Cross training programs, such as CrossFit®, use “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements.” Many cross training exercises involve moving large weights and objects quickly over long distances. The snatch is a large muscle, multi-joint Olympic lift that involves pulling the bar from the floor overhead in one continuous motion. It is a central part of most cross training programs. The snatch— and its modifications— is difficult to master. However, they are among the best exercises for building well-rounded fitness, total body strength and power, and quickness.
Olympic lifting— more correctly called weightlifting— is a competitive sport that includes the snatch and clean and jerk. They are extremely dynamic lifts that work the large muscles of the upper and lower body. While the power gained in these lifts does not transfer immediately to sports skills, they provide a strength and power base that will eventually help you improve in many power sports and develop a well-rounded fitness that is the goal of cross training.
The snatch is difficult to learn, so personal trainers or health club instructors seldom use it in their programs. In fact, many gyms don’t allow Olympic lifting and will ask you to leave if you drop the weights on the floor or platform. Few exercises build sequential strength better than the snatch.
Fortunately, modifications of this exercise, such as the power snatch, hang snatch and hang power snatch, are easier to learn and still build excellent strength and power. Posture and technique are critical for preventing injury and making satisfactory progress in the snatch. A good coach will help you avoid common mistakes and help you progress rapidly in these exciting and beneficial exercises. Experienced cross training coaches are usually well-schooled in the Olympic lifts and often have weightlifting coaching certifications. This article will teach you how to do the snatch and modifications of the basic lifts, and provide a checklist to help you develop and refine good technique.
FitnessRx for Men presents a brief introduction to the snatch for cross trainers. Don’t try to use heavy weights at first. Rather, develop good technique using a broomstick or dowel. Learn to use your hips, while maintaining a neutral spine. Develop good technique in the beginning and you will be amazed at the benefits these exercises can provide.
Introduction to the Snatch for Cross Trainers
The snatch is a complex and difficult exercise. The object of the lift is to pull the bar over your head in one movement and catch it overhead in a squat with your arms straight. Good coaching is essential to mastering this lift.
The snatch has three distinct pulls. The first pull involves pulling the bar from the floor to the top of the knees. At this point, the hips are flexed, the knees bent, chest is out, and the head and spine are neutral. The second pull involves extending the hips and knees, shrugging the shoulders, and driving up on the toes as much as possible before pulling with the arms. During the third pull, the weight is moving upward from the force provided by the second pull and the lifters actively pull themselves under the weight.
Maintaining the proper position during the first pull is critical and difficult. Many cross trainers do snatches from a hang because it is easier to maintain good posture and it reduces the risk of injury.
Brief Description: Place the bar on the floor in front of your shins, with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Grasp the bar with palms facing you, hands placed wide apart, and squat, keeping your arms and back straight and your head up. Pull the weight up past your knees to your chest while throwing your hips upward and shoulders shrugged. After pulling the weight as high as you can, go into a squat and catch the bar overhead with your arms straight. Stand up straight with the bar overhead. Return the bar to the starting position, while maintaining a neutral spine. The snatch checklist summarizes the nuances of the exercise.
Modified Snatch Exercises
The snatch takes years to perfect. For people interested in cross training, the goal of explosive whole body training is to increase strength and power for well-rounded fitness. Performing modifications of this lift requires less precise technique and builds high levels of strength more quickly.
Power Snatch: The objective is to pull the bar over your head in one movement and catch it overhead with your arms straight. Unlike the snatch, the lifter bends the knees slightly rather than performing a complete overhead squat. Good coaching is essential to mastering this lift.
Brief description: Place the bar on the floor in front of your shins. Keep your feet approximately two feet apart. Grasp the bar with palms facing you, hands placed wide apart, and squat, keeping your arms and back straight and your head up. Pull the weight up past your knees to your chest while throwing your hips forward and shoulders back. After pulling the weight as high as you can, bend the knees slightly and catch the bar overhead with your arms straight. Stand up straight with the bar overhead. Return the bar to the starting position, while maintaining a neutral spine.
Hang Power Snatch: Begin with the bar in the high hang position (above the knees) or the low hang position (below the knee caps), hips back, arms and back straight, and knees bent. Begin the lift with the second pull. Extend the hips and knees vigorously, shrug your shoulders, and drive with your feet, and then drop under the bar (third pull), and catch the bar overhead with the knees bent slightly. Return the bar under control to the floor or to the hang position— if doing multiple reps. You can also do this exercise with a full squat (hang squat snatch).
Integrating the Snatch into a Cross Training Workout
Most cross training workouts involve multiple repetitions of snatches, power snatches or hang snatches, along with other exercises. Maintaining good technique is vital to preventing injury, particularly when you are tired. Rounding the back, extending the hips prematurely or overusing the arms during the lift can cause serious and disabling back injuries. Take care to use good form on every lift. Cross training workouts are timed, which encourages bad technique. Move quickly and explosively, but do each lift properly!
Squat Snatch Evaluation Checklist
The Starting Position
• Load the barbell correctly with the appropriate weight and safety collars in place to secure the plates.
• Stand with feet spaced hip- to shoulder-width apart, with toes directly under the bar slightly pointed out, with no stagger, feet flat on floor, knees straight and barbell two inches from the shins.
• Reach down for the barbell using a hook grip. Grip the barbell as tightly as possible when using heavier weights. Once you have the proper grip, bend the knees so the bar is close to the shins.
• Use a wide hand-spacing, keeping the arms straight and your knees inside arms.
• Keep your back flat, head up, chest out, shoulder blades pulled together, trapezius muscles relaxed and arms straight with forearms pronated. Keep your hips higher than the knees but lower than your shoulders, and with the barbell touching the shins. Keep your hips parallel and your shoulders directly over or slightly in front of the bar.
• Keep your torso rigid and push your abdominal muscles outward, shoulder blades pulled together lifting the chest, creating a steeply angled back. The back maintains the same angle with the floor from beginning to the end of the lift.
• Keep your head facing straight forward— focal point straight ahead.
The First Pull
• Tighten the torso muscles, and pull the bar off the floor with a smooth, slow, easy pull.
• Keep the hips higher than the knees but lower than the shoulders, maintaining a flat back with the shoulders still over the barbell.
• Keep elbows locked with arms extended and forearms pronated.
• Keep your head in a neutral position with your eyes focusing straight ahead (do not look at the ceiling) and maintain a flat back.
• Keep your feet flat on the floor, balancing at mid-foot.
• The first movement is a smooth, slow, easy pull off the floor.
• Pull the bar upward with your arms straight.
• Move your hips forward and up as the shoulders continue upward. Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate.
The Second Pull
• The starting point for the second pull is when you have raised the bar to your kneecaps or slightly higher. At this point, pull the bar upward quickly, keeping your arms straight and the barbell close to your body.
• When the barbell reaches mid-thigh level, explode upward using as much force as possible. Extend up on your toes, shrug your shoulders upward and pull the barbell above your belly button, keeping the barbell as close to the body as possible.
• At this point, your toes should be fully extended and your shoulders fully shrugged. Keep your arms straight and the barbell close to your body.
• Shrug your shoulders towards the ears, keeping your arms straight.
• Keep your head facing forward, with your focal point straight ahead.
• Pull the bar upward explosively with your legs completely extended as though you were jumping.
The Descent and Catch (Third pull)
• Begin your descent to the squat as the bar passes your navel and you are fully extended.
• Move your shoulders backward slightly.
• Curl your hands forcefully into your body.
• Pull your body under the bar.
• Keep elbows high moving up over the wrists, which keeps elbows over the bar.
• Move your elbows down under the bar as the bar passes the head and turn over your wrists.
• Catch the bar while in a squat position.
• The bar, shoulders, hips and ankles are in a vertical line, with your arms locked.
• Your feet should remain flat on the floor.
Recovery to Standing Position
• Contract the gluteal and thigh muscles and straighten your legs.
• Keep the bar, shoulders and ankles in a straight line.
• Stand fully erect with arms locked in a straight line with your torso.
• Bring your feet closer together and parallel.
Lowering the Bar to the Floor
• Lower bar under control to your thighs.
• Bend at the knees and hips, squat down, and bring the bar to the floor.
• Keep your back straight.
Photos of Cross Training Instructor Katie DeLuca