Ballistic Kettlebell Exercises and Arc Differences

The kettlebell swing, clean and snatch are all incredible exercises for a long list of reasons when performed correctly. The correctly is the key word in that statement. Unfortunately, fitness professionals and enthusiasts who are not “trained” to use kettlebells often bastardize these awesome movements. In this article we will examine the arc differences in these movements so as to help develop an understanding just how different these 3 skills are.

Let’s start with a brief review of a few key terms:

Arc- a part of the circumference of a circle or other curve

Force vectors- a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another.

 External forces- forces that are present when performing work with external objects that changes the demands on the system

The Swing

The swing has the biggest arc, producing the greatest external (forward and rotational) forces acting upon the body. Notice that at the end position of the swing, the kettlebell is the farthest away from the center of mass compared to the snatch and clean. If remove the “skill” required for each movement we examine the swing is actually the hardest to control because of how far away the load is from the body.


The Snatch

The snatch has a medium–sized arc, producing moderate forward and rotational forces acting upon the body.  The kettlebell is farthest from the body’s center of gravity in the “middle” of the exercise. However, you will notice this is a much tighter arc than that of the swing. While this movement requires significantly more skill than the swing, the bell is actually easier to control because it remains closer to the center of mass.


The Clean

The clean has the smallest arc, producing the least forward and rotational forces acting upon the body.  Like the Snatch, the kettlebell is farthest from the body’s center of gravity in the “middle” of the line of action. Similarly to the snatch the kettlebell is never too far from the center of mass. Once again, if you take away the skill of the clean it is a relatively easy exercise to perform relative to the swing and snatch.


Why Understanding Arcs Matters:

Developing an understanding of the arc and the resultant forces acting upon the body helps the coach and student better control the kettlebell-body system when performing these exercises. Additionally, an understanding of arcs and forces will help with coaching these exercises.

For example, a general rule of thumb is to master the 2-arm swing, and then the 1-arm swing, before attempting to clean or snatch. In fact, we promote training heavy 1- arm swings before the student is given the green light to snatch. This is because the swing requires the lowest level of skill of these three movements while requiring the greatest amount of core firing to prevent spinal rotation. Therefore, the 1-arm swing is great preparation for the clean and snatch which require a higher level of skill.

We progress kettlebell ballistics by using the swing to teach the ability to explosively extend the hips while controlling external forces. Once this has been mastered, we then layer in additional drills that will help with the necessary skills to perform the clean and snatch. Breaking down kettlebell ballistics by their arc and forces acting upon the body isn’t a new concept. Instead it’s one that is often overlooked.  Once we understand how the arc changes based on the exercise, we can manipulate the external forces through the right vector to produce the most efficient movement.

If you would like to learn more about Fit EDU’s kettlebell coach program and how we evaluate and coach kettlebell exercises visit us at  You can also visit our blog’s main page to see other articles on the swing, turkish get-up, goblet squats, and much more.

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