by Jon-Erik Kawamoto T-Nation
Is there an exercise that can improve power, strength, dynamic flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, and overall athleticism, all while helping your deadlift and even adding thickness to your traps?
There sure is. Enter the snatch.
Power is "speed plus strength" and there's nothing like Olympic style weight lifting to build this type of explosive athleticism. The development of the coordinated triple extension also has great transfer to athletic performance, so any lifter would be foolish not to include this in their program.
Unfortunately, some coaches and athletes shy away from the snatch out of fear of injury or due to a lack of knowledge or technique. It does take time and effort to learn these lifts, but the payoff is well worth it.
Some Lingo First
Snatch. Implies the bar is lifted off the floor and received in the bottom of an overhead squat.
Pocket Snatch. The bar is lifted off the floor with a snatch grip in front of the hips. The knees jut forward, but the torso remains behind the bar. The bar is then explosively pulled into the overhead position. The body can receive the bar in a full or quarter squat.
Power Snatch. The bar is lifted off the floor and received in a quarter squat overhead.
Hang Power Snatch. Implies the bar starts in front of the hips and is slid down below or just above the knees and is received in a quarter squat.
Olympic Lifting Shoes & The Hook Grip
O-shoes are the preferred footwear for the snatch as they provide a rigid platform to drive your feet into. The raised heel creates a slight anterior weight shift that allows for optimal balance during the snatch and clean lifts.
The hook grip takes a while to get used to, but it allows for more weight to be held in the long run. Initially it sucks, but you'll just have to grow a pair and get used to it.
To hook grip, grab the bar with an overhand grip; wrap your thumb around the underside of the bar, and then hook your fingers around your thumb.
Pulling Stance, Squat Stance & Snatch Grip
When performing the pull, the feet should be roughly hip-width apart – let's call this pulling stance. The landing position, which we'll call squat stance, should have your feet slightly wider than the pulling stance to allow for optimal balance when receiving the bar in a quarter or full squat.
Practice quickly maneuvering from the pulling stance to landing stance with this drill: stand in the pulling stance, lift your feet off the ground a minimal amount and land in squat stance while dropping into a quarter squat. Don't jump, just leave the ground and slide the feet out quickly.
Find your snatch grip by holding a bar with a double overhand grip. Slide your hands out until the bar rests at your hip-crease. Test this by flexing your hip. This position is an appropriate snatch grip to start with – slight alterations can be made later if needed.
I learned the term pocket position from S&C Coach Eric Drinkwater. With your snatch grip and your feet in the pulling stance, slightly push your knees forward, but keep your torso upright and behind the bar.
This is the most important position when learning the snatch. It's the position that you'll always go into at the top of the second pull. Learn and own this position. The only time the torso will be behind the bar during the snatch is at this moment.
Working on thoracic and shoulder mobility in your warm-up will help you achieve a nice snatch. Loosening up your hips will also do your snatch justice.
T-Spine Roll Out Over Foam Roller. Gently roll up and down the length of your thoracic spine over a foam roller. Support your head while gently driving your chin downward. Flare out your elbows while you try to stretch your chest and front shoulders. Go up and down 10-15 times.
Sit-to-Stand with T-Spine Extension and Rotation. This drill is great for improving mobility for the overhead squat.
Stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart. Bend over, round your back, soften your knees, and touch your toes. Push your knees to the outside of your arms, keep your heels flat and actively pull yourself "into the hole." Keep your knees pushed out and drive your chest upward while driving your hips ass-to-grass. Try to maintain a neutral spine while opening the chest.
Reach for the sky with one arm while rotating through your t-spine. Drive your thumb back and hold for a few seconds. Return the arm down and switch sides. Return that arm down and now bring both arms overhead. Push your knees out and chest upward while fully flexing your shoulders. Stand up, fold over and repeat. Perform 10 reps.
Shoulder Dislocations. Hold a stick with a snatch grip and bring the stick overhead and behind your body without bending your elbows. If your shoulders are too tight, start with a wider grip and slowly move your hands inward to your snatch grip as your shoulders start to warm up. Perform 15 reps before going into the barbell movement prep.
Barbell Complex Movement Prep
Perform 3-5 reps of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets at the beginning of each workout. The more practice, the better!
Romanian Deadlift. With your snatch grip in your pulling stance, soften your knees and push your hips back while you hinge forward. Keep the bar close, your back tight, and shoulders set. Poke your chin forward and finish with the bar slightly below your knees.
High Snatch Pull. Slide the bar down your thighs to the top of your knees. Poke your chin forward and keep your back tight, chest out, and shoulders set, as in the Romanian deadlift. Snap your hips forward as you jump. Let your shoulders shrug and let your arms bend. Let your elbows drive up as your body goes into the scarecrow position.
Muscle Snatch. Perform the high snatch pull, but this time, let the bar continue upward and extend your arms to lock the bar overhead.
Overhead Squat. Finish your last muscle snatch and move your feet to squat stance. Perform deep ass-to-grass overhead squats. Keep the arms locked and keep the bar just behind your ears. Pull the bar apart to create stability in your shoulders.
Heaving Snatch Balance. Place the bar on your upper back and stand in pulling stance. Push your knees forward (dip) and drive the bar upward, all while transitioning into the squat stance and dropping into an overhead squat. Stick the landing and stay tight. Now perform an overhead squat from this position. Return the bar to the back and move your feet back to pulling stance.
Top Down Approach Snatch Progression
This is a modified progression Coach Glenn Pendlay recommends to beginners. If you're an athlete and don't plan on competing in weight lifting, the hang power snatch is all you need.
Not receiving the bar in a full overhead squat requires you to pull more explosively, plus it doesn't require as much technique as the full snatch. But if you're up for a challenge, you can progress to the full-blown snatch.
Pocket Power Snatch. This variation teaches you to be behind the bar at the top of your second pull. Grab a weighted bar with a snatch grip. With your feet in pulling stance, set your shoulders. Push your knees forward slightly and keep your torso behind the bar.
Pull explosively as if doing a high pull and keep the bar in tight. Receive the bar locked overhead as you pull yourself under the bar into a quarter squat.
Pocket Power Snatch to Overhead Squat. This combination exercise will teach you how to support more weight overhead while performing an overhead squat. It will also teach you to explode the bar upward while pulling yourself underneath it fast.
Add a little more weight to the bar and perform a pocket power snatch. Instead of standing after receiving the bar, perform an overhead squat.
Pocket Snatch. Set yourself up just like the pocket power snatch. This time, you'll receive the bar locked overhead in the bottom of the squat. Stay tight at the bottom and feel like you're pulling the bar apart. Drive out of the hole and finish with your feet together.
Hang Power Snatch (above knee). In this progression, you'll form the "bow & arrow" made famous by coach Dan John. Grab the bar with a snatch grip with your feet in pulling stance. Puff your chest out and start to hinge forward. Push the bar into your thighs so it drags on your shorts – this tightens the lats and keeps the bar close to the seat of power. Keep your chest over the bar and stop above your knees.
From this position, push your knees forward while extending your hips. Your torso will rise quickly. You want to achieve the pocket position before going into the scarecrow position.
Keep the arms straight until the shoulders shrug. As Glenn Pendlay says, the power stops once your elbows bend. Receive the bar overhead with locked arms in a quarter squat.
Hang Power Snatch (below knee). In this progression, perform the steps as in the hang power snatch (above knee), but this time, transition the bar just below the knees. Stay tight in your torso and push your hips way back. Keep your shoulders set and the bar in close.
Push the floor away, drag the bar up your shorts and find the pocket position. Explosively pull upward and receive the bar with your arms locked out overhead in a quarter squat.
Power Snatch. The snatch off the floor includes the first pull, otherwise known as a snatch grip deadlift. Set up in pulling stance with a snatch grip. Keep your shoulders well over the bar. Do not pull the bar fast off the floor. Picture yourself accelerating the bar off the floor into the racked position.
As you start to move the bar off the floor, extend your knees but keep a constant torso angle until the bar passes the transition zone around your knees.
From here, you're familiar with the movement from practicing the hang power snatch (below knee). Drag the bar up your shorts, find the pocket position and boom – the bar sails upward as you pull yourself under the bar.
Receive the bar with locked arms overhead in a quarter squat. Stand up and finish with your feet together.
Snatch. Finally! Perform the same movements as in the power snatch, except this time, pull yourself under the bar and receive it with locked arms in a deep squat. Stand and finish with your feet together.
Congrats, you just did your first snatch. We always remember our first time.
Use these as assistance lifts to the snatch. Work on your snatch at the beginning of your workouts, followed by one of these bar drills. Keep the sets and reps around 3-5.
Press Behind Neck – Snatch Grip
This exercise develops balance and coordination while supporting weight overhead. It also develops the flexibility required in the shoulders for a good snatch.
Start with the bar on your back with a snatch grip. Stay tight and tall. Take a breath of air and press the bar up. Hold the lockout position for one second and carefully return the bar to your back.
Pressing Snatch Balance
This exercise develops coordination, balance, and strength. With a snatch grip and your feet in squat stance, simultaneously press the bar overhead while pulling yourself into a squat. When you reach the bottom of the squat, the bar should've just been locked out. Now perform an overhead squat. Return the bar to the back and repeat.
Heaving Snatch Balance
This is the same exercise described above in the bar movement prep, but with weight. Don't worry about how much weight is on the bar. Focus on speed of execution, timing, coordination, and balance. Leave your ego at the door and own this exercise. As S&C Coach Matt Wichlinski says, this is your moneymaker.
These movements are skills that will require practice and patience. Perform the barbell complex movement prep in every warm up, even if you're not snatching. More volume throughout the week will engrain the timing and movement patterns necessary for an effective snatch.
After your dynamic warm up, t-spine and shoulder mobility work, and barbell complex movement prep, choose a snatch variation to work on.
For example, one day work on pocket power snatches to overhead squats. On a different day, work on power snatches. Keep the sets and reps around 3-5 for both. One rep every-minute-on-the-minute is also a great way to get in volume and practice.
I like doing one-rep-every-minute-on-the-minute for 10-15 minutes, but sometimes I'll do 20-25 minutes. Have fun with it and be creative.
Afterwards, work on one of your bar drill assistance moves and call it a day.
Time to work.