properly, it is a powerful yet smooth movement. Its complexity can be intimidating & it will take time to master. But as with everything, it can be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks & drills to make the whole process easier.

The snatch, just like the clean, uses the framework of the kettlebell swing, i.e. using hip drive to propel the bell. But the plain old swing propels the kettlebell forwards while the clean & snatch need the bell to go upwards.  Just like in the clean, if you swing the bell in front of you during a snatch, there will be a point when the bell flips around your hand & hits you on the wrist. Do that a few times in a row & you won’t want to continue the set, losing one of the unique aspects of kettlebell training responsible for the kettlebell’s cardio benefits – continuous motion.

Enter the high pull

The high pull is the exercise which directs upwards the forward momentum generated in the swing. As the hips drive the bell forward, the arm directs it upwards by bending & raising the elbow. In a high pull you want the kettlebell to move vertically rather than a big arc like in the swing so start bending your elbow as soon as the hips start driving the bell. It shouldn’t look like a swing with a horizontal row at the top of it. The aim of the high pull isn’t to work out your upper back muscles. Its aim is to place the bell in the right position so that it can be smoothly caught overhead, i.e. it’s the first part of a snatch. So, by the top of a high pull the kettlebell should be just in front & to the side of your forehead. At that point all you need do is punch up to catch the bell & you will have performed a snatch.

Now that you’ve learned all the theory here’s how you put it into practice. Make sure that you differentiate swings & high pulls. That can be done in a few different drills.

The first, & simplest way is to train the high pull as a standalone exercise – keeping in mind that the aim of a high pull isn’t to row the bell but to direct it upwards & set it up for a catch into a snatch. Even when you know how to perform snatches, high pulls can be useful as a separate ballistic exercise just without the overhead component.

Next you can try a swing-high pull complex, i.e. alternating between swings & high pulls. Having to do a high pull after a swing you really have to concentrate on what the difference is. When you can do that you can move onto level 3 which is the high pull-snatch complex, i.e. high pull followed by a snatch & repeat. While the swing & high pull are different exercises with different aims, the snatch is only a high pull with a catch into lockout at the top.

Ladder circuits

A great way to program these complexes is latter circuits where you go from all swings to all high pulls, substituting them one by one. Three & five rung ladders work well. Perform each rung of the ladder on each side before moving onto the next rung, e.g. 3 swings, switch, 3 swings, switch, 2 swings & 1 high pull, switch, etc…

Swing-High Pull Ladder

Rung 1 Rung 2 Rung 3 Rung 4
Swing Swing Swing High Pull
Swing Swing High Pull High Pull
Swing High Pull High Pull High Pull


High Pull-Snatch Ladder

Rung 1 Rung 2 Rung 3 Rung 4
High Pull High Pull High Pull Snatch
High Pull High Pull Snatch Snatch
High Pull Snatch Snatch Snatch

Try these out yourself & with your clients & let us know how it goes on our facebook page

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