If you haven’t performed a snatch yourself as part of a CrossFit routine, you’ll have definitely witnessed that seemingly superhuman display of athleticism by a courageous few at your local gym; those who confidently step out of the squat rack and onto a wooden platform to begin flinging a barbell up and over their head as if it were a feather. But what exactly is an olympic snatch, how and why should you learn to perfect it?
This article will answer all of those questions and I hope inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a go because, let’s face it, which of us wouldn’t benefit from doing that more often?!
WHAT IS AN OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING SNATCH?
The snatch is the first of two olympic lifts, the second being the clean and jerk, and together they form the recognised sport of Olympic Weightlifting which performed at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. In the olympic snatch, the barbell is lifted from the floor, keeping it close to your body until it is overhead in a single fluid motion. The movement supports development of strength, mobility/range of motion and power because, to execute the lift properly, you need to move a heavy weight fast – to quote Muhammed Ali, you need to deliver ‘hitting the light switch in your room and jumping into bed before the room goes dark’ level of speed!
Sound tricky? It is but trust me, when you can perform a perfect snatch you’ve mastered one of the most difficult movements in weightlifting: you will be that superhuman in the gym and be able to wow your friends with you athletic prowess!
Preparing for the snatch
Before i break down the movement there are a number of preparatory items that you need to be comfortable with:
Base strength – before you attempt your first snatch you’ll need proficiency in the squat, particularly the overhead squat. By mastering these movements you’ll build up muscle memory and necessary strength that will be transferred to your snatch and reduce the learning curve.
Mobility of your ankles, thoracic spine and shoulders – being mobile is crucial in the receive position in the snatch. A lack of mobility in your thoracic spine, shoulders or ankles may cause excessive shoulder flexion and knee pain. It goes without saying that the warmup is an important part of priming your body for effective mobility and it shouldn’t be ignored; in olympic weightlifting a good RAMP warmup is essential, so don’t ever skip your mobility drills!
Stability throughout your entire body – this may appear at odds with what I’ve just said on mobility, however stability is also required to execute even a semi-decent olympic snatch otherwise you won’t be able to control the bar or your body as you move around it. Prior to performing your snatch session I recommend doing 10 minutes of pure core work to target your abs, obliques and erector spinae muscles. You don’t need to do crunches – there are many more movements that work your core effectively such as the dead bug.
WARMING UP FOR THE OLYMPIC SNATCH
A good warmup for beginner weightlifters prior to a full snatch looks something like this:
If you’re a more advanced lifter, your warmup should add the following prior to your working sets:
Correct body positioning for the snatch
Before I break down the movement it’s important that your body is correctly set up to give you the best chance of successfully executing your first snatch:
Grip – A wide hand placement is required because it reduces the distance the bar travels to end up overhead. To find your grip position, pick up the empty barbell and place it in your hip crease. Now fold over the bar slightly and grip the bar in at the position found when your elbows are straight. You can wrap some tape around the bar at these hand position points so that you can find your grip easily every time.
Hook Grip – This is never pleasant, but you will get used to it. The hook grip is the strongest and safest grip when lifting heavy weights. First, wrap your thumb round the bar and then wrap your fingers over your thumb. Make sure to grip the bar with your thumb, not just push it into the bar with your fingers. If you have small hands, push the bar as far as possible into the web between your thumb and fingers and reach with your thumb towards your little finger, then grasp your thumb along the length, avoiding your thumb nail.
Feet – place your feet hip width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards to begin. During the pull phase elevate onto our toes as the bar comes up to your hips, then move your feet outwards into a squat width to catch the bar.
Core – you need to fill your trunk with pressure to effectively move through the pull and catch phase of the snatch, so brace that core and then breath in through your stomach (belly breathing into your braced core) before every lift.
Head – you’re likely to end up on the floor if you look at it, so keep your head facing forwards throughout the whole lift
six steps to execute the perfect snatch
- The bar will sit at mid-shin level (the height of the bar with bumper plates set on the floor). Feet about hip width apart with your mid-foot under the bar
- Knees are bent with your hips about the same height as your knees
- Lift your chest and ensure the crease of your armpit is above the bar
- Brace you core and keep your head up!
- Arms are straight but relaxed – the pull will come from your legs
- Bring the bar off the floor by pushing hard with your legs like you would in a leg press. Your shins should be vertical at this point. Remember, this is not a deadlift!
- Maintain your chest and back positions, keeping your shoulders over the bar
- Hips and shoulders move upward at the same time, maintaining the same angle with the crease of your armpit above the bar
- Keep your arms straight and the bar close to your legs – don’t let it drift out
- Continue to push the bar upwards using your legs and keep your weight over the middle of your foot
- Keep the angle of your torso the same so that the centre of your shoulder is over the bar
- After the bar passes your knees, your weight should be in the ball of your foot as you forcefully extend your lower body by pushing hard into the floor with your legs. Your heels will rise off the ground
- Your torso should now be upright which brings your shins vertical and the centre of your shoulder behind the bar
- The bar accelerates up your thigh, still keeping close to your body with your arms straight and move our elbows up to a high position. The bar will continue to move upward due to the force of your explosion – do not pull the bar up with the arms!
- Time the ‘catch’ of the bar by receiving the weight of the bar on straight arms overhead at the same time your feet hit the ground in an overhead squat position.
- Resist the bar by making sure you have a solid core and an upright torso
- Descend into a full overhead squat position with the weight over your mid-foot
- Once you’ve caught the bar maintain an overhead position with locked out arms and stand up.
- Well done – you’ve just correctly performed an olympic snatch!
What muscles does an olympic snatch work?
Your whole body benefits every time you perform a snatch.
Your lower body – quads, hamstrings and glutes – absorbs the movement in the pull and receive positions, and then again in the finish position phase as you extend your knees and stand up.
Your upper body – shoulders and triceps – work when pulling the bar up during the pull phase, as well as locking the bar overhead in the receive and finish positions.
Your core – back and abs – provides rigidity and mobility to allow your upper and lower body to move around the barbell. Your core works hard during the first pull to max extension phases of the snatch as well as during the receive position to stabilise the bar overhead.
Who should learn the olympic snatch?
Everyone can benefit from the olympic snatch whether you use a PCV pipe, aluminium training bar or olympic barbell. Because the snatch move requires speed, strength and power, incorporating it into your workouts stimulates every muscle in your body to grow. The movement gives you total body strength that can’t be matched by many, if any, other movement including compound lifts. Whilst weightlifters have to learn the snatch as one of the two competitive movements, powerlifters will also benefit from this overall conditioning movement.
It’s not only strength that the snatch develops; it improves your speed, proprioception (where your body is in space) and coordination, too. You only have a second or so to pull yourself under the bar into the receive position before it falls downwards; nothing makes you learn a skill faster than risking dropping a heavy weight onto your body or potentially falling on the floor whilst holding on to a barbell! What the snatch teaches you about speed and coordination can be transferred to other sports to improve you overall performance.
Finally, your overall range of motion will vastly improve after you’ve incorporated the olympic snatch into your routine. Mastering its difficult range of motion will enable you to reach a much higher peak of mobility, particularly in your hips, ankles and shoulders, than any other lift will. This is directly related to an improvement in overall posture and will help you in any other bodyweight movement, such as yoga or pilates.
So, there you have it! I hope you can see that there are a lot of benefits in adding snatches to your training programme and I look forward to seeing your progress! Before you jump right in, I urge you to place emphasis on the prerequisite movements, mobility and stability which will provide you with a good starting point to work through the technicality of this lift and improve your confidence during execution of the olympic snatch.