The snatch is the first of two lifts contested in the sport of weightlifting (also known as Olympic weightlifting) followed by the clean and jerk. The objective of the snatch is to lift the barbell from the ground to overhead in one continuous motion. There are four main styles of snatch used: squat snatch (or full snatch), split snatch, power snatch, and muscle snatch. The squat snatch and split snatch are the most common styles used in competition while power snatch and muscle snatch are mostly used for training purposes.
In the squat snatch, the lifter lifts the bar as high as possible and pulls themselves under it in a squat position, receiving the bar overhead with the arms straight, decreasing the necessary height of the bar, therefore increasing the amount of weight that the lifter may successfully lift.
In the split snatch, the lifter lifts the bar as high as possible and pulls themselves under the bar similar to the squat snatch but in the split snatch the lifter “splits” his legs, placing one foot in front of them and one behind, allowing themselves to receive the bar lower as in the squat snatch. The split snatch has become much less common with the increased popularity of the squat snatch but is occasionally performed by some lifters.
In the power snatch, the lifter lifts the barbell as high as possible and receives the bar overhead with only a slight bend in the knee and hip, increasing the height that the bar must be lifted and decreasing the amount of weight that may be successfully lifted.
In the muscle snatch, the lifter lifts the bar all the way overhead with arms locked out and the hip and knee fully extended.
The Full Snatch
The snatch is simply lifting a barbell from the floor to overhead in one quick motion. However, this basic description barely begins to explain the complexity of the lift. The snatch requires a combination of strength, coordination, explosiveness, mobility and stability not seen in any other exercise.
The snatch requires high levels of skill and meticulous practice to perfect its execution, and when an athlete learns to perform the lift properly, it is unparalleled in its ability to build explosive power that translates to athletic performance.
Fortunately for those looking to perfect their snatch technique, researchers have studied the lift extensively, and an examination of the research on the biomechanics of elite Olympic weightlifters can provide insight into the exercise. By reviewing available research, we can determine proper snatch technique and illustrate how it will improve your performance, then explain how one can evaluate technique at home or in the gym.
A proper starting position is essential to performing a snatch with efficiency. While the starting position varies due to each individual’s anatomy, there are several general rules of thumb for the setup.
First, the feet are positioned in a “jumping stance,” with the feet about as wide as the hips. This is typically the width of stance an athlete would assume if told to perform a max-effort vertical jump. The bar should be positioned over the metatarsal bones, and the feet should be pointed forward or rotated out slightly, with individual variances due to the athlete’s height, proportions and mobility. A neutral or slightly arched back with chest up and scapulae retracted is important to reduce risk of injury and increase transfer of power from body to bar. The hips will often be higher than the knees, but an athlete’s proportions will dictate exact placement, and some athletes are able to assume start positions with the hips even with or lower than the knees. The shoulders should be positioned directly above or slightly in front of the barbell.
A simple test to determine approximate grip width can be performed by having the athlete abduct one arm to 90 degrees while making a fist and measure the distance from the fist to the opposite deltoid. Other methods involve adjusting grip width to place the bar just below the hips when the lifter is standing tall. All methods should take into account an athlete’s mobility and comfort.
The research on the snatch breaks the lift up into six phases based primarily on angle of the knee joint. Joint angles of the hips, knees and ankles can be seen in Figure 1.
The first pull begins with the barbell at rest on the ground and ends when the knees reach their first maximum extension. During this phase, the knees and hips extend and the ankles plantarflex, but the entire foot remains in contact with the ground. The trunk is also held at a relatively constant angle in relation to the ground. Maintaining this trunk angle is very important for the efficient transfer of force in later phases (2,9).
The transition phase, also known as the “double knee bend,” follows the first pull. During this phase, the knees are flexed and pushed toward the barbell. The knees flex about 20 degrees and this phase ends at maximum knee flexion (2). This bending of the knees allows the body to use elastic energy and the stretch reflexes of the knee extensors to develop explosive muscular power. It also positions the body better for the powerful second pull (9).
The second pull is the most explosive and powerful phase of the snatch. It begins when the knees reach maximum flexion during the transition phase. During the second-pull phase, the hips, knees and ankles are all violently extended. The plantarflexion of the ankles results in the heels rising off the ground (2). The end position of this phase is known as “triple extension” as the hips, knees and ankles all approach their maximum extension range of motion.
The turnover phase begins at maximum knee extension and ends when the barbell reaches its maximum height. The lifter begins moving the body downward to be positioned underneath the barbell. The feet leave the ground and jump outward to a receiving or squatting stance, often about shoulder width. The feet then re-establish full contact with the ground before the start of the catch phase. The catch is performed by locking the arms and stabilizing the barbell overhead while slowing its downward movement. Following the catch, the lifter rises from the squat position to stand fully erect at the completion of the lift (2,9).
Shoulder and Elbow Motion During the Snatch
From liftoff until the start of the second pull, the shoulders are extended as the barbell is pulled toward the lifter. During the second pull and turnover, the shoulders are quickly flexed to position the body to support the barbell overhead (14). During this period, a violent shrug of the shoulders and pull with the arms must occur. This allows for continued elevation of the barbell as the lifter jumps under the bar (2). It should be noted that debate exists regarding the effect of the shrug and pull. Some believe the pull to be able to lengthen the barbell’s upward path while others believe its purpose is to pull the athlete under the bar (13). The elbows are flexed to approximately 100 degrees as the weight is raised, and then they are straightened completely for the remainder of the lift. During the catch and rise, shoulder mobility is tested as the shoulders are flexed to greater than 180 degrees (7,14).
Knee-extension velocity is significantly greater than velocity of the hips during the first pull, and the hip-extension velocity is greater than knee velocity during the second pull (1). The joint velocities of the hips, knees and ankles are significantly higher during the second pull than they are during the first pull. The faster joint movements during the second pull are the reason the second pull is the most explosive of the phases.
One sometimes-debated aspect of the snatch is the plantarflexion of the ankles during the second pull. While most believe in extending the ankles, some coaches emphasize keeping the foot flat rather than rising onto the toes. They believe rising on the toes increases the distance the athlete must then drop to get under the barbell. Research by Gourgoulis et al. suggests that plantarflexion of the ankles is important as it contributes to 10 percent of the barbell’s maximum velocity (9).
Barbell Vertical Velocity
During the first and second pulls, the barbell has a positive vertical velocity (Figure 2). By the end of the first pull, the barbell should reach approximately 70 percent of its maximum vertical velocity (3). A continuous increase in barbell velocity during the transition phase is indicative of effective technique. A noticeable dip in the velocity is said to be due to ineffective technique possibly caused by fatigue or too fast of a starting movement. During the turnover, the barbell’s velocity becomes negative as gravity pulls it downward. It is critical the turnover occurs quickly to minimize this negative velocity so the barbell doesn’t have to be lifted further than necessary (2).
Several studies and books have been written addressing the trajectory of the barbell at various stages of the lift when looking at the snatch from the side. These studies examined the movement of the barbell in relation to a vertical line drawn up from the barbell’s starting position.
During the first pull and the transition phase, the barbell moves away from this vertical line and closer to the lifter. The barbell then moves towards, and sometimes beyond, this vertical reference line during the second pull (12). Researches have not come to a definitive conclusion on how much horizontal displacement of the bar is considered optimal technique (2,12). Regardless of where the bar travels in relationship to this vertical line, it is imperative that the lifter keeps the barbell close to the body throughout the lift.
Examining maximum height and the height of the bar during the catch is one of the easier ways to assess lifting technique. Minimizing the difference between these two variables is important to an efficient lift (1). In elite weightlifters, maximum barbell height during max attempts is around 70 percent of the lifter’s height (3,9). The distance the bar drops from its maximum height to the catch has been reported to be approximately 11 percent of the barbell’s maximum height. Larger drop distances indicate inefficient technique because the barbell was lifted higher than needed for the lifter to jump under the barbell to receive it (9).
The complexity of this lift alone is not enough to justify its use in training for athletic performance. Extensive research on the effects of Olympic lifting provides evidence for its ability to improve athletic performance and suggests it has many advantages over other forms of training.
A few studies have examined the similarities between the snatch and vertical jump. In a study comparing forces exerted during the hang snatch and vertical jump, researchers found similar values for both maximum and time-to-maximum force and power. Based on these findings, they concluded Olympic lifting might improve coordination between muscles, power and the ability to rapidly generate force (4). Carlock et al. confirmed these findings by finding that maximum power values during a vertical jump were strongly associated with abilities of elite Olympic-lifting competitors. This provides further evidence for the use of Olympic lifting, as peak power production is crucial for success in explosive movements such as sprinting and jumping (5). Groundreaction forces during vertical jumps and snatches have also been shown to be similar, further suggesting the snatch’s effectiveness in training to improve this variable (8).
Studies have compared Olympic-lifting-based exercise routines to powerlifting regimens. In Division III college football players, athletes performing both types of routines saw significant increases in their 1-rep-max squats. Those performing an Olympic-lifting-based routine saw much greater improvements in their vertical jump compared to those who did not perform Olympic lifting (10)..
Research by Channell and Barfield also suggests Olympic lifting may provide some advantage over powerlifting for improving vertical jump (6). Differences in strength and power were compared between national-level competitors in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. Both groups had similar squat strength, but during vertical-jump testing with varying loads, the Olympic lifters had higher peak force, peak velocity, peak power and jump height. The authors concluded Olympic lifting seems to provide an advantage for utilizing high forces at fast speeds because this is required in many athletic maneuvers (11).
Using This Research to Improve Your Snatch
All of this research means nothing if it does not translate to improved performance at the gym and athletics. While some of the variables that have been discussed would require expensive equipment to examine your own technique, others can easily be assessed using various smartphone, tablet and computer applications.
The place to begin when analyzing your own technique is the starting position. From a side view, examine back positioning, shoulder location in relationship to the barbell, and hip vs. knee height. Common errors in the setup include the shoulders being behind the barbell, starting with the shins against the bar as if performing a deadlift, and hips being set too low relative to the lifter’s anatomy. From the front, assess your stance width and foot angle.
During the first pull, watch to see if the angle of the trunk in relation to the ground remains relatively constant and the spine remains in a neutral position. Oftentimes, lifters will shoot the hips up too fast, raise the torso too high, or round the back. These will lead to inefficiency during the powerful second pull.
During the second pull, watch for plantarflexion of the ankles as you finish the pull to ensure you are not losing barbell velocity. Also ensure the hips and knees are both fully extended and then that the shoulders are aggressively shrugged. Frequently, inexperienced lifters will not reach full hip and knee extension and begin pulling with their arms early, severely limiting the amount of power they generate. Many times they will also not pull with the elbows high and back, instead allowing their arms and the barbell to drift away from the body.
To assess barbell trajectory, video your snatch from the side and draw a vertical line up from the barbell’s starting position. During the first pull and transition phase, the barbell should be pulled toward the lifter and away from the vertical line. This helps keeps the barbell properly positioned in relation to the lifter’s center of gravity. In the second pull, the barbell will be closer to the line, but despite this forward movement, the barbell should be kept close to the body. Finally, the barbell trajectory should hook at the top of the lift (see Figure 3), which moves the barbell directly over the lifter. This prevents the athlete from having to jump forward to catch the weight, which would frequently result in missed lifts.
Finally, maximum barbell height and the drop distance during the catch phase should be measured if performing the full snatch. If the barbell is lifted too high, then the athlete could have lifted a heavier weight and not pulled as high. If the drop distance is excessively great, then the lifter is forced to move the weight further than is needed. Inexperienced Olympic lifters often pull higher than necessary and overemphasize the drop under the bar by squatting to low depths. This results in a crashing of the barbell as the lifter catches it. Instead, focus must be put on quickly moving under the barbell, thus minimizing its downward velocity.
In conclusion, an examination of the snatch technique of elite weightlifters can provide insight into this lift and tips on how to improve your own form. The combination of strength, speed, and coordination required of this lift make it one of the best exercises available for improving athletic performance. The references on Page 10 are a great starting point for any athlete or coach who is looking for greater understanding of this complex lift.
Akkus H. Kinematic analysis of the snatch lift with elite female weightlifters during the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(4): 897-905, 2012.
Bartonietz, KE. Biomechanics of the snatch: Towards a higher training efficiency. Strength and Conditioning Journal 18(3): 24-31, 1996.
Campos J, Poletaev P, Cuesta A, Pablos C, and Carratala V. Kinematical analysis of the snatch in elite male junior weightlifters of different weight categories. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20(4): 843-850, 2006.
Canavan PK, Garrett GE, and Armstrong LE. Kinematic and kinetic relationships between an Olympic-style lift and the vertical jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 10(2): 127-130, 1996.
Carlock JM, Smith SL, Hartman MJ, Morris RT, Ciroslan DA, Pierce KC, Newton RU, Harman EA, Sands WA, and Stone MH. The relationship between vertical jump power estimates and weightlifting ability: A field-test approach. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18(3): 534-539, 2004.
Channell BT and Barfield JP. Effect of Olympic and traditional resistance training on vertical jump improvement in high school boys. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22(5): 1522-1527, 2008.
Chen SK, Wu MT, Huang CH, Wu JH, Guo LY, and Wu WL. The analysis of upper limb movement and EMG activation during the snatch under various loading conditions. Journal of Mechanics in Medicine and Biology 13(1): 1-13, 2013.
Garhammer J and Gregor R. Propulsion forces as a function of intensity for weightlifting and vertical jumping. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research 6(3): 129-134, 1992.
Gourgoulis V, Aggelousis N, Mavromatis G, and Garas A. Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of the snatch of elite Greek weightlifters. Journal of Sports Sciences 18: 643-652, 2000.
Hoffman JR, Cooper J, Wendell M, and Kang J. Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18(1): 129-135, 2004.
McBride JM, Triplett-McBride T, Davie A, and Newton RU. A comparison of strength and power characteristics between power lifters, Olympic lifters, and sprinters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 13(1): 58-66, 1999.
Schilling BK, Stone MH, O’Bryant HS, Fry AC, Coglianese RH, and Pierce KC. Snatch technique of collegiate national level weightlifters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 16(4): 551-555, 2002.
Takano B. Do shrug at the top of the pull! Takanoathletics. com. May 24, 2012. Accessed Mar. 15, 2014.
Wu WL, Ting YT, Huang CJ, Huang CH, Wang HJ, and Chen SK. Muscle activation and three-dimensional kinematics of upper extremity in snatch weight lifting. 26th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sports. Seoul, Korea, July 14-18, 2008.
About the Author: Zach Long is a physical therapist and strength-and-conditioning coach in Monroe, North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in exercise and sport science, and East Carolina University, where he received his doctorate in physical therapy. Long’s research related to physical therapy and athletic rehabilitation has been presented at multiple state and national conferences. He currently runs www.activePTblog.com and trains at CrossFit MNC.
All images: Dave Re/CrossFit Journal