Dumbbell Snatch Exercise Guide

The dumbbell snatch is a total body exercise that can be beneficial for increasing total body power, strength, and metabolic endurance. Many strength and fitness athletes will find that training the dumbbell snatch (either for heavier power/strength training or for more cardiovascular/muscle endurance training) can be beneficial for overall performance.

In this dumbbell snatch exercise guide, we will cover:

  • Dumbbell Snatch Form and Technique
  • Benefits of Dumbbell Snatches
  • Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Snatches
  • Who Should Do Dumbbell Snatches?
  • Dumbbell Snatch Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
  • Dumbbell Snatch Variations and Alternatives
  • and more…

How to Do a Dumbbell Snatch

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly set up and perform the dumbbell snatch, more specifically the single arm variation. Note, that this exercise can also be done with two dumbbells and/or done so that the lifter receives the dumbbell in the squatted or “power” position.

Step 1: Start with a dumbbell directly below you, so that you are standing over it evenly.

Be sure to have the load directly underneath you. Having it too far back or too far forward will cause you to get pulled out of balance, losing power and positioning.

Dumbbell Snatch Guide
Dumbbell Snatch Guide

Step 2: 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.

The back should remain flat, with the shins nearly vertical. Once you are set, grasp the dumbbell and straighten the arm.

Dumbbell Snatch Guide How to
Dumbbell Snatch Guide How to

Step 3: 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 seamless transition into the arm pulling upward on the dumbbell to continue its ascent. Be sure to keep the elbow high throughout this pulling process.

Dumbbell Snatch How To Guide
Dumbbell Snatch How To Guide

Step 4: Once you have pulled as high as you can, turn the elbow underneath the dumbbell, ending in the overhead position of the movement.

This should not be a struggling press out but rather a smooth locking out of the elbow.

 

Dumbbell Snatch Finish
Dumbbell Snatch Finish

Step 5: You can receive the dumbbell in the standing overhead position, similar to the muscle snatch, or you can re-bend the knees and hips to receive the dumbbell at a lower point.

Once you have stood up again, with the dumbbell supported overhead, bring it down in similar fashion as the way it came up, and repeat for reps, alternating hands is need.

Dumbbell Snatch
Dumbbell Snatch

3 Benefits of Dumbbell Snatches

Below are (3) benefits of the dumbbell snatch that coaches and athletes from most strength, power, and fitness sports can expect when implementing dumbbell snatches into a training regimen.

Increased Muscle Balance and Coordination

The dumbbell snatch, like most unilateral exercises, offers lifters an opportunity to address any muscular imbalances and movement asymmetries that may otherwise go undetected when training with a barbell. While the dumbbell snatch may not have direct technique application to the highly technical barbell snatch, it can still be used to enhance shoulder stability, strength, and power for all level lifters.

Beginner-Friendly Power Exercise

The dumbbell snatch requires less technique, mobility, and arguably less skill than the barbell snatch; which can make it a good option for beginner lifters (of all ages) and/or individuals who may have concerns snatching overhead with a barbell (such as overhead athletes, as the barbell does not allow for individual shoulder joint positioning overhead). Both the dumbbell snatch and the barbell snatch can be used and integrated within training programs; however the dumbbell snatch is often a good exercise to introduce to newer lifters so that they can grasp a better concept of the overall movement patterning.

Versatile Movement for Conditioning Workouts

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). The dumbbell snatch, when done in a cyclical motion, can be performed for longer durations, and often seamlessly transitioned into other dumbbell exercise like windmills, presses, goblet squats, swings, etc; further increasing metabolic demands.

Muscles Worked – 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

Both the shoulders and the triceps are active in the dumbbell snatch, providing strength and support in both the pulling and overhead lock out positions. Additionally the shoulder stabilizers are called upon to provide support during this ballistic exercise.

Posterior Chain (Glutes, Hamstrings, Erectors)

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

Back and Scapular Muscles

The larger back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, traps, and scapular stabilizing muscles all help to provide muscular force in the pulling phases of the snatch. Additionally, muscles like the rhomboids help to stabilize the shoulder blades to allow for maximum shoulder strength and stability overhead.

Who Should Do Dumbbell Snatches?

Below are some reasons why strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from performing the dumbbell snatch.

Powerlifters and Strongman

The dumbbell snatch can be trained to increase overall fitness and used as a means for metabolic conditioning/work capacity training. Additionally, the dumbbell snatch can be done to incorporate more ballistic and explosive-based lifting within training programs to further 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 help to improve overall strength and athletic development.

Olympic Weightlifters

While the dumbbell snatch does not transfer specifically to the barbell snatch, it can be used at certain times when a lifter may not be able to snatch (let’s say due to a wrist injury). The dumbbell snatch can be done to maintain basic movement patterning during times where no training would otherwise occur. That said, adding dumbbell snatches within formal weightlifting training for other reasons, may actually limit recovery from barbell snatch sessions (done with a barbell).

Functional Fitness Athletes

The dumbbell snatch is a useful exercise in the training of functional fitness 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 result in leaving overhead strength, stability, and sport specific improvements on the table.

General Fitness and Movement

The dumbbell snatch, aside from the benefits listed in the previous section, can be a beneficial way to increase overall athleticism and fitness for most gym-goers. The dumbbell snatch can be done for strength and power to help integrate posterior chain force development, increase muscle coordination, and improved metabolic fitness. The ability to manipulate the positioning of the dumbbell also makes this a very versatile movement to incorporate even with beginner and intermediate trainees.

How to Program the Dumbbell Snatch

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

Power and General Strength– Reps and Sets

For power/general strength building sets, athletes can perform lower repetition ranges for more sets.

  • 4-6 sets of 2-5 repetitions, resting 2-3 minutes

Muscle Endurance – Reps and Sets

Some lifters may want to train greater muscle endurance (for sport), in which higher repetition ranges and/or shorter rest periods are recommended.

  • 2-3 sets of 12+ repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between (this is highly sport specific)

Dumbbell Snatch Variations

Below are three (3) dumbbell snatch variations that can be used by coaches and athletes to keep training varied and progressive.

Barbell Snatch

The barbell snatch can be used in place of the dumbbell snatch if a lifter is looking to have more application to the formal weightlifting snatch movement. This exercise often allows for more loading (in total) however does require greater technique, power, and mobility.

Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch can be done with one or two bells, similarly to the dumbbell snatch. With the kettlebell, the loading is slightly shifted to the hips and posterior shoulder due to load placement of the imbalanced kettlebell and the arcing motion of the kettlebell snatch.

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 (3) 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/strength movement that uses similar muscle groups and movement patterning as the dumbbell snatch. This exercise can be done 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 not require as much technical proficiency and mobility in the receiving position. Like the dumbbell snatch, the muscle snatch can be used with many beginners to help establish better pulling mechanics and increase the muscle demands on the upper body.

Snatch High Pull

The snatch high pull can be done with either a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell; all of which have the same pulling mechanics as the snatch without the turnover and overhead support phases. This may be useful for individuals who are trying to limit overhead training due to injury or to improve their performance in the snatch pull.

Featured Image: Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

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