Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to go from Zero to Hero in the Secret Service Snatch Test in Two Easy Steps

I promised to get a blog post out to you all regarding the Secret Service Snatch today and I feel I've really outdown myself! Well I haven't exactly outdone myself since I didn't write this piecebut next week I will offer an alternative for you all to compare to. There are oh so many ways to "Skin a cat" and Sean flat out nails this. Thanks to my good friend Sean Schniederjan, RKC for contributing this set. Sean is also hosting the Pavel Ventura workshop in the Fall! Sean is a very well regarded fellow RKC and wrote How to go from Zero to Hero in the Secret Service Snatch Test in Two Easy Steps:

Step One: Read and do Enter The Kettlebell. There is no doubt that this is the best kettlebell program for raw beginners and those who have a decent base level of strength but no direction in their training. Keep in mind that this isn’t a “workout” book, it is a program that is essentially a road map for hitting difficult yet obtainable goals: Pressing the kettlebell closest to one half your bodyweight and the simple, sinister, and brutal Secret Service Snatch Test (SSST), which will humble even the most elite athletes. The real beauty of ETK is that if you follow it, you will be able to do the SSST, while the most elite athlete with little or no kettlebell experience would be tossing his or her cookies on the pavement. The level of conditioning it takes to perform the SSST is truly out of this world, yet attainable with a little focus and discipline in your training.

What is the SSST?

Pavel goes into a detailed description of the origins of the SSST in ETK, but essentially it is performing 200 snatches (24kg for men, 16kg for women) in 10 minutes. The bell may be set down and you may take as many hand switches as you please. All you have to do is get to 200 and I guarantee you will not come close on your first try. I don’t believe I’ve heard of anyone faring well on their first try. You probably guessed that the United States Secret Service uses this to test the mental and physical abilities of their agents under high levels of stress. There is a point every victim of the test reaches during the test where the true nature of the stress of what you are doing becomes evident to the body and mind. The mind and body experience an intense “shock” that can only be overcome with good form and sharp mental stamina. You really must experience this for yourself.

My Experience with the ETK

I’m your average male. I’m not a mutant by any means and don’t have a lot of sports and working out in my background besides the occasional push up and curl binges in high school and college. However, following ETK and my own tweaked up version of the Program Minimum allowed me to hit a 240 in the SSST, which some might consider mutant territory in this particular endeavor. That was a few years ago and to this day is my proudest physical achievement.

I had been doing KBs for around two years prior with little direction. I randomly did swings, snatches, Turkish get-ups, floor presses, military presses, etc, pretty much towed the party line. Soon after the release of ETK, the dragondoor forum was buzzing with talk of the SSST. I hadn’t bought or read ETK yet, but I thought since all these people were attacking the SSST, I might as well do it too since I knew how to snatch a KB and could fairly easily bang out sets of 10-20 snatches with a 24kg. So I grabbed my watch, my kettlebell, and ventured out to the backyard to do 200 reps in 10 minutes. I thought I was a pretty good snatcher and with a tough attitude, I honestly thought I was going to go out there and do this. As Troy MacClure, the washed out actor voiced by Phil Hartmann in the early years of the Simpsons would say: “Nothing could be further from the truth!” It was around the 8 or 9 minute mark and I was positively done at a little over 120 total snatches. I could not do one more snatch, even if some were there yelling at me or offering me something of high value.

The truth set in and it hurt. Humility is knowledge of the truth, and I had just experienced the truth: I was a looooong way from 200 snatches in 10 minutes.

A few weeks later ETK arrived. This was the first laid out training program I had ever done. Weeks started going by and I was surprised at how easy it was to stay on the program. There is something natural about the way the program is set up. Easy, Medium, and Heavy days with the lifts used (swings and snatches, along with presses for the shoulder/arm work) just agreed with me and I had no trouble fulfilling my three day per week obligation. I hardly ever used the optional “variety days,” which was a testament to how satisfying and quality my workouts were for the minimal three days. My variety day was resting my body. Progress came quickly. After a few weeks of the swings, I noticed I could (big surprise) do more swings…in less time!

The light days on ETK use snatches instead of swings, with more of an emphasis on pure form than killing yourself as you would on a heavy day. About a month or two into the program I remember having to 8 minutes of snatching on the easy day. I decided to test myself and go harder than the requirements of that day and I ended up with 160 snatches in 8 minutes. That shocked me, but what shocked me even more was that I was relatively close to not being smoked (I always get smoked from snatches, but this was real progress)!

So I kept at it and at last test day came. Long story short, I made a calculation error in my set breakdown and did only 197 in 10 minutes when I thought I had done 207. It was a colossal bummer, but I knew I was right at the doorstep of 200. More swings later, I tested again and hit 210. I remember thinking that something magical would happen the moment I crossed 200. I was expecting my shirt to get ripped off my body and my soul torn from my body and thrown into heaven by a jealous god (or something you might read on the comments section of the howling wolves t-shirts on amazon).

Follow ETK by the spirit and the letter and you will pass the Secret Service Snatch Test. If I can, then you can. Every girivik should own a dog-eared copy of Enter the Kettlebell! If you don’t have it, get it. There are good resources for beginners out there, but nothing will deliver the quickness of results in less time in a rational, comprehensive, yet simple manner as ETK. This book belongs in the library of anyone remotely interested in physical culture.

Once you have crossed 200, here is another simple strategy I discovered for getting closer to 250 in the SSST:

Do one arm swings (always do one arm swings when training for the SSST) with a heavier bell. For men, mix it up with a 32kg and a 40kg. For shoulder stability and more core and conditioning work, do Turkish getups with a 32kg and a 40kg. If you can do 200 in the SSST but want more, try this simple 3 day program:

You’ll be doing two medium days (there are no easy days because you are a stud now), and one balls out heavy day. Depending on how you feel, use either the 32kg or the 40kg for swings and get-ups. Depending on how you feel, do 5-10 minutes of TGUs, alternating sides with each rep, rest for a minute or two, then do 5-10 minutes of one arm swings. On a heavy day, shoot for 300 one arm swings in 10 minutes with the 32kg or 200 with the 40kg. It won’t happen most likely, but those are the numbers you should measure yourself against. On the heavy days for TGU, aim at not taking breaks between reps, which shouldn’t be hard at all for the first 5 minutes or so with a 32kg. When you get closer to 10 minutes, it gets difficult to not take a brief breather. So 10 minutes of continuous get-ups with a 32kg should be your measure on the heavy day. Don’t use the 40kg for get-ups or swings on the heavy day. The 40kg is used on the medium days to make the 32kg feel lighter on heavy days. So do your best with the bulldog on a medium day, but don’t do anything stupid. That thing is heavy. As a general rule, anything over 100 one arm swings in 5 minutes with a 40kg is pretty good. 5 minutes of more or less continuous TGU reps with the 40kg is pretty good. But again, the 40kg is used to make the 32kg easier to handle on heavy days, so don’t get bogged down with your 40kg numbers as much.

Do this for a month or two and then pick up the 24kg for an SSST. That thing will be feeling nice and light. If you are in the 260-300 range with one arm swings with a 32kg and you can do 8-10 minutes of continuous TGUs with a 32kg, then you have the conditioning and shoulder stability requisites to truly kill the SSST.

ETK KB/Book/DVD Starter Kit Found Here for men:

Starter Kit For Ladies:

KBs Only:

Book Only:

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At July 2, 2009 at 8:03 PM , Blogger Juan Bacca RKC,CF Level l Inst,CFK Inst,CPT,BJJ Purple Belt(Nova Uniao) said...

Great post. Will log this info future references on my SSST. Need to break 200 mark.

At July 2, 2009 at 8:21 PM , Blogger Peter A. Stinson said...

Sandy, I just placed an order today (before reading this) for two KB and the ETKB book and DVD... I'll let you know how it goes...

At July 3, 2009 at 3:57 AM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...

Awesome to hear Peter. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you on your journey. I believe you are going to love it!

At July 3, 2009 at 6:00 AM , Blogger Laura said...

Great post! I read it before attempting my first 10 minute snatch test yesterday evening. I'm on week 8 of the Enter The Kettlebell program, and I can say with complete confidence that my snatch test would not have gone nearly as well if I hadn't been following the ETK protocol. It just works! I truly believe that in another 4 weeks I will be able to get 200 snatches in 10 minutes.


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