Category Archives: Snatch Grip Deadlift
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.
Those who know me from my seminars or my writings know that I’m a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts.
Sure, I’ve written about the power lifts, and have coached several powerlifters, but I’ve never competed in the discipline – until this past April 1st, that is. This article is a summary of my experience, and what I learned from it.
Just to set the stage, back in August of last year, I re-injured my left elbow trying to improve my jerk technique. I had (for unknown reasons) developed some calcification in that elbow, which had gradually reduced both my full flexion and extension in that joint.
So I found myself at a crossroads – I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to clean and jerk again, and at the same time had grown disappointed by my limited progress in the “O lifts” in recent months.
I needed a change, a new challenge.
In September, my friend and client Gene Lawrence (a world champion powerlifter in the master’s division) told me about an upcoming raw powerlifting meet: the 100% Raw! Federation’s Southwest Regional Championships in Prescott Arizona, which would be held on April 1st, 2012.
I had about six months to prepare, and the competition was only a few hours away from my home, so after some deliberation I decided to enter.
Before I share some of the important lessons I learned from training for and competing in my first powerlifting meet, I’d first like to tell you why it took me so long to finally “pull the trigger” on this adventure.
I had (and still have) an enormous amount of passion for the sport of weightlifting. I worried that dividing my attentions would hamper my efforts in that sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I’ll share with you shortly.
I felt I wasn’t strong enough to avoid complete embarrassment in the powerlifting world. Although I’d deadlifted 500 pounds a few years earlier, my lifetime best squat was about 365 pounds. Furthermore, while I had done a sloppy “touch and go” 300-pound bench press in my mid-thirties, at age 52, I hadn’t done any form of bench press in years due to shoulder issues. In fact, on the day I sent in my entry form, I probably wasn’t capable of a legal (paused) 200-pound bench.
I wasn’t sure I was capable of performing “legal lifts” in powerlifting. First, after several serious knee surgeries, I have very limited flexion in my right knee. I knew I could squat “close” to parallel, but different federations have different depth requirements, and I wasn’t certain that I could train at or compete with proper depth in the squat.
Second, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bench press intensely and consistently enough to prepare for competition due to the aforementioned shoulder problems. In the past, any time I got more than 5-6 workouts into a bench press program, my shoulder would flare up and eventually stop me in my tracks.
Initial Training Approach: Linear Progression
After a short layoff from my usual training in weightlifting, I started my preparation on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – almost 6 months to the day from the competition. (I started documenting my training right here at T Nation on October 31st, for those of you who might like to reference my training journal).
My initial training approach involved bench pressing and squatting on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlifts every other Wednesday, using a simple “linear progression” approach popularized by Mark Rippetoe here for the bench and squat. I’d work up to a challenging set of 5 on day one, and then 3×5 (with slightly less weight) on the second weekly workout, starting off with very light loads.
On deadlifts, I worked up to a single work set of 5 reps per session (again starting very light). I planned a progression of 5 pounds/session for the bench and squat, and 10 pounds/session on pulls.
Here’s what my initial training week looked like:
Bench Press 3×5
Bench Press 1×5
For squat and bench, I paired a 1×5 lift with a 3×5 lift, rather than doing 3×5 for both lifts on the same day. This was for the purpose of evenly distributing workloads.
I haven’t listed loading parameters for the Olympic lifts, chins, and curls. That’s because I purposely made these decisions intuitively, based on what felt good at the moment. If I felt great on a particular day, I’d try for something big. If not, I didn’t stress about it.
I allowed for occasional variety when it came to the non-competition lifts. The Big 3 lifts, however, were set in stone. I think that training programs should have a “compulsory” as well as an “optional” category, meaning that you should be able to discern between tasks that are central to your goal versus drills that are less critical to your core mission. Therefore, you’ll see that I eventually dropped curls, skipped chins, and so on. Great programs are characterized by a “flexible structure.”
While it may seem excessive to squat twice a week while deadlifting during the same week, keep in mind that volume on Mondays and Wednesdays was fairly low (1×5 for each).
Some readers may notice the complete lack of a general/dynamic warm-up, foam rolling, stretching, and so forth. Personally, I’ve never experienced much benefit in any of these activities, and decided to finally listen to my inner voice on these issues. That said, if you feel you benefit from any of them, certainly use them.
My plan was to run this progression until I hit a wall (which I knew was inevitable), and then devise a new strategy when that happened.
For quick reference, my first 1×5 workouts featured the following loads:
Bench press: 170 x5
Squat: 225 x5
Deadlift: 340 x5
That should give a sense of how light I started off, although these opening workouts weren’t especially easy. I was both embarrassed and nervous on the bench press in particular, given my shoulder history.
That said, I had no pain on those initial workouts, nor did I experience any significant pain or injury during this six-month training period. The only injury I suffered was a moderately-tweaked low back on a 185-pound squat early in the cycle, and a period of 3-4 weeks where I was experiencing moderate left pec discomfort on bench presses. That’s it.
Never before have I experienced a pain/injury-free six months of training, and I sure wasn’t expecting it to occur at age 52.
Reaching A Plateau On Linear Progression
Right around mid-February, I could sense that my linear progression honeymoon period was coming to an end. It was taking all I had to continue making my 5-10 pound jumps, and an additional concern was that April 1st was coming up fast, and 5’s seemed a bit non-specific for hitting big singles in competition.
I had benched 225 x 4 (missed the planned 5th rep) squatted 300 x 5, and pulled 363 x 5, but by this time my discipline had already eroded. I was already “experimenting” (or “pussing out” to be more forthright) by either taking heavy singles, or sometimes going more than 5 reps. Basically I was just sick of 5’s. I needed a new approach before I started losing my discipline altogether.
Enter Chad Waterbury
I’ve known and respected Chad Waterbury for years and asked him if he’d help my with “last minute” peaking strategies. Chad looked at my training journal and told me that in his discussions with people like Franco Columbo and Pavel Tsatsouline, he’d developed a strong affection for a “Medium – Heavy – Medium – Maximum” type of progression.
Medium days were 3 x 3, heavy days were 3 x 2, and maximum days were mock competitions essentially, a chance to evaluate your progress. In terms of progression, each type of workout, when repeated, should be done with slightly more weight.
I immediately implemented Chad’s suggestions, and after about 10 days could feel a renewal, physically and psychologically. My numbers started moving dramatically – before I knew it I was hitting 380 on the squat, 465 on the deadlift, and 255 on the bench, and I felt less drained at the same time. I was peaking. Things were coming together.
In my last month of training, I managed to chalk up a 403 squat, a 255 bench, and a 475 deadlift (see the videos below). I simply wanted to hit these numbers (or slightly more if possible) during official competition, when the pressure was on, without getting hurt. I felt ready go, but I had a lot of unknowns ahead of me…
So How’d I Do?
In terms of expectations, I only had a few:
I really wanted a 400 squat and a 500 deadlift, and I didn’t want to get hurt in the process. I had no idea what to expect on the bench. But I felt I had to be ready for anything, given that this was my first experience in the sport, and also considering that the warm-up room was scantily equipped and crowded.
I had to be prepared for a rushed and/or incomplete warm-up. I had to be ready for the possibility that my squats might not be deep enough, or that I might not be prepared for the various technical rules I’d face on the bench, including the pause, keeping the feet motionless, and so on. I’d trained for all of this, but you never know exactly what you’re up against until it actually happens.
Here’s an event-by event breakdown of my meet:
My last warm-up was with 315, which I had to take from a very low position due to the much shorter guys who were sharing the rack with me. Nonetheless, it felt fine and I was confident overall.
I opened with 340, which felt about as heavy as I expected, and much to my relief I got three white lights – my depth was legal.
My second attempt was with 369, and now that I knew my depth would pass muster, I felt energized and confident. I probably could’ve hit it for a triple if I’d needed to. Three whites.
I went to the administrators’ table and asked for 402, one pound less than my PR in training, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I would’ve been super happy to hit 400, but had I tried, say, 415 and missed, I’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the meet.
402 was heavy and slow. I struggled out of the hole, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the head judge to signal me back to the rack. I think my spotters and I got the bar back on the stands about a second before I nearly passed out from pressurizing against that load. Three whites! I was off to a great start – 3 for 3, no red lights.
You can see my 402 attempt below:
My last warm-up backstage was with 205, and it felt uneventful. My first attempt was 225 pounds – a weight I’d hit for 4 reps in training. I smoked it easily for three whites.
Second attempt: 245. This went up okay, but not as well as I’d expected. Somehow my placement on the bench was off – I reasoned that
I needed to be closer to the uprights for my final attempt. Due to the difficulty of this attempt, and also because I was 5 for 5 at this point, I asked for 253 for my final attempt – 2 pounds less than my training PR.
As I positioned myself on the bench, I remembered the positioning error I wanted to correct, and moved a bit closer to the uprights. Two fifty three went up with ease – the adjustment paid off better than I’d anticipated. On the bench, I again went 3 for 3, and no red lights. My only small regret is that I was probably good for 260, which would’ve been a new PR. That’s what the next meet is for I guess.
You can see my 253 attempt below:
By this point in the day I was pretty wiped out, and my low back and hamstrings were toasted from the heavy squats. One of the unknowns I knew I’d be facing today was that I’d never maxed out my squat and deadlift on the same day.
There was a war going on in my head: a struggle between wanting to play it safe and hit 500, and the desire to get a new PR, say 510 or so. At this point I’d gone 6 for 6 with no red lights, so I decided to commit to a “perfect meet” – going 9 for 9, no red lights, and at least meeting (if not exceeding) training PR’s.
My last warm-up in back was with 405. It was clear that I could’ve hit at least 5 reps with that, so I felt ready for my 440 opener. After I set that down, I was warned by the head judge to lower the bar with more control, which took me by surprise, but nonetheless, I earned three whites for my effort, and asked for 469 for my second attempt, which I handled successfully. The trick of course, is to optimally bridge the gap between my second attempt and my goal for my final lift, which was 501.
Walking out to that 501-pound barbell, I had confidence that I’d already hit that weight before in the past, but also felt pressure that until this point I’d been running a perfect meet. To say that I was determined to make this lift would be a gross understatement.
Internally, I’d worked myself into such a frenzy of effort that I honestly don’t remember feeling the bar in my hands. As I began pulling, I felt relief that I at least got the weight moving upward, but it felt significantly heavier than I expected. I kept pulling, however, knowing that my deadlifts usually move faster than what it feels like.
As the bar passed my knees, I thought, “Okay, I’m home free now,” but my improved leverage was offset by the mounting fatigue. The pull was a grind from start to finish. Finally, I locked it out, and remembering my earlier admonition from the head judge, did my best to lower the bar under maximum control. Hands on knees, I looked back at the scoreboard – three whites! A perfect meet!
In summary, the only change I would’ve made would’ve been to take a heavier final bench attempt, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I felt I’d performed a perfect meet, but what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than winning my first powerlfting meet (oh, did I forget to mention that detail?).
Injury Avoidance: I had virtually no pain during this 6-month training cycle, despite performing nearly every “challenging” lift in the book (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, two Olympic lifts, rows, and chins) hard and often. There are three plausible explanations for my injury-free experience.
First, I started well below my abilities. Second, I progressed very gradually – only 5-10 pounds per session. Third, I didn’t do any “junk” work, which limited my overall wear and tear.
I didn’t do accessory single-joint lifts, nor did I perform “advanced” techniques like eccentrics, plyometrics, chains/bands, partials, or forced reps. I simply did super-basic exercises using tried-and true programming principles, and I did it consistently and progressively.
I never took a single ibuprofen, never iced anything, and I never missed a single workout or failed to hit my numbers because of pain or injury. In short, my training was remarkably low-tech and the only thing exciting about it was that I got bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner; and I did it without injuring myself in the process.
A note about bench pressing: I noted that my traditional experiences with all forms of bench pressing were characterized by shoulder pain and injury. I can attribute my sudden good fortune to only one thing: since September 28th, all of my benches have been done with a pause, as is required in competition.
I believe this pause helps mitigate the high tensions that occur when the shoulder is at its weakest position (when the bar touches the chest). If you’re having issues with your shoulders when you press, put your ego aside and implement the pause – it took me until age 52 to figure that out, so consider this a head start!
Body Composition: Body comp has never been my strong suit. When my focus was primarily on the Olympic lifts, things like squats, presses, and pulls received only cursory attention – by the time I got to squats, I often had nothing left in the tank.
But by putting my primary focus on “big” multi-joint movements done for higher volumes and longer time-under-tensions than what I was used to, lo and behold, I actually started developing a physique. And while I’ve never particularly cared much about aesthetics, I have to admit it’s fun to at least look like I spend time in the gym.
Improved Olympic Lifts: Perhaps the most pleasant outcome occurred as I gradually started reintroducing power snatches and clean and jerks into my prep. Not only did I discover that I could still perform a workable clean and jerk despite my elbow issues, but in late April – after just five sessions and not having performed a single C&J for more than 6 months – I reached 95% of my best C&J ever, despite weighing significantly less and having not practiced that lift in months. I also reached 98% of my best snatch, after only a handful of sessions on that lift as well.
An even more remarkable surprise was that, for years, both snatches and jerks have been problematic on my shoulders, particularly my left shoulder. Remarkably, I found that suddenly, I’m performing very heavy snatches and jerks completely pain free.
This was one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my entire training career. I attribute this to the 6-month break away from these lifts that allowed my old shoulder injuries to heal, but I also believe that bench pressing contributed to my overall shoulder integrity. Furthermore, I became much stronger as a whole, which certainly contributed to my shoulder health and integrity.
Prologue: What I’m Up To Now…
My current goal is to be ready to do either a powerlifting meet or a weightlifting meet at short notice, any time of the year, while continuing to improve my body comp and staying injury-free at the same time. In other words, I want to be a bit more well-rounded as I get older, and I’m having a lot of fun getting stronger in my 50’s without nursing injuries in the process.
The take-home lesson is, there’s lots for all of us to learn, even if we’re well-known experts who’ve been training for decades. I humbly hope that this story has inspired you to reach out and seek new challenges for yourself – no matter how good you are, no matter how much you may know, no matter how old you are, there are new heights for all of us to reach.
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.
Strength coach Charles Poliquin introduced T Nation readers to many strength-training tenets like squatting past parallel, body part splits, and the value of compound lifts.
One of his more radical ideas was doing snatch grip deadlifts from a 4″ podium. He loved this exercise, saying it was among the best for putting on mass, fast. Sadly, with the advent of maintaining a neutral spine, this exercise has been snatched from existence.
Many coaches opt for safer, shorter ROM deadlift variations, especially when working with populations sporting the posterior chain mobility of a crowbar. But not having the mobility now doesn’t mean you won’t have it in the future. You just have to put in extra time if you want to do one of the most underrated exercises in barbell history.
Why Snatch Grip Deadlift?
If getting “walking-like-you-have-Sidney-Crosby’s-Olympic-Gold-winning-hockey-stick-up-your-ass” syndrome after a heavy session of snatch grip deadlifts isn’t enough proof that they “work,” here are some other reasons to do the exercise:
1. Upper-back development.
Olympic weightlifters have very impressive back development. Outside of pulling from the floor with insane frequency, one thing they do that most others don’t is pull with a snatch grip. So if band pull aparts aren’t exploding your posterior delts and upper traps as planned, consider adding this lift into your program.
2. Posterior chain development.
Conventional deadlifting is known for developing a muscular back more than it is for developing muscular legs. This is because, all things considered, the lift doesn’t require a lot of range of motion in the hips and knees.
Even though you’re not lifting as much weight when you use the snatch grip, it’s more of a leg exercise because of the starting position depth. Your hamstrings and glutes gets stretched considerably more, and this is what packs on the size.
3. Assisting conventional deadlifts.
The deadlift, for all practical purposes, is like a half-squat. There’s nothing “normal” about the height of forty-five pound plates, they’re that size because of tradition. To increase ROM, many lifters will pull from a deficit.
The snatch grip deadlift is essentially a deficit pull because the wide grip forces you to get deeper in the starting position. You can now stop balancing on stacked plates like a jackass.
4. It can boost your vertical jump.
I’ve researched vertical jump training thoroughly to prepare my athletes that go onto combine-esque tests. Although journal articles are insightful, nothing compares to analyzing video footage of people attempting vertical jumps.
I’m looking at two stills taken from YouTube. The quality is too crappy to post here, so take my word for it. Both shots show jumpers stopped in the amortization phase of a vertical jump.
The guy on the left boasts a 30″ vertical. Honestly, with the setup he’s using, I doubt it, but for the sake of conversation, let’s say he’s telling the truth. The dude on the right boasts a near 50″ vertical. Since that’s very high, I’m going to bump it down to 40″ to account for YouTube inflation.
We’re left with a 10″ difference. Apart from the guy on the right being noticeably more muscular, they have dramatically different body positions. The guy with the higher vertical is relying much more on hip extension, which equates to more glute and posterior chain use. The other guy is all quads and calves.
Although there are probably many reasons why the one is jumping higher, his body position isn’t hurting him. And strangely enough, it’s a position that resembles the beginning of a snatch grip deadlift.
Get a Grip!
Many who try snatch grip deadlifts get as far as the first set and never to do them again because gripping the barbell mangled their hands into a pseudo-cramped claw. But this lift isn’t meant to be grip work, so don’t fret.
Most Olympic weightlifters use straps in training and the hook grip in competition to save their hands. The hook grip is a gripping technique where your fingers wrap around the thumb instead of the traditional thumbs-atop-fingers monkey grip. But it’s not really meant to be done for long duration sets, and is much more of a “singles” friendly technique.
If you’re serious about the snatch grip deadlift but want to save your hands, you’re going to need straps. Forgo them on the warm-up sets, however, and save them for the work sets.
In the Olympic weightlifting world, it’s customary to setup and start with the shoulders behind the bar so that the quads help the initial push from the floor.
But since we’re not Olympic weightlifters, I prefer to use the pulling mechanics that most heavy deadlifters abide by: shoulder blades directly above the bar, and the bar kept close to the body (scraping the skin off of the shins).
What Not to Do
Having a form breakdown during the snatch grip deadlift is about as easy as a guy having an affinity for Jamie Eason. Since the wider grip stresses the upper back, it needs to stay rigid to keep the system intact. But the upper back is a mixture of many smaller muscles, and it’s not nearly as strong as we’d like it to be. When it fails, the shoulders round over and the lower back soon follows.
Because of this, I prefer “mastering” an easy weight to ease the upper back into the lift. This means volume is added before weight. If you deadlift anything above 350 pounds, a good starting point is 225 pounds for five repetitions. Yes, this will feel “easy,” but it’s necessary to prepare for higher intensities down the line.
Weight on the bar should only be ramped up after you’ve solidified the mobility to use maximum grip width, and have built the upper back tolerance for it.
Before I go further, this article is about snatch grip deadlifts from the floor. Most lifters have enough trouble keeping the back in a good position without the extra height a podium offers. If you toy around with this lift for a while, however, and decide you want to kick it up a notch, feel free to pull from a deficit. At that point you should know whether your back can take it.
Since we’re easing into this exercise, it’s perfect for a “light” lower body day (or light deadlifting day). You can also incorporate it into your conventional deadlifting warm ups. Again, if you’re handling anything above 350 pounds, do your warm ups up to 225 pounds with a snatch grip. The extra range of motion will make your conventional pulls feel easier.
Let’s start at the beginning: “Where should I grip the bar?”
When people think of taking a “snatch grip,” they envision grabbing the bar from collar to collar. But the widest grip I advise (and this is for tall folk) is with the index finger just outside the last ring on the barbell. The narrowest grip would be a grip where the pinky finger is just inside of the last ring. Most, however, will settle in between these two grips.
To find your starting grip, you’re going to have to do some testing. Grip the bar one thumb length away from the smooth. Do one or two deadlifts to groove your form. If you hit them without problems, move your grip out an inch further. Again, one or two reps should tell you whether you’re ready for the grip width.
Repeat this process – re-gripping, testing, and resting – until you’re unable to keep your spine in a good position. Take note of where your hands are because that’s the grip you’ll use until you become flexible enough to hit your optimal width.
If you get as far as pinky finger just inside the ring, then you won’t need much work. Hell, if you’re a shorter person don’t worry about going further. For most, however, it’s best to have at least your fourth finger gripping overtop the smooth ring on the barbell.
To make this clearer, here’s a standard.
Height: 5’7″ to 6’1″ – Index, middle, or ring finger on the ring.
Height: 6’2″ and above – Index finger on or outside of the ring.
This certainly isn’t gospel. If you’re shorter and want to shoot for a wider grip, then I encourage you to go for it. But if your form is breaking down with a not-so-wide grip, you need to work on your flexibility.
To get more flexible for the snatch grip deadlift, you need to practice the snatch grip deadlift position. Complicated stuff, I know.
Load a bar with 315+ pounds (you need enough weight on the bar so that you don’t actually end up lifting it), get into the starting position (the sequence is described below), and then anteriorly rotate your pelvis while lifting your chest up. Use the bar to pull yourself into the ground. You’ll feel this most in your lower back and hamstrings.
Hold the position for 20-30 seconds. Stand up and shake yourself out. Go back and take a wider grip on the bar and do the same, holding for 20-30 seconds. Again, stand up and shake yourself out. For your third set, grip the barbell at what you feel is your optimal grip. Another 20-30 seconds and another shake out concludes your stretching.
Do this as frequently as you can, but especially after your lower body lifting days.
For those already at your optimal grip, take a collar to collar grip and do this stretch for one set after your deadlifting days to develop a safe net of flexibility.
Despite the snatch grip deadlift appearing to be technical wizardry, it’s an easy maneuver to master as long as you’re working within your means.
Start by settling your feet underneath the bar, lining it up over the mid-foot. Your feet shouldn’t be quite as wide as squatting width, but they shouldn’t be quite as narrow as deadlifting width, either.
You need to give your torso some room, so point your toes out anywhere from ten to twenty degrees. This makes getting into the bottom position easier, which helps keep the lower back rigid.
Take your grip on the barbell with the same width that you tested into earlier. Along with having a suicide grip on the bar, make sure you lock your elbows.
Think about pulling the bar apart with your hands. This keeps both the elbows and upper back tight. Losing slack in either of these areas is a recipe for hunching over and losing spinal position. It’s common to “forget” about the elbows because they’re not normally a concern during conventional deadlifts, so make it a point to remind yourself.
The feet are in place and the grip is settled. To finish the setup, bend your knees until your shins hit the barbell. Once contact is made, lift your chest and settle the lower back into a neutral position. You’re now ready to pull.
Drive the bar off the ground using your legs. Envision squeezing yourself into the floor. Be sure to keep your back angle constant during the initial leg drive. When the bar passes your knees, drive the hips forward to a strong lockout with tight hips. Remember to slide the barbell up your body. For the sake of your lower back, don’t let it float away.
As a small aside, be sure to bring your shoulders with you at lockout. If you don’t, depending on your grip width, there’s a good chance the bar will settle right across your junk. Guys, consider yourselves warned.
To set the bar down, reverse the directions above, breaking at the hips until the bar reaches the knees. Reposition yourself after each rep to ensure that your back stays in good position.
Programming the Snatch Grip Deadlift
Most people don’t like to pull heavy twice in one week, and for good reason. Between the squats and other leg work, the lower back and nervous system can fatigue quickly.
The good news is that snatch grip deadlifts will be anything but “heavy,” especially compared to conventional pulls. Approach this exercise with a tortoise mentality. Start at 225 pounds for sets of five.
The purpose of the first cycle is to gradually introduce the snatch grip deadlift and to work on any flexibility issues you may have. Since three weeks of hard training followed by one week of deloading is a common training strategy, that’s the format I’m going to use for this example.
Day 1 (Light day)
|B||Snatch grip deadlifts+||3||5|
|D||Ab wheel rollouts||5||8|
Day 2 (Heavy day)
|D||Bulgarian split squats||2||8|
|D||Band hip rotations||2||10|
+ 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
** done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)
Day 1 (Light day)
|B||Snatch grip deadlifts+||4||5|
|D||Ab wheel rollouts||5||10|
Day 2 (Heavy day)
|D||Bulgarian split squats||2||10|
|D||Band hip rotations||2||10|
+ 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
** done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)
Day 1 (Light day)
|B||Snatch grip deadlifts+||5||5|
|D||Ab wheel rollouts||5||12|
Day 2 (Heavy day)
|D||Bulgarian split squats||2||12|
|D||Band hip rotations||3||10|
+ 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
** done Reverse Pyramid style (work up to a 3-5 RM for the first set, drop the weight by 10% for the second set and hit same number of reps as first set +1)
Week Four (deload)
Day 1 (light day)
|B||Snatch grip deadlifts+||2||5|
|D||Ab wheel rollouts||3||10|
Day 2 (Heavy day)
|D||Bulgarian split squats||1||10|
|D||Band hip rotations||2||10|
+ 3 sets of snatch grip stretching after
** use these sets to retest your grip
Less Reading, More Lifting!
Whether you’re interested in strength or size, the snatch grip deadlift is worth the investment. It’s a great exercise that can complement and improve a traditional deadlifting program while adding extra mass to the upper back, glutes, and hamstrings.
So man up, work on your mobility, and start gripping the bar wider and wider to master snatch grip pulls from the floor. Just don’t complain to me when your friends start making off-color jokes about your newly acquired walk. Of course, once their girlfriends start checking out your beefed-up glute and hamstrings, you might hear a lot less laughing.
Anthony Mychal is an athlete consultant, writer, teacher, and coach. In his free time, he publishes a blog about his musings on athletic preparation at http://www.anthonymychal.com