Contributed by Dan Griffiths
Such a joyous, complicated, immensely challenging and beautiful movement. Also guaranteed to get a giggle out of the more childishly minded of us, like myself. “Today I’m going to look at your snatches… *chuckles*”
In all seriousness though, the snatch movement causes a lot of heartache, frustration and dissatisfaction among the CrossFit world. It is a precise, explosive movement that needs accuracy, timing, great mobility and strength. If even one thing is missing the whole movement can, literally, come crashing down.
When we are first introduced to the snatch it is normally stripped down to its simplest form (I’m sorry for the innuendos, they just cannot be avoided). Your coach tries to explain to you that you need to have a wide grip and get the bar from the ground to locked out above your head with no pauses and no swinging of the barbell. Sounds simple enough. With a PVC pipe you are a pro, with an empty bar you can still make it work, however put any sort of load on that bar and everything goes pear shaped.
Unfortunately the snatch is not as simple as it seems, and if your aim is to lift efficiently and increase your weights without risking injuries then you are going to have to take some time to not only work on your snatch but to work on the skills needed to snatch well.
Here are my top 5 tips to improve your snatch, you may not like everything I am about to say, but a tidy, tight snatch takes hard work and patience and it is an achievement worth every second of work.
#1 – It’s All In The Mind
You need to understand very very clearly that the snatch, and indeed all olympic lifting movements, are a DRIVE off the floor with the legs, and NOT a yank off the floor with the arms.
Your legs drive this movement, they are the instigator. Your arms are used to keep the bar tight and close to the body, but not to pull the bar upwards. Your elbows do not bend below the knees, or at the knees, or even at the thighs. Your arms should remain long and straight until your legs get the bar to the hips, and then your hips take over and drive the bar upwards over your head. Your arms bend as the bar explodes upwards. Your arms bend as a reaction to the bars momentum up, they do not create this momentum.
All your arms do is CATCH the bar as your body moves beneath it. Until you can wrap your head around this concept you will forever be dependant on brute strength, your bar path will be wrong, your setup from the ground will most probably be wrong (because you are setting up to pull and not to drive), you will get sore elbows, the bar will feel heavy, you will not be willing to drop quickly into a squat (it is hard to yank upwards using your arms and back if you are trying to squat at the same time).
Your legs and posterior chain are far stronger than your arms. You need to create momentum and force from the floor. You need to stop rowing the bar. If you don’t know if you do this or not, then get someone to film your snatch (*shifty eyes*) preferably in slow motion, and watch your arms.
#2 – Squats, Squats & More Squats
You need a strong squat. If you are still avoiding the “squat snatch” it is time to adjust your thinking and face your fears.
To create a strong, heavy snatch you need to be willing to drop your body underneath the bar. Even in the power snatch you should be doing this. As should be clear from the tip 1, the finish of the snatch is a catch and not a press, and when you catch something you need to be underneath it. If you are not ready for a full squat then your first step should be to MOVE YOUR FEET when you snatch and ensure they land in your squat stance.
Your feet should start shoulder width apart and end in a squat position, not like a baby giraffe or a sumo. Once you have started to get your feet in the right position (and this takes time and consistency) then you need to be working on your squat. The more you can squat, and the better your position is (torso upright, heels on the floor, knees out) the more confident you will be when you need to drop underneath the bar.
This is logical really, if your air squat is weak, if your chest tips forward or your bum drives up first, then your ability and confidence to squat with a bar overhead will be limited. The faster you can get under the bar the heavier the bar can be because you don’t have to lift it as high. The more weight you can squat, the more weight you can catch and stand up- this becomes even more crucial when you come to your squat cleans.
Squat, squat more, squat heavy. If your air squat is weak then start there. Don’t add weight to poor form, walk before you can run.
#3 – Be A Supple Leopard
Work on your mobility. Do it, don’t just say you will, don’t just moan about your poor range of motion, tight chest, back, lats or hamstrings, ask for help, seek out advice and then do it every day.
If you cannot squat to depth because your ankle mobility is non existent, or your hamstrings are so tight they feel like they are going to snap then you need to stop worrying about a big snatch (*giggle*) and focus like mad on looking after your body. Adding weight through a difficult movement that requires a strong, flexible, mobile body onto a body that is tight, immobile and strained is a recipe for disaster. This is your responsibility. If you go to your box day in day out wanting to get better, stronger, fitter, faster and do not think that includes mobility or stretching, then you- my friend- are walking a very thin line. Your coaches might be the best in the world, but without the proper range of motion you may be one snatch away from a visit to A&E, or a niggle that turns into an ongoing ailment.
To improve your snatch you must be able to squat to depth with good form.
You must be able to hold a barbell in the snatch grip above your head while activating your lats, if your shoulders are rolling forward or your arms are bent then you need to focus your attention on improving these issues before you consider lifting heavier. These are signs that your body needs some TLC. It may be boring, it may take time, you may not increase your snatch by 10kgs by next friday. However you will reduce your risk of injury, you will become stronger and healthier because of it, and in the long run you will improve your snatch.
Mobility and range of motion is key, to LIFE and a good snatch.
#4 – Did I Mention Squats…
Over head squats and snatch balance are your friend, so are snatch grip deadlifts.
So now we are getting to some more of the technical assistance work you can do to improve your snatch. Getting comfortable with the barbell overhead is important. Being able to support and move with a heavy weight improves not only your strength but your confidence.
Heaving snatch balances and snatch balance with no drive get you dropping fast under the bar. Heaving snatch balance starts with the bar behind the head and hands in your snatch grip, with your feet hip width apart you dip (upright) drive and drop under the bar, catching the bar at the bottom of the squat with both arms locked out. The idea is to drop fast, not to drive, catch and then lower. The other option is with no drive, simply walkout set your feet, drop and punch- this one takes a lot more confidence but will help with speed and lockout. Start light and build up.
Snatch grip deadlifts can improve your setup position as well as your drive from the ground. This is not a snatch pull. You can overload the bar, lifting more than you can snatch, focusing on good technique, chest up, butt down, lats active and barbell close. Avoid the stripper deadlift (where the butt shoots up first leaving the chest behind) and make sure you are in your snatch set up and not your normal deadlift position. You need to drive with the legs and keep the core tight. You can use hand wraps if the weight becomes an issue.
#5 – Add Variance
3-position snatch. From the power position (bar at the hips, shoulders back), from the hang (above the knees) and from the floor.
My last tip is to do the 3-position snatch heavy and often. This strengthens each pivotal position of the snatch. Building to a heavy 3 position snatch is challenging and trains your body to start tight and strong in each portion of the snatch. This only comes once you have ironed out the mobility and positional flaws. Each position should look like it does if you were filmed lifting from the floor and paused at each position. And it goes without saying that I expect you to catch all three in a full squat.
The power position (or high hang) is the final firing point for the body when we do the snatch, it is the final second when the legs have driven the bar to the hips and the last thing to happen is an explosive drive with the hips upwards and then you are under. Your shoulders should remain back, don’t lean forward to give yourself a bigger drive – this doesn’t happen from the floor and will not strengthen your overall snatch if you practice it.
The hang position is not a squatty position, your shoulders should be forward and your glutes and hamstrings engaged, you drive with your legs into the power position and then go- NO PULLING WITH YOUR ARMS.
From the floor: chest high, strong leg drive (note I said strong and not fast, you don’t need speed here- you need power) to the knees, continuing up
to the power, drive and drop. The speed comes from the explosive drive at the hip. As Jon North says “patience, patience, POWER!”
It’s Time To Tighten Up That Snatch
These are my tips, these are not the only tips- nor are they the same tips another coach or athlete may give you. That is fine, everybody lifts differently and has different advice for what will work. So if there is one crucial thing to take away from this article please make it tip 3…. mobility, look after your body it is a wonderful tool that needs care and respect. Good luck creating a strong, explosive snatch!
Dan Griffiths is the founder of Strength Alliance Equipment. Serving in the British Army and then pursuing a career in the fitness industry as a Personal Trainer, CrossFit Coach and Strength & Conditioning Equipment Specialist. Dan is extremely passionate about CrossFit and thrives on helping build new Gyms & Businesses across the UK and Europe.