Category Archives: Cleans and Snatches
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.
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.
Is there an exercise that can improve power, strength, dynamic flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, and overall athleticism, all while helping your deadlift and even adding thickness to your traps?
There sure is. Enter the snatch.
Power is “speed plus strength” and there’s nothing like Olympic style weight lifting to build this type of explosive athleticism. The development of the coordinated triple extension also has great transfer to athletic performance, so any lifter would be foolish not to include this in their program.
Unfortunately, some coaches and athletes shy away from the snatch out of fear of injury or due to a lack of knowledge or technique. It does take time and effort to learn these lifts, but the payoff is well worth it.
Some Lingo First
Snatch. Implies the bar is lifted off the floor and received in the bottom of an overhead squat.
Pocket Snatch. The bar is lifted off the floor with a snatch grip in front of the hips. The knees jut forward, but the torso remains behind the bar. The bar is then explosively pulled into the overhead position. The body can receive the bar in a full or quarter squat.
Power Snatch. The bar is lifted off the floor and received in a quarter squat overhead.
Hang Power Snatch. Implies the bar starts in front of the hips and is slid down below or just above the knees and is received in a quarter squat.
Olympic Lifting Shoes & The Hook Grip
O-shoes are the preferred footwear for the snatch as they provide a rigid platform to drive your feet into. The raised heel creates a slight anterior weight shift that allows for optimal balance during the snatch and clean lifts.
The hook grip takes a while to get used to, but it allows for more weight to be held in the long run. Initially it sucks, but you’ll just have to grow a pair and get used to it.
To hook grip, grab the bar with an overhand grip; wrap your thumb around the underside of the bar, and then hook your fingers around your thumb.
Pulling Stance, Squat Stance & Snatch Grip
When performing the pull, the feet should be roughly hip-width apart – let’s call this pulling stance. The landing position, which we’ll call squat stance, should have your feet slightly wider than the pulling stance to allow for optimal balance when receiving the bar in a quarter or full squat.
Practice quickly maneuvering from the pulling stance to landing stance with this drill: stand in the pulling stance, lift your feet off the ground a minimal amount and land in squat stance while dropping into a quarter squat. Don’t jump, just leave the ground and slide the feet out quickly.
Check out the video below:
Find your snatch grip by holding a bar with a double overhand grip. Slide your hands out until the bar rests at your hip-crease. Test this by flexing your hip. This position is an appropriate snatch grip to start with – slight alterations can be made later if needed.
I learned the term pocket position from S&C Coach Eric Drinkwater. With your snatch grip and your feet in the pulling stance, slightly push your knees forward, but keep your torso upright and behind the bar.
This is the most important position when learning the snatch. It’s the position that you’ll always go into at the top of the second pull. Learn and own this position. The only time the torso will be behind the bar during the snatch is at this moment.
Working on thoracic and shoulder mobility in your warm-up will help you achieve a nice snatch. Loosening up your hips will also do your snatch justice.
T-Spine Roll Out Over Foam Roller. Gently roll up and down the length of your thoracic spine over a foam roller. Support your head while gently driving your chin downward. Flare out your elbows while you try to stretch your chest and front shoulders. Go up and down 10-15 times.
Sit-to-Stand with T-Spine Extension and Rotation. This drill is great for improving mobility for the overhead squat.
Stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart. Bend over, round your back, soften your knees, and touch your toes. Push your knees to the outside of your arms, keep your heels flat and actively pull yourself “into the hole.” Keep your knees pushed out and drive your chest upward while driving your hips ass-to-grass. Try to maintain a neutral spine while opening the chest.
Reach for the sky with one arm while rotating through your t-spine. Drive your thumb back and hold for a few seconds. Return the arm down and switch sides. Return that arm down and now bring both arms overhead. Push your knees out and chest upward while fully flexing your shoulders. Stand up, fold over and repeat. Perform 10 reps.
Shoulder Dislocations. Hold a stick with a snatch grip and bring the stick overhead and behind your body without bending your elbows. If your shoulders are too tight, start with a wider grip and slowly move your hands inward to your snatch grip as your shoulders start to warm up. Perform 15 reps before going into the barbell movement prep.
Barbell Complex Movement Prep
Perform 3-5 reps of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets at the beginning of each workout. The more practice, the better!
Romanian Deadlift. With your snatch grip in your pulling stance, soften your knees and push your hips back while you hinge forward. Keep the bar close, your back tight, and shoulders set. Poke your chin forward and finish with the bar slightly below your knees.
High Snatch Pull. Slide the bar down your thighs to the top of your knees. Poke your chin forward and keep your back tight, chest out, and shoulders set, as in the Romanian deadlift. Snap your hips forward as you jump. Let your shoulders shrug and let your arms bend. Let your elbows drive up as your body goes into the scarecrow position.
Muscle Snatch. Perform the high snatch pull, but this time, let the bar continue upward and extend your arms to lock the bar overhead.
Overhead Squat. Finish your last muscle snatch and move your feet to squat stance. Perform deep ass-to-grass overhead squats. Keep the arms locked and keep the bar just behind your ears. Pull the bar apart to create stability in your shoulders.
Heaving Snatch Balance. Place the bar on your upper back and stand in pulling stance. Push your knees forward (dip) and drive the bar upward, all while transitioning into the squat stance and dropping into an overhead squat. Stick the landing and stay tight. Now perform an overhead squat from this position. Return the bar to the back and move your feet back to pulling stance.
Top Down Approach Snatch Progression
This is a modified progression Coach Glenn Pendlay recommends to beginners. If you’re an athlete and don’t plan on competing in weight lifting, the hang power snatch is all you need.
Not receiving the bar in a full overhead squat requires you to pull more explosively, plus it doesn’t require as much technique as the full snatch. But if you’re up for a challenge, you can progress to the full-blown snatch.
Pocket Power Snatch. This variation teaches you to be behind the bar at the top of your second pull. Grab a weighted bar with a snatch grip. With your feet in pulling stance, set your shoulders. Push your knees forward slightly and keep your torso behind the bar.
Pull explosively as if doing a high pull and keep the bar in tight. Receive the bar locked overhead as you pull yourself under the bar into a quarter squat.
Pocket Power Snatch to Overhead Squat. This combination exercise will teach you how to support more weight overhead while performing an overhead squat. It will also teach you to explode the bar upward while pulling yourself underneath it fast.
Add a little more weight to the bar and perform a pocket power snatch. Instead of standing after receiving the bar, perform an overhead squat.
Pocket Snatch. Set yourself up just like the pocket power snatch. This time, you’ll receive the bar locked overhead in the bottom of the squat. Stay tight at the bottom and feel like you’re pulling the bar apart. Drive out of the hole and finish with your feet together.
Hang Power Snatch (above knee). In this progression, you’ll form the “bow & arrow” made famous by coach Dan John. Grab the bar with a snatch grip with your feet in pulling stance. Puff your chest out and start to hinge forward. Push the bar into your thighs so it drags on your shorts – this tightens the lats and keeps the bar close to the seat of power. Keep your chest over the bar and stop above your knees.
From this position, push your knees forward while extending your hips. Your torso will rise quickly. You want to achieve the pocket position before going into the scarecrow position.
Keep the arms straight until the shoulders shrug. As Glenn Pendlay says, the power stops once your elbows bend. Receive the bar overhead with locked arms in a quarter squat.
Hang Power Snatch (below knee). In this progression, perform the steps as in the hang power snatch (above knee), but this time, transition the bar just below the knees. Stay tight in your torso and push your hips way back. Keep your shoulders set and the bar in close.
Push the floor away, drag the bar up your shorts and find the pocket position. Explosively pull upward and receive the bar with your arms locked out overhead in a quarter squat.
Power Snatch. The snatch off the floor includes the first pull, otherwise known as a snatch grip deadlift. Set up in pulling stance with a snatch grip. Keep your shoulders well over the bar. Do not pull the bar fast off the floor. Picture yourself accelerating the bar off the floor into the racked position.
As you start to move the bar off the floor, extend your knees but keep a constant torso angle until the bar passes the transition zone around your knees.
From here, you’re familiar with the movement from practicing the hang power snatch (below knee). Drag the bar up your shorts, find the pocket position and boom – the bar sails upward as you pull yourself under the bar.
Receive the bar with locked arms overhead in a quarter squat. Stand up and finish with your feet together.
Snatch. Finally! Perform the same movements as in the power snatch, except this time, pull yourself under the bar and receive it with locked arms in a deep squat. Stand and finish with your feet together.
Congrats, you just did your first snatch. We always remember our first time.
Use these as assistance lifts to the snatch. Work on your snatch at the beginning of your workouts, followed by one of these bar drills. Keep the sets and reps around 3-5.
Press Behind Neck – Snatch Grip
This exercise develops balance and coordination while supporting weight overhead. It also develops the flexibility required in the shoulders for a good snatch.
Start with the bar on your back with a snatch grip. Stay tight and tall. Take a breath of air and press the bar up. Hold the lockout position for one second and carefully return the bar to your back.
Pressing Snatch Balance
This exercise develops coordination, balance, and strength. With a snatch grip and your feet in squat stance, simultaneously press the bar overhead while pulling yourself into a squat. When you reach the bottom of the squat, the bar should’ve just been locked out. Now perform an overhead squat. Return the bar to the back and repeat.
Heaving Snatch Balance
This is the same exercise described above in the bar movement prep, but with weight. Don’t worry about how much weight is on the bar. Focus on speed of execution, timing, coordination, and balance. Leave your ego at the door and own this exercise. As S&C Coach Matt Wichlinski says, this is yourmoneymaker.
These movements are skills that will require practice and patience. Perform the barbell complex movement prep in every warm up, even if you’re not snatching. More volume throughout the week will engrain the timing and movement patterns necessary for an effective snatch.
After your dynamic warm up, t-spine and shoulder mobility work, and barbell complex movement prep, choose a snatch variation to work on.
For example, one day work on pocket power snatches to overhead squats. On a different day, work on power snatches. Keep the sets and reps around 3-5 for both. One rep every-minute-on-the-minute is also a great way to get in volume and practice.
I like doing one-rep-every-minute-on-the-minute for 10-15 minutes, but sometimes I’ll do 20-25 minutes. Have fun with it and be creative.
Afterwards, work on one of your bar drill assistance moves and call it a day.
Time to work.
A sure-fire way to stand out at the commercial gym as a knowledgeable and athletic trainee is by performing solid, ball-busting sets of Olympic lifts. Nothing else in the lifting game requires as much skill, timing, athleticism, and power as taking something heavy and flinging it up to shoulder level or beyond in one explosive burst.
It’s out of respect for the presumed technical demands of the Olympic lifts that many lifters avoid them like post-workout soymilk lattes. “You gotta learn those lifts when you’re young if you want to be good” they say, before returning to yet another ass-numbing superset of Hammer strength presses and concentration curls.
To a certain extent, they’re right. Sort of.
What about folks who are interested in learning the Olympic lifts but have no intentions of trying out for the next Olympics? The effects the Olympic lifts have on fat loss and muscle growth have been well documented – why shouldn’t recreational lifters try to safely implement them into their training programs?
To that end, here’s an easy guide to learning two of the basic Olympic lifts: the clean and the snatch.
What to Mobilize
Achieving the desired catch position for the clean requires considerable mobility through the shoulders and wrists. Exercises like shoulder “dislocates” and static stretching the pecs, lats, and triceps will help optimize the quality of the wanted positions.
The second area of focus should be the thoracic spine. Foam roller extensions and a PNF intercostal stretch are your friends here. Nothing’s worse than pulling some cleans with a bad case of the turtleback.
What to Activate
The number one thing to think about with Olympic lift technique is to have strong, responsive external rotators. This is dictated by several key muscles. Activating your rotator cuff muscles through face pulls, YTWLs, and dumbbell external rotations will help prime those muscles and assist in externally rotating the arm sufficiently to achieve a desired catch position.
Another key player in any Olympic lift are the traps. The traps drive the crucial shrugging action that “pops” the bar up to the transition point for the catch phase, and even the smaller, lower traps get in on the action by helping lift the ribcage. This promotes both good standing posture and a proper place for the bar to be positioned for a clean grip and for an overhead position. When programming, think trap-3 raises, pulldowns, and Yates rows.
Olympic Lift 1 – The Clean
There are many variations that fall under the category of “cleans”:
- The power clean (pulling from the floor and catching high)
- The squat clean (hang position, and a “dive” under the bar for the catch)
- The hang power clean (hanging start and high catch)
- The pocket clean (starting very close to standing)
- The hang clean (hanging start, and a deep catch)
The easiest to coach and to learn is the hang power clean. It’s also usually the most useful to everyday lifters, so we’ll stick with that variation.
The How – To
- Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes pointing dead forward.
- Stand tall, and with the bar hanging at arms’ length.
- With a flat back, slide the bar down the upper thigh until it reaches about knee level. In this position, make sure that the shoulders are positioned slightly over the bar for the muscles of the upper back to properly contribute to the first pull.
Next, to make the lift happen, a triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints are followed by a powerful shrug action to launch the bar up to shoulder level.
Where many run into problems is in the catch phase, “it’s all in the elbows.” In his DVD Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe uses a simple drill to emphasize the need for high elbows. Mark uses his hands as a target, and makes the lifter “high five” his elbows into his hands as quickly and sharply as possible. Even if you don’t have a partner, you can still try this.
Don’t be afraid to pull slowly for this particular drill. Starting with the bar already in the rack position also helps get the right “groove.”
Unlike the power clean from the floor, most won’t be able to pull mind boggling weight from the hang position. For this reason, it can be implemented more readily into your conditioning workouts as a tool for a high tempo, fat burning exercise.
Here’s the finished product:
Olympic Lift 2 – The Snatch
I’ll use the power snatch from the floor in this case. When performing a snatch of any kind, remember to grip the bar at least one full fist outside standard bench press grip, if not more. The remaining set-up mechanics are surprisingly similar to the previous lift.
- The feet start at hip-width apart.
- The same triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hip begins the movement. In the case of the snatch, there has to be a bit more force produced into the bar to project it overhead. This is where “target points” come into play.
- Once the upward triple extension is completed, the bar should briefly contact the same spot on the upper leg each time you do the movement. Time this with a strong shoulder shrug.
Remember, based on human anatomy and biomechanics, you’re not going to be as powerful moving the bar from the floor to the knee level as you will be moving it from above the knee (already in motion) to overhead. So don’t intend to have full acceleration before the bar crosses the knee.
Use that landmark on the upper leg (somewhere around where the pockets end in your pants) to serve as a “launching pad” for the bar to blast upwards. There will be a high pull involved, though not as distinct as the one used for the clean.
A common mistake I’ve noticed performed in the snatch is the need to “lock out” the bar at the top of the lift. This can be a product of two things: the weight being too heavy, or not enough “dive” underneath the bar.
Again, in a full snatch (the kind you’ll see performed in the Olympics), the lifter will drop right under the bar into full overhead squat position. Since we’re just doing a power snatch, this degree of depth isn’t necessary, but there still needs to be a transition of slightly “pulling” your body under the bar as the weight moves to the top. Notice the shallow overhead squat that’s assumed to achieve this in the video below.
Let me humbly state that there are thousands of articles, videos, and YouTube clips dedicated to aspiring weightlifters who wants to improve their performance of the Olympic lifts. If you’re already a semi-proficient Olympic lifter, well, you basically just wasted 10 minutes of your life by reading this.
Yet as informative as these highly detailed articles are, they often neglect the lifter who’s just after some athletic muscle. Some guys (and girls) want to incorporate technically sound Olympic lift variations into their programming for strength, power, and fat loss. It might not be the Olympics but it’s a worthy cause nonetheless!
I look forward to your comments in the LiveSpill.