What is the Snatch?
Of the two Olympic weightlifting movements, the snatch is by far the most complex. A masterful combination of technique, power and strength that demands total concentration and dedication.
Which is why it’s so beautiful when done correctly.
Olympic Weightlifting has a hosts of benefits that transfer beautifully across other sports, however the Snatch is often neglected because it takes years to fully master.
Whereas the Clean and Jerk can be done proficiently much sooner, making it the preferred choice for most coaches and athletes.
To properly execute the snatch it must be broken down into sections; 3 pulls if you will.
But this is a complex move that needs coaching and dedication to reach an elite level. Actually it takes dedication to even reach a passable level.
Benefits of the Snatch
The snatch has a host of benefits attached to it. It’s nothing like as taxing as the deadlift, so you could perform it with a high frequency. But it’s far more technical than even the clean and jerk, so the mental concentration requires can be frustrating.
But if you take it seriously, there’s very little it can’t help with physically.
1. Increases Power: The better you get at the lift, the greater the rate of force development (all other variables staying the same). Your increased power output can translate to improved sports performance. But given it’s technical proficiency, the snatch may not be the wisest choice for sporting prowess.
2. Increases Speed: Olympic weightlifting is often incorporated into sprinters training regime as it mimics the hip, ankle and knee flexion in a vertical jump. The ability to add weight to it improves an athlete’s ability to jump higher and run faster.
3. Improved Flexibility: Your ability to get into the bottom position of the snatch requires excellent ankle and hip mobility. You’ll need to perform additional mobility drills like the overhead squat and snatch balance, but it’s absolutely worth it.
4. Increases Vertical Jump: Jumping with additional stimulus can only improve your vertical jump. Fantastic for overall sports performance as it mimics the power output structure associated with knee, hip and ankle flexion.
5. Improved Core Stability: Core stability is more than just a six pack. Holding weights overhead and working on balance and stability in the lifts will help prevent force leakage and carryover to almost every lift. Snatch proficiency can mitigate injury risk by helping you better resist force and flexion
6. Increased Metabolic Rate: The power required in Olympic weightlifting workouts uses substantial ATP energy. Compound movements that utilise multiple large muscle groups burn fat and raise your metabolic rate incredibly efficiently. Whilst you may not look like a bodybuilder, you’ll probably look better than a powerlifter. But not a powerbuilder.
7. Overhead Strength: Holding the weight overhead in the snatch position will tremendously improve your lat and shoulder strength. As soon as you initiate the second pull your lats must be engaged. Performing isometric holds with the bar overhead will improve your back and shoulder strength from a particularly awkward position.
8. Improved CNS Efficiency: The snatch is the most complex lift of them all. The Olympic lifts train your CNS particularly effectively as it improves your ability to utilise your kinetic chain. The more proficient you become, the better your ability to manage fatigue through even the most complex of lifts.
How to Improve your Snatch?
No matter what level you are or what your deficiencies are in the movement, an increase in frequency, volume or intensity will help you improve. But the simplest way to improve your snatch is to improve your overall leg and overhead strength,
So improving your squat is a major priority.
But it’s much, much more than that.
As a beginner you should be attempting to perform the full snatch once you have the capabilities to do so. I like to work with the top down technique, which means you run the below in a sequence before you put the pieces together:
- Overhead Squat
- Snatch Grip Push Press
- Snatch Balance
- High Hang Snatch
- Hang Snatch
- Snatch Grip Pull
It may seem like a lot of steps to perform one movement, but the complexity of the snatch demands it. You might want to play around with it, but I would suggest starting with this and then adding in pauses to the overhead squat and snatch grip pull.
Once you feel confident with this complex, then try to snatch. When you start to snatch you’ll be able to identify and then improve upon your weak points.
But really the snatch can be broken down into three pulls. In order to improve the lift as a more intermediate lifter, you need to breakdown and improve each of the pulls. Refining technique is far more important than strength in the snatch. You don’t require anything like your 1RM for other compound movements or even for the clean and jerk
The below table is a rough guide to how the lifts compare to the back squat 1RM:
|Corresponding Lift||% of Back Squat 1RM|
|Front Squat||82.5 – 87.5%|
|Clean||75 – 80%|
|Power Clean||62.5 – 67.5%|
|Clean Pull||100 – 110%|
|Snatch Pull||90 – 100%|
You can see how much lower the snatch is than everything else. Even at an elite level if you can reach >60% of your back squat 1RM that’s pretty efficient.
How to Improve the First Pull in the Snatch
Just to be clear, the first pull in the snatch encompasses the lift from the floor until the second pull is initiated, typically around the knee to mid-thigh.
It’s designed to put you in the ideal position to initiate the second and third pull. Speed isn’t the key factor, so pulling it faster and faster is a surefire way to a shit snatch.
Keeping your shoulders over the bar for as long as possible and accelerating as you begin the second pull requires patience and timing, but it’s better than yanking it harder than a feral teenager.
Essentially you should be looking to move as fast as possible whilst maintaining an ideal position for the second stage of the pull. Below is what I believe the ideal way to train the first pull:
1. Snatch Deadlift – to knee: Setup in the snatch position, keep your shoulders over the bar and chest pulled up. Then slowly pull the bar to your knees where you can hold it for a second before putting it back down. Repeat 5 times.
2. Halting Snatch Deadlift – isometric hold: Setup in the typical snatch position with your shoulders over the bar. Keeping your chest up and shoulders over the bar, pull until the bar reaches your knees and hold it for 5 seconds. This is designed to reinforce positioning and maintain tightness. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
3. Halting Snatch Deadlift: Exactly the same as the above, but instead of pausing for 5 seconds at the knee, hold it for 3 seconds and then pull the bar to your mid thigh where you can pause again. Your shoulders should begin to pull back at the second pull, which is where you generate most of the power. But forget about power for the meantime. You need to drill positioning, not power to begin with.
Keep the first pull slow to begin with. Obviously you need to pull with enough force to reach the second stage, but focus on keeping the bar tight to your body and your shoulders over the bar until the last second.
At no stage during the pull should the bar slow down. Once you’ve reached a certain pulling speed, you need to maintain it. You must push continuously through the floor with your legs – much like in a deadlift. Once you start thinking about the second pull, you can push harder and add in your explosive hip extension.
But if you’re reading this guide, the chances are you’re shite at the snatch. So take it slow. If you were dating the snatch, it would be hard going. Beautiful sure. But time-consuming and largely unfulfilling.
But hard work is in itself the reward. Say all the miseries you never managed to nail it.
How to get Under the Bar Faster
Getting under the bar is one of the hardest things to master when snatching. It takes precision, timing, patience and a stable bottom position.
Improving your overhead squat, adding weight and increasing the length of the pause is the best way to improve your bottom position stability.
The next thing you need to work on is your speed under the bar. This is where timing and confidence are essential. Working from blocks or the hang position forces you to produce power with no effective momentum. By negating the first pull you’re effectively pulling from scratch from a higher position.
So by pulling from the blocks you are forced to improve your speed under the bar. But this is secondary to improving your bottom position and why the top down technique is so effective. Without a stable bottom position you’ll always fail, so it behooves you to spend time improving stability first, then working on your seed udner the bar.
The Top 5 Snatch Accessory Exercises
Overhead Squat: Fantastic for improving your overhead stability and flexibility in the bottom position. As a beginner you should start with no weight on the barbell if you find it tricky to reach the required level of ankle flexibility. Add in a pause at the bottom and continue to hold until you feel comfortable in the hole for more than 10 seconds.
Snatch Balance: A dynamic snatch receiving exercise that is ideal for someone who’s recently mastered the overhead squat. It incorporates technique and speed forcing you to become accustomed to taking weight into the bottom position at speed. Initially it will feel alien and you’ll be slow at getting into the hole, but it’s tremendously effective at improving stability and technique after the second pull.
High Hang Snatch: Easier for beginners than learning the full snatch and ideal for improving your speed under the bar. It develops force production in the extension and is ideal for improving your second pull. A natural progression from the snatch balance and an ideal accessory lift for lifters looking to increase their time to fixation.
Snatch Pull: The starting pull is the most important stage of any lift. Without proper technique, the rest of the lift is ruined. So keeping your shoulders over the bar and pulling until the point of contact is a great technical primer. Incorporate a pause at the knee when you feel comfortable using the lift to help reinforce positioning throughout the lift.
Snatch Grip Push Press: Obviously you need to improve your overhead stability and power with the snatch. The snatch grip push press increases your overhead strength, shoulder and chest flexibility (ideal for those who frequent the bench press) and your overhead mechanics. It’s combination of leg drive, upper body strength and lockout improvement make this push press variation perfect for beginners looking to move towards the snatch balance.
The sots press is an equally useful variation for training proper overhead technique in the snatch.
What Muscles do Snatches work?
|Gluteals||High||Lower back and hamstring injury prevention|
|Quadriceps||High||Explosive power production (jumps) & knee injury prevention|
|Hamstrings||Medium||Explosive power production (sprints) & functional motion improvement|
|Trapezius & Deltoids||Medium||Ideal for posture, pressing strength and back stability – ideal for office workers|
|Posterior Chain||Medium||Lower back injury prevention, increased potential pulling strength & improved ability to cope with rotational force concerning the spine and abdomen|
|Core||Medium||Lower back injury prevention & improved stability / posture|
Beginner Snatch Workout
As previously discussed the top down method is in my opinion the easiest way to teach yourself the snatch. It is simple to follow, as all you’re doing is following the protocol in reverse. It breaks the lift down into bitesize chunks (sic. GCSE revision many moons ago) and allows you to learn the simpler sections first.
Try the below sequence out as a warmup before your main session:
- Overhead Squat
- Snatch Grip Push Press
- Snatch Balance
- High Hang Snatch
- Hang Snatch
- Snatch Grip Pull
Now what’s important in a beginner snatch workout is to train strength and technique. 100% focus on technique is mentally draining and in all honesty you won’t feel like you’ve worked out. The whole point of weight training (in my opinion) is to release stress and positive endorphins whilst learning a skill.
If you don’t vary your training and include some strength work and conditioning / hypertrophy work in your session, you’ll miss out on benefits of hard work and you’ll lose interest. It’s a lifestyle and one to be enjoyed. In lieu of that, here’s an example beginner training session for the snatch:
|Warmup (top down technique)||3-5 sets||Barbell (add low weight if you feel comfortable)|
|Overhead Squat||3 (3)||30-50% Back Squat 1RM|
|Drop Snatch||5 (3)||Minimal|
|Snatch||5 (2)||60-70% Snatch 1RM|
|Back Squat||3 (8)||70% Back Squat 1RM|
|Pull-Ups||3 (10 – 8 – 6)||n/a|
As a beginner you’re unlikely to know what your 1RM is. In any case your technique is likely to be so horrible (sorry) that it’s not a true 1RM. So play around with the weight until you feel comfortable.
The drop snatch is a brilliant technical variation that will improve your confidence under the bar and help improve your timing in the turnover. The key is to not pull too high or too early. Patience until the point of contact and then pull up and drop under as efficiently as possible.
The benefits of the overhead squat are well known and I would highly recommend adding in pauses before you add weight. Get as comfortable as possible in the bottom position.
You need to perform the whole snatch so you or your coach can begin to establish your weak points. If you begin the second pull too early and lose power that’s simple to rectify with below the knee hang snatches or paused snatch pulls. If you pull your shoulders behind the bar too soon that’s a simple fix too (paused snatch pulls again), but these can only be rectified if you perform the snatch as a whole.
We do want to breakdown the lift to improve each pull, but we also need to perform the snatch in it’s entirety.
Squats are an obvious builder of quad and glute strength. These obviously need to high bar, as low bar squats have almost 0 carryover given the upright nature required in the Olympic lifts. As a beginner just work with higher rep sets. Anywhere between 8 – 12 is an ideal place to start and always leave at least 2 in the tank.
Pull-ups because yes we do want strong lats and shoulders to help improve our overhead position and lockout stability. But let’s be honest, we all want bigger muscles and pull-ups are a great way to train your upper back, traps, lats and biceps. So just do 3 – 4 sets to near failure on each set.
How to keep the Bar close in the Snatch
Maximising aggression in the snatch (and the clean) whilst keeping the bar tight to your body is one of the hardest things to learn and improve in the snatch.
Your first pull has to be technically perfect in order to setup the rest of the lift. Establishing proper balance and pulling the bar with weight on the balls of your foot and your shoulders over the bar is essential. Once you’ve reached the knee you can begin the pull backwards into the point of contact (between the hip and groin). But without a perfect first pull, this is worthless.
Perform paused snatch pulls as a way to perfect positioning in the first pull. Any slowed-down variation will help you reinforce technique, so first try pausing just below the knee and finishing at the point of contact after the second pull.
Keeping the bar close during the point of contact is harder than keeping it tight during the first pull. The desire to generate so much power can cause you to push the bar too far out, especially if you can’t control the bar by pulling it tight in the turnover phase. Remember, the further away the snatch is before this point of contact, the greater the horizontal force that will be applied to it during the turnover.
Perform hang snatches and high hang pulls to focus entirely on the point of contact whilst keeping the bar close. It’s more important to perfect technique than generate power from the off, especially when increasing power also increases horizontal force that ultimately drives the bar away from your body and forces you to overcompensate by leaning back too far.
How to Improve Overhead Stability in the Snatch
From a mental and physical standpoint, overhead stability is one of the most common problems facing more inexperienced lifters.
Mentally coloured weight plates can seem daunting, especially when getting closer to your 1RM. If your 1RM is 80kg, having a blue and a green on either side is far more daunting to get under than a yellow, green and white. Getting under the bar is more mental than physical for most.
Physically getting under the bar in the snatch requires excellent ankle mobility, core and lat strength. It’s commonplace for lifters to not fully commit to an aggressive and accurate turnover. For the average joe lifter (like myself), snatches can easily fall by the wayside because of their technical proficiency and lack of transferable potential.
But there are simple tweaks you can make to your training that will help your overhead stability:
1. Overhead Squat: The overhead squat forms a pretty core part of the snatch for beginner and intermediate lifters. As a beginner they’re ideal for improving your confidence, ankle flexibility and lat strength. When you get more accomplished, add in lengthy pauses to the lift and make sure it forms a core part of your warmup and complexes. You can usually overhead squat about 60% of your 1RM squat. But I would recommend using weights around 110-125% of your snatch to feel the full benefits.
2. Snatch Balance: The natural progression from the overhead squat for beginners and a core part of any more advanced lifter’s training regime, the snatch balance is ideal for improving your stretch reflex and positioning in the bottom of the snatch. There are specific variations that are ideal for improving your overhead mobility, such as the heaving snatch balance. The only difference is that your feet start in the overhead squat position, so there’s no shift outwards. You’re forced to drive aggressively down in a vertical fashion, forming sound movement patterns and a stronger receiving position.
3. Sots Press: A really awkward looking overhead press movement that is fantastic for improving your shoulder flexibility and strength with extremely low weight. Start in the bottom of the snatch position with the bar resting on your back as if you were squatting with your hands in the snatch grip. Press the bar up from behind your shoulders while staying in the bottom of the snatch position.
4. Drop Snatch: Ideal to use in your pre snatch warmup, the drop snatch is a great footwork and confidence builder. Due to the technical nature of the lift, it’s typically done with extremely light weights and ideal for building speed and movement patterns to help you get under the bar. If you decide to use heavier weights as parts of a workout, then perform them when you’re more mentally focused as they demand explosivity.
These are the simplest, most effective exercises to improve your overhead stability and technique with the snatch. They won’t impact the first 3 pulls, but they’ll help you improve your end position.