Study: Sub-Elite Weightlifters Should Train Three Characteristics In the Snatch

As a strength sports journalist, few things are as exciting as reporting on newly published research that’s applicable for strength athletes everywhere. In the recent research, we get a very specific glimpse into differences between elite and sub-elite weightlifters snatch techniques.

Editor’s Note: Big thank you to Dr. Andy Galpin for highlighting this study on his Instagram page yesterday, otherwise, it could have been very easily missed!

In the study below, researchers sought out to find differences in snatch technique between elite and sub-elite weightlifters, which could provide suggestions for assistance exercises at each level.

Subjects

The research’s subjects were -69kg athletes that competed at the 2015 Chinese National Championships and the 2016 Chinese Olympic Trials. Researchers took the top six place finishers at the 2016 Olympic Trials as their elite group, and athletes who finished 2nd-7th at the Chinese Championships as their sub-elite group.

Methods

To assess differences in snatch techniques researchers broke down the body and barbell into seventeen key points, which were analyzed through six defined lifting phases. These seventeen key points were chosen to allow researchers the ability to assess the spatial-temporal characteristics in the snatch, kinematic differences in the lower limbs, and the stability that comes along with the movement. Researchers also recorded each athlete’s age, weight, height, and best lift completed.

The six lifting phases that were included in the study used can be seen below.

  • The first phase (M1, a-b): from start position to the instant of first maximum knee extension angle;
  • The second phase (M2, b-c): the instant of knee angle from maximum to minimum;
  • The third phase (M3, c-d): from the end of M2 to the maximum vertical rising velocity of barbell;
  • The fourth phase (M4, d-e): from the end of M3 to the maximum vertical height of barbell;
  • The fifth phase (M5, e-f): from the end of M4 to the maximum vertical falling velocity of barbell;
  • The sixth phase (M6, f-g): from the end of M5 to squat position.

Results

Spatial-Temporal Differences: Researchers pointed out a few notable differences in the elite and sub-elite athlete’s snatch technique. First, they saw that sub-elite level weightlifters produce a longer initial (M1) and transition (M2) phase than elite level athletes, while the elite athletes used a longer decisive phase (M3).

Researchers noted that it seemed sub-elite lifters increased their concentric activity in M1 and their eccentric in M2, and the elite athletes increased in their M3 phase. Researchers discuss that a longer barbell propulsive trajectory would result in a longer period for athletes to act upon a barbell, allowing athletes to be better equipped to apply the force they need into the bar to complete a lift.

Additionally, elite level athletes were able to achieve a higher vertical height with the barbell (1.18 m) compared to the sub-elite athletes (1.05 m). Researchers suggested this could be somewhat due to height differences. Interestingly though, elite level athletes even with heavier barbell weight saw an increase in maximum linear velocity, maximal vertical height/acceleration, and relative vertical height (athlete’s height dependent).

Angular Kinematics: Extension and flexion of the knee and hip joint in the M1, M2, and M3 phases were significantly different for elite and sub-elite athletes. Researchers noted that the elite athletes had greater knee extension at the end of the M1 and M3 phases, and greater knee flexion at the end of M2 compared to the sub-elite group.

Practical Takeaways

From their findings, researchers provided three practical takeaways sub-elite athletes and coaches can use to potentially improve their performance. Keep in mind, this research is slightly limited due to the smaller population (only -69kg athletes) and few studies on the topic, but it’s awesome food for thought that could improve your training.

  • Focus on strength training movements specific to M1 and M3 phases.
  • Strengthen the musculature that improves and increases knee flexion.
  • Work on ability to produce elastic energy in M2 phase.

For those interested in all of the details of the research, then I highly recommend following the link at the beginning of the article and reading the full study!

Feature image from @yangyang7878 Instagram page. 

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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