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Olympic Weightlifting — How To Do A Barbell Snatch

Olympic weightlifting—snatches, cleans, and jerks—is enjoying a recent surge in popularity, and I am so excited!

ingridmarcum-coaching-snatch-450x340As a guest author, I’m happy to share this incredible sport with the Girls Gone Strong community. I’ll be contributing a series of articles about Olympic weightlifting, in which I’ll help you understand each lift, and show you how to get started if you’ve never done them before.

My aim is to help you navigate some of those initial challenges and address common questions beginners have, so that you can be on your way to becoming faster, stronger, and more powerful.

A few words of caution: you might fall in love with Olympic weightlifting.

Get maximum results with our complete training program! Click to learn more. From the first time I threw the bar over my head I was hooked. I absolutely loved the challenge of the movements and loved feeling strong and powerful. I tried to get others to join me, but it was a tough sell.

Back in 2000, the year I started competing, not too many people had even heard of the sport. At big events like the Nationals or the Olympic Trials, the only people in the stands were significant others, parents, and other competitors.

In the gym, I frequently had to explain how my sport was different from bodybuilding or powerlifting. Even finding a place to train when traveling was nearly impossible.

ingridmarcum-snatch-purple-450x340Fast-forward more than 15 years, and now it seems everyone is interested—finally! These days you’re likely to find a gym full of bars, bumper plates, and platforms nearly anywhere you go.

In this first article, I want to introduce you to the snatch.

Often referred to as the most athletic movement in sport, the snatch requires and develops so many desired attributes. Strength, speed, and power certainly top the list, with core and overhead strength, mobility, and kinesthetic awareness and control not far behind.

And let’s not forget the benefits that aren’t physical. Lifting a personal record snatch is empowering.

It requires you to step outside your comfort zone, believe in yourself and go all-in. Who wouldn’t benefit from doing that more often?

While I’m going to provide some guidelines to performing the snatch, I absolutely recommend getting some in-person coaching to learn the lifts, either individually or in a seminar. The snatch is complex and nothing can replace hands-on, live training with an experienced coach.

Master Your Foundation

Before learning to snatch, be sure that you are prepared in the following areas:

1. Mobility and stability

Many people talk about the mobility requirements of the snatch – especially shoulder, thoracic spine (upper back) and ankle mobility. While in many cases this is something that needs work, I also often see women who are already mobile and instead need to work on their stability, connection, and control to prepare to support the bar during the lifts.

2. Connection of pelvis to ribcage

Supporting the bar overhead requires a solid connection in a body that can work as a unit. Most people focus on preventing the back from rounding in the pull or in the bottom of the squat. But arching the lower back too much is just as bad, and I see it just as often. Work to keep the top of the pelvis and the base of the ribcage aligned throughout the entire lift.

3. Preparatory movement proficiency and basic strength

Deadlifts, squats, and especially overhead squats are great foundational movements. Not only do they build the strength necessary for weightlifting, they also help teach the proper movement patterns that will carry over when you learn to snatch.

4. Failure

There is a lot of failure in weightlifting, especially in the snatch. Physically, you need to learn how to get out from under a lift that goes wrong. It’s also a great lesson to be able to learn from the failure/missed lift and move on—hopefully, to come back stronger and with success.

Master your positions and transitions

There are key positions and movements throughout the snatch that when hit properly, set you up for a successful lift. Practice these positions and movements regularly with light weight – even just a PVC pipe! They should also be reinforced in every lifting warm up.

ingridmarcum-powerposition-350x375The “power position”

Perhaps the most important body position to master when learning weightlifting is what is known as the “power position”. Different coaches call it different things, but this doesn’t change its importance. This is one of the first things I teach someone learning the lifts.

The most explosive portion of the lift happens from this position. People often miss the power position when performing the snatch. Practice this position as much as possible – you want it to become automatic. You should always hit this power position right before exploding to finish the lift.

To find your power position:

  • Stand holding a bar in front of your thighs and be sure you can wiggle your toes
  • Hold the bar with your snatch grip – far enough apart so that the bar is sitting in the crease of your hip.
  • Open your chest, pulling your shoulders down and back – referred to as “setting your back”—making sure to keep ribs and pelvis aligned.
  • Keep your shoulders directly over the bar and your arms relaxed
  • Keep your torso vertical and bend your knees. Be sure the bar doesn’t move down the thighs
  • Your legs should be bent about 30-45 degrees – you should feel as if you could jump from this position.

5 key snatch positions and movements

A well-performed snatch is fluid, fast and explosive. Hitting big lifts relies on moving through these key positions consistently:

Ingrid-Liftoff-640x502

1. Start position

  • Bar is at mid shin level (the height of the bar with bumper plates set on the floor)
  • Feet about hip width apart, your mid-foot under the bar
  • Knees are bent with hips higher than the knees, shoulders higher than the hips
  • The chest is lifted and the back is neutral, head up
  • Arms are straight but relaxed – the pull actually comes from pushing with the legs

Ingrid-Liftoff2-468x506

2. Lift off – from start position to just above the knees

The movement from the floor to just above the knee should be controlled. This is the set up for the lift – the acceleration and explosive power come later on.

  • Push with your legs to bring the bar up and in toward your knees – the legs will straighten out slightly
  • Maintain your chest and back positions, keeping the shoulders over the bar
  • Hips and shoulders move upward at the same time, maintaining the same angle
  • Arms stay straight throughout this movement
  • Bar should remain close to the legs and not drift out in front of you
  • Don’t rush the lift off – remember, explosion comes later

3. From above the knees to power position

  • After the bar passes the knees, the knees quickly re-bend to prepare to explode
  • The torso now becomes upright
  • The bar accelerates up your thigh into your power position
  • Arms are still straight

Ingrid-Finishpull-429x536

4. Power position to finish of the pull

  • In the power position, push with your legs explosively, as if you were jumping
  • At the end of your explosion, shrug your shoulders to help transfer the force to the bar and begin your descent under the bar
  • At this point, the bar will continue to move upward due to the force of your explosion – do not pull the bar up with the arms
  • Keep the bar close to the body and elbows high

Ingrid-Catch-575x600

5. Catching the bar overhead

  • Time the “catch” of the bar by receiving the weight of the bar on straight arms overhead at the same time your feet hit the ground in an overhead squat position.
  • Maintain a solid, connected body position and push into the bar to create a solid overhead position with an upright torso
  • To perform a power snatch, you will catch the bar in a semi squat (thighs at parallel or above then return to a stand
  • To complete a full snatch, descend into a full overhead squat position and then return to a stand

Final Notes

There are so many benefits to be gained by adding the Olympic lifts to your training program. However, your overall success will depend on your movement efficiency and technical proficiency in the lifts as well as how solid your foundation is. I strongly encourage you to seek out personal instruction if you want to learn and develop your Olympic lifts.

Place extra emphasis on the pre-requisites, positions, and technical basics before challenging yourself with full movements and heavier weights, and this solid technical foundation will greatly improve your success.

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About The Author: Ingrid Marcum

Ingrid Marcum, CSCS, is a successful multi-sport athlete with a great passion for teaching and coaching. Since 1997, Ingrid has been helping others reach their own fitness and athletic goals as a speaker, educator, strength & conditioning coach and movement specialist. To learn more about and from Ingrid, visit her website, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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