Category Archives: Clean-Snatch
The epidemic that I speak of?
Horrible versions of the snatch, filmed and put out onto YouTube for the world to marvel at. Just like listening to Fabio talk about astrophysics can drop your IQ by 20 points, watching these videos may lead to immediate reductions in strength and muscle mass.
Well I’m here to put those videos to bed through a lengthy breakdown of my favorite lift in the world: the snatch.
Set up Tight to the Bar
Successful Olympic lifts happen when the lifter and the barbell are moving in one efficient “system.” The lifter-barbell system, as it is called, must share one center of mass, and ideally this center of mass lies within the framework of the lifter’s body. Setting up close to the barbell begins to make sure that this will happen efficiently.
Setting up too far from the barbell will move the center of mass forward of the athlete’s toes and will lead to difficulty in achieving the lift later on.
The proper distance away from the bar is different for athletes based on body dimensions but can be summed up closely for most athletes:
When standing over the bar, the athlete should see their shoelaces covered by the bar. This means that from the coach’s perspective, the bar will be over the midfoot (a much more solid base than the toes) and will be far enough away from the body to allow the lifter to get in the start position.
Stability is the name of the game when it comes to the Olympic lifts, and in the case of setting up for the snatch, stability comes from being in an optimal balance of weight towards the forefoot and the heel.
This optimal balance position is called “tripod foot” position and means that the athlete should have weight balanced between 3 points on each foot. The 3 points of contact are:
- The joint at the base of the big toe.
- The joint at the base of the little toe.
- The heel.
An optimal interplay between weight at each point in the tripod will keep the athlete in balance throughout the lift. The strategy will also allow for corrections to be made in balance throughout the lift. If an athlete is too far forward, then more weight should be distributed to the heels; if the athlete’s toes come off the ground, then more weight can be distributed to the forefoot.
Jump Width or Slightly Wider than Jump Width
The short answer for how wide your feet should be when doing the snatch is “jump width.” The long answer is a little more complex and is more like “it depends.”
Setting up for a hang snatch is a little easier than a power snatch or full snatch from the ground, and in those cases the stance should be jump-width apart. Toes should be pointed out slightly; not much, but slightly.
In the jump-width stance (about as wide as your hips), feet should be directly below your hips. When your feet are directly below your hips, force created in the posterior chain is directed straight into the ground and there is no lateral leak of power. This is a good thing. If we’re using the big movers of the back-side, ideally we’re using the fullest power potential we can create and not losing power to lateral forces.
In the power snatch and the full snatch we’ll again start to think about our starting position as jump width, but trial and error may deem this to be an inappropriate stance for some athletes.
The “depends” part comes into play when getting into the start position. The wider grip of the snatch means that athletes must get lower and closer to the ground to grip the bar. Athletes lacking in hip mobility will achieve this lower position through compensations in lumbar flexion which will, of course, eventually lead to a back that is over fatigued and more prone to injury.
A simple correction is to work on hip mobility and raise the start position on blocks for a period of time. For some athletes, though, it will be necessary to make a modification to the start position on a more permanent basis.
For those athletes, “slightly wider than jump width” is the stance of choice. In this position (the legs slightly abducted) there isn’t as great a demand on hip mobility in the starting position (but they may have to deal with a slight energy leak to lateral forces).
Lock the Lats Down
We use a cue of “lock the lats down” when hands are on the barbell. This is accomplished rather easily. When the athletes’ hands are on the bar, they should picture pinching a roll of quarters in their armpits. Another idea is to squeeze your arms towards your body. Both cues work, so it’s just about finding the right one for the right athlete.
Locking the lats down will pack your shoulders into a strong position, lend more stability to the back, and enable a tight lifter barbell system.
For starters, packing the shoulders down with the lats is a great way to start when your hands are on the barbell. Elevated shoulders will ultimately lead to shoulder pain and discomfort.
Overuse of the upper traps will lead to early fatigue and while I haven’t seen much written on the exact involvement of the upper trap and the shrug movement in completion of the lift, it’s an important part of the lift. Tired traps will not be able to contribute to the lift. Pack the shoulders down by locking in your lats.
Locking the lats also leads to greater stability in the lower back. The origin of the lats is spread vertically down the lower back. When activating this muscle it synergistically assists the lumbar extensors in keeping the lumbar spine, well, extended.
The lats should remain tight until the 2nd pull is initiated. Once the arms become involved, it’s necessary to forget the idea of lat tightness and focus on the fast, relaxed movement of the elbows above the bar. The lats are powerful and if held tight throughout the lift, they’ll inhibit the motion of the arms up and under the bar. That being said, even in a hang snatch, “lock the lats in” is one of the first cues we use.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the idea of a “tight lifter-barbell system.” This idea and a lack of understanding or execution of this idea is at the root of many problems that athletes have in completing the Olympic lifts. The lats being tight leads to this tight system and a better execution of the snatch or the clean.
Hip Hinge to Above the Knee
Regardless of whether one is starting in the hang snatch position or the floor start (like in the power snatch, or full snatch), a hinge is the first movement that needs to occur.
Start each movement by unlocking the knees and then hinging until the hands are at knee level. If you’re doing a floor start, your hands will be free at this point.
If you’re doing a hang snatch, the bar will be in your hands and tight to the body. Both instances – hang and power – require the exact same hip hinge position when the bar or your body are above the knee. That is a constant
Squat to the Bar
The next step is to squat to the bar. When the bar is on the floor, the Olympic lifts are a combination of deep hip angles and deep knee angles.
However, when the bar is in the hang snatch position, the bar is above the knee and the movement is primarily a hip hinge (with slight knee movement). To put together the deep knee and hip angles, we start by RDL’ing/hinging to the knee level and then squatting vertically to the bar.
When in the RDL position at the knee level, the torso is roughly 30 degrees above horizontal (the floor in this case), and ideally we’ll again start at about 30 degrees above horizontal to begin the lift-off from the floor.
Squatting involves the vertical displacement of the hips and will allow this 30-degree angle to be maintained until you reach the bar at rest on the ground.
If there were to be horizontal movement of the hips, thus putting the torso at an angle less than 30 degrees above horizontal, you’ll find it difficult to pull from the ground and maintain a tight lifter-barbell system.
To summarize, to get to the bar on the ground:
- Hinge to your knee level.
- Squat to the bar.
Neutral-ish Neck but Eyes Up
Finding the optimal spinal position in the Olympic lifts is extremely important. Flexion will not do at any point, but a balance between completely neutral and extension is necessary to move efficiently and strongly in the lifts.
The super simple answer to where your neck and in turn, your eyes, should go when you have your hands on the bar is, “keep it neutral.” Cervical spine hyperextension can lead to corresponding lumbar hyperextension, which can in turn lead to some serious pain in the lumbar spine later. We want to avoid this at all costs, so if worse comes to worse, keep the neck completely neutral.
The optimal position isn’t entirely neutral, though. The optimal position is a slightly extended neck/cervical spine, and in turn, a slightly extended lumbar spine.
Let me qualify the statement about the lumbar spine. It should be slightly extended, only to the point that there’s some activation of the spinal erectors to lend more stiffness in the lift and help to avoid spinal flexion.
Keep your eyes on the horizon and let them look forward throughout the lift and don’t focus your gaze on the floor or the ceiling.
Knuckles Back and Down, Elbows Out
The role of the arms is not to screw up the rest of the lift. If the arms are too active, then they’ll likely do just that: screw up your lift.
If, on the other hand, they’re too passive, and no thought at all goes into what your hands or arms are doing in the lift, they won’t be doing their job to keep the lift in the right trajectory.
For the snatch (and even the clean), the goal of the hands and arms is to keep the bar tight to the body; to not let the trajectory arc away from the body.
To accomplish this task is rather simple. Prior to starting the lift, as your hands are first placed on the bar, neutralize the wrists so the knuckles are pointing directly towards the ground and internally rotate the upper arm so that your elbows are pointing laterally.
Now relax. Your arms are in the right position and their only goal is to stay out of the way and then punch aggressively once you need them later.
The Truth About Your Snatch Grip
The biggest problem with most pieces of advice written on the snatch grip is the dependence on various markings and lines on a bar. These recommendations usually center on where the knurling ends or a ring here and there.
If you always train with the same bar, then there’s no great issue with this advice but in cases in which one must train with a different bar, in a different gym, you can be left in the dark as to where to grip the bar.
There’s a simpler solution to always find a consistent grip width for the snatch:
Stand tall with your arms extended and the bar gripped in your hands. Widen your grip until the bar is resting across the crease in your hip. To ensure that you’re at the correct height, flex your hip until your hip is at 90 degrees. If your hip can’t flex to 90 degrees, you’ll need to move your hands wider. This is a starting point for your snatch grip – it may be a little wider or narrower, but this will get you close.
There’s just one more thing about the grip – use a hook grip.
I know it’s going to make your thumbs “hurt,” but I have 12 year old children using it and not complaining, so I don’t need to hear you whine about it.
Powering Up Your Start Position
Most problems with the snatch, and clean for that matter, happen from the floor to the knee. Screw up early in the lift and you have little chance of making the lift later on.
There are several ways to start moving the bar from the ground, including the static start and multiple versions of a dynamic start.
The rocking start is my variation of choice when it comes to the snatch. It requires greater hip mobility and can be difficult to do, but for athletes that struggle with keeping their chest up as the bar breaks from the ground, this is a perfect way to get the bar moving.
Get to the bar in the normal way (hips back, chest up). Once in the start position, keep the chest up and sink the hips even lower. You’ll end up in a nearly vertical torso position. Once the hips are actually below the bar, let them begin to rise, and as the torso reaches the magic 30-degree angle, the bar breaks with the ground.
Going a little further, you’ll sometimes see this method performed with athletes in a “duck stance,” i.e., their feet and knees will be turned out slightly and their torso should be extremely vertical.
The bar will rise vertically rather than back in this stance. It’s a perfectly acceptable strategy, but keep in mind that athletes still need to have a 30-degree torso angle when the bar passes the knees. A too vertical torso will lead to more problems than casting Vin Diesel in the lead role of Downton Abbey.
How to Power Snatch: The Performance
Drive Through the Heels
At the moment of lift off, the athlete should think “drive through the heels,” but maintain contact with the platform with the entire foot.
The cue, “drive through the heels,” can be misleading if the athlete removes any weight from his toe during the lift off. Using drive through the heels is an effort to ensure that the athlete does not get pulled to his toes while lifting off.
Knees Back, Translate the Torso
The initial lift-off from the floor should be done by extension of the knees. Driving the knees back but lifting the torso is what we’re aiming for. The torso should remain in the same relationship to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
In this way, we’re looking to translate the position of the torso vertically through space. This will maintain the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
There’s one thing to be careful of when athletes are driving their knees back. At no time should the shins go “behind vertical.” At maximum, the shins should be perpendicular to the platform.
Bar Sweeps Back
Up to this point we’ve spoken much about the position and movement of the body in the power snatch. The bar, however, does make a slight movement off the floor back toward the body to maintain the tight lifter-barbell system.
The one exception to this is for athletes that have long legs. In those athletes the knees will be in front of the bar while the bar is at rest on the ground. In these cases it’s nearly impossible to move the bar backwards into the body. The goal remains the same, but as a coach you’ll not see a backwards trajectory of the bar.
Slow off the Floor
A big mistake I see athletes make is jerking the bar from the ground. The first pull should not be a violent movement; rather it should be a smooth movement that may even look slow. A goal of the first pull is to set up the second, more violent pull and a fast first pull will likely inhibit the athlete’s ability to be efficient in the second pull.
A good analogy is the following that I picked up somewhere along the line, but cannot recall well enough to give the proper attribution:
At the Knees
Once the bar is at the knees, several things should be occurring, although this is a difficult place to coach the athlete because the system is already in motion. It is however, a great place to break down video and make adjustments to later lifts.
The feet should be flat so the athlete can transition correctly for the second pull. The hips should still be higher than the knees (very little hip extension has occurred up to this point, any movement being primarily knee extension). The torso should still be roughly 30 degrees above the horizontal. The arms should also remain straight – athletes that have bent their arms by this point will have difficulty with completing the second pull.
Creating the Triangle – The Second Pull
A really important concept that I like to teach my athletes is that once in the above knee position, they’ve created what’s called a “power triangle.” This triangle consists of their entire arm, their torso, and the angle of their hips.
From this point on the only goal, and the only way to make a successful second pull is to flatten, or close the triangle. This is a vivid image that can help any athlete hit the correct positions.
Close the Triangle
Once above the knees, it’s important not to rush the bar just yet. Rushing the bar at this point shows up when the knees begin to slide forward underneath the bar immediately after the bar passes the knees.
This movement does not “close the triangle.” The only way to close the triangle is to begin driving the hips forward to extension. The speed of the bar has begun to increase at this point, but is not at its maximum just yet. The bar will be in a mid-thigh position by this point.
Knees Forward (scoop/double knee bend)
A lot is made about the knee bend during the second pull. Entire articles have been written about just the double knee bend and some would make this post look like small potatoes. The fact is this, in a good snatch, the knee bend occurs to align the body in a position to create vertical movement.
Pure hip extension from the above knee position will create too much horizontal projection and the athlete will jump forward. To counteract this it ‘s necessary to perform the double knee bend (or scoop, or transition) for vertical projection. It’s highly debatable as to whether this fact should be coached, or even mentioned to a novice lifter. This movement is a natural phenomenon that is easily seen in typical jumping mechanics.
Finish the Hips and Knees
Once the bar has reached a high thigh position, and the torso has come to nearly vertical, the hips and knees will both be nearly extended. At this point the athlete should finish driving the hips and knees to extension. Athletes may drive up through the toes in this phase and will achieve FULL extension. This is the highest speed portion of the entire lift.
As I’ve lifted more and more and trained higher level athletes it’s become apparent that plantarflexion of the ankle (sometimes improperly called ankle extension) is not a part of the pull. I, repeat, it is not something to be coached.
At best, ankle plantarflexion is a result of a powerful second pull, or a mechanism of pulling under the bar. At worst, ankle extension makes it difficult for the athlete to get back under the bar as it increases the distance that an athlete must travel to get their heels to the ground and the hips in the right position.
Taking a look at high level lifters, you’ll often see what amounts to a flat footed pull. This flat foot position is a trained efficiency. To coach this position, encourage athletes to complete as much of the lift as possible without extending to the toes. “Heels, heels, heels, toes!” is the common cue used in my gym to coach athletes in the right position and tempo.
Relaxed Arms, Elbows High
After the power spike of the second pull, the bar will have tons of inertial energy and it is important to take advantage of it. Just as a boxer keeps his arms relaxed before throwing a punch, maintaining a relaxed arm is important for maximal speed later. The elbows should remain out and above the bar to guide the bar in a path that’s tight to the body.
Punch the Hands
The arms have stayed relaxed to a great degree up to this point, but once the athlete hits the “high pull” position it’s time to use the arms forcefully. The action of the arms at this phase is best described as punching the hands overhead. The hand punch should result in a receiving position that’s in-line with the spine and over the ears.
When the bar is overhead the athlete should actively press up with their upper traps and try to spread the bar apart. There’s nothing passive about holding weights overhead and this is the most active and “strong” position we can create. Don’t worry much about packed shoulders, worry about not letting the bar land on top of your dome.
A common mistake is receiving the bar too far back or too far forward. Lifts that are received forward are typically missed, but it’s lifts that are received too far back that are the real problem. When received behind the body, imagine an image where the torso and the arms make 2 sides of a triangle. As such, there’s great stress placed on the shoulders. Remember to “punch up, not back.”
Hips Back, Feet Flat
This step will occur simultaneously to punching the hands. Athletes should aim to receive the bar in an athletic position just as they would land from a jump. The useful cue we use is to tell the athletes to think, “toe, heel, hip.”
This means toes to the ground, heels follow, hips go down and away from the bar. The athlete will widen his feet slightly from a hip width/jump width stance to a shoulder width/squat width stance to receive the bar. The athlete should also have very little forward or backward travel at the time they receive the bar.
To get a good handle on the width you need the feet to be at landing, have an athlete do 3 consecutive vertical jumps and stick the last landing. This last jump is the position, width, and knee bend that should occur in a good power snatch.
How the Hell do you Get Down There?
It takes a special athlete to be able to complete a good-looking full (squat) snatch. Many athletes will lack the mobility to get into the correct position to receive the bar. This is the last progression we’ll use when incorporating Olympic lifts into athletes’ programs because of this difficulty.
The world’s most explosive athletes use this technique to complete the snatch in competition, so the upside in terms of potential weight used is great. The full snatch is an even greater total body exercise because of the need for great leg strength to come up from the full overhead squat position.
An easy progression from power snatch to full snatch is the following:
Power snatch + overhead squat. Complete the power snatch and then following the rep, descend into an overhead squat.
Power snatch to overhead squat. Receive a power snatch in the 1Ú2 squat or higher position and then ride the bar down into the bottom of an overhead squat.
Full snatch. Aggressively pull under the bar after completing the 2nd pull.
The best lifters in the world aren’t separated by their ability to pull the bar to higher heights and higher speeds. The true separation point is the speed with which they can move under the bar. This is an important point to consider when coaching the full snatch and full clean.
Ask me about a problem with the snatch and you’ll likely get a common prescription – snatch deadlifts and snatch balances.
Most problems at the receiving position can be solved with the snatch balance. This movement mimics the timing and effort that’s required in the catch of the snatch and teaches you to not be a passive participant in the movement. It’s my panacea of snatch related exercises.
Selecting Loads for the Snatch
For goodness sake, can we start by saying that under no circumstances is 30 consecutive snatches for time ever a good loading strategy? With that out of the way, let’s move on to the right way to load the snatch.
The 100% snatch should be about 78% of your 100% clean and jerk. This percentage increases as the athlete becomes more highly trained. The clean is much more about strength and at some point as strength plateaus, your snatch will begin to catch up to your clean.
The power snatch is typically around 80% of your 100% snatch. Pulls and deadlifts can be based off of the 100% number as well.
For novice lifters, much of their training should be centered around using 50% of their 100% snatch. This weight will allow lifters to learn the motor patterns associated with the movement at a less challenging weight. Advanced lifters will get little out of a 50% snatch for reps, and a much greater portion of lifts will be done at 70-80% of their snatch 1RM.
For lifters of all levels the greatest majority of reps should be performed between 70-85% of the 100% snatch and Prilepin’s table can be used fairly accurately to determine the repetitions and sets necessary at each intensity zone.
|Percent Zone||Rep Range per Set||Total Reps|
|70-75%||3 to 6||18|
|80-85%||2 to 4||15|
|90%||1 to 2||10|
I’m a big believer that those learning the snatch should spend more time working with just a bar or up to 50% of their bodyweight than anything else. Every athlete that I work with spends a significant amount of time working with just the bar prior to loading. Spend the time to learn the movement and then have confidence to attack big weights later on.
Wrapping it Up
By no means should you take everything I said in this article and start to add it to your program. Just pick a portion of the lift and start to make it work.
Then move on to the next problem spot and do the same thing until you’ve attained mastery of this magnificent lift.
You can’t beat the snatch – at least not in terms of things you can do in the weight room for developing explosive strength, ridiculous traps, and extreme athleticism.
Unfortunately, few recreational lifters have the slightest idea how to perform a snatch, and those that do often still make some common mistakes that turn this solid exercise into a chiropractor and soft-tissue therapists’ wet dream.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And if you keep an eye out for the following six mistakes, you can take your snatch game up a notch and develop the mountainous traps and explosive power you deserve.
Mistake 1: Always going from the floor
Problems in the snatch often result from bad movement once the lift has begun, but an even more prevalent problem is a poor starting position.
There are a number of explanations for this, but the most common is simply not knowing what the heck a good start position looks like.
At the floor level, the key is to maintain a trunk position that’s about 30 degrees above horizontal. The angle of the shins and the thighs can vary greatly based on the height of the lifter, but the trunk angle remains constant.(1) Get this wrong and you don’t have much of a shot at getting the pull off the ground correctly.
Let’s take a look at getting in the correct position. The true start position for the snatch is uncomfortable, maybe even downright difficult, for the following reasons:
- Hip mobility. A quality you lost by sitting at a desk all day.
- Ankle mobility. Probably taken from you in that heated game of pick-up basketball 3 years ago when you rolled your ankle going for a game winning lay-up.
- Thoracic spine extension. Again, stolen from you by your desk job.
- Trunk stability. Unless you’ve been practicing some awesome diaphragmatic breathing patterns over the last several years, this is probably gone as well.
Most aren’t lacking in every area required to get into the correct start position, but even one red flag means that you’ll default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground.
For example, those lacking in hip mobility, thoracic mobility, or trunk stability will likely default to flexion at the lumbar spine, meaning a jacked-up back is right around the corner.
Fortunately, it’s possible to improve mobility in areas that you’re lacking and achieve the correct start position in no time. So make your first goal to develop mobility and stability where you need it, and then come back to trying to snatch from the floor.
In the meantime, starting the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (a low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that doesn’t include lumbar flexion.
Here’s an example from when I was working on recovering some hip mobility that I’d lost over the years.
Mistake 2: Hitting pop ups.
Getting into the correct start position for a snatch from the floor doesn’t mean that you’re out of the danger zone. A big mistake could still be waiting to bite you in the arse.
We’ve already established the correct torso position for when starting on the ground – roughly 30 degrees above horizontal – and that’s also the angle the torso should be in when the first pull is complete and the bar is above the knees.(1)
Snatching mistake #2 is letting your hips pop up too early. Doing so results in the bar being too far in front of you, and effectively puts your chances of making a good lift on par with the odds of Carrot Top winning an Oscar.
The initial lift off the floor should be done by extension of the knees – driving the knees back while lifting the torso. The torso should remain in the same position relative to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
Now we’re looking to translate this torso position vertically through space. This maintains the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
Here’s a video that shows the difference when your hips rise too fast versus when they rise at the right pace. It doesn’t appear to be a huge difference, but it will significantly affect your ability to complete the lift.
Mistake 3: Not keeping the bar tight to the body.
Just as if you told me you saw an awful movie recently, I’d guess that it probably featured sparkling vampires and bad acting, if you were to tell me that you miss a lot of reps in the snatch, I’d immediately think this mistake was the culprit.
Mistake #3 is letting the bar get too far from your body during any part of the snatch. One of the basic concepts of weightlifting is once the bar breaks from the floor, the body and the bar must act as one unit. This unit, or lifter/barbell system, functions optimally when the bar is close to the body.
There are two typical instances when the bar can get away from you during the snatch:
First pull off the floor
If the bar gets away from the body during the first pull, you’re basically screwed. The lifter/barbell system is loose, and you’ll have a hard time recovering the lift.
To correct this, try pulling the bar tight to the body in a sweeping motion as you start the lift.
After the bar passes the knees is another point in which the bar can get away from you. If this occurs at this stage you have zero hope of making the lift because you’re no longer in control of the bar. As the bar drifts out away from the body, you must move away from your upward motion path and jump forward to catch the bar.
Mistake 4: Not closing the “triangle.”
The next mistake goes by a number of names: a short pull, leaving the hips out, or not finishing with extension. We call it “not closing the triangle” and it’s mistake # 4 on the list.
The triangle is the position you achieve when the bar is above the knees. This position is important to form: the hips are away from the bar, the arms are directed back towards the thighs, and the chest is over the bar forming three sides of a “power triangle.”
The triangle stores a ton of potential power – the hips are primed and ready to explode with force on the bar. It’s easy to achieve any sort of triangle above the knees, but often people are unable to shut it.
Focus on driving the hips to the bar as soon as the bar passes your knees. Finish the second pull and shut the triangle with force and finality to get the most out of your snatch. If you leave it “open” you’ve left a lot of power on the platform that could’ve been used to lift bigger weights.
Mistake 5: Being a swinger.
In snatching there are two types of people: swingers and pullers.
Although the term “swingers” invokes pleasant images of a loose and free-loving lifestyle, being a swinger isn’t a good thing when it comes to the snatch.
Efficient weightlifters finish the second pull with a vertical spike of power. Swingers, on the other hand, finish the second pull with a forward spike of power, leading the bar to “pop” off their hips in a distinct forward arc.
While big weights can be lifted in this way – you’re still reaching full, powerful hip extension – it’s far from efficient, and will lead to more missed lifts than you’d care to have.
Focus on achieving a vertical finish to the bar. Know that by actively pulling yourself under the bar you’ll be able to get around the bar, rather than making the bar move around your body.
The video below shows the big difference in bar path and the loss of efficiency that comes from swinging versus pulling.
Again, it isn’t a huge difference in the “looks” category, but one that will screw you up big time going forward. And that’s why it’s mistake #5.
Mistake 6: Catching like a Starfish.
A largely overlooked component of the Olympic lifts is the receiving portion. The snatch is great for force production, but just as important is the force absorption that takes place as you receive the bar.
This position should look like landing from a jump. When it doesn’t, not only are you missing out on the benefits of force absorption, you’re also training yourself to land in bad positions in other athletic movements. Your training just went from injury prevention to injury promotion. Hello mistake #6.
The starfish is an ugly creature that likes to poke its head out when weights approach a maximum. Most have seen it before, and likely done it as well. The feet splay out wide, with all the weight towards the toes. It’s about the least athletic position you can imagine.
Landing like a starfish occurs because you haven’t prepared to move rapidly under the bar. Your body defaults to what it thinks is the fastest way, which in most cases happens to be the feet wide, starfish position.
Prepare yourself by doing drills like the snatch balance to improve your comfort level in getting under the bar for max weights. Although this drill requires that you go into a full overhead squat to receive the bar, it will still equip you with a strategy to get under the bar that’s far better than the starfish.
Wrapping it up
There are plenty more mistakes lifters make when performing the snatch, but these 6 are the big ones that keep most from hitting big weights. Correct these mistakes and you’ll be on your way to putting some serious weight over your head.
Having started my life in the iron game as an Olympic lifter, I’ve always been influenced by the training done by the most explosive athletes in the world.
The Olympic lifts have a rhythm to them like no other. After a big fast pull, the weight rockets up high overhead before slamming back down to the ground. It’s physical poetry in motion.
Even as a teenager and just learning about lifting, I knew that the Olympic lifts were for me. Big weights? I’m interested. Fast? Sounds like something my type II muscle fibers can get down with. Slam it to the ground at the end? Where do I sign up?
So at the ripe old age of 15 and just two weeks into my training, I sat down and planned it all out. Soon, through the simplicity of the overload principle, I would have the world beat. By only adding 1 kilogram to each lift (the snatch and the clean and jerk) every week, I would have the world record in the snatch in only 2 years and the world record in the clean and jerk in 2.5 years.
Well, you might’ve noticed that my bio fails to list world records in either the snatch or the clean and jerk. The reason? The simple overload principle fails to deliver indefinitely as gains don’t always come on a weekly basis. Gains do come, however, with improvement in your movements and improvements in strength.
Recently, I decided to return to the competitive platform for the first time in over 10 years. I needed a program that would drill my movement patterns, but also help me get strong at both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
So I put together the following program and have used it on myself and five other lifters that were all training for their very first meets.
We all PR’d – me at a bodyweight that was 30 pounds lighter than the last time I lifted competitively. This program is simple, to the point, and ready to use.
Getting Off On The Right Foot
Before you start, I strongly encourage you to hire a good lifting coach to evaluate your movements. You don’t want to be wasting energy off the floor or in the second pull – a good coach can quickly identify this and help correct it.
That said, the Olympic lifts aren’t difficult to learn – I can teach a group of athletes how to Olympic lift in just a couple sessions. What I’m talking about is becoming good at the Olympic lifts, as opposed to that meathead in the gym who reverse curls the weight to his chest and then muscles it overhead.
Your typical reverse curler may have the muscle mass and power to Olympic lift, but it takes more than 3 sets of 3 once a week to be legitimately good at the lifts. The Olympic lifts respond to efficient patterns just as well as they respond to big ass traps and huge quads.
The ideology at work here mirrors that of legendary Soviet weighlifting coach AS Medvedev. In his book,A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting, Medvedev outlines every lift used over the course of six years to take a weightlifter from novice to elite level. Much of the first two years is done with imitation lifts, no more than 50% of bodyweight, with technical efficiency as the only goal.
I’m not going to make you spend two years or even 20 weeks working with a bar, but this program is based on the idea of movement efficiency and developing technical patterns to improve at the lifts.
The program is as simple as it gets, 4 lifts per day with 1 complex before training. That’s it. The program only has the lifts you need to be doing to get better at the Olympic lifts.
All of my athletes still do core work and corrective work, and I’m certain you’ll need it, too. Throw this stuff in at the end or beginning of your training session, but don’t overdo it.
Each day you’ll begin with an “imitation complex,” during which you’ll only think about complete technical efficiency. No wasted thoughts of a “big pull” or worries about whether you can come up with the front squat or overhead squat.
In these complexes your goal should be to imitate the best lift you can picture in your head. You should use just the bar for at least one set and then go up to a maximum of 50% of bodyweight for any additional sets, so for a 200-pound guy that would be 100 pounds, max.
Remember, this isn’t about getting strong; this is about learning to do the lifts the right way. As you do these complexes, imagine the best Olympic lifter in the world walking in at the end of your third set. If you’d be embarrassed by how badly your form has deteriorated, then you need to go down in weight.
The imitation complex for the snatch and clean are below:
|Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Snatch Pull x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Clean Pull x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Power Snatch x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Power Clean x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Full Snatch x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Full Clean x 6 reps|
|Overhead Squat x 6 reps||Power Jerk x 6 reps|
|Split Jerk x 6 reps|
This complex could be adapted to suit your individual needs – it doesn’t always have to start at the mid-shin level – though most lifters have difficulty moving around the knee. This complex ensures that you’re comfortable off the floor and around the knee.
Here’s a video of me doing the snatch complex before a workout. It’s just the bar, and it isn’t easy.
The first lift in your Olympic lifting session will be a variation on the traditional Olympic lifts, either from a modified starting position or into a modified receiving position.
When using the power variations, for the ones that you catch “high” or in the quarter squat, your focus will be on developing an efficient second pull. These lifts produce massive amounts of power and bar speed, as you must catch them in the high position.
The positional movements work on different phases of the lifts and transitions of your Olympic lifts.
A power lift should be alternated with a positional lift – one from the hang or from the blocks – each session. So in the first week, you may do all your first lifts from the floor as a power clean and power snatch, in the second week you may do all your lifts from hang start positions.
Be sure to choose your positional lifts based on the areas that need the most attention. The area that gives most people trouble is the phase where the bar passes the knees, or even at the highest position of the second pull (the power position).
If you know you have an area where you struggle, then focus more on positional work get the kinks worked out. You’ll have plenty of time to work from the floor later in the program.
The second lift in the program is one of the full, competition-style Olympic lifts. You’ll pull from the floor and receive the bar in the low squat position. When using the clean you should finish with a jerk.
If you have difficulty receiving the bar in the low squat position, then break these lifts down to combination lifts: a power clean + front squat or a power snatch + overhead squat.
As you get more comfortable a couple weeks into the program, start working to receive the bar as low as you can and ride the weight down to the bottom position.
The video below shows an easy progression from complete combination lift, to riding the bar down, to an actual low receiving position.
Partial Lift (Snatch and Clean Pulls)
When it comes to getting stronger at the Olympic lifts, partial lifts are the way to go. Unfortunately, like all Jason Statham movies, these lifts are under-appreciated. Partial lifts (the snatch and clean pull) allow you to overload the lifts without increasing the impact on your body.
Rather than finish in the racked position, you’ll finish with arms extended down and in full hip extension. These lifts can be done with up to 110% of your rep-max for whatever rep scheme you’re doing. So if your 3-rep max is 200 pounds in the snatch, then you can use up to 220 pounds for a 3-rep snatch pull.
Becoming more efficient in the movements of the clean and snatch is one thing, but we need to get stronger, too. Having great technique in the lifts is cool but it doesn’t mean much if you still get buried in the hole.
Alternate your strength work between back squats, front squats, Romanian deadlifts, and presses. You still need to be squatting once a week – twice per week isn’t necessary, and if you still have energy, do some extra pressing. You can also do jerks from the rack to develop your technique in this area as well, especially if your aching legs need a break.
What’s the Program Look Like?
I don’t like rigid programs and most lifters don’t want to train that way, either. This program is no different; the actual movements should change based on your needs as a lifter.
If you’re rock solid in the clean and jerk but need a lot of help with your snatch, then don’t spend your time improving by miniscule percentile points in the jerk. Do some damn snatches and put something respectable over your head.
If this is the case, three out of every four days should be a snatch day. If both lifts need work then just alternate days that you snatch and clean.
The rep scheme, however, is more rigid (hey, we gotta live with some rules right?). All days should look very similar in terms of repetitions. You’ll still need to vary the movements on each day though.
The specific loads aren’t something I program, but here’s my rules for any given rep scheme on any given day, and one that applies really well for the Olympic lifts:
- Work up to the highest load you can do for a given rep scheme with great technique.
- Any sets on that day that fall within 10% of your best set should be counted as a work set.Ê So if your best set with great technique was 200 pounds in the snatch, then any set above 180 pounds (within 10%) will count as a work set.
Here’s an idea of how you can vary the movements over the course of 4 weeks using a simple undulating periodization. This program would be perfect for someone with familiarity with both lifts and some decent overall strength numbers.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||2-3|
|A||Power Clean||Power Snatch||Power Clean||Power Snatch||3||3|
|B||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||3||2|
from below knee
|D||RDL||Front Squat||Back Squat||RDL||3||5|
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||2-3|
|A||Power Snatch||Power Clean||Power Snatch||Power Clean||3||2|
|B||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||3||1|
|D||Front Squat||Back Squat||Front Squat||Jerk from rack||3||3|
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||2-3|
from below knee
from below knee
from above knee
from below knee
|B||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||3||3|
|D||Back Squat||Jerk from rack||Press behind neck,
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||2-3|
from high blocks
from high blocks
from high blocks
|B||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||3||2|
from below knee
|D||Press behind neck||RDL||Jerk from rack||Back Squat||3||3|
In week 5 you should pick two days to work up to a heavy single in both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Use these numbers to base your workouts for another 4 weeks.
This program can be repeated immediately after you complete it the first time and you’ll continue to see gains, so long as you select the movements that will help you improve the most.
Improvement with the Olympic lifts isn’t simply about strength – if it were, then every man wearing Zubaz pants would’ve just returned from a triumphant performance at the Olympics in London.
These movements are also about being efficient in the movements – meaning you first need to learn them well, and then focus on improving how well you perform them through repetition.
Get a coach to critique your lifts, try this program, and dominate the platform.
Building power in the gym means moving weight fast to recruit the most motor units possible. This typically involves a healthy dose of power cleans and perhaps a few variations of the other classic Olympic lifts, but I’m here to help you broaden your training horizons.
When it comes to building serious power and explosiveness, you have options and it’s not just ‘change for the sake of change.’ The more athletes I’ve worked with, the more I’ve been forced to expand my power training toolbox beyond just the basics – and the results have been far better than simply power cleaning till the proverbial cows come home.
Each of the following movements should be programmed early in your daily training session, just as you would any explosive movement. You’ll get the most out of these power training movements while fresh.
Your goal with each movement is to recruit the maximum number of motor units before fatigue sets in.
1. Hang Snatch
You didn’t expect a lover of the Oly lifts to choose something other than a variation of an Olympic lift for first on the list, did you? Sorry to disappoint if you did, but the hang snatch wins out for the best explosive power movement.
In terms of power output, the snatch matches the clean closely (1), but for pure coolness the snatch wins every time. And let’s be honest, coolness is a big part of a great training program.
The snatch may be heavy on technique, but once you get the ‘hang’ of it (after some serious coaching, I hope), you’ll find its power-creating potential to be unparalleled; power that carries over to the rest of the weightroom. I’ve never met an athlete that’s strong enough to snatch 225-pounds that couldn’t squat, clean, and bench with the strongest carnivores in the gym.
I chose the hang snatch over the power snatch because it’s much easier for most to achieve a respectable start position from the hang than it is from the floor. The snatch from the floor takes a ton of mobility at both the hips and ankles, and for many athletes this is an area that requires a serious intervention.
2. Kettlebell Swings With Band Resistance
The traditional kettlebell swing could also make my list, as it’s one of the first tools I use to teach young athletes the power of a well-executed hip hinge movement. However, most athletes will find themselves quickly running out of ‘bells as they start to get stronger. Adding band resistance to this movement can add 30-70 pounds of resistance at the top while addressing the end range of hip extension.
It’ simple to add band resistance with a half-inch to one-inch band. Just loop it through the handle and then back through itself, then step on the end of the band with each foot and you’re all set to swing. This movement has the added benefit of not requiring you to buy giant, novelty-sized kettlebells.
Bonus “No band” Movement: Kettlebell Spikes
What happens when you don’t have any bands that fit the bill? Simply enlist an awesome partner to help you perform the kettlebell “spike.” At the top of each swing, have your friend mimic the action of a band and spike the kettlebell back toward the ground. This requires you to resist a tremendous eccentric force, so prepare to feel it in the old hammies tomorrow.
3. Split Jerk
At some point, putting a bar overhead became unfairly vilified, much like Ivan Drago after he steamrolled the beloved Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match. This is a shame, as the jerk creates more power than any other movement in the gym, and Apollo should’ve realized that “exhibition” in Russian loosely translates to “ass whipping.”
The jerk has been shown to generate more power than both the clean and the snatch (2), and is a tremendous movement for developing power through quad-dominant movement.
The power jerk is an awesome move as well, explosive and total body, but splitting the feet takes the movement to the next level. Much of what you do as an athlete revolves around being able to adapt to changing conditions, and changing from a bilateral stance to an offset, semi-unilateral stance trains you to be adaptable.
It also trains your lead leg to be strong in absorbing force. If you have any aspirations of being fast or athletic, this movement is a must for your training program.
4. Medicine Ball Throws
Let’s just get this out of the way: throwing things is a good time. It’s also an unbridled expression of power. Throwing a medicine ball is unlike anything else that we can do in the gym. No deceleration period, only acceleration.
This is also the first movement on my list that trains power in the transverse plane. Transverse plane power is necessary for nearly every athlete, from the high level football player during a change of direction to the beer league softball player-during all non-beer drinking activities.
Throwing a medicine ball is also an awesome core movement to redirect force from the ground through the upper body. The linkage between hip rotation, core stability, and the expression of power through the upper body is hard to miss and tough to beat. Make sure you generate power through the lower body and rotate the back foot to finish the movement.
In the video below one of my athletes is doing a medicine ball side throw, but you could do the same drill with a pressing motion to make it even more effective in your upper body training.
5. Power Clean From Blocks
No list of explosive training movements would be complete without some variation of the power clean. For the same reasons that I chose the hang snatch (mobility requirements) over the power snatch, I’m going with the clean from blocks over a power clean from the floor.
For most athletes, cleans from the floor are difficult to do with good form. Starting the lift off blocks provides the same explosive benefits without exposing your back to injury.
There’s a performance benefit as well. By eliminating the eccentric lowering of the bar to the start position, power cleans from blocks also help develop starting strength.
In the video below I’m doing power cleans from a low block (to work on my transition around the knee), but you could do them from any height that suits your needs.
6. Clean/Snatch/Trap Bar Pulls
The Olympic pull is one of the best tools available to improve power, and is an absolute must if you have any interest in being a better Olympic lifter. At higher loads, the pull is a great way to develop power and get acquainted with moving serious weight in the Olympic lifts.
Both the clean pull and snatch pull help improve your feel with either lift, and you can also do a similar movement with a trap bar. The big advantage with the trap bar is that it allows you to keep the load closer to your center of gravity as opposed to in front of the body in the traditional pull.
The pull is great for athletes with flexibility limitations or when trying to reduce the impact on the upper body. Just be careful not to let the quality of the movement diminish when the weights start to get heavy.
In the video below I’m doing pulls from a deficit first and then contrasting it with a pull from the ground level. Only athletes that have sufficient mobility should try pulls from a deficit.
7. Crossover Sled Drags
We’ve been able to figure out a ton of ways to increase power; unfortunately, most of these methods occur in the sagittal plane. And if you’re an athlete – or work with athletes – improving power in only the sagittal plane will only get you so far. To be truly powerful, in every direction, you need to train in multiple planes.
The crossover sled drag is an awesome tool to train in the frontal (side to side) plane. This explosive move is just like the first step that aspiring NFL players take when they test their lateral movement at the NFL combine. Heavy crossover sled drags also train your backside like nothing you’ve ever done before and leave you super sore when you stumble out of bed the next day.
8. Rotational Lunge Swings
This movement was first introduced to me by coach Robert Dos Remedios and immediately became one of my favorite training tools. A simple rotation of the sandbag (or kettlebell, if no sandbag is available) while descending into a reverse lunge will challenge your strength and core stability in the elusive transverse plane.
Then, when you add in the power of a swing, what you wind up with is a really cool explosive movement – the swing requires decelerating the implement at the bottom of the movement before you explode from the lead leg into hip and knee extension.
9. Seated Box Jumps
While most plyometrics take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle to produce power, the seated box jump removes all eccentric loading and allows athletes to focus on only the explosive, concentric action of the movement.
Taking out the swing of the arms will force you to focus on developing power from the ground up. To take this movement to the next level, hug a weight to your chest. Now you have a loaded plyometric movement that doesn’t trash your joints. Not too shabby.
Like any box jump, make sure you’re truly able to land on the box to which you’re jumping. Choosing a box that’s too high doesn’t make you more of a man, though it will remove some flesh from your shins when you miss.
10. Supine Medicine Ball Reactive Throws
Most of the movements used to train explosive power have a distinct lower body bias. Training the lower body to be more explosive will make you more athletic andÊ teach you to recruit the muscles needed to power through a squat and sprint faster, but explosive upper body power is also important to being freakishly strong in the weightroom.
The supine medicine ball reactive throw is an awesome tool to improve upper body power. These throws train you to maintain a good position through a fast eccentric phase, and then explode through the concentric motion to finish strong. Try using these throws in a superset with the bench press and watch yourself power through the lockout.
Don’t believe the rhetoric that you can’t build or improve explosiveness. It can be done, and it begins with hitting the old school staples like the power clean and snatch with gusto.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the only tools in your toolbox. You have at least 10 other drills (to be discussed later?) at your disposal, and the more expansive your assortment of explosive movements, the better you’ll be at rising to whatever athletic challenges may be in your future.