table of contents

  • i. the snatch
  • ii. mechanics of the snatch
  • iii. the snatch as an athletic movement

i. the snatch

The snatch is the first event contested in weightlifting meets, the "fast lift" which contrasts with the two-part lift and last event, the clean-and-jerk. It is the movement which defines weightlifting, to me, at least, with all its technical intricacies and physical and psychological requirements. A lot of athletes will use the power clean, and some can get pretty good at it, and maybe a few folks will use the power snatch or squat snatch in training, but the only individuals who are good at it are the weightlifters who compete. This is our signature.

The snatch brings a bar loaded with weight from the floor to directly overhead in one movement. This involves accelerating the bar as forcefully as possible through an extension of the trunk and shrugging of the shoulders while holding onto it, then pulling the body under it, receiving it overhead with arms locked-out before it develops excessive downward momentum, and standing with the weight. Proficient weightlifters can lift their bodyweight and then some in this discipline. The best approach and exceed double that.

I think the closest that the average gym rat and athlete get to the snatch is the power clean, bringing the bar to the shoulders without dropping into a squat. The snatch is a movement with a huge learning curve for most individuals and it probably is too much work for what it's worth. The snatch differs from the clean-and-jerk in that not only is it athletic, in that it requires one to be physically advanced, but it's also more of an athletic skill, and not necessarily a developer of physical ability. Granted, snatching a lot will make you pretty strong and explosive and give you some great core work as far as holding stuff overhead goes once you pick up the technique, but just power cleaning a lot would probably have a greater training effect and for most athletes is a more efficient training movement as far as use of time goes.

It's hard to describe how difficult the snatch is without actually having you do it. Plenty of people can put stuff overhead, but that's usually after taking it from the rack or some sort of support, or after first bringing it to the shoulders and then pressing it overhead. The snatch is one explosive movement, straight from the floor to overhead.

One final thing: despite all the complicated motor patterns involved in the snatch, it is one of the most powerful movements the human body can produce. In terms of weight moved at x speed, it would be hard to find something that produces the pure wattage of the snatch.

ii. mechanics of the snatch

Like the clean, the snatch is about moving the bar into a specific position relative to the hips and shoulders, the first pull, and then violently extending the trunk and shrugging the shoulders to produce an upwards acceleration on the bar, the second pull. The two separate phases of the pull in the clean are mirrored in the snatch. There are two differences with the snatch which make the nature of the first and second pulls different from the clean: the grip width is wider, meaning the first pull starts with the chest closer to the floor and the second pull begins higher, and the goal of the second pull in the snatch is to get the bar overhead, which changes the goal of the transition phase after the pull.

The first pull in the snatch begins with a little more leverage disadvantage than the clean, and the pull in general is going to be a little longer. The musculature of the upper back is going to be stressed a little more, and the lats play a much more active role in maintaining the bar's proximity to the center of mass. Like the clean, the goal is to shift the knees around and under the bar in order to establish a strong second pull position. "Chest up" is a frequent coaching cue during the first pull in the snatch, to maintain the back angle. That's another thing, the back angle, some lifters have a low hips start position, while others prefer a higher start position in terms of the hips. "Classical" technique dictates that the back angle should not change throughout the pull, so the "correct" start position would favor lower hips, but again, the goal is merely to establish the second pull. Ivan Chakarov was one of many weightlifters who didn't have the best first pull, he literally moved the bar around his knees on the way up, which is supposed to be very, very inefficient (depending on your positions it'll shift your center of mass from the heels to the toes, takes away your base), but this is the same guy who snatched 160k and power cleaned and jerked 180k a couple days before the 1993 World Championships as a freakin warm up.

The second pull starts probably about when the bar touches mid-thigh for most people, which is almost about where the clean pull ends. Again, the emphasis is on the extension of the hips, driving them forward so that the shoulders and heels align, and then shrugging the shoulders to generate a short, sharp impulse on the bar. A good snatch pull almost always makes contact with the body just before the moment of greatest acceleration. You'll see a lot of good lifters brush the bar up against the hips, i.e. accelerating the bar when it's closest to their center of mass. This is a lot like the thigh-brush in the clean, and I emphasize the "brush," some people perceive it as "bouncing" off the hips or thighs. Bouncing would indicate an effort to generate a reactive force by pushing the bar against part of the body, and this is both ineffective and dumb. The idea is exert the crucial force, the effort to generate space and momentum, when the weight is closest to the center of mass to eliminate the dampening effect of lever arms, etc.

During the transition under the bar, a good, close snatch pull will require the athlete to get the upper torso out of the way of the bar on the way up. No more force is being exerted on the bar, the feet aren't planted, and the primary effort is getting under. Some people refer to this as the "third pull," when the arms pull the athlete under the bar, and some people conceptualize the transition as beginning with the end of the shrug in the second pull.

Generally people can pull high enough, it's receiving the bar that makes this movement so difficult. It's not an issue of strength, especially once you learn to pull correctly, it's an issue of timing, position, and aggressiveness. You have to know when to stop pulling on the bar and start pulling yourself under it (immediately after the force exerted on the bar reaches its highest), you have to know where you're going to be once you're actually under the bar (bar directly above the shoulders and heels), and you've got to have the balls to do what you need to do fast and hard enough that you don't lose it out in front of you or miss it behind.

Standing out of the snatch requires considerable overhead strength and flexibility. The overhead squat is probably the hardest non-dynamic movement you could possibly think of. The weight is held overhead, locked-out, far away from your center of mass and your base of support. This means that unless you maintain strict tension throughout the trunk and shoulders, you'll be wobbling back and forth, and that even though the weight you can hold overhead may be 60% of your best back squat, it's still going to feel heavy standing out of the hole. Now take the difficult of the vanilla overhead squat, and add it to the task of reversing direction after the second pull, receiving the weight overhead with good timing, and re-establishing your center of mass, all in less than one second. This is what it's like to recover out of the squat snatch.

iii. the snatch as an athletic movement

Speed, flexibility, and good technique, good timing, this is what the snatch is all about. The less-developed lifters can get by in the clean if they pull too long, if maybe their transition is a little inefficient, but the snatch is much less forgiving. Bad position, poor timing, and looping the bar away from the body while dropping under it all make it a lot harder to make the lift; you lose it behind if you pull too far back, in front if you shrug in front of your hips, can't get the elbows locked-out, can't control it overhead, etc.

The snatch is a lot like the hammer or discus throw: it's more a display of athletic ability, rather than a developer. If competition isn't your thing, learning the snatch is probably not worth the effort. People spend months, in some cases a year or more learning and applying the correct motor pattern. And even in weightlifting training, most consider the power clean a much more effective assistance exercise compared to the power snatch, because the power clean develops the strength to clean heavy weights, as well as the explosiveness to move a weight a great distance (i.e. the distance the bar travels in the power clean is about the same as it travels in the power snatch: correlation between the weight lifted in these two movements is often very close in proficient weightlifters).

However, if you are competing, this is essentially what makes you a weightlifter. No other sport has any movement comparable to the snatch. This is what you spend years of your life perfecting while everyone else can't or won't. This is what will bury you into the platform time after time when you attempt a weight in training you know, you fucking know you can hit but it just won't come that day. This is how you can tell the difference between the guys who are just strong, and the guys who actually know how to pull.


being a weightlifter