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Why Every Serious Athlete Should Learn How to Snatch

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If you appreciate human movement like I do, all it takes is watching 10 minutes of Snatch videos on HookGrip to clearly see the power, elegance, and beauty these amazing athletes are putting on display.

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Upgrading Your Performance!

Even though these trained professionals make it look easy...Don't be fooled...

The Snatch is quite difficult...but, like learning anything that is difficult, there comes great reward. 

If you are new to the snatch, when you begin learning, you will be provided with some tremendous insight on just how well your muscles/joints/nervous system are working. You will inevitably uncover weaknesses, inflexibilities, balance issues, suboptimal power production, impaired coordination, etc...etc...etc. The list is pretty long at just how many things you can uncover just in your first few practice sessions. 

For most, this could be a complete turnoff, but conversely, for those who appreciate these insights (hint: the best athletes should always be looking for "chinks" in their fitness armor) they should be viewed as opportunities...Opportunities to GET BETTER!! 

And the really cool thing about practicing the Snatch is in it's highly effective, highly efficient way of helping you overcome those newly uncovered deficiencies.  

Let's dig in a bit more on why you need to add this movement to your training...

10 General Physical Skills of Fitness

In the world of Strength and Conditioning, there is a widely accepted foundation of 10 general physical skills that lend themselves generally well to all athletic endeavors. By creating a balance in these characteristics, we (Strength & Conditioning Coaches like me) are able to create more well rounded, higher performing athlete. 

Although subjective, but based largely on my 20 years experience in the world of Strength & Conditioning, I have developed a scorecard that shows the level of specific adaptations in these 10 general physical skills.

As you will see, the snatch develops almost every one, and with a significant degree of effectiveness. It's almost like a magic bullet for improving physical performance.

In fact, out of a possible score of 50, I give the Snatch a 41. Check it out...

Snatch Scorecard

1=minimal adaptation, 5=maximal adaptation

Cardio Endurance

Flexibility

Stamina

Speed

Power

Strength

Coordination

Accuracy

Agility

Balance

SCORE

1 - 4

5

2

5

5

3

5

5

5

5

41 - 45

Cardio Endurance

Generally speaking, The snatch is often practiced with a primary goal of maximizing load.

For this reason, it is usually practiced at very low reps with plenty of time for adequate recovery between attempts.Traditionally, most coaches don't want your heart rate to go up very high and would prefer you to not be out of breath...especially for your heavy attempts. In this case, the cardiorespiratory adaptation would be minimal. I would score this type of workout a 1.

BUT...There are, of course, exceptions and this is why I gave this adaptation score a range. For instance, take the classic CrossFit workout, Isabel. As prescribed, Isabel is 30 snatches for time with a 95# barbell for the ladies and 135# barbell for the guys. The goal is to finish the 30 reps as fast as possible. 

The elite CrossFit guys and gals are doing this workout in ~75-90 seconds while your average CrossFit athlete with adequate proficiency in the snatch movement will do it upwards of 8-10 minutes.

as you may imagine, no matter where you may be on the spectrum of ability, this workout will elicit high heart rates and therefore would tax the cardiorespiratory system quite significantly. 

As you can see, depending on what you are training for, snatches can be programmed as cardio style workouts or anaerobic (non cardio) workouts. Hence the range of score from 1 - 4

NOTE...Before trying anything like the workout described above (Isabel), it is highly advised to get with a qualified coach to help you. A high level of proficiency in the Snatch is necessary to get the appropriate benefit of Isabel.

Flexibility

After watching video of weightlifters performing the Snatch, it becomes clear that almost every joint in the body needs to have adequate range of motion to be able to create the positions necessary to perform the movement. These positions require flexibility in the joints but also something even more valuable than simply range of motion...usable range of motion.

Let me explain...There are many athletes that have adequate range of motion through joints but lack the motor control to be able to use that range of motion in any sort of purposeful manner. The Snatch requires USABLE range of motion. It's really important to understand this concept. I meet a lot of athletes who are hypermobile but have very little control of their range of motion. Practicing the Snatch will give you USABLE range of motion through just about every joint in your body.

If you have minimal range of motion in your joints, practicing the snatch will aid in regaining flexibility that may have been lost in the practice of other Athletic endeavors. As an example, runners don't use big ranges of motion in their hip, knee, and ankle joints. Many of the best runners I have ever met have struggled dearly with flexibility when tested outside of their running range of motion (RRM). Working diligently on the positions of the snatch, although difficult at first, can prove to be extremely beneficial for the tight athlete. 

Stamina

The Snatch, as an exercise, creates a minimal adaptation in the area of stamina. We consider stamina to be the body's ability to store, process, deliver, and utilize energy. Although there is clearly a need store, process, deliver, and utilize energy to perform a successful snatch, the stamina benefits come from the programming. For example, trying to perform 5 repetitions of a heavy-ish weight will create a much greater positive adaptation in stamina than a single repetition.

I gave Stamina a score of 2 with the idea that Strength & Conditioning coaches generally work on developing heavy low rep efforts to maximize power outputs, although; as I mentioned above in the cardio section, there is the exception when we utilize a workout like "Isabel".

Speed

Speed is a key component to executing the perfect Snatch. This lift is considered a fast lift and the speed of execution is critical to it's success. The majority of the speed comes from the pull  under the bar. Specifically, this is the time when the barbell is floating in the air and you need to get yourself under it as fast as possible to catch it before gravity sucks it into the floor. It's kind of like a race and you must beat the bar to have a good lift. Too slow and you will likely miss. 

Through consistent training, you will be teaching your body how to move quickly... and with precision. This kind of training I consider, "high level neuromuscular training". This is how we get the nervous system to learn how to pattern movement to go fast. The only way to get fast is to train fast and the snatch offers an athletes the opportunity to develop crazy speed. Considering that Weightifters have some of the highest vertical jumps of any athlete as well as some crazy fast sprint times. We know their neuromuscular systems are highly efficient, and the carryover into other activities is very high. Basically...Train fast, be fast.

Power

The granddaddy of all of human performance. In physics terms...how much work in how much time. Power is also synonymous with intensity.

The snatch is one of the few exercises IN THE WORLD that will develop your body's ability to hit it's highest horsepower calculations. In other words, it teaches you how to move a large load, a long distance, quickly! 

Using myself as an example, I can move a 200# barbell, ~6.5 feet high, in ~7 seconds. With some nerdy calculations, this works out to be ~0.36 horsepower or ~193 ft-lbs/sec. There are only 2 other exercises that can get the human body even close to these outputs. They are the Clean, and the Thruster. Just to reiterate this point...The Snatch is one of only 3 exercises that allows the body to hit maximal power outputs.

There is no doubt that every athlete would see significant benefit through the development of a more powerful musculoskeletal system. It takes a well rounded athlete to be able to hit a heavy snatch. It is the signature of an athlete who has found broad balance in most of the characteristics we are discussing in this article. A beautiful snatch requires a significant amount flexibility, speed, strength, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. If anything is missing, your outputs will suffer...Not just in the snatch, but also in your athletic endeavors. 

It is safe to say that the higher the weights go in your successful attempts in the snatch, are directly related to the improvements in your musculoskeletal system. To hit high power outputs, you must be well rounded. Chinks in the armor will be glaringly obvious in your misses and limit your output potentials.

Strength

I gave Strength a score of 3 simply because there are other exercises that are able to develop significantly more raw strength than the Snatch. The Snatch, compared to it's sporting counterpart, the clean, will only be around 80% of an athletes clean. Compared to something like the deadlift or the back squat, the weights lifted in the snatch are significantly lower. This is not to say that the snatch is not a strength building exercise, because it WILL make you stronger. I am simply scoring it in relationship to some other exercises where heavier loads can be attained.

One thing to note in regards to strength in the Snatch is that It takes a very special kind of strength to catch a loaded barbell overhead in a full squat. This type of strength eludes even the best deadlifters and back squatters. Ask a professional Powerlifter to perform an overhead squat with an unloaded barbell and you will see what I mean. 

Although I gave Strength a 3 score, it is unmatched in it's ability to develop very usable strength through full ranges of motion in almost every joint.

Coordination:

The coordination benefits for the snatch comes from two areas. 

  1. Body awareness in space - The gymnastic component of this lift in regards to  knowing where your body is in space throughout the entire movement.
  2. Manipulating external load (sometimes HEAVY) - Your body's ability to coordinate the positioning of an external object (barbell) in space. If the barbell is pulled to the wrong position, you will likely miss.

The kind of coordination developed on the barbell will also carry over into other objects too. For example. If you can snatch 135# with a barbell, you will find the coordination requirements of tossing around a 75# sandbag to be much easier.

Accuracy

We define accuracy as the body's ability to control movement in a given direction. In the snatch you learn to create a consistent bar path for the barbell to travel on in order to make a successful lift. If the positioning of the bar is off, even by a 1/2 inch, it can mean the difference between success and failure in your attempt. The snatch is unforgiving and can be sometimes downright frustrating.

Weightlifters have some of the greatest accuracy around. And they do it at speeds and with weights that are remarkable. To put it in perspective, Imagine throwing a 100# dart 10 yards as fast as possible and hitting the target. 

Much like speed and coordination, the adaptation of accuracy comes by way of the nervous system. Like any skill, accuracy is developed through practice...lots and lots of practice. The more you can develop your nervous system to create high levels of accuracy...under load and using speed, the better your performance will be in your chosen sport. The snatch is easily one of the best ways to develop a high functioning musculoskeletal system that pays off in both sport....and life.

Agility

Agility is the ability to transition from one movement to another with speed and precision. When most athletes think of agility it conjures up footwork drills on the agility ladder. Although that is a clear example of agility, it is not the only form.

In fact, anytime we are changing directions or moving from one movement to another it is agility. In the snatch, you experience a change of direction that is seen in almost every joint. At the start of the lift you must completely extend your body in space, under load, and then, in a very precise moment, you must transition into a completely flexed position to prepare yourself to "catch" the bar. There is no other exercise that will teach every joint (except the spine) to go from fully extended to fully flexed. Using weight and with speed. 

This adaptation that occurs through the practice of extended to flexed is seen to  in EVERY sport. You will see it in running, gymnastics, water polo, basketball, MMA, etc. It is part of human movement and part of a functional life. Learning to snatch is one of the most effective ways to build proficiency in this pattern. 

Agility is largely a neuromuscular adaptation, much like many others in this list. In the snatch, if the timing is off in your transition from extended to flexed, you will likely miss your lift. The timing is critical...like in many sports. By snatching, you learn to tune your body to levels of precision that 99% of the athletes on the planet will never achieve.

Balance

Lastly, Balance...Your ability to maintain a center of mass over your base of support (feet). This is one of the most positively influenced adaptations your body will make when you work on developing the Snatch. There are no other movements, under load, that test the balance of the system moreso than the Snatch. Your lifting a weighted barbell from the floor into an overhead position WITHOUT falling over. And to give you some sense of how well you can develop the system to perform this incredible feat of balance, the majority of proficient lifters will be snatching 1.5-2x of their own bodyweight. Think about that! Trying to balance a barbell with double your bodyweight in an overhead position where you catch it in a full squat and then need to stand up without the bar drifting forward or backward AT ALL. Any deviation of the center of mass outside the base (feet) and you will miss. 

I have many people ask me what it takes to maintain the positions of the body and the barbell over such a small base of support. The answer is this...An incredibly dialed in, efficient neuromuscular skeletal system that allows for full body power production with a high level of precision. It's the only way to keep that barbell and your body balanced throughout the movement. The snatch organizes every muscle in your body to do a very specific job to be able to maintain balance.  

Any Athlete in any sport knows the benefits and utility of maintaining their center of mass over their feet to stay standing and create power. In sport, balance is challenged constantly and those with amazing balance are the ones who have the opportunities to be incredible.

Conclusion

As you can now see, if I had to make a recommendation for one of the most beneficial exercises for any athlete to learn and practice it would be the Snatch. It's efficacy and efficiency are above and beyond any other gym movement. 

Start by developing the skill first.This should be done with a wooden stick or a PVC pipe. Access to a great coach is also highly recommended (guess what! I'm a great coach ;-)). Get the positions down pat with your dowel and only then, begin to add weight...slowly. The light weights need to be perfect before adding more weight. Remember...Becoming skillful is priority before adding weight. Adding weight without adequate skill always builds faulty motor patterns and those patterns are really hard to change once they've been embedded in your nervous system. I can say this from a lot of experience.

Some of my biggest success have come from the athletes who have never snatched before. For example, (beware..brag session) I've had five of our teenagers, whom I was able to develop from the ground up (never touched a barbell) became nationally ranked USA Weightlifters. Each of these kids had a ranking as top 25 in the United States, two of which made it to top 10 and compete on Team USA's international team. 

I hope this article has given you some clear reasons as to why you need to get out and learn to snatch right away. There are not many strength and conditioning skills that will deliver as much bang for the buck in such a short time. Basically...If you are serious about the performance of your body (you should be if you are reading this) then you need to spend some time learning how to perform this valuable movement.

If you'd like to learn more about the sport of Weightlifting, check out USA Weightlifting for more info on this exciting Olympic Sport. Also, Check out my Learn to Snatch Course by clicking here. I can help you get dialed in so you can start getting those performance gains you have been dreaming of. Your competitors will wonder what the heck you are doing ;-).

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