When an athlete struggles to support the bar overhead in the snatch, it’s common to assume insufficient strength is the primary issue and to address it with strength work. While this may often be the case, or at least one part of it, other factors can prevent the athlete from effectively utilising what might be adequate strength. Identifying and addressing these factors can often correct the issue quickly, saving everyone a lot of frustration.


Proper structure is the most crucial element in supporting weight overhead. While strength is necessary to reinforce this structure, we do not rely on muscular strength directly. The ability to lock out the elbows in the snatch or jerk is extremely important, as demonstrated by the following exercise: press a weight overhead and stop just short of elbow lock. When you begin to struggle, lock the elbows completely, and you’ll find you can suddenly continue holding the weight. This highlights why individuals without the ability to fully lock their elbows are at a significant disadvantage in the sport, although there have been world records set by lifters with limited elbow extension.

By creating the proper structure to support the bar, we maximise the potential of our strength. In the snatch, we can examine several key elements to ensure this structure is optimal.


A solid foundation, in this case, refers to the shoulders and upper back. The shoulder is an extremely mobile joint, which is advantageous but also means there is a lot of potential for unwanted movement and instability. To create a stable base, the shoulder blades must be fixed tightly in a position that prevents movement, allows the arms to rise to the bar, and maintains balance over the feet. This can be achieved by retracting the shoulder blades and allowing them to upwardly rotate enough to create space for the humerous. The easiest way to achieve this position is to imagine pinching the top inside edges of the shoulder blades together. This is not a shrug, although the upper traps will contract and bunch up.


Elbows must be locked out, extending to the end of their range, which will typically be slight hyperextension, which allows the arm muscles to support more weight than they could directly. The elbows should be squeezed into extension directly rather than using an indirect cue. For example, some athletes are told to “pull the bar apart,” but this requires a tight grip that can limit elbow extension. Moreover, it can make securing the proper scapular position more difficult, which is crucial for the overall structure. However, if an athlete finds this cue effective and maintains the correct positions, it can be acceptable.


The bar should rest in the palm slightly behind the centerline of the forearm, with the wrist allowed to settle into an extended position. Do not try to hold the wrist in a neutral position. If the bar is correctly positioned in the hand, it will not place undue strain on the wrist. Proper hand and wrist positioning require good mobility, which should be diligently worked on to allow the athlete to maintain the correct positions quickly. If flexible enough, the athlete can maintain the hook grip overhead, but the grip must be relaxed to allow the hand and wrist to settle properly.


The bar should be positioned over the back of the neck or the top of the traps, with the head pushed forward through the arms. Holding the head straight up or tucked back can prevent the shoulder blades from being held in the proper position and the arms from effectively supporting the weight. However, pushing the head too far forward can cause the chest to lean forward excessively, degrading the integrity of the overhead structure.


The width of the grip is another critical factor. Ideally, the grip should allow the bar to contact the body in the crease of the hips. However, due to variations in body proportions, this can sometimes create problems elsewhere. A wider grip increases the likelihood of over-rotating and dropping the bar behind during the snatch turnover. Additionally, a wider grip can make it more challenging to extend the elbows forcefully. A balance must be found between proper bar positioning during the pull and the ability to support and stabilize the bar overhead.


Overhead instability can sometimes originate from the lower body. Most commonly, this is due to inflexibility, but it can also result from improper positioning. If an athlete lacks sufficient range of motion in the ankles, hips, or thoracic spine, they will not be able to establish a sound, upright squat, compromising the overhead structure. This may force the trunk to incline forward too much, causing the entire system to be out of balance. Ensuring adequate flexibility throughout the body is a priority for all lifters.


Core strength plays a significant role in overhead mobility and stability. A strong core helps maintain an upright posture and supports the lower back, allowing for better positioning and stability of the bar overhead. Research has shown that a strong core contributes to improved balance and reduced risk of injury during weightlifting exercises .

When the core is weak, the athlete may struggle to maintain a stable and upright position, leading to compensatory movements that can compromise the overhead position. Strengthening the core can improve an athlete’s ability to support weight overhead by enhancing stability and control throughout the lift.

Incorporating core strength exercises into training can significantly impact overhead stability. Some effective exercises include:

  • Planks: Strengthen the entire core, focusing on maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Russian Twists: Improve rotational stability and control.
  • Pallof Presses: Enhance anti-rotational strength, crucial for maintaining stability during dynamic movements.
  • Hanging Leg Raises: Target the lower abs and improve overall core strength.


Spend some time investigating your or your athlete’s overhead problems with the above information and see if you discover anything unexpected. The better you can diagnose the problem, the more quickly and easily you’ll be able to correct it. Addressing factors beyond just strength, such as proper structure, mobility, and core strength, can lead to significant improvements in overhead stability and performance in the snatch.


  • The Role of Core Stability in Overhead Movements – This study highlights the importance of core stability in maintaining proper overhead positions.

Core Strength and Athletic Performance – Research demonstrating the relationship between core strength and overall athletic performance, including weightlifting.

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