Develop Ludicrous Power With the Dumbbell Snatch

It's easy to learn, accessible, and fun. Here's how to do the dumbbell snatch.

Upon hearing the word “snatch,” you probably have an image of some elite weightlifter (like Lasha Talakhadze) toiling away day after day for years on end to master this one exercise. So if you don’t have aspirations of being a snatch monster, then there are easier, more accessible moves you should probably dedicate your time to, right? Well, hold up. 

That snatch is a great movement that builds power, strength, and shoulder mobility. If you can’t do the snatch — traditionally done with a barbell — then mozy on over to the dumbbell rack. The dumbbell snatch offers all the same benefits but is far easier to learn. (Not to mention more accessible so that you can do it in your home gym, as well.) Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know to master this beginner-friendly power-builder, including: 

How to Do the Dumbbell Snatch

Below is a step-by-step guide to set up and perform the dumbbell snatch. Note that you can do this movement with two dumbbells, but we’re going over the single-arm variation.

Step 1 — Squat Down and Grab the Weight

Dumbbell Snatch - Step 1

Start with a dumbbell directly below you so that you are standing over it evenly. Squat down so that you are in a similar start position to a deadlift, with the chest and head up and shoulders slightly higher than the hips.

Form Tip: The back should remain flat, with the shins nearly vertical. Once set, grasp the dumbbell and straighten the arm.

Step 2 — Explode Up and Turnover the Arm

Dumbbell Snatch - Step 2

Lift the dumbbell with the legs and back, coming straight up with the dumbbell, making sure not to bend the arm early. The arm should remain straight until the dumbbell gets to about the hip, in which the momentum from the first part of the pull should seamlessly transition into the arm, pulling upward on the dumbbell to continue its ascent. Once you have pulled as high as you can, turn the elbow underneath the dumbbell to end up with the weight overhead.

Form Tip: Be sure to keep the elbow high throughout this pulling process.

Step 3 — Catch the Dumbbell

Dumbbell Snatch - Step 3

Once the dumbbell has traveled overhead, drop down into a squat position. Some lifters don’t fully squat and instead perform more of a dip while receiving the dumbbell. That’s a legitimate option, but we’re going to show the full-squat version. Make sure you’re stable in the hole of the squat and that your elbow is locked out.

Form Tip: It may be a good idea to warm-up with a few light overhead squats so that you’re comfortable in the position before doing the snatch. 

Step 4 — Stand Up With the Dumbbell

Dumbbell Snatch - Step 4

At this point, the hard work is over. Now, stand up, keeping your loaded arm locked out. Drop the dumbbell back down to the floor (with control) to begin the next rep.

Form Tip: Don’t let go of the dumbbell. Let it fall back to the floor as you hang onto it. 

Benefits of the Dumbbell Snatch

Why bother learning the dumbbell snatch? We give you three solid reasons below.

Increased Muscle Balance and Coordination

Like most unilateral exercises, the dumbbell snatch helps address any muscular imbalances and movement asymmetries that may otherwise go undetected when training with a barbell. During bilateral movements, one side may be doing more work, but you’d never know it. Then, you try a unilateral exercise, and any weaknesses are now on full display.

While the dumbbell snatch may not directly apply to the highly technical barbell snatch, it still enhances shoulder stability, strength, and power for lifters of all levels.

It’s Beginner-Friendly

The dumbbell snatch requires less technique, mobility, and arguably less skill than the barbell snatch, so it’s a good option for beginner lifters. Both the dumbbell snatch and the barbell snatch can be used and integrated within training programs. However, the dumbbell snatch is better for new lifters, as they can learn the movement pattern more easily than with a barbell. The reason is that the position is more optimal than having both hands locked into a loaded barbell, and lighter weight is being used for better control. 

You Can Rep it Out for Better Conditioning

Like the kettlebell, the dumbbell allows lifters to perform longer (time duration) sets and complexes (yes, the barbell can be effective at this as well). When done in a cyclical motion, the dumbbell snatch can be performed for longer durations and often seamlessly transitioned into other dumbbell exercises like windmills, presses, goblet squats swings, etc.; further increasing metabolic demands.

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Snatch

The dumbbell snatch is a dynamic movement that challenges the entire body to move in a coordinated effort to promote force with the legs, core, and upper body. Below is a breakdown of the primary muscle groups involved in this exercise.

Shoulders and Triceps

These are separate muscles, but both the shoulders and the triceps are active in the dumbbell snatch, providing strength and support in both the pulling and overhead lock-out position. Additionally, the shoulder stabilizers are called upon to provide support during this exercise.

Posterior Chain (Glutes, Hamstrings, Erectors)

The glutes, hamstrings, and erectors are all responsible for hip extension, which creates the force necessary to pull the load from the ground into the overhead position. Increased rate of force development from the posterior chain can result in heavier loads being snatched overhead.

Back and Scapular Muscles

Back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, traps, and muscles around the shoulder blades help stabilize and produce force during the snatch’s pulling phase. Additionally, muscles like the rhomboids help stabilize the shoulder blades for maximum shoulder strength and stability overhead.

Who Should Do the Dumbbell Snatch?

Below are explanations for how strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from performing the dumbbell snatch.

Man snatching dumbbell
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Strength and Power Athletes

Strength and power athletes use the dumbbell snatch to increase overall fitness and explosiveness.

  • Powerlifters and Strongmen/Strongwomen Athletes: The dumbbell snatch is used to train metabolic conditioning/work capacity training. You can also use the dumbbell snatch with lighter loads to enhance strength development and force production (rate of force production). While the snatch movement is not specific to the bench press, squat, deadlift, or most other movements done in most strongman events, it can improve overall strength.
  • Olympic Weightlifters: The dumbbell snatch doesn’t directly carry over to the barbell snatch. That said, if a weightlifter has a tweaked wrist, the dumbbell snatch serves as a good option as it reinforces the same movement mechanics but with far less weight.

Functional Fitness Athletes

The dumbbell snatch is a useful exercise in functional fitness training and CrossFit athletes looking to increase overall strength, power, and fitness. The dumbbell snatch is an exercise that has found its way into a handful of CrossFit workouts at the local, Open, Regionals, and Games level. Failure to train the dumbbell snatch could leave overhead strength, stability, and sport-specific adaptions on the table.

General Population

The dumbbell snatch, aside from the benefits listed in the previous section, can increase overall athleticism and fitness for most gym-goers. The dumbbell snatch can be done for strength and power, increase muscle coordination, and improved metabolic fitness. The ability to manipulate the dumbbell position makes this a very versatile and attainable movement for trainees of all skill levels.

Dumbbell Snatch Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Below are three primary training goals and programming recommendations when utilizing the dumbbell snatch in specific programs. Note that these are general guidelines and by no means should be used as the only way to program thrusters.

Man doing a dumbbell snatch
Berkomaster/Shutterstock

To Gain Muscle

The dumbbell snatch is more of a ballistic move, and the lack of eccentric control doesn’t make it a great muscle-building movement. More realistically, hypertrophy may be more of a residual effect from doing dumbbell snatches than a direct one. If your sole focus is on gaining shoulder muscle, you want to include movements like overhead presses, lateral raises, and landmine presses.  That said, stick with the set and rep recommendations below.

To Gain Strength and Power

The dumbbell snatch is a great movement for strength and power development. It allows you to move a moderate to heavy load with lots of force, making you a more explosive human being. Do three to five sets of three to five reps per side. Rest one to two minutes between sets

To Improve Conditioning

Because you can rep out the dumbbell snatch, it’s a great movement to program into your conditioning routine. This is a great option for CrossFitters, who need a lot of work capacity. Do two to three sets of 12-plus repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between.

Dumbbell Snatch Variations

Below are three dumbbell snatch variations that coaches and athletes can use to keep training varied and progressive.

Barbell Snatch

The barbell snatch is a better option if a lifter is looking to acquire more application to the sports of weightlifting. This exercise often allows for more loading (in total). However, it also requires greater technique, power, and mobility.

Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch can be done with one or two bells, similarly to the dumbbell snatch. Also, note that the loading is slightly shifted to the hips and posterior shoulder due to kettlebells’ offset nature.

Alternating Dumbbell Snatch

The alternating dumbbell snatch is a slight variation of the dumbbell snatch (single arm) in that it has a lifter transfer the dumbbell from one hand to the other in between repetitions, often in the down phase of the lift. This cyclical, rhythmic transferring of the dumbbell from side to side can allow the lifter to increase work capacity and make the movement more aerobic in nature (due to longer duration sets).

Dumbbell Snatch Alternatives

Below are three dumbbell snatch alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase power, general strength, and muscle endurance.

Dumbbell Clean and Press

The dumbbell clean and press is a power and strength movement that uses similar muscle groups and movement patterning as the dumbbell snatch. Do the dumbbell clean and press for similar rep, loading, and overall training volume ranges.

Muscle Snatch

The muscle snatch, most commonly done with the barbell, is a regressed version of the barbell snatch since it doesn’t require as much technical proficiency and mobility in the receiving position. Like the dumbbell snatch, the muscle snatch can help new lifters establish better pulling mechanics while still targeting the upper body

Snatch High Pull

You can do the snatch high pull with a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell — all of which allow for the same pulling mechanics as the snatch without the turnover and overhead support phases. This may be useful for individuals trying to limit overhead training due to injury or improve their snatch pull performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many sets and reps of the dumbbell snatch should I do.

Feel free to adjust these as needed, but the below set and rep schemes are a solid starting point:

  • For strength and power: three to five sets of five reps on each side.
  • For conditioning work: two to three sets of 12-plus reps.

Can I do the dumbbell snatch as a beginner?

Absolutely. The dumbbell snatch is a great move for beginners. It naturally limits the amount of weight you can use, so it’s less taxing and dangerous than other snatch variations. The dumbbell snatch also lets you master the movement pattern with less weight, and the dumbbell also lets the lifter move their joints in a more comfortable way than being locked into a barbell.

Do you need to squat all the way down in a dumbbell snatch?

It depends on your training goals. If you are in a competition, says CrossFit Open Workout 21.2 you do not need to squat fully in the snatch because it’s not required. That said, if you are in training and want to increase your leg training volume and challenge your shoulder stability and mobility, adding the squat is beneficial. 

Can you do a dumbbell snatch with two dumbbells?

You sure can. To do this variation, you perform the dumbbell snatch as instructed above, but holding a dumbbell in each hand. You can do this to increase the movement’s complexity, challenging shoulder stability, or progress into other movements like the Devil’s Press.

More Exercise Guides

Feel good about the dumbbell snatch? Great. Now check out these other exercise guides from BarBend

Featured image: Berkomaster/Shutterstock