Snatch Exercise: Your Complete Guide To The Olympic Lift

One of the most effective exercises for increasing explosive power and strength is the snatch exercise.

If you ever watch power lifting at the Olympics, you’ll see this featured as one of two moves that athletes compete in, which is why you may also often hear it referred to as an Olympic lift.

So what makes the snatch so effective and challenging? Let’s take a closer look at what it is, how to perform it, and what makes it such an effective move for building strength and explosive power.

The Snatch: What Is It?

Lower half of person about to perform the snatch lift with barbell

Possibly the hardest move to learn, and even more difficult to master, the snatch requires time and patience and hundreds of practise reps to discipline your body – which, after all, simply isn’t used to being asked to throw a lump of weight directly overhead and catch it.

The snatch exercise is almost second to none when it comes to exposing any weaknesses, and really punishing you with any failed reps. It’s therefore really important to continuously drill your moves, mechanics and positions with both light and heavy weights.

It’s a complicated lift with many elements that all need to go right. As well as ensuring you triple extend your hips, knees and ankles to create the power needed, you need fantastic core strength and hip and shoulder mobility in order to catch the bar above your head.

There’s a reason why the snatch is one of the lifts featured in the Olympics and the athletes who specialise in it spend years perfecting their technique.

Take a look at this video which shows you exactly what the snatch lift is all about.

How To Perform The Snatch

Here are the five steps you should follow to perform the snatch with good form.

Step 1: Set it up

Man in the starting position to perform a barbell snatch lift

Start with the bar on the floor close to your shins and over your shoes. Standing with feet hip-width apart, squat down and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Lower your butt into a sitting position and stick out your chest, at the same time pull your shoulder blades down and back and tense your core. Your elbows should be facing outwards with arms straight and you should be looking directly in front of you.

Step 2: Pull number 1

Pull the bar off the floor by forcefully extending your legs, making sure you keep your back straight and chest up and out. The bar should travel in a straight line upwards and not into you as is the case with a deadlift.

Step 3: Scoop and Pull number 2

Man performing the pull section of the snatch lift

The bar should now be above your knees. From this point, move your torso into a vertical position and bend your knees again slightly to come into the ‘scoop’.

From here, you need to initiate the second pull to shift the bar overhead by forcefully jumping straight up and fully extending your hips, knees and ankles while shrugging your shoulders at the same time. Keep the bar as close to you as possible as it moves up overhead

Step 4: The Catch

Man performing the catch element of the snatch lift

Make sure you land on the ground with your feet shoulder-width apart. As the bar moves overhead, swiftly drop into a quarter-squat with hips and knees bent slightly and your back straight. Catch the bar above your head with your elbows locked and the bar just behind your head and in line with your hips.

Step 5: Drop the bar

From here, carefully drop the bar to the floor in front of you, but make sure you’re using bumper plates and lifting on a platform or on a surface with some bounce to absorb the impact. If you’re lifting a light weight then lower it to the ground slowly.

The Benefits

There are several benefits that regularly performing, and mastering, the snatch can provide. It’s an excellent skill developer and gives your body a significant number of benefits, including:

Quick reflexes – The snatch takes a matter of seconds to perform which gives you only a very brief moment to pull yourself under the bar while also jumping underneath to catch it. This demands a very quick reaction time. Of course the more times you practise, the quicker your reaction time will become.

Better coordination – This move forces you to stop, change direction and continue the exercise in a very short amount of time. This range of movement helps develop agility as well as helping you become lighter on your feet.

Improved posture – The snatch helps improve the whole of the posterior chain which in turn helps to develop excellent posture. If you’re performing it correctly, your shoulders will be rolled back, your core will be tight and your back will be straight. Done multiple times your posture becomes better via muscle memory.

Higher jump – A quick jumping movement is required to perform the snatch alongside the force of a significant amount of weight resistance. Done regularly, this will increase the height of your vertical jump more so than any box jump ever will.

Body tone – Due to the incredible amount of speed and force required to perform the move, you will expend a lot of energy which will increase your metabolism and in turn burn more calories – which can lead to fat loss.

Increased flexibility – The snatch requires you to engage your shoulders, hips and ankles and challenges your range of motion. Every time you perform the exercise you’ll be improving this range of motion which will lead to better flexibility.

How To Master The Snatch Exercise – Three Drills To Help Improve Your Technique

No matter what your skill or experience level in weightlifting, check out these three drills that will help you build the right technique and develop your strength so you’re ready to go all out for your 1RM (1 rep max) snatch test!

1. The Snatch Deadlift

All good snatches start from the bottom, so this variation of the move will teach you proper positioning and will help develop strength in your hamstrings and lats to ensure you’re keeping the bar close to your body and at the hips. Create tension on the bar before pulling upwards and then push through the floor with your feet, actively engaging your lats in order to keep the bar close, and pull into your hips. Hold this position with shoulders over the bar and firm pressure through your feet.


2. Hang Snatch Pull

This move teaches you to brush your hips and pull up instead of bouncing the bar out from your hips and swinging the bar. You start from the power position, move to the hang and then sweep the bar up your thighs, popping the hips and shrugging up.


3. Overhead Squat With Pause

This move will teach you to become comfortable in the bottom position. By getting in a lot of time and reps at the bottom of an overhead squat, you’ll improve flexibility and mobility and develop strength in this position. It’s always good to do this with both an empty barbell and close to your maximum snatch.

Beware Of These Common Mistakes

Form is of utmost importance in performing the snatch properly and safely. Here are a few of the more common mistakes you should avoid:

1. Pressing the weight overhead

You should not find yourself pressing the bar up – your legs and hips should provide the momentum you need to carry the bar overhead. If you can’t do this without ‘muscling’ the bar up then switch to a lighter weight.

2. Swinging the bar

You need to keep the bar close to your body as the further away it gets the harder it is to control. Ensure the bar travels as close to the body as possible and don’t swing it outward.

3. Not engaging the core and back before the rep

Your back must be straight and not rounded during the lift. Engage your back whilst bringing your shoulder blades down and tightening your core to ensure your back and core are set and to reduce the risk of injury.

4. Landing with feet wide

If you land with your feet too wide apart you will limit your hip mobility and it therefore becomes much more difficult to properly drop under the bar. Try and land on your feet as you would in a front squat for optimum mobility.

5. Forcing an overhead position

You need decent shoulder mobility to perform the snatch and properly catch the bar overhead. Without this your chest will flare out and you will end up arching your lower back putting stress on your back and limiting the amount of weight you can lift

Pave The Way To Serious Strength And Explosive Power

Whether you’re an experienced weightlifter or just starting out with strength training, the snatch exercise can seriously help build explosive strength and power, increase mobility and tone your body. If you fancy trying out the snatch, or you want to start incorporating it into your training and work up to lifting some serious weight, then start light and ensure you develop the necessary technique first before you begin increasing the weight.

Try the variations listed above to build initial strength and mobility in your shoulders and legs and get confident with your form. Then, as your strength and confidence grows, gradually increase the weight. You’ll be on your way to serious strength gains, a rock solid core and impressive shoulder and hip mobility in no time.

Have you tried the snatch, or do you already perform it regularly as part of your strength training? On the back of this article is there anything you’re currently doing that you realise you shouldn’t be, or anything you do in addition to what I’ve talked about that you feel I’ve missed out? Comment underneath and let me know!


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