Muscle Snatch – Exercise Guide and Benefits

In this guide we will discuss the muscle snatch, a versatile snatch variation that can be performed by Olympic weightlifters and functional fitness athletes of all levels. It can be effective at increasing pulling strength, upper body involvement, and barbell trajectory/balance in the pull, allowing one to increase performance and technical mastery in the snatch.

The Benefits of the Muscle Snatch

The muscle snatch is a snatch variation that is often used by coaches to prime the snatching movement, increase pulling strength, and enhance snatch mechanics and fluidity throughout the pull and turnover. Below are some benefits of the muscle snatch.

1. Movement Primer for Heavier Snatches

The muscle snatch can prepare all the muscles in the upper back and shoulders for heavier snatch sessions. By performing muscle snatches with lighter relative loads during the warm-up, you can increase the upper and lower back engagement, triceps, shoulders, chest, and more; all of which need to be maximally recruited during heavier lifts.

2. Increased Pulling Strength and Turnover During Finish of Second and Third Pulls in Snatch

The muscle snatch can be used to help lifters gain strength in the second and third pulling phases of the snatch, with an additional great emphasis on upper body strength to finish the lift as it approaches the turnover phase. Many lifters may lack the upper body strength and/or timing needed to fulling stand up and pull the weight as high as one can before transitioning under. By doing so, lifters will gain elevation of the barbell at the end of the pulling phases, ensuring more time and/or less depth needed to get under the barbell to receive it overhead.

3. Teach Barbell Trajectory and Connectivity Throughout the Snatch Pull

By not allowing any re-flexing of the knees or hips under the barbell, or allowing a lifter to jump forward or backwards to save a weight overhead, the muscle snatch teaches proper balance and pulling patterning necessary for the snatch. Additionally, many lifters fail to stay connected to the barbell in the finishing phases of the pull, some even banging the barbell out horizontally instead of pulling the bar vertically as close to body at the top of the pull. By including the muscle snatch, lifters can develop the strength and understanding of the path the barbell must go in the snatch.

4. Snatch Variation for Lifters with Injuries or Limitations

A few months ago I sprained a ligament in my wrist, and the muscle snatch (as well as close grip snatches) was my primary snatch movement for nearly 8 weeks. By minimizing the loading, ballistic movement, and explosive turnovers usually done in the full snatch lift I was able to remain relatively coordinated and engaged with my training while I was recovering by including muscle snatches in my program. Some lifters may have knee and hip soreness/issues, yet still want to remain involved with the snatch movement (as a few days without technical work can have a negative impact on technique). By including muscle snatches into sessions  they can continue to train without jumping explosively or risking injury.

5. Increased Technical Training of Snatch Lift on Lighter Training Days

Similar to the power snatch and other light movements, the muscle snatch can be a great way to train the general movement patterning needed to snatch (the pulling phase, not the absorption of load overhead in the squat position phase) during times of tapering, recovery weeks, and/or warm-ups. By using muscle snatches, coaches and athletes can still train pulling strength, aggression, and technical mastery of certain phases of the lift (set up, first pull, second pull, some of the turnover/third pull) while allowing for some recovery and neural adaptation to occur in times an athlete may need decreased intensities and volumes.

How to Muscle Snatch (Two Styles)

There are two main muscle snatch techniques often performed, both of which serve unique purposes. In an earlier article, Yasha Kahn discussed the difference between light muscle snatches and heavy muscle snatches (also know as Soviet muscle snatches). I personally liked his breakdown, as I often performed them both styles for variance and for different reasons.

1. The Muscle Snatch (Elbows DO NOT Drop)

In the below video, Greg Everett does a great job explaining the technique that is used in one variation of the muscle snatch, regardless of load. The main difference between this style and the below muscle snatch variation is (1) the elbows DO NOT drop lower than their highest point in the turnover to ensure maximal pulling with minimal pressing out, (2) lifter can allow hip contact with the hips, and (3) the lifter can use full hook grip.

2. The “Soviet” Muscle Snatch (Elbows DO Drop)

In the below video the “Soviet” muscle snatch is shown (called that by Yasha Kahn in this article). The primary distinctions between this muscle snatch variation and the one above is (1) the lifter is able to drop the elbows some to press out the weight at heavier loads, which is NOT acceptable in first muscle snatch variation, (2) the lifter does NOT make hip contact to ensure maximal vertical pulling, and (3) the lifter does NOT use a hook grip, to maximize grip strength and body positioning over the barbell in the pull.

Both movements can be used often in the same session, however I personally use them both. As I warm up, I will use a hybrid, in which I will not use a hook grip, will not allow hip contact, but will also NOT ALLOW my elbows to drop. As loads progress, I often will then let my elbows drop to also train some snatch pressing and lockout strength in the heavier sets.

How to Program the Muscle Snatch

The muscle snatch is a great movement that can be programmed into every training session, deload weeks, or lighter training days. For all athletes, I recommend performing the muscle snatch (a few sets and reps) at lighter loads during warm-up sets to get the upper body ready for heavier loads. Additionally, the muscle snatch can be used to add upper body strength and pulling/lockout abilities during the turnover phases for many lifters who are in a deload, lighter training sessions, and even recovering from various injuries in the hip, knee, etc (one’s that may be negatively impacted by returning to ballistic full lifts).

Below are some programming guidelines one can follow when integrating muscle snatches into a training program.

  • Speed and Technical Development: 1-3 repetitions of intensities between 40-60% RM (of full snatch)
  • Pulling/Turnover Strength and Lighter to Moderate Training Days: 1-3 repetitions of intensities between 40-60% RM (of full snatch)
  • Can also be done before all snatch sessions to warm-up the upper body for finishing pulls. I personally do muscle snatches in warm-up sets every day, with 40-50% loads, combined with some snatch balances, Sots presses, overhead squats, power snatches, or the full snatch.

Tips to Snatch More Weight!

The muscle snatch is a helpful snatch priming movement and/or variation to increase the specific needs (discussed above) of a lifter who may lack the aggression, strength, and technique needed to snatch more weight. In addition to the muscle snatch, the following articles and exercises can be VERY helpful at improving technique, strength, and snatching performance!

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram