Bruised Forearms From Kettlebells

This topic frequently comes up with folks new to kettlebell training. In fact, I probably see this come up two or three tinmes a week when I check my blog stats and search terms.

So to help out my fellow KBers, I went to the Dragon Door Strength and Conditioning Forum (DragonDoor.com), and did a quick search on “Bruised Forearms”.

Here’s what I found:

Snatch Grip and Snatch Wrist Banging

Advancing to the snatch from the swing can be a daunting and sometimes frightening step for new kettlebell trainers. A big ball of solid iron flying past your face to over your head is not for the faint of heart. I must emphasize the importance of the hip snap. Hip snap, hip snap, hip snap! Don’t try this drill if your grip is fried, either.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Kettlebell Convention in Las Vegas in the spring of ’04. I participated in the snatch test with very, very, VERY little snatching and even kettlebell experience. After ten minutes of the USSS snatch test, everything was fried. But my hands took the worst toll. I had to perfect my grip. Grip is usually the first thing to go in kettlebell endurance work.

At some point during the convention, Fireman Tom gave me a few pointers on improving my snatch technique. He showed me the high pull. It helped me with my hip drive, which took a lot of strain off of my grip. Instead of swinging the bell out, high pull it above your shoulder, punch through the handle, and there’s your snatch. This helps reduce the velocity at which the bell is coming around from a swing style snatch, too.

When teaching the high pull, I tell my clients to visualize a string connected from their elbow to a wall behind them. As they are coming to the top of the high pull, I tell them to picture the string yanking their elbow straight back to that wall. I also use the popular “starting the lawn mower” analogy. Fear may ultimately be the deciding factor on your snatch. Do not be afraid of the bell. Fear will get you hurt.

Perfect your high pull. When you are comfortable and confident, punch through the handle at the top of your high pull and you have snatched the bell. I picked up another snatching tip from my husband, Mike. When I first started snatching, he told me to “beat the bell around the handle.” I trained a guy at one of the squadron’s here on Nellis Air Force Base a few weeks ago who was having problems with banging his forearms during his snatches. I told him to punch through the handle and beat the bell around the handle. He hasn’t had problems since.

In most cases, a simple solution will fix a painful problem. Training improperly may not have immediate effects, but injuries will eventually rear their ugly heads and will hit you like a tons of bricks when you least expect it. Blowing your knees during a squat or slipping a disc at the bottom of a windmill is a bad time to realize you have technique problems. In most to all cases it isn’t the drill that causes the damage; it’s the poor form and follow through during the drill that causes trauma. It’s like the age old saying, “It’s not the device, it’s the operator.” So if you are still hurting during and after training, (as Rob Lawrence would say), “It’s all your fault.” Pay attention to the details and lift smart. Detail Oriented Training is training for success without pain or injury.

Sara Cheatham, M.S., RKC Team Leader

Hi, if you are getting your wrist and forearm banged up, chances are you aren’t punching on your clean or snatch. Take your time, work the basics and punch, Punch, PUNCH!!! You can also try using the corkscrew method for the snatch, that should take care of some of the abuse.

Shawn Mozen, RKC

Hi gmyck, no worries… by “punch” I mean for instance, while performing a snatch you need to push your fist upwards as the bell passes over your fist. This pushing up, or punching motion will cut the distance that the bell travels and it will help your arm meet the bell softly rather than having it thump on your forearm.

The same is true for a KB clean. There is a slight yet very important “punch” with the fist moving upwards towards your chin that helps to keep the kettlebell from banging your forearm.

Hope this helps.

Shawn

I just “got it” recently on how to punch through and “meet” the KB. No more pain.

My crazy advice is to keep trying without padding your forearms. The pain from your initial bruising provides both a great incentive to get the technique down and you’ll definitely know when you’re doing it right (no screaming).

I found (since I’m a scientist) that you can imagine a pain graph. On one end of the chart is to stop the clean or snatch suddenly and let the KB flip over and bang your forearm (ouch). On the other end of the spectrum, just as the KB is almost to its apex, you punch underneath it violently and slam your forearm against the KB (ouch, again). Somewhere in the middle (punching slightly but aggressively) there is a sweet spot where KB and forearm gingerly conjoin in pain-free bliss.

Matt (mattsoltis)

Hi there,

A pretty common question– the answer to which can be tough to describe in print.

First off, you are on the right track asking about technique. Many people eroneously think the bruising just happens until your forearms toughen up.

If you are doing cleans and snatches correctly, there will be no bruising for most people. The bell shouldn’t be slamming into your forearm… it should land soft and precise.

Take just the snatch, for instance. Sometimes new people with smaller kb’s are overpowering the KB so it rises too high at the top and then flops into the forearm. If you can get access to a heavier KB, try some snatches with that. If it’s heavy enough, you won’t be able to overpower it. Once you feel the proper “nice and clean” movement with the heavier KB, it will actually be easier to understand and apply to the lighter ones.

Another thing you can try is the reverse clean. Start with the bell in the racked position and use your free hand to guide it “in reverse” down into the starting position. This can help you understand the reverse movement that would result in a nice, easy, smooth clean. (Something Shawn Mozen taught me actually!)

The good news is, when you get it, you’ll know it. It will just feel right. Bad news is, it can be a little difficult to figure out on your own. It will be WELL worth your time to seek out an RKC instructor for a session or two to perfect the form. That’s really the best advice.

Jeff(Jeff Waters)

correction… I meant to say try the heavier KB to perfect cleans…

Jeff

I also had probs with this, as a lot of folks do at the start. There are two issues, first, the ouch that comes from the heavy thing just sitting on the arm with weight on a small area. That you get used to. The other is the slam that others talked about. I think Jeff got it best in his post. For snatch, at first you tend to just extend the swing until the bell flips over, like if you wanted to go over the bar on the swingset when you were a kid. That’s not right. OK, you know how the bell sort of “stalls” for a bit on the swing right before gravity takes over again and it drops? What you want on the snatch is to make that happen right where you want the bell to finally end up. You have to pull it toward you a bit, which is why it is described as a mix of swing and clean, up as in swing, a little in as in clean. So, the bell should “stall” pretty much over your shoulder. Then, in that split second of stall, you bring the hand around the bell (sort of dip the elbow so the hand goes back under, forward a little and back up), and punch up and through so that by the time the bell wants to start it’s descent down again, you are around and under it, and in the finish position. If all that makes sense, you will end up fixing the bell right where it stalled and will not get slammed at all, just the weight of the bell. There’s a wide range of imperfection in there that is still decent form, I would think. Even getting it mostly right can leave your arms a bit roughed up, but actual bruises are indicative of imperfect form I would say. Hope this adds to what others have said. Let us know how it goes.

ZackWilson

Avoiding the dreaded forearm bruising is all a matter of technique. If you let the KB fly around your hand, it’s going to smash your forearm no matter what. The key is to rotate your hand around the KB, instead of letting the KB rotate around your hand. You sort of “spin” the KB in place (around an axis through the center of the KB, not an axis through the handle) as it approaches its apex, by driving your hand underneath it.

It also helps to pull more vertically and closer to the body, more like a regular barbell snatch than a swing. You bend the elbow as the KB comes up and then extend it as you spin the KB. I have seen the arm action described by Pavel and other comrades as, variously, putting your arm up through the sleeve of a sweater, an upward punch, and raising your hand in class.

When you get this technique wired, there will be little or no impact on the forearm.

Steve W.

The punch up is important on both the snatches and the cleans to master the soft catch. By meeting the bell instead of letting it come down on you, it hit you with less (or even zero) velocity.

Faizalenu

The forearm bash is common beginner’s experience. It took me a couple of weeks of bruising before I really figured out how to avoid it and could execute the proper technique every time.

First of all, do not use your grip to brake the rotation of the KB. With proper technique this is not necessary and will tear up the skin on your hands. The reason the KB is smashing you up is because you are letting the KB fly up over your hand so it is rotating around an axis through the handle. What you want to do is have the KB rotate around an axis through the center of the KB as it hovers or floats at its highest point. The KB should “spin” in place, rather than flopping over the top. In other words, the KB should not rotate around your hand, your hand should rotate around the KB.

As the KB reaches about eye level, drive your hand under the KB to spin it in place. This action has been decribed as being like raising your hand in class or putting your hand up through the sleeve of a sweater. To facilitate learning this technique, try not to pull the KB overly high. When you get the technique wired, you can pull more explosively, even with a light KB, because the punching under action will brake the upward movement.

Your hand should be relatively loose while the handle is moving in your hand. If the handle rotates while you are gripping tightly, it is very hard on the skin. Another skin saving tip is to shift the handle more toward your fingers and off the ball of your hand when catching cleans and snatches at the bottom. This is especially important with the heavier KBs.

Hope this helps, Comrade. Enjoy your new KB!

Steve W.

Forearm–whether it is “ok” is up to you, but here is what’s happening and how to fix it. You are allowing the KB to slam down on the arm (presumably during cleans and snatches). This is because you are moving the KB around the hand. Instead, learn to move the hand inside of the KB. This can be described as like “putting on a glove”. Take the clean for example–swing the bell a little lower than you have been, at about the level of the lower portion of the pecs. Now, slip the hand inside the bell and “punch up”. This will result in a smoother motion w/ little or no banging. Just this technique alone can take you several practice hours to figure out, so it might be worth your while to look for a RKC instructor in your area and set up a session. He or she can save you a lot of bruising (just click on the Instructor page and scroll down to your state).

Steve Cotter

I hope this helps a little. I know the forum helped me out when I was starting.


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