A Guide to Mastering the Snatch

Here's everything you need to know about how to do the snatch, progressions, and snatch variations to address common technique faults.

The snatch is a pure expression of power. You drive a loaded barbell from the floor and use your hips to bring the bar overhead as you squat underneath it. To do the snatch takes strength, timing, skill, and speed. For all of those reasons, it is also one of the hardest exercises to learn. After all, consider that Olympic weightlifters spend their entire career mastering just two movements — the clean & jerk and snatch.

Of course, nothing worth learning comes easy. Learn the snatch, and you’ll be stronger, more explosive, and very, very fast. Below, we go over the proper snatch technique and alternatives, variations, and programming recommendations. 

How to Do the Snatch

Upon first glance, anyone can see the snatch is a multifaceted, technical movement. Below, we break down the snatch into five steps to help simplify this power-building movement.

Step 1 — Get Set

Snatch - Step 1

Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar in with your hands set far wider than shoulder-width. Lower your hips until your shins touch the bar. Your back should be flat and your arms fully extended. Maintain a proud chest. 

Form Tip: Your shoulders should be above the bar, with the knees in line with the elbows. You should feel pressure in the toes, and your quads should be engaged.

Step 2 —  Pull the Bar

Snatch - Step 2

Now, explosively stand up and deadlift the bar to your hip crease. Here’s the tricky part. Though this guide is broken down into steps, this step and step three should blend seamlessly. That said, stand up with as much force as possible, and do not kill that momentum once the bar hits your hips. 

Form Tip: Your chest should remain up the entire time.

Step 3 — Turn the Bar Over

Snatch - Step 3

This is where your transfer that momentum into the second pull of the snatch. Continue to pull the bar up to your torso, leading the pull with your elbows, sort of like you’re doing an upright row. As the bar ascends your torso, quickly jump your feet inward an inch or two and drop into a squat position. As you drop into a squat, you want to extend your arms fully overhead. By far, this is the most complicated portion of the snatch, so be sure to practice this with a PVC pipe and then an unloaded barbell before progressing to heavier weights. 

Form Tip: Practice dumbbell snatches, too, so you can nail the movement mechanics of this phase.

Step 4 — Receive the Bar Overhead

Snatch - Step 4

Your job here is to stabilize the load overhead. Once your elbows are locked out, and you feel balanced, stand up.

Form Tip: The more aggressive and forceful you are during steps two and three, the easier this position is to assume. 

Step 5 — Reach and Stand Up

Snatch - Step 5

Do not rush to stand up. Quickly rising out of the squat may not seem like a big deal with 115 pounds, but as you lift heavier weight, rushing can cause instability. Practice good snatch habits even with just a barbell. 

Form Tip: Two cues commonly heard at this stage are “reach” and “push,” both of which trigger you to push upwards through the barbell to aid in stable and strong recovery from the squat.

Benefits of the Snatch 

Below are three benefits of integrating the snatch into your current training program.

More Force Production

Force is trained by moving a load quickly and efficiently. The snatch has you do just that, so making this movement a part of your routine will result in the ability to produce more power over time. And more power means the ability to sprint faster and jump higher. It also helps that snatch is a hip dominant movement, an area of the body directly involved in jumping and running. 

More Motor Unit Recruitment and Kinetic Chain Synchronization

The kinetic chain refers to a “combination of several successively arranged joints constituting a complex motor unit.” Plenty of sports encourage a kinetic chain that fires and functions well, but the wave of contraction that a lifter needs to create to perform a snatch is unparalleled in how much it accomplishes in such a single movement.

It has a lot to do with neural recruitment and the central nervous system. As perhaps the most complex move the body can perform, becoming proficient at the snatch means an athlete can move through more ranges of motion with less effort and less fatigue of the central nervous system.

You’ll Be a Better Weightlifter

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The snatch is one of the two movements judged in competitive weightlifting, so mastering the snatch is a pretty good idea if you plan to compete.  

Muscles Worked by the Snatch 

It’d be easier to list the muscles the snatch doesn’t work, but that’s not helpful. So, here are the main muscles you can expect to be engaged during snatch sessions. 

Quads, Hamstrings, and Glutes

The lower body as a whole is trained in the snatch. The legs are used to absorb the load as the lifter moves under the bar and then extends the knees and hips during the standing phase.

Shoulders and Triceps

Your shoulder muscles work to pull the bar up, and then the triceps are engaged heavily as your arms extend overhead. 

Back

The back muscles work during the pulling phase of the snatch and aid in stabilizing the bar overhead. 

Scapular Stabilizers

The scapular stabilizers and posterior shoulder muscles work together to improve shoulder stability. Increased scapular stabilization will also help minimize excessive strain on the elbows, wrists, and shoulder capsules.

Who Should Do the Snatch?

Here’s a quick rundown of who can benefit from the snatch and how. 

Strength and Power Athletes

  • Powerlifters and Strongmen/Strongwomen: Frankly, the snatch shouldn’t be at the top of a powerlifter’s or strongman’s exercise list. For no other reason than there are many, many other movements these specific athletes should focus on — such as the deadlift, back squat, bench press, log presses, and farmer’s carries. That said, the snatch can improve power output and teaches/requires good mobility, so working it into a training program isn’t useless. 
  • Olympic Weightlifters: The snatch is a competition list, so it’s not just suggested to do — it’s required for these athletes. 

Fitness and General Populations

Fitness athletes such as CrossFitters should learn the snatch since they’re featured in competitions occasionally. For everyone else, the snatch shouldn’t be a training priority. It isn’t straightforward to learn and requires a lot of skill. If you want to get strong or build more muscle, you’re better off targeting specific muscles with particular movements. 

Snatch Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Here are three different ways to program the snatch into your workout. 

To Learn Snatch Technique

The first step to mastering the snatch is practicing technique. To do so, start with a PVC pipe or unloaded barbell and do three to five sets of two to three reps. You can use around 50 percent of your one-rep max

To Improve Power Output

To improve power output, start by performing two to four sets of two to three reps using 60-75 percent of your 1RM. 

To Increase Your Max

When programming for maximal strength and transfer to heavy snatches, lifters can train with 80 percent or more of their 1RM. Start by performing four to eight sets of one to two reps.

Snatch Variations

The five snatch variations below can improve different phases of the snatch for lifters looking to own the movement.

Muscle Snatch

The muscle snatch increases your strength during the turnover phase of the normal snatch. It’s also a great way to teach new lifters how to maintain a proper bar path. It’s like the standard snatch, except you stand up and turn the bar over while standing up. You don’t drop into a squat

Block Snatch

The block snatch has the lifter perform a standard snatch, but with the barbell resting on elevated blocks. Starting the pull higher off the ground allows the lifter to do two things: A) They can use more weight to overload the top portion of the snatch, and B) they can perform their snatch more aggressively to increase power output. 

Hang Snatch

The hang snatch is identical in function to the block snatch but with one key difference. The lifter loads their hamstrings before the pull; they can often develop the muscles’ stretch-shortening cycle. 

Deficit Snatch

The deficit snatch is done the same as a full snatch. However, the lifter starts standing on a pair of bumper plates. As a result, you’ll be performing a snatch in an extended range of motion, which improves your strength off of the floor and recruits more of the leg muscles. 

Tall Snatch

The tall snatch is a movement that develops the upper body muscles used in the turnover position of the snatch. Additionally, it can help a lifer builder confidence, speed, and aggression in the turnover phases of the pull.

Snatch Alternatives

Below are three snatch alternatives that offer coaches and athletes similar muscle development and performance benefits.

Dumbbell Snatch

The dumbbell snatch requires less technique, mobility, and arguably less skill than the barbell snatch, making it a good option for beginners. More advanced trainees can use this variation to warm up before barbell snatches or do it for high reps to improve conditioning

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing reinforces proper hip extension and power output of similar muscle groups used in the snatch (hamstrings and glutes). This movement is also ballistic in nature, requires core stability, proprioception, and balance.

Jump Squat

The jump squat, like the snatch, can increase the rate of force development and ultimately greater power output. The jump squat will elicit adaptations within the motor neurons to greatly synchronize impulse (contraction), ultimately allowing for faster and more powerful outputs. This is a great way to integrate explosive-based training for lifters and athletes without needing to take the time to develop snatch technique.

FAQs

How much weight should I use for the snatch?

To start, none. Practice your snatch technique with just a PVC pipe. Then, progress to an empty barbell, and then slowly add weight. When it comes to mastering the snatch, slow and steady wins the race.

How should I learn the snatch if I'm a beginner?

Many coaches adopt a top-down or bottom-up approach by working on each segment of the snatch one at a time. You can start by performing snatch deadlifts. Then hang snatches, then muscle snatches, and then snatches from blocks. This slow progression allows you to master each phase almost independently for complete mastery of the movement.  

How many sets and reps should I do of the snatch?

Start with these sets and reps guidelines:

  • For technique: Three to five sets of two to three reps. You can use around 50 percent of your one-rep max. 
  • For more power: Two to three reps using 60-75 percent of your 1RM.
  • For more strength: Four to eight sets of one to two reps with 80 percent of your 1RM.