Category Archives: the Snatch
The epidemic that I speak of?
Horrible versions of the snatch, filmed and put out onto YouTube for the world to marvel at. Just like listening to Fabio talk about astrophysics can drop your IQ by 20 points, watching these videos may lead to immediate reductions in strength and muscle mass.
Well I’m here to put those videos to bed through a lengthy breakdown of my favorite lift in the world: the snatch.
Set up Tight to the Bar
Successful Olympic lifts happen when the lifter and the barbell are moving in one efficient “system.” The lifter-barbell system, as it is called, must share one center of mass, and ideally this center of mass lies within the framework of the lifter’s body. Setting up close to the barbell begins to make sure that this will happen efficiently.
Setting up too far from the barbell will move the center of mass forward of the athlete’s toes and will lead to difficulty in achieving the lift later on.
The proper distance away from the bar is different for athletes based on body dimensions but can be summed up closely for most athletes:
When standing over the bar, the athlete should see their shoelaces covered by the bar. This means that from the coach’s perspective, the bar will be over the midfoot (a much more solid base than the toes) and will be far enough away from the body to allow the lifter to get in the start position.
Stability is the name of the game when it comes to the Olympic lifts, and in the case of setting up for the snatch, stability comes from being in an optimal balance of weight towards the forefoot and the heel.
This optimal balance position is called “tripod foot” position and means that the athlete should have weight balanced between 3 points on each foot. The 3 points of contact are:
- The joint at the base of the big toe.
- The joint at the base of the little toe.
- The heel.
An optimal interplay between weight at each point in the tripod will keep the athlete in balance throughout the lift. The strategy will also allow for corrections to be made in balance throughout the lift. If an athlete is too far forward, then more weight should be distributed to the heels; if the athlete’s toes come off the ground, then more weight can be distributed to the forefoot.
Jump Width or Slightly Wider than Jump Width
The short answer for how wide your feet should be when doing the snatch is “jump width.” The long answer is a little more complex and is more like “it depends.”
Setting up for a hang snatch is a little easier than a power snatch or full snatch from the ground, and in those cases the stance should be jump-width apart. Toes should be pointed out slightly; not much, but slightly.
In the jump-width stance (about as wide as your hips), feet should be directly below your hips. When your feet are directly below your hips, force created in the posterior chain is directed straight into the ground and there is no lateral leak of power. This is a good thing. If we’re using the big movers of the back-side, ideally we’re using the fullest power potential we can create and not losing power to lateral forces.
In the power snatch and the full snatch we’ll again start to think about our starting position as jump width, but trial and error may deem this to be an inappropriate stance for some athletes.
The “depends” part comes into play when getting into the start position. The wider grip of the snatch means that athletes must get lower and closer to the ground to grip the bar. Athletes lacking in hip mobility will achieve this lower position through compensations in lumbar flexion which will, of course, eventually lead to a back that is over fatigued and more prone to injury.
A simple correction is to work on hip mobility and raise the start position on blocks for a period of time. For some athletes, though, it will be necessary to make a modification to the start position on a more permanent basis.
For those athletes, “slightly wider than jump width” is the stance of choice. In this position (the legs slightly abducted) there isn’t as great a demand on hip mobility in the starting position (but they may have to deal with a slight energy leak to lateral forces).
Lock the Lats Down
We use a cue of “lock the lats down” when hands are on the barbell. This is accomplished rather easily. When the athletes’ hands are on the bar, they should picture pinching a roll of quarters in their armpits. Another idea is to squeeze your arms towards your body. Both cues work, so it’s just about finding the right one for the right athlete.
Locking the lats down will pack your shoulders into a strong position, lend more stability to the back, and enable a tight lifter barbell system.
For starters, packing the shoulders down with the lats is a great way to start when your hands are on the barbell. Elevated shoulders will ultimately lead to shoulder pain and discomfort.
Overuse of the upper traps will lead to early fatigue and while I haven’t seen much written on the exact involvement of the upper trap and the shrug movement in completion of the lift, it’s an important part of the lift. Tired traps will not be able to contribute to the lift. Pack the shoulders down by locking in your lats.
Locking the lats also leads to greater stability in the lower back. The origin of the lats is spread vertically down the lower back. When activating this muscle it synergistically assists the lumbar extensors in keeping the lumbar spine, well, extended.
The lats should remain tight until the 2nd pull is initiated. Once the arms become involved, it’s necessary to forget the idea of lat tightness and focus on the fast, relaxed movement of the elbows above the bar. The lats are powerful and if held tight throughout the lift, they’ll inhibit the motion of the arms up and under the bar. That being said, even in a hang snatch, “lock the lats in” is one of the first cues we use.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the idea of a “tight lifter-barbell system.” This idea and a lack of understanding or execution of this idea is at the root of many problems that athletes have in completing the Olympic lifts. The lats being tight leads to this tight system and a better execution of the snatch or the clean.
Hip Hinge to Above the Knee
Regardless of whether one is starting in the hang snatch position or the floor start (like in the power snatch, or full snatch), a hinge is the first movement that needs to occur.
Start each movement by unlocking the knees and then hinging until the hands are at knee level. If you’re doing a floor start, your hands will be free at this point.
If you’re doing a hang snatch, the bar will be in your hands and tight to the body. Both instances – hang and power – require the exact same hip hinge position when the bar or your body are above the knee. That is a constant
Squat to the Bar
The next step is to squat to the bar. When the bar is on the floor, the Olympic lifts are a combination of deep hip angles and deep knee angles.
However, when the bar is in the hang snatch position, the bar is above the knee and the movement is primarily a hip hinge (with slight knee movement). To put together the deep knee and hip angles, we start by RDL’ing/hinging to the knee level and then squatting vertically to the bar.
When in the RDL position at the knee level, the torso is roughly 30 degrees above horizontal (the floor in this case), and ideally we’ll again start at about 30 degrees above horizontal to begin the lift-off from the floor.
Squatting involves the vertical displacement of the hips and will allow this 30-degree angle to be maintained until you reach the bar at rest on the ground.
If there were to be horizontal movement of the hips, thus putting the torso at an angle less than 30 degrees above horizontal, you’ll find it difficult to pull from the ground and maintain a tight lifter-barbell system.
To summarize, to get to the bar on the ground:
- Hinge to your knee level.
- Squat to the bar.
Neutral-ish Neck but Eyes Up
Finding the optimal spinal position in the Olympic lifts is extremely important. Flexion will not do at any point, but a balance between completely neutral and extension is necessary to move efficiently and strongly in the lifts.
The super simple answer to where your neck and in turn, your eyes, should go when you have your hands on the bar is, “keep it neutral.” Cervical spine hyperextension can lead to corresponding lumbar hyperextension, which can in turn lead to some serious pain in the lumbar spine later. We want to avoid this at all costs, so if worse comes to worse, keep the neck completely neutral.
The optimal position isn’t entirely neutral, though. The optimal position is a slightly extended neck/cervical spine, and in turn, a slightly extended lumbar spine.
Let me qualify the statement about the lumbar spine. It should be slightly extended, only to the point that there’s some activation of the spinal erectors to lend more stiffness in the lift and help to avoid spinal flexion.
Keep your eyes on the horizon and let them look forward throughout the lift and don’t focus your gaze on the floor or the ceiling.
Knuckles Back and Down, Elbows Out
The role of the arms is not to screw up the rest of the lift. If the arms are too active, then they’ll likely do just that: screw up your lift.
If, on the other hand, they’re too passive, and no thought at all goes into what your hands or arms are doing in the lift, they won’t be doing their job to keep the lift in the right trajectory.
For the snatch (and even the clean), the goal of the hands and arms is to keep the bar tight to the body; to not let the trajectory arc away from the body.
To accomplish this task is rather simple. Prior to starting the lift, as your hands are first placed on the bar, neutralize the wrists so the knuckles are pointing directly towards the ground and internally rotate the upper arm so that your elbows are pointing laterally.
Now relax. Your arms are in the right position and their only goal is to stay out of the way and then punch aggressively once you need them later.
The Truth About Your Snatch Grip
The biggest problem with most pieces of advice written on the snatch grip is the dependence on various markings and lines on a bar. These recommendations usually center on where the knurling ends or a ring here and there.
If you always train with the same bar, then there’s no great issue with this advice but in cases in which one must train with a different bar, in a different gym, you can be left in the dark as to where to grip the bar.
There’s a simpler solution to always find a consistent grip width for the snatch:
Stand tall with your arms extended and the bar gripped in your hands. Widen your grip until the bar is resting across the crease in your hip. To ensure that you’re at the correct height, flex your hip until your hip is at 90 degrees. If your hip can’t flex to 90 degrees, you’ll need to move your hands wider. This is a starting point for your snatch grip – it may be a little wider or narrower, but this will get you close.
There’s just one more thing about the grip – use a hook grip.
I know it’s going to make your thumbs “hurt,” but I have 12 year old children using it and not complaining, so I don’t need to hear you whine about it.
Powering Up Your Start Position
Most problems with the snatch, and clean for that matter, happen from the floor to the knee. Screw up early in the lift and you have little chance of making the lift later on.
There are several ways to start moving the bar from the ground, including the static start and multiple versions of a dynamic start.
The rocking start is my variation of choice when it comes to the snatch. It requires greater hip mobility and can be difficult to do, but for athletes that struggle with keeping their chest up as the bar breaks from the ground, this is a perfect way to get the bar moving.
Get to the bar in the normal way (hips back, chest up). Once in the start position, keep the chest up and sink the hips even lower. You’ll end up in a nearly vertical torso position. Once the hips are actually below the bar, let them begin to rise, and as the torso reaches the magic 30-degree angle, the bar breaks with the ground.
Going a little further, you’ll sometimes see this method performed with athletes in a “duck stance,” i.e., their feet and knees will be turned out slightly and their torso should be extremely vertical.
The bar will rise vertically rather than back in this stance. It’s a perfectly acceptable strategy, but keep in mind that athletes still need to have a 30-degree torso angle when the bar passes the knees. A too vertical torso will lead to more problems than casting Vin Diesel in the lead role of Downton Abbey.
How to Power Snatch: The Performance
Drive Through the Heels
At the moment of lift off, the athlete should think “drive through the heels,” but maintain contact with the platform with the entire foot.
The cue, “drive through the heels,” can be misleading if the athlete removes any weight from his toe during the lift off. Using drive through the heels is an effort to ensure that the athlete does not get pulled to his toes while lifting off.
Knees Back, Translate the Torso
The initial lift-off from the floor should be done by extension of the knees. Driving the knees back but lifting the torso is what we’re aiming for. The torso should remain in the same relationship to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
In this way, we’re looking to translate the position of the torso vertically through space. This will maintain the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
There’s one thing to be careful of when athletes are driving their knees back. At no time should the shins go “behind vertical.” At maximum, the shins should be perpendicular to the platform.
Bar Sweeps Back
Up to this point we’ve spoken much about the position and movement of the body in the power snatch. The bar, however, does make a slight movement off the floor back toward the body to maintain the tight lifter-barbell system.
The one exception to this is for athletes that have long legs. In those athletes the knees will be in front of the bar while the bar is at rest on the ground. In these cases it’s nearly impossible to move the bar backwards into the body. The goal remains the same, but as a coach you’ll not see a backwards trajectory of the bar.
Slow off the Floor
A big mistake I see athletes make is jerking the bar from the ground. The first pull should not be a violent movement; rather it should be a smooth movement that may even look slow. A goal of the first pull is to set up the second, more violent pull and a fast first pull will likely inhibit the athlete’s ability to be efficient in the second pull.
A good analogy is the following that I picked up somewhere along the line, but cannot recall well enough to give the proper attribution:
At the Knees
Once the bar is at the knees, several things should be occurring, although this is a difficult place to coach the athlete because the system is already in motion. It is however, a great place to break down video and make adjustments to later lifts.
The feet should be flat so the athlete can transition correctly for the second pull. The hips should still be higher than the knees (very little hip extension has occurred up to this point, any movement being primarily knee extension). The torso should still be roughly 30 degrees above the horizontal. The arms should also remain straight – athletes that have bent their arms by this point will have difficulty with completing the second pull.
Creating the Triangle – The Second Pull
A really important concept that I like to teach my athletes is that once in the above knee position, they’ve created what’s called a “power triangle.” This triangle consists of their entire arm, their torso, and the angle of their hips.
From this point on the only goal, and the only way to make a successful second pull is to flatten, or close the triangle. This is a vivid image that can help any athlete hit the correct positions.
Close the Triangle
Once above the knees, it’s important not to rush the bar just yet. Rushing the bar at this point shows up when the knees begin to slide forward underneath the bar immediately after the bar passes the knees.
This movement does not “close the triangle.” The only way to close the triangle is to begin driving the hips forward to extension. The speed of the bar has begun to increase at this point, but is not at its maximum just yet. The bar will be in a mid-thigh position by this point.
Knees Forward (scoop/double knee bend)
A lot is made about the knee bend during the second pull. Entire articles have been written about just the double knee bend and some would make this post look like small potatoes. The fact is this, in a good snatch, the knee bend occurs to align the body in a position to create vertical movement.
Pure hip extension from the above knee position will create too much horizontal projection and the athlete will jump forward. To counteract this it ‘s necessary to perform the double knee bend (or scoop, or transition) for vertical projection. It’s highly debatable as to whether this fact should be coached, or even mentioned to a novice lifter. This movement is a natural phenomenon that is easily seen in typical jumping mechanics.
Finish the Hips and Knees
Once the bar has reached a high thigh position, and the torso has come to nearly vertical, the hips and knees will both be nearly extended. At this point the athlete should finish driving the hips and knees to extension. Athletes may drive up through the toes in this phase and will achieve FULL extension. This is the highest speed portion of the entire lift.
As I’ve lifted more and more and trained higher level athletes it’s become apparent that plantarflexion of the ankle (sometimes improperly called ankle extension) is not a part of the pull. I, repeat, it is not something to be coached.
At best, ankle plantarflexion is a result of a powerful second pull, or a mechanism of pulling under the bar. At worst, ankle extension makes it difficult for the athlete to get back under the bar as it increases the distance that an athlete must travel to get their heels to the ground and the hips in the right position.
Taking a look at high level lifters, you’ll often see what amounts to a flat footed pull. This flat foot position is a trained efficiency. To coach this position, encourage athletes to complete as much of the lift as possible without extending to the toes. “Heels, heels, heels, toes!” is the common cue used in my gym to coach athletes in the right position and tempo.
Relaxed Arms, Elbows High
After the power spike of the second pull, the bar will have tons of inertial energy and it is important to take advantage of it. Just as a boxer keeps his arms relaxed before throwing a punch, maintaining a relaxed arm is important for maximal speed later. The elbows should remain out and above the bar to guide the bar in a path that’s tight to the body.
Punch the Hands
The arms have stayed relaxed to a great degree up to this point, but once the athlete hits the “high pull” position it’s time to use the arms forcefully. The action of the arms at this phase is best described as punching the hands overhead. The hand punch should result in a receiving position that’s in-line with the spine and over the ears.
When the bar is overhead the athlete should actively press up with their upper traps and try to spread the bar apart. There’s nothing passive about holding weights overhead and this is the most active and “strong” position we can create. Don’t worry much about packed shoulders, worry about not letting the bar land on top of your dome.
A common mistake is receiving the bar too far back or too far forward. Lifts that are received forward are typically missed, but it’s lifts that are received too far back that are the real problem. When received behind the body, imagine an image where the torso and the arms make 2 sides of a triangle. As such, there’s great stress placed on the shoulders. Remember to “punch up, not back.”
Hips Back, Feet Flat
This step will occur simultaneously to punching the hands. Athletes should aim to receive the bar in an athletic position just as they would land from a jump. The useful cue we use is to tell the athletes to think, “toe, heel, hip.”
This means toes to the ground, heels follow, hips go down and away from the bar. The athlete will widen his feet slightly from a hip width/jump width stance to a shoulder width/squat width stance to receive the bar. The athlete should also have very little forward or backward travel at the time they receive the bar.
To get a good handle on the width you need the feet to be at landing, have an athlete do 3 consecutive vertical jumps and stick the last landing. This last jump is the position, width, and knee bend that should occur in a good power snatch.
How the Hell do you Get Down There?
It takes a special athlete to be able to complete a good-looking full (squat) snatch. Many athletes will lack the mobility to get into the correct position to receive the bar. This is the last progression we’ll use when incorporating Olympic lifts into athletes’ programs because of this difficulty.
The world’s most explosive athletes use this technique to complete the snatch in competition, so the upside in terms of potential weight used is great. The full snatch is an even greater total body exercise because of the need for great leg strength to come up from the full overhead squat position.
An easy progression from power snatch to full snatch is the following:
Power snatch + overhead squat. Complete the power snatch and then following the rep, descend into an overhead squat.
Power snatch to overhead squat. Receive a power snatch in the 1Ú2 squat or higher position and then ride the bar down into the bottom of an overhead squat.
Full snatch. Aggressively pull under the bar after completing the 2nd pull.
The best lifters in the world aren’t separated by their ability to pull the bar to higher heights and higher speeds. The true separation point is the speed with which they can move under the bar. This is an important point to consider when coaching the full snatch and full clean.
Ask me about a problem with the snatch and you’ll likely get a common prescription – snatch deadlifts and snatch balances.
Most problems at the receiving position can be solved with the snatch balance. This movement mimics the timing and effort that’s required in the catch of the snatch and teaches you to not be a passive participant in the movement. It’s my panacea of snatch related exercises.
Selecting Loads for the Snatch
For goodness sake, can we start by saying that under no circumstances is 30 consecutive snatches for time ever a good loading strategy? With that out of the way, let’s move on to the right way to load the snatch.
The 100% snatch should be about 78% of your 100% clean and jerk. This percentage increases as the athlete becomes more highly trained. The clean is much more about strength and at some point as strength plateaus, your snatch will begin to catch up to your clean.
The power snatch is typically around 80% of your 100% snatch. Pulls and deadlifts can be based off of the 100% number as well.
For novice lifters, much of their training should be centered around using 50% of their 100% snatch. This weight will allow lifters to learn the motor patterns associated with the movement at a less challenging weight. Advanced lifters will get little out of a 50% snatch for reps, and a much greater portion of lifts will be done at 70-80% of their snatch 1RM.
For lifters of all levels the greatest majority of reps should be performed between 70-85% of the 100% snatch and Prilepin’s table can be used fairly accurately to determine the repetitions and sets necessary at each intensity zone.
|Percent Zone||Rep Range per Set||Total Reps|
|70-75%||3 to 6||18|
|80-85%||2 to 4||15|
|90%||1 to 2||10|
I’m a big believer that those learning the snatch should spend more time working with just a bar or up to 50% of their bodyweight than anything else. Every athlete that I work with spends a significant amount of time working with just the bar prior to loading. Spend the time to learn the movement and then have confidence to attack big weights later on.
Wrapping it Up
By no means should you take everything I said in this article and start to add it to your program. Just pick a portion of the lift and start to make it work.
Then move on to the next problem spot and do the same thing until you’ve attained mastery of this magnificent lift.
You can’t beat the snatch – at least not in terms of things you can do in the weight room for developing explosive strength, ridiculous traps, and extreme athleticism.
Unfortunately, few recreational lifters have the slightest idea how to perform a snatch, and those that do often still make some common mistakes that turn this solid exercise into a chiropractor and soft-tissue therapists’ wet dream.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And if you keep an eye out for the following six mistakes, you can take your snatch game up a notch and develop the mountainous traps and explosive power you deserve.
Mistake 1: Always going from the floor
Problems in the snatch often result from bad movement once the lift has begun, but an even more prevalent problem is a poor starting position.
There are a number of explanations for this, but the most common is simply not knowing what the heck a good start position looks like.
At the floor level, the key is to maintain a trunk position that’s about 30 degrees above horizontal. The angle of the shins and the thighs can vary greatly based on the height of the lifter, but the trunk angle remains constant.(1) Get this wrong and you don’t have much of a shot at getting the pull off the ground correctly.
Let’s take a look at getting in the correct position. The true start position for the snatch is uncomfortable, maybe even downright difficult, for the following reasons:
- Hip mobility. A quality you lost by sitting at a desk all day.
- Ankle mobility. Probably taken from you in that heated game of pick-up basketball 3 years ago when you rolled your ankle going for a game winning lay-up.
- Thoracic spine extension. Again, stolen from you by your desk job.
- Trunk stability. Unless you’ve been practicing some awesome diaphragmatic breathing patterns over the last several years, this is probably gone as well.
Most aren’t lacking in every area required to get into the correct start position, but even one red flag means that you’ll default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground.
For example, those lacking in hip mobility, thoracic mobility, or trunk stability will likely default to flexion at the lumbar spine, meaning a jacked-up back is right around the corner.
Fortunately, it’s possible to improve mobility in areas that you’re lacking and achieve the correct start position in no time. So make your first goal to develop mobility and stability where you need it, and then come back to trying to snatch from the floor.
In the meantime, starting the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (a low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that doesn’t include lumbar flexion.
Here’s an example from when I was working on recovering some hip mobility that I’d lost over the years.
Mistake 2: Hitting pop ups.
Getting into the correct start position for a snatch from the floor doesn’t mean that you’re out of the danger zone. A big mistake could still be waiting to bite you in the arse.
We’ve already established the correct torso position for when starting on the ground – roughly 30 degrees above horizontal – and that’s also the angle the torso should be in when the first pull is complete and the bar is above the knees.(1)
Snatching mistake #2 is letting your hips pop up too early. Doing so results in the bar being too far in front of you, and effectively puts your chances of making a good lift on par with the odds of Carrot Top winning an Oscar.
The initial lift off the floor should be done by extension of the knees – driving the knees back while lifting the torso. The torso should remain in the same position relative to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
Now we’re looking to translate this torso position vertically through space. This maintains the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
Here’s a video that shows the difference when your hips rise too fast versus when they rise at the right pace. It doesn’t appear to be a huge difference, but it will significantly affect your ability to complete the lift.
Mistake 3: Not keeping the bar tight to the body.
Just as if you told me you saw an awful movie recently, I’d guess that it probably featured sparkling vampires and bad acting, if you were to tell me that you miss a lot of reps in the snatch, I’d immediately think this mistake was the culprit.
Mistake #3 is letting the bar get too far from your body during any part of the snatch. One of the basic concepts of weightlifting is once the bar breaks from the floor, the body and the bar must act as one unit. This unit, or lifter/barbell system, functions optimally when the bar is close to the body.
There are two typical instances when the bar can get away from you during the snatch:
First pull off the floor
If the bar gets away from the body during the first pull, you’re basically screwed. The lifter/barbell system is loose, and you’ll have a hard time recovering the lift.
To correct this, try pulling the bar tight to the body in a sweeping motion as you start the lift.
After the bar passes the knees is another point in which the bar can get away from you. If this occurs at this stage you have zero hope of making the lift because you’re no longer in control of the bar. As the bar drifts out away from the body, you must move away from your upward motion path and jump forward to catch the bar.
Mistake 4: Not closing the “triangle.”
The next mistake goes by a number of names: a short pull, leaving the hips out, or not finishing with extension. We call it “not closing the triangle” and it’s mistake # 4 on the list.
The triangle is the position you achieve when the bar is above the knees. This position is important to form: the hips are away from the bar, the arms are directed back towards the thighs, and the chest is over the bar forming three sides of a “power triangle.”
The triangle stores a ton of potential power – the hips are primed and ready to explode with force on the bar. It’s easy to achieve any sort of triangle above the knees, but often people are unable to shut it.
Focus on driving the hips to the bar as soon as the bar passes your knees. Finish the second pull and shut the triangle with force and finality to get the most out of your snatch. If you leave it “open” you’ve left a lot of power on the platform that could’ve been used to lift bigger weights.
Mistake 5: Being a swinger.
In snatching there are two types of people: swingers and pullers.
Although the term “swingers” invokes pleasant images of a loose and free-loving lifestyle, being a swinger isn’t a good thing when it comes to the snatch.
Efficient weightlifters finish the second pull with a vertical spike of power. Swingers, on the other hand, finish the second pull with a forward spike of power, leading the bar to “pop” off their hips in a distinct forward arc.
While big weights can be lifted in this way – you’re still reaching full, powerful hip extension – it’s far from efficient, and will lead to more missed lifts than you’d care to have.
Focus on achieving a vertical finish to the bar. Know that by actively pulling yourself under the bar you’ll be able to get around the bar, rather than making the bar move around your body.
The video below shows the big difference in bar path and the loss of efficiency that comes from swinging versus pulling.
Again, it isn’t a huge difference in the “looks” category, but one that will screw you up big time going forward. And that’s why it’s mistake #5.
Mistake 6: Catching like a Starfish.
A largely overlooked component of the Olympic lifts is the receiving portion. The snatch is great for force production, but just as important is the force absorption that takes place as you receive the bar.
This position should look like landing from a jump. When it doesn’t, not only are you missing out on the benefits of force absorption, you’re also training yourself to land in bad positions in other athletic movements. Your training just went from injury prevention to injury promotion. Hello mistake #6.
The starfish is an ugly creature that likes to poke its head out when weights approach a maximum. Most have seen it before, and likely done it as well. The feet splay out wide, with all the weight towards the toes. It’s about the least athletic position you can imagine.
Landing like a starfish occurs because you haven’t prepared to move rapidly under the bar. Your body defaults to what it thinks is the fastest way, which in most cases happens to be the feet wide, starfish position.
Prepare yourself by doing drills like the snatch balance to improve your comfort level in getting under the bar for max weights. Although this drill requires that you go into a full overhead squat to receive the bar, it will still equip you with a strategy to get under the bar that’s far better than the starfish.
Wrapping it up
There are plenty more mistakes lifters make when performing the snatch, but these 6 are the big ones that keep most from hitting big weights. Correct these mistakes and you’ll be on your way to putting some serious weight over your head.
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.
50% of the Snatch Occurs Above the Shoulders
You Are a Special Snowflake
- To prevent this from occurring, lightly pull against the bar before initiating your actual pull. This will allow you to create tension in the hamstrings, glutes, and back.
- Don’t try to accelerate the bar from the floor with all your force initially. The first part of the pull will be slower than the second. Think of a car accelerating from 0-20 mph then 20-60mph. When you try to go “0-60 mph” your position will be out of alignment.
Two birds…One Stone
|A||Power Snatch (PS)||10||1||1 min.**|
|EMOTM for 10 min. at 85% of 1RM (PS)*|
|A||Snatch High Pull||10||2||1 min.**|
|EMOTM for 10 min. at 110% of 1RM (PS)*|
** rest 5 min. between exercises
|A||Power Snatch (PS)||10||8||1 min.**|
|EMOTM for 10 min. at 65% of 1RM (PS)*|
|A||Muscle Snatch||10||8||1 min.**|
|EMOTM for 10 min. at 50% of 1RM (PS)*|
** rest 5 min. between exercises