The Snatch – Complex, Difficult, and tons of fun
The snatch is definitely the most complex movement that one can perform with a barbell. You are basically playing golf with heavy weights.
Just like golf – if you are off an inch one way or the other, you’ll miss every time (no matter how hard you pull the bar).
Elements needed to perform a snatch:
• Mobility to catch the bar in an overhead squat position as low as possible with a vertical back.
• Ability to stabilize a heavy barbell in the overhead position
• Solid technique that produces a straight line or slightly s-curve bar path
The first two are initially the hardest elements to acquire. People new to the sport either lack the mobility to get under the bar in a good position or they lack the strength overhead to stabilize the bar in the catch position. These two elements are the easiest to affect. I have been able to push my snatch higher and higher.
I credit my squat every day program for my results. Part of my squat every day plan is an overhead squat variation three-four times per week. Both the squats and overhead variations have helped my mobility, stability, and speed.
A lot of people want to fix snatch mobility with lacrosse balls and voodoo bands, but that is not the answer. If you want to get better at a movement, perform the movement. The body will get better at performing any movement that one does frequently.
A lot of the tightness that one experiences when trying to perform new, unfamiliar movements is the body’s response in an attempt to protect itself. Basically, the body is limiting the range of motion to prevent injury because it isn’t familiar with the movement.
I am not saying that mobility work won’t help. Mobility work is a great way to prepare for the performance of any movement. I am just saying that the actual performance of the movement pattern on a frequent basis is more important.
Mobility work with frequent performance is the best option.
As many people know and may have seen that I shake like a leaf with weight over my head. This has been an issue for awhile. I have programmed for myself, as well as my athletes, a number of overhead strength and stability work to help improve their overhead position in the snatch.
Overhead squats have increased my stability greatly as well. Here are some of the movements I have performed and programmed to help with stability and mobility:
• Overhead squat with three-five second pauses in the bottom
• Snatch push press to overhead squat
• Behind the Neck Snatch grip thruster to overhead squat
• Snatch balance/Snatch balance to overhead squat paused
Technique in the snatch or Olympic weightlifting in general is one of the most controversial topics on the planet, so I am going to stick with the basics that we can all agree upon.
• Shoulders on top of the bar
• Arms long and relaxed with elbows turned out
• Shoulders should be above the hips
• Back should be tight
• Scapulae tucked together and down
• Slight arch in the low back
• Feet should be about hip width
• Weight distributed on the ball of the feet
• Eyes looking straight ahead and slightly upwards
DURING THE FIRST PULL:
• Shoulders and hips rise at the same time maintaining the same angle
• Knees move out of the way of the bar
• Bar should move in a straight line up or slightly back (never forwards)
• Continue looking straight ahead and slightly upwards
• This movement is more of a push with the feet into the floor
• Shoulders stay over the bar for as long as possible
• This is a patient long pull
DURING THE SECOND PULL:
• The bar is swept into the hips by squeezing with the lats
• The hips meet the bar for a scoop upwards – this is not banging the hips into the bar
• Shoulders move slightly behind the bar
• Hips and knees aggressively extend at the same time propelling the bar upwards
• This is an explosive and aggressive movement
DURING THE THIRD PULL:
• Constant pulling of the bar takes place throughout the pull, and the third pull is no exception
• The best athletes rip themselves under the bar into the receiving position
• Lift the knees to move the feet slightly out to a shoulder position
• Lifting the knees will remove the feet slightly from the floor, allowing the athlete to move even faster
All of these pulls should be practiced and perfected. The best way to get better at snatching is to snatch.
KEYS TO IMPROVEMENT WITH EACH PULL:
IN THE FIRST PULL
• Pauses two inches off the ground will help you get the start position right, and they will help you maintain the proper posture off the floor.
• Pauses at, below, and above the knee will ensure that you are staying over the bar and maintaining the angle of the shoulders and back. They will also teach you to generate speed from the knees and up to ensure proper acceleration.
• Tall pulls are great for staying over the bar. This is where you perform a snatch pull staying over the bar until the bar is at mid thigh or higher. This is an exaggeration that will teach a long first pull.
IN THE SECOND PULL:
• Pulls from high blocks are great for teaching aggressive second pulls. You have no momentum from the first pull, so the finish has to be aggressive.
• Hang snatch from hips teaches the same thing.
• Slow first pull to aggressive finish will teach one to finish aggressively and to be patient in the first pull.
FOR A BETTER THIRD PULL:
• High blocks and hangs from hip also help the third pull. Once again, there is no momentum with the first pull, so one must rely on an aggressive second pull and then speed underneath.
• Learning to visualize and not think. Thinking is too slow.
• No-hook and no-feet drills are a great way to teach speed underneath and to ensure a proper bar path. If you bang the bar with your hips, the bar will leave the hands.
• Dead hang snatch from the hip! During this exercise, you are to get in the power position with the knees bent about six inches, torso is vertical, and the bar is resting deep in the hip. Pause the bar for two seconds in that position, and then extend the hips and rip under the bar. You are not allowed to get a stretch reflex by dipping a little before extending the hips.
Here are some bonus ideas to improve the snatch:
SNATCH DECONSTRUCTION DAYS
I totally stole this from Coach Wilkes, so I want him to get the credit. Basically, you perform several sets of technique pulls.
I recommend emphasizing the start with the torso angle, staying over the bar, and a straight bar path. Then perform multiple sets of snatch balance, emphasizing speed under the bar, proper position, and a strong catch. Then, the athletes will perform a medium volume snatch workout. You will find that your movement will be much improved.
ANTICIPATE THE CATCH
I learned this from my Coach, Don McCauley. A lot of us pull the heck out of the bar, and then when it is time to catch it, we go after the bar like we are catching a Nerf ball.
Go after the bar assuming that it will be in the right place. This assumption will make the athlete go after the bar more aggressively in the catch phase.
LIFT YOUR KNEES TO MOVE YOUR FEET
Coaches all around the globe get after their lifters to move their feet. However, very few will teach them how to move their feet.
A little lift of the knee will create just enough clearance for the lifter to pull quickly under the bar, and it will allow them to get back to the heel as fast as possible for a solid landing. This verbal cue will help stop the infamous donkey kick.
Let’s talk about visualization a little before moving on. The best way to use visualization is to face the bar about five paces away. Then the athlete will shut their eyes and see the perfect snatch. Then walk up to the bar and pull it as hard as possible.
Trying to think while snatching will inevitably slow you down. You will see me do this before an attempt in competition
The snatch is a complex movement. To get good at snatching one has to snatch. Period!
For the duration of your career you will be practicing the snatch, developing stability, and increasing strength. It is one big game of chess requiring a balanced approach.