An Intro to the Intro to the Snatch

A finely performed snatch, done by an elite weightlifter, is a thing of beauty to watch. To me, its an even more impressive display of power than a clean and jerk, to take weight from the floor and move it overhead with one lift. It is quite awe inspiring. If you are reading this, chances are you are not an elite weightlifter. You may not be a weightlifter at all. You may be a novice crossfitter, looking for tools to improve (or even begin to learn) the snatch. Or you may be an athlete, looking for methods to maximize power generation in the weight room, with the goal of transferring that strength to the field or the court.

And there are few better places to look when it comes to methods for generating power. Olympic movements (even partial movements), by their very nature, are going to offer the best bang for the buck for developing that strength. The combination of maximal motor units recruited for the movement, as well as speed imparted onto the bar, is an equation for explosive strength and power.

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But if you are to begin this journey, an athlete needs to understand that, while it is a display of immense power, it is also a display of amazing technique and finesse. There can be a steep learning curve associated with movements like this. Risk of injury increases dramatically when stepping into this realm of training if you haven’t laid good groundwork. There are 3 phases to walk yourself through before you should add a snatch (or variation) to your program.

  1. Mobility
  2. Base of strength through the motor pattern
  3. Mechanics

Mobility

Mobility for a snatch is going to highlight two major areas – your ability to achieve good squat mechanics, as well as shoulder and overhead mobility. Receiving the bar in the snatch, overhead and in a full squat position, will show your mobility, or lack thereof in these 2 areas.

For me personally, the most useful tool to improve my squatting was a series of hip mobility drills. Hip mobility, as well as finding the correct width for your stance, will work wonders in allowing you to really sink your hips down into the hole and be comfortable.

For my own shoulder mobility, especially as it pertains to a snatch, shoulder dislocations are excellent preparation. The most common method you will see is done with either a length of PVC pipe or a broomstick.

  • Starting with an ordinary snatch grip, bring the pipe overhead and behind you until it rotates entirely to your back side.
  • CONTROL the movement. You will have an urge to let your shoulders “flop” the bar backwards, as your shoulder rotates behind you. Fight this urge.
  • As you improve, move your hands closer together
  • If you have extremely poor mobility to start, using a stretch band instead of a pipe or broomstick. It is more forgiving.

And to tie your squat and overhead mobility together, I like to use overhead squats. You may find yourself asking why I am including this with mobility as opposed to the “strength throughout the movement pattern” idea. Some might suggest using this as strength work to support the movement pattern, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I utilize overhead squats at a light weight, 3-5 reps per set, and with a pause at the bottom to get a good stretch, and gently work the shoulders and hips through the full range of motion. Before even adding weight, you should use the PVC pipe or broomstick you used for the shoulder dislocates. Once you master that, an empty bar. Then you can add weight. Remember though, this is not working weight.

Strength Through the Movement Pattern

This idea starts with the concept of the triple extension, and generating power throughout a jumping type motion. The snatch itself also incorporates overhead strength, but if you are new to lifting, or just new to Olympic movements, I would spend some time practicing movements that generate explosive power from the hips, and conclude with a full triple extension. Basic exercises like box jumps, broad jumps, and kettlebell swings will help develop this. An overhead medicine ball toss will add the overhead element to the full extension.

Box Jumps

A main failing point here is the ego (like all lifts). Many will have a tendency to stack boxes as high as possible, because obviously a taller box means you jumped higher right? But more often than not, a high box is a display of good hip flexibility, and not a higher jump. A taller box will often trick an athlete into pulling his feet up too soon, even before he has finished the full jump. The result, the full triple extension is not achieved.

Broad Jumps

Kettlebell Swings

A main failing point with KB swings, is beginners view it as a squat and not a hinge. They attempt to keep a more upright posture, and let their legs push upwards. You need to allow your hips to hinge, and use your glutes to forcefully extend your hips and back. A good way to start your KB swings to avoid the mental “squat” error, is to set up with the kettlebell about a foot in front of your feet. As you bend over and pick it up, the weight will be in front of your center of mass, you will naturally want to allow it to swing backwards before you forcefully extend the hips.

Overhead Medicine Ball Toss

Your gym may be limited in terms of space, or in terms of “making noise” so this may not be ideal as shown. A potential way to mitigate for limited space would be to stand with your back to a wall, and as you toss the ball overhead and backwards, it hits the wall as opposed to flying to the opposite side of the gym.

Mechanics

The mechanics of a squat are not terribly complicated when broken down into bite size bits. You should not attempt a full snatch right off the bat. If you follow a good learning template, you can piece together the full movement. The full movement itself is a composition of 3 distinct pulls.

  1. Pull #1 – from the floor to the knees (or to just below the hang position)
  2. Pull #2 – from about the knee area to full triple extension
  3. Pull #3 – from full triple extension into the high pull

The best way to break it down into digestible bits is in this order:

  • Hang Snatch High Pull
  • Hang Power Snatch
  • Snatch High Pull
  • Power Snatch
  • Snatch

Moving Forward

While this is is not an in depth coaching method for the snatch, this will move you along the right path towards developing the skill of the movement. For me, I find it an incredibly useful training tool for athletic purposes. To develop strength for highland throwing, I found that I only need to use partial movements. It is worth noting that for general athletic purposes, partial movements are actually more ideal. The full movement requires much skill and practice, and if it is not part of your sport, I would actually recommend against spending too much time practicing a full snatch.

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