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The snatch is the ultimate exercise to display sheer power. Whipping a loaded barbell over the head merely with the force created by the extension of your joints is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s the single most difficult yet impressive barbell lift there is. That being said, it’s also the most technical. Yes, it’s true. Projecting a 150+lbs bar above your head takes some skill. It takes a lot of time to master this movement, and by all accounts, athletes rarely ever truly do. Learning the barbell snatch is truly a life-long process, but we’re gonna help you the best we can.
In this article, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about the barbell snatch, including:
Note: Since the barbell snatch is such a technical movement, for certain drills, exercises, and variations, we will be providing links to video demonstrations so you can see how it's done, as sometimes in-depth step-by-step descriptions and pics simply aren't enough. We spent the time to find these sources, so you can trust they are reliable. Everything is well organized below; this is your complete barbell snatch guide.
The barbell snatch is one of the two current Olympic Lifts, alongside the clean & jerk (the overhead press used to be the 3rd back in the day!), making it a very unique lift. It involves taking a loaded barbell from the ground and hoisting it above your head where you catch it with arms extended (no pressing). Sounds simple to explain, but it’s anything but as you’ll see when we go over the execution below.
In order to do this, your body must be able to generate a significant amount of power. From a physics perspective, power is the average amount of work done per unit of time, which is why we also refer to it as “fast” strength in the world of strength and conditioning. For example, jumping is another “power” exercise as it requires you to generate enough force to propel your body into the air.
The snatch is a pure power exercise as it requires the body to generate enough force to send a heavy barbell flying. Being that force production is a vital component of athletic performance, the snatch is commonly used to improve this performance variable in other non-Olympic athletes.
The snatch is a full-body compound exercise. This means that it’s going to rely on a wide range of muscle groups to be efficient. Below are the major muscle groups that worked when performing the snatch:
Learning the snatch can have considerable benefits to your training. Below are the top reasons you might want to include the snatch into your program:
The barbell snatch relies on the combination of two major movement patterns:
The above movement actions are the driving force of the barbell snatch. Together, these three movements work to generate the force required to get the barbell above the head. With that in mind, let's go over how to perform this movement step by step.
We will break the snatch down into its sections as there are several separate portions of the snatch. Taking one section at a time is easier to fully comprehend the snatch as a lot is going on. These sections will be:
The Set-Up Of The Snatch:
The First Pull Of The Snatch:
The Second Pull Of The Snatch:
The Catch And Finish Of The Snatch:
Above we went over how to perform the snatch. However, the snatch isn’t like any other movement where you can just practice the whole movement right off the bat. Well, you could, but there’s a more efficient manner. As mentioned, a lot is going with the snatch, and it’s more effective for most people to break it down into segments. This consists of simply breaking down the snatch into smaller movement patterns. You can first practice these smaller movements before moving on to a larger, more complex movement. Here are the steps you need to take to optimize your snatch performance.
1. Hip Extension:
The purpose of this is to simply perfect your hip extension. Stand up erect while holding a barbell with a snatch grip. You will then push your hips back, followed by powerful hip extension. Your arms should hang close to the body but lay free the whole time. When you perform hip extension, be mindful of using a proper hip-hinge. Push your hips backward and allow your shoulders to drop vertically. Your shoulders should have no movement back and forth.
Further, you should have minimal flexion of the knees. During the full snatch, you will need to flex your knees to lower your body. However, your knee should remain stationary with only your hips flexing for this drill. When ready, bring your hips forward powerfully. Repeat with a pause in between reps to reposition your body.
2. Triple Extension:
Similar to hip extension, except now you will add in knee extension and ankle plantarflexion. Therefore, you can bend your knees slightly and go a little bit deeper to allow the practice of knee extension.
3. High Pull:
After you’ve nailed the triple extension, you will perform a high pull which simply includes triple extension then a power shrug and high pull. Perform the same movement as the triple extension, but you will shrug and bring your elbows high to shoulder level. However, you are not flipping the arms; you will let the bar travel back down after you reach max height.
4. Hang Power Snatch:
A power snatch (or power clean) means that you perform the movement without fully squatting under the bar. Instead, you will simply drop into a quarter squat to catch the bar. Think of it as you need to use more power since the bar will ultimately need to travel further. In addition, a “hang” power snatch means that instead of pulling from the floor, the bar will start by “hanging” at a height just above the knee. This will put the emphasis on generating maximal force with the triple extension. Further, this is a great variation to train as you work on your overhead shoulder mobility.
5. Power Snatch:
Same as the hang power snatch, but now you will start by pulling from the floor. Again, this will allow you to perform most of the movement and learn to optimally produce power as you work on your mobility.
6. Hang Snatch:
Same as the hang power snatch, but now you will drop into a full squat after the second pull. Starting with the bar above the knees, forcefully drive the barbell up. After you complete the triple extension and the power shrug/high pull, you will drop under the bar in your squat and catch the bar overhead. Stand up to complete the lift.
Now you’re ready for the entire movement - See Demonstration
Be aware that these can also serve as snatch alternatives. In other words, even after you have successfully learned the snatch, you don’t need to always perform a full snatch from the ground. You’re also able to use these progressions as a standalone exercise.
The snatch can be used to improve either force output or maximal weight. Either way, the snatch should not be performed with a high amount of reps, other than if a “certain sport” calls for it. This is due to the complexity of the movement. It is too easy to get fatigued and have a break in your form, resulting in injury. Therefore it is best to keep the reps limited to three and use many sets.
A) To Increase Maximal Power Output:
Studies show that lighter loads actually produce greater results when you want to increase maximal power output. Remember that power is the relationship between time and load-displacement. Therefore, using a lower load can best optimize this relationship resulting in more significant numbers. Using a load of 40-60% 1RM within a rep scheme of 4-6 sets with 1-3 reps.
That being said, these reps are not to be performed quickly. Take the time required to set up in between each rep. Reposition the bar and get your body in the correct position. Further, we want you to use max intent for each rep. This means to use 100% effort and pull as hard as you. Studies have shown that this little trick can produce optimal gains in strength and power.
B) To Increase Strength:
Increasing strength will look similar to other lifts and have you using heavier loads of >80%1RM. However, we like to use smaller amounts of reps and suggest a rep scheme of 4-6 sets with 1-2 reps.
Need a break from the snatch? Or maybe you want a few exercises to support the snatch? These snatch variations and alternatives are great to include in a training program to fully round out your training.
1. Dumbbell Snatch
The dumbbell snatch may be the best snatch alternative as people can perform it significantly easier. Even though the basic movement pattern is very similar, the movement comes much more naturally to most. The most significant difference is that the dumbbell snatch is used with one dumbbell meaning only one arm is used.
Stand over a dumbbell with the dumbbell sitting in the middle of the legs and so that the heads are in line with the feet. This will allow you to use a neutral grip to perform the movement. Other than this, everything else is exactly the same. This is great to use for beginners or even high reps for conditioning.
2. Snatch Grip High Pull
The snatch grip high pull is a little-known lift that many non-Olympic strength athletes use to produce maximal power and massive traps. It’s basically a high pull but starting with the bar on the ground (so, snatch grip deadlift to triple extension to high pull). You’ll also use a snatch grip meaning your hands will be significantly farther apart. Stand up powerfully with a loaded barbell similar to a snatch and utilize triple extension and a shrug to perform a high pull. As you stand erect, you will bring your elbows high. This is an excellent snatch alternative for those who want similar benefits without learning the complexity of the whole movement.
3. Kettlebell Swings
The kettlebell swing is an incredible movement to focus on optimizing your hip extension. At the end of the day, the kettlebell swing consists of 100% hip extension allowing you to focus on this critical piece of the snatch. However, you can also pile on the reps, making it ideal for conditioning. Beginners can use these as an alternative to learning the hip-hinge/extension pattern, while anyone can use them to improve conditioning.
4. Squat Jumps
Perhaps the easiest way to improve power production is simply jumping while holding a weight. We suggest using either a trap bar or a pair of dumbbells to perform these, as these are a bit safer than jumping with a load on your back. Choose a low enough weight so you can still quickly accelerate and project yourself in the air.
5. Snatch From Blocks
A snatch from blocks is simply performing a snatch from a raised position by putting the snatch on blocks. This will raise the bar and lower the range of motion. This can be used for trainees who may have mobility issues getting too low or for those who just want to limit the range of motion to decrease the demand on the legs. Feel free to place the barbell on the height that suits your needs.
6. Deficit Snatch
Similar to a deficit deadlift, the deficit snatch goes the other way and has you standing on an elevated platform to perform the snatch. This will obviously increase the range of motion and create a greater demand for mobility. These are great to teach a trainee on how to maximize leg drive. As the body is lower and the knees flexed, the trainee will need to put more effort into using their legs to lift the load off the ground. It should be noted that it doesn't have to be a big deficit, standing on a platform about 2-4 inches is enough.
The snatch is a highly complicated movement that requires a lot of practice to perform correctly. This begs the question, “Do you need to train the snatch?”. In reality, unless you’re an Olympic or Crossfit athlete who has to perform the snatch, you likely don’t actually need to train it. Again, the snatch is a fantastic exercise, but there are other great ways to improve power production that are nowhere near as technical or complicated; even the clean would be an easier option. To be clear, the snatch is awesome but unless you are willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to learning this movement, you’d be just as good using one of the snatch alternatives.
If you do want to train the snatch, and are interested in Olympic lifting, check out our Olympic Lifting Workout Program for Beginners.
As mentioned, the snatch is highly complex and requires hours and hours of practice. While this snatch guide covered a lot of information on this Olympic movement, there’s still more to learn. If you want to learn the snatch, we strongly suggest hiring a qualified coach, at least for the beginning of the process. That being said, if you want to snatch, go do it! Your effort and time will pay off.
When you are ready, you can also learn The Clean & Jerk!
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