There are full-body exercises, and then there’s the snatch. It’s a phenomenally difficult exercise that can require years to properly master. The journey to learn and refine the move is worth it. When performed correctly, the benefits of the snatch span wider than pretty much any other single exercise.
Most folks know that weightlifting makes you strong. The snatch proves that there’s more to it than that. Yes, performing heavy snatches will help make you a powerhouse of strength — but snatches will do so much more, too. From developing your speed and agility to improving your posture and mental fitness, integrating snatches into your program offers a broad-ranging host of benefits.
Benefits of the Snatch
No matter what your training goals are, there are bound to be benefits you can reap from performing the snatch. Whether you’re a powerlifter, weightlifter, or casual gym-goer, the snatch can help make you an overall better athlete.
Improved Weightlifting Performance
The snatch is one of the two main lifts of Olympic weightlifting, the other being the clean & jerk. In competition, the two lifts are performed as three singles of each lift. The best successful snatch and clean and jerk are added together for a total result.
Even when practicing the lifts for recreational purposes, improving your snatch requires long-term work that is specific to the lift itself. Any time spent practicing snatching will directly enhance your Olympic weightlifting performance should you ever decide to compete.
Total Body Strength
You’re achieving advanced total body strength training when you perform snatches. The lift is a combination of both pulling (lower body) and pressing (upper body). It is a single motion of rapid power production, which is executed with the strength of the whole body at once.
Since the large muscle groups of the lower body are involved, you can lift potentially very heavy loads with the snatch. The legs elevate the barbell high enough for the upper body to press underneath to the catch of the lift, forging strength under intense weight.
Better Core Stability
A strong core is more than just six-pack abs. The core is largely comprised of the supporting muscles of the trunk, which include the rectus abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, and glutes. These muscles work in combination to support bodily motion, especially in total body exercises.
You can take your core training to the next level by doing exercises that target the core’s functional purposes. In the snatch, the core is uniquely challenged with maintaining the center of balance in a deep catch position. Supporting the weight of a snatch overhead will have you tapping into your core abilities like never before.
The snatch happens fast. You only have the briefest of seconds to pull yourself under the bar to catch it before it starts accelerating to the floor. Perhaps because nothing makes the body learn a skill like the risk of a heavy weight dropping on its head, weightlifting teaches lightning-fast reactive times, which is a skill that transfers to everything from football to boxing.
In training, power is defined by force output (work) per unit of time. As opposed to asking how much weight you can lift, power asks how fast you can lift the same weight. The faster a weight can be moved, you’re producing more power in the lift.
When your movements are precise, you can maximize force production. Practicing specific barbell techniques such as the snatch will give you a heightened ability to produce force. Doing the snatch will quickly turn high power production into a main focus of your training, which will pay off in the long run when it comes to performance.
Improved Body Composition
As far as building muscle and losing fat goes, there’s a pretty stark difference between Olympic weightlifting — which is fast — and powerlifting, which is relatively slow. Because the move requires so much speed and energy expenditure, the snatch can seriously burn energy and stimulate total body hypertrophy.
Even athletes who train low repetitions of the lift develop whole-body muscle growth, especially the glutes, shoulders, and back muscles. The heavy load stimulus provided by repetitions of snatch can increase lean muscle mass and decrease fat mass. Also, long-term practice of the lift can increase bone density by continually putting loaded force on your body — you adapt by building stronger bones, kind of like you do with muscles.
It Requires, and Trains, a Full Range of Motion
The snatch challenges the range of motion of almost every body part, but in particular the ankles, shoulders, and hips. It does this perhaps any other exercise. A good snatch means you’ve reached some of the highest peaks of mobility that go well beyond a regular squat or overhead press. The difficult range of motion will help the mobility requirements of many other movements fall into place.
Motor Unit Recruitment Efficiency
Movement is performed through nervous innervation to the muscles. The central nervous system (CNS) controls bodily movement by connecting nerve impulses to muscle action. The total control of the CNS can be trained and improved through practice of exercises such as the snatch.
The total power requirement of the snatch trains the CNS to recruit a maximum number of muscle fibers very quickly. Through repeatedly practicing the snatch, you can improve the performance quality of your CNS to efficiently recruit motor units. Simply put, practicing the snatch can help you perform difficult movements with less muscle effort involved.
Enhanced Proprioception and Coordination
Proprioception is an awareness of where your body is situated in space. It’s a big deal: better proprioception can help reduce the risk of injuries like ankle sprains. The more you know about where your body is and how it’s moving through space, the more efficient and safe your lifts can become.
Coordination is when the body performs effective and precise movement, which is heightened through increasing proprioceptive ability. The snatch relies on precision for execution of the lift, meaning that the snatch directly trains both proprioception and coordination.
Agility is the ability to quickly change direction, which is vital in most sports. The snatch can help just that. It includes an instantaneous change of direction against a load of weight when the barbell is transferred from the pull to the catch.
The snatch should be practiced for agility purposes because it includes an element of weight load for strength increase. Not only does the snatch include high speed, but it also acknowledges the strength component of accelerating movement.
Improved Posture and Balance
As a dynamite exercise for strengthening the posterior chain, the snatch can help you attain an upright posture: straight back, shoulders retracted, tight core, and a potentially less painful low back.
The tall posture and balance of the lift begins in the heavy pull from the floor. To keep the barbell close to your body, the posterior chain muscles aggressively pull up and back. This results in a vertical extension, which delivers the weight in the pull to a balanced catch. Then, balance is truly a challenge — a successful lift can only be completed with a stable hold of the barbell in the perfect spot.
A lot More Overhead Strength
The snatch takes place in one motion from the ground to overhead, which makes the bottom overhead catch very difficult. Few other lifting movements hold the barbell overhead in a squat. Since the weight is transferred from the powerful lower body to the catch, the upper body is trained to support maximal loads with the shoulders and traps. This leads to massive increases in overhead strength.
Transfer to Bodyweight Movements
Among other components, the snatch involves moving your body with a serious amount of added resistance. It’s like practicing your favorite plyometric exercise with a load of weight attached. The movement’s combined benefits of agility, explosive power, speed, and motor unit recruitment translate into a jump that LeBron would be proud of.
Athletes that perform snatches can usually generate high rates of force development. Because of that, the movement translates to the power component of other exercises such as sprinting, throwing, or jumping. It can also be beneficial for overhead stability movements such as handstands and other inversions.
Competitive athletes can practice speed-focused weightlifting movements like the snatch to build strength and challenge athletic movement at the same time. It is worth noting that athletes also often have an advantage when executing snatch due to their high levels of speed and coordination from sport.
You may notice that the snatch is not the most commonly practiced exercise. Before reaping the true strength benefits of the lift, the complicated technique must be extensively visualized and understood. Learning the snatch is cumbersome and becomes more difficult as you progress.
This can impose a high volume of mental strain. Including the snatch in your training will create a new element of mental toughness because you will truly be ready for any movement you’re presented with in the future. The core foundation of what makes the snatch mentally difficult is common to many lifting movements, but uniquely intense in the snatch.
How to Perform the Snatch
Snatches have many different and difficult moving parts. Follow these steps to ensure confidence in your snatching performance.
Step 1 — Lock the Start Position
Stand with the barbell positioned over your shoelaces, with your feet hip-width apart. Grip the bar in a wide snatch grip. Look straight ahead, and keep your shoulder blades pulled together and back. With two straight arms, your back should be diagonal with your shoulders above your hips.
Step 2 — Lift around the knee
Keep your chest up and push through your legs to lift the bar off the floor. Vertically stack your shoulders over the barbell. Your chest and hips will rise together. Keep the barbell close to your legs as it’s pulled around your knee.
Step 3 — Pull to Hip Contact
After clearing your knee, accelerate the barbell with your legs towards a standing position. When the bar reaches your hip, make strong hip contact and rapidly extend your hips and legs. The hip contact should be fast in order to transfer your leg drive into the upward momentum of the barbell.
Step 4 — Extend Up and Pull Under
Upon hip contact, aggressively pull your elbows up and back as your ankles, knees and hips drive you to total extension. Once you extend the barbell to chest height, rapidly pull yourself underneath the barbell to prepare for the overhead catch position.
Step 5 — Catch the Lift
The catch of the lift is powerful and tight. Punch your hands to two straight arms and push underneath the weight with your whole body in an overhead squat position. Your knees should be pressing outward, and your arms should be behind both ears for optimal balance. For a secured finish, try to catch the lift before it reaches the bottom of the overhead squat.
Step 6 — Stand Tall to the Finish
Once you’ve secured balance in the catch position of the lift, finish the overhead squat by standing up the lift to two straight legs. A one-second hold with straight arms and legs declares completion of the successful lift.
How to Warm Up for the Snatch
The first step to successful snatches is a progressive warm up. Snatches bring your muscles through many different and intense ranges of motion. So, you have to prepare with both dynamic stretching and activation strategies. More than most exercises, warming up for snatching includes a lot more than just the movement itself.
The warm-up should begin with heat-inducing bodyweight movement, such as arm circles, side bends, knee hugs, good mornings, and air squats. These movements will stretch the body and increase blood flow to the working muscles.
Practice dynamic movement for five to 15 minutes, including stretches that are specific to your own mobility limitations. For example, if your shoulders feel tight with the barbell overhead, extra shoulder opening stretches should be included here. Before touching the barbell, practice snatching with a weightless rod such as a PVC pipe or wooden dowel. This will prepare the accuracy of your body movement without the weight load.
Begin your sets of snatches with 2-3 sets of moving just the empty barbell. Take the barbell to your hip and begin warming up just the pulling component of the lift. Start with high hang pulls, then travel below the knee to warm the start position of the lift. Next, take the empty barbell overhead and practice two to three overhead squats and/or behind-the-neck snatch grip overhead presses.
Last but most importantly, perform multiple repetitions of quick and light full snatches with the empty barbell. Once you have mastered the empty barbell movement of the snatch, you should be ready to take gradual, incremental weight increases to your working sets.
Start the Snatch
The many benefits of the snatch are enough to convince even casual gym-goers to give this lift a try. Rest assured that your journey to learning proper snatch technique will be very rewarding. It’s not always easy to commit to a true and thorough warm-up, but it will always be the best place to start snatching the right way.
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